Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Agreement on Alice Springs Transformation Plan – Doorstop, Sydney

***E & OE – Proof only***

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very pleased to be able to announce today that I’ve had letters from the Alice Springs town camp housing associations and from Tangentyere Council. They have indicated to me that they would like to sign leases, 40 year leases, with the Australian Government to secure $100 million of investment in new housing, upgraded housing and improved infrastructure in the Alice Springs town camps.

This is a major breakthrough, especially for the residents of the Alice Springs town camps. We know – well, all of us know, particularly the residents in the town camps, understand just how serious the need is for additional housing and for improvements to the conditions of people living in these town camps.

This breakthrough really enables us now, all of us, to work together; the Australian and Northern Territory Governments, Tangentyere Council, the housing associations. But most particularly, that we can all work together in the interests of the town camp residents to improve their living conditions.

We’re also embarking on a transformation plan, in conjunction with the Northern Territory Government, the Alice Springs Town Council and Tangentyere Council, to see improved services and other accommodation services in the town of Alice Springs.

This really is a very significant day for the people living in the town camps around Alice Springs and as soon as the leases are signed, which will happen very soon, we’ll be able to get on with the job of making sure we can improve the lives of people living in these town camps.

QUESTION: Minister, how is this different to a compulsory takeover by the Government of the towns?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’d be aware, we have been negotiating with the Alice Springs town camp housing associations and Tangentyere Council for some time. Around May we came to the view that we’d negotiated as far as we could. We indicated to the housing associations and to Tangentyere Council that as far as the Federal Government was concerned and the Northern Territory Government was concerned, there was a very good offer on the table.

The offer was that in exchange for 40 year leases, we expected that proper tenancy management would be introduced. And we also indicated that we expected 40 year leases. The Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government wanted to make sure that we had security of tenure over this very significant amount of money that we are seeking to invest.

We also wanted to make sure that we had proper public housing standards of tenancy management introduced into these town camps.

We said to both the housing associations and to Tangentyere Council, back in May, that negotiations had come to an end. We felt that we had a very good offer on the table. But I also indicated at that time that over this two month period the housing associations and Tangentyere Council could come to us at any time and accept the offer that is – that has been on the table.

I also indicated at that time that I was giving consideration to compulsory acquisition of the special purpose leases that cover the town camps. I took this very significant action after much thought because of the very serious conditions that people were living in, in the town camps.

I indicated to the residents and the associations and Tangentyere Council at the time that I would consult, over a two month period, about whether or not I would take the step of compulsory acquisition. But I also said that during this period of consideration about compulsory acquisition, that the town camp associations, or Tangentyere Council could come forward and accept the offer that we had on the table.

They have decided to accept the offer. They have agreed to the 40 year leases, they have agreed to proper tenancy management. And we have agreed that we will make sure that we get on with the job of investing the $100 million that we have available to improve the conditions of living in these town camps.

Now it really is an opportunity for all of us to work together to address what each and every one of us know are very, very serious living conditions for men, women and children in these town camps.

QUESTION: What’s changed in this whole situation? Has the Government given any concessions to Tangentyere Council? Who will be managing the housing? Will it be Territory Housing, or the company that they set up?

JENNY MACKLIN: As we indicated back in May, the time for negotiations was over. We did negotiate in good faith over a long period of time up until May this year.

We said to Tangentyere Council and to the housing associations that one issue that was non-negotiable was that for the next three years the tenancy management would be done by Territory Housing. There have been no further concessions given. I made it plain in May that no further concessions would be given; none have been given.

The offer that we made in May is the offer that has been agreed to.

QUESTION: And – with… just the… you know, this agreement, did this have any connection at all with the legal action that was launched recently by George Newhouse? Can this be seen in that light as a back down at all by the Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I don’t think you can draw that parallel at all. What’s happened is exactly as I’ve just described it. I won’t go over all of that again.

As you are aware, there is an individual who has brought legal action. I’m seeking further legal advice on the information that’s been provided to us by her lawyers. But of course I hope that now that the housing associations have agreed to sign these leases, people will understand that we can now move forward together.

QUESTION: So it’s only 16 of the 18; are talks continuing with the other two?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, that is correct. There are two other housing associations represented by [indistinct] who represent the traditional owners and the residents who live in these two town camps. They’ve indicated to me that they would like to continue talking about the possibility of compulsory acquisition and I’ve agreed that those talks can continue over the next few days.

QUESTION: Did the Government negotiate directly with the town camp housing associations to reach this deal?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, there hasn’t – as I indicated to you – there’s been no further negotiation. I indicated in May that there would be no further negotiation. There has been an opportunity for discussion. I went to Alice Springs a little while ago at the end of June, and my departmental officials have been available to either answer questions or receive submissions, but there’s been no negotiation.

QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t really mean, you know, was there further negotiation but what I meant was the town camp housing associations, are they one and the same as Tangentyere Council or were they able to negotiate separately from Tangentyere?

JENNY MACKLIN: There’s been no negotiations but what has happened is that each of the 16 housing associations have signed documents to me, letters to me today, indicating that they agree with signing these leases. That’s required because they are actually the entities that hold the leases. Tangentyere Council themselves have also met and agreed that the leases should be signed, but so have the 16 housing associations.

QUESTION: Did they indicate why they decided to accept the offer now?

JENNY MACKLIN: The letters I’ve received are very straightforward, indicating that they want to sign the leases. And I’m sure it’s because they understand, like I do, that we need to get on together to improve the living conditions for people who live in the town camps.

QUESTION: Are you saying then that there is a difference of view between the housing associations and Tangentyere Council?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I’m not saying that at all. They’re just different organisations.

QUESTION: Two Northern Territory Government ministers in the past week or so have raised concerns that they were briefed that there will be… there may be no houses built as part of the $125 million or [indistinct] million dollar package for the town camps. Is that true?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, that’s not true. And we’ll obviously have a very detailed plan available shortly but there will be new houses built. We understand how critical it is that we not only build new houses but we have additional houses available in the town camps. We understand the significance of the overcrowding, but we also understand how important it is to have significant rebuilds of houses and upgrades of living conditions within the houses that do exist. So we’ll be both increasing the number of houses, building new houses, upgrading existing houses and also significantly improving the infrastructure.

The thing that we want to get on with as quickly as we can is really the immediate clean-up, some urgent repairs that need to be done to make existing houses safe. But there will definitely be new houses built.

QUESTION: How much of these new funds are actually going to go towards the housing? It’s been reported before funds have been swallowed up by [indistinct] administration fees.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s not correct. Those reports were not correct and I think that’s being clarified now. So we have decided at the Commonwealth level, and working in close cooperation with the Chief Minister, we’ve put two very senior officials in charge to make sure that we get the level of costs of administration as low as possible. It’s tracking at around 11 per cent at the moment for the strategic infrastructure and housing program in the Northern Territory but we intend to get it as low as possible.

QUESTION: Just on [indistinct], clearly – I mean, those reports may have been clarified, but clearly at least one minister in the Northern Territory Government still has very significant concerns about the direction of the program in general.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think the Chief Minister and I have indicated that we are absolutely determined to make sure that we get the 750 new houses built, the major rebuilds done, the upgrades of houses done. It’s a very, very significant program and we’re doing this because we understand just how important it is for Aboriginal people living in remote parts of the Northern Territory to get improvements to houses.

We are all determined to work together to get these houses built, to get them upgraded, and to do it on time and on budget.

Thank you.