Alice Springs Town Camps, Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program
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ALAN JONES: Well, this is no easy task. It’s easy to bash up politicians. This woman has a mammoth job on her hands. She’s on the line from Melbourne. Minister, good morning.
JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Well congratulations for having a go, my God, you must have wondered where you were born.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think when you go out to these town camps that you were just talking about, you have to wonder whether you’re still in Australia. But they are in Australia, they’re on the outskirts of a country town, Alice Springs. They’re not in a war zone, and yet you have elderly women who are waiting for renal dialysis, sleeping outside, on mattresses around a little fire, with little children, in the freezing cold of Alice Springs. And unfortunately we’ve just seen government after government – and I’m not being political about it – over a long period of time, just not put the hard decisions in place, that do need to be put in place. Now I’m not going to be able to fix all of these problems across all of Australia immediately, but I’m certainly determined to do everything I can in these Alice Springs town camps, for a start.
ALAN JONES: Well just let’s come to this Tangentyere Council, you gave them up to June 29, because you ran into opposition from them, you gave them up to June 29, and that was when I first made a call to you obviously, to say let’s talk, and I know you’ve been very busy, to put submissions on your proposal to acquire the camps. You said it’s forever, what has happened with the council, have they agreed, or are you still in battle with them?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, I’m in a period of legal waiting. Basically I’ve had to give notice to the housing associations that hold these special leases, and I’ve had legal advice that I should wait until the 28th of July, so…
ALAN JONES: Could I just interrupt there for one minute, and say to my Sydney listeners here, here’s Jenny Macklin trying to do something, you won’t believe this, but this is the problem that’s been faced for 30 years, Jenny Macklin is now confronting a Sydney lawyer, this bloke Newhouse, George Newhouse, who seems to bob up everywhere, he’s active on behalf of the town camp residents, in a separate UN complaint, against Jenny Macklin’s intervention, and telling Jenny Macklin and the Government, that rather than get on with the job of helping these people, Jenny Macklin’s got to now face legal challenges in the court. So in spite of what you’re trying to do, you’re hamstrung by all this legal manoeuvring.
JENNY MACKLIN: I just have to wait until the 28th of July, so given it’s now the 23rd, we don’t have much longer to wait, and I’ve been receiving some submissions from different people who live in the town camps, I’ve been up there and met them myself, a number of times, and I’ve indicated…
ALAN JONES: Jenny, just give a profile of this, will you? I mean, am I right in saying there are about 188 houses and 72 tin sheds, that the average house occupancy is about 10 people, sometimes it can be 17 people?
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right, it varies enormously, and so at different times you can have up to 20 people in a house, and although they’re supposed to be alcohol-free, of course the police have a huge job making sure that that’s done, we know that the violence on these town camps has been nothing short of horrific…
ALAN JONES: Alice Springs has the highest number of stabbings per capita in the world.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right, so there’s no question that dramatic action is required, we have been negotiating for some time, we’ve tried very, very hard to get an agreement, I have indicated that the time for talking is over, we have until the 28th of July for people to put their final submissions…
ALAN JONES: And what will happen then?
JENNY MACKLIN: I’ll make a decision after the 4th of August…
ALAN JONES: What would they be submitting to you about, that you shouldn’t compulsorily acquire?
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s correct, they can either say that they will accept a 40 year lease, and they’ll accept proper tenancy management, what we don’t want is to step back in the past and have a situation where people don’t respect their neighbours, where we don’t have people looking after their homes, and where we have this shocking overcrowding.
ALAN JONES: But you’ve got this council who want a company that they have created, the Central Australia Affordable Housing Company, to manage the housing, not the Northern Territory Department of Housing, and I mean you’re worried, and the Northern Territory are worried about favouritism and nepotism, I mean it’s just a perpetuation of the old problem. Are you going to be able to get over that?
JENNY MACKLIN: Absolutely, insisting that the Northern Territory Housing Authority has to be responsible for tenancy management.
ALAN JONES: And what do they say to that?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I’m saying that’s…
ALAN JONES: That’s it, that’s a given?
JENNY MACKLIN: That is not negotiable, so that is going to happen, whichever way we go.
ALAN JONES: Okay, so that’s by the end of the month. Look, you’re in the eye of the storm again today, saying that you’ve ignored advice from your own party, which warns you that Aboriginal housing policy would be doomed, there’s a memo apparently leaked to the National Indigenous Times, where the Labor Senator of New South Wales, Ursula Stephens says, she told you that no new housing would be built until 2011, under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program. Now where are we on this, I mean you announced $672 million, in a joint project with the Northern Territory, to build a stack of homes, now that was allocated way back, where are we in relation to this? She says it won’t work, will it work?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that advice from her is more than a year old, so it’s a shame that the journalist concerned, didn’t recognise that many of the concerns that were raised, have in fact of course now been addressed. I think the important thing to recognise, and all of your comments really go to this, we cannot keep doing things the way we’ve done them in the past. One thing we know for sure is, when we build houses in the Northern Territory, or other parts of remote Australia, we have to make sure that we get local Aboriginal people working, and I’ve insisted in these new contracts, that 20 per cent of the employment will go to training Aboriginal apprentices to make sure that they get the chance to learn how to build, and then maintain these houses into the future.
ALAN JONES: Okay, well just let me ask you this. Under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program 15 months ago, your Government said you’d provide 750 new homes to remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, that’s 750….
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure.
ALAN JONES: …now the argument is that 70 per cent of your allocation, that’s the $600-and-what million, is going to go to indirect costs, like contractors’ fees, and consultants’ and administrative fees, so basically…
JENNY MACKLIN: Can I just say, Alan, that is just wrong, so that report today is wrong, I’ve been in contact with senior officials in my own department this morning, and confirmed again that that is wrong, as everyone would hope. What we want to see is the vast majority of that money of course, being spent on housing, on new houses, and on upgrading houses. Just a few weeks ago I was in Tennant Creek seeing major upgrades happening, new kitchens going in, new bathrooms, basically giving people a decent home to live in…
ALAN JONES: Right, now I’ve got to ask you the question that everyone listening to you wants to ask.
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure.
ALAN JONES: Will they then be trashed?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s why we’re insisting on proper tenancy management into the future, we’re not going to do things the way we did them in the past, and so in the future, the rules that apply to any other public housing tenant, will apply to people who live in these homes…
ALAN JONES: Good on you.
JENNY MACKLIN …they have to look after their homes…
ALAN JONES: Good on you. Well, now one allegation being hoisted at you today is that not one house has been built yet under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program.
JENNY MACKLIN: This is a new way we’re going, but of course what’s wrong about the report is, we haven’t stopped building homes under the old program, while we get this new approach going. So over the last 18 months we’ve had…
ALAN JONES: That’s Mal Brough’s money.
JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve had some of the previous Government’s money, some of the current Government’s money, building around 90 houses over the last 18 months, so what we know is that we have to keep going, we can’t stop, but we can’t just do things the way we did them in the past.
ALAN JONES: I just read that Bathurst Island Housing say they can build eight houses at a cost of $350,000 each, but that there are some houses under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, where this alliance, the Territory Alliance was building them at $650,000, I mean, are we getting value for money?
JENNY MACKLIN: We are getting value for money, and in fact of course that’s being checked every time we issue a contract, and we get the value for money done independently, we don’t do it ourselves, we get independent contractors, making sure that we are getting value for money. But once again, I just want to emphasise, we are not going to do things the way we did them in the past, we want indigenous employment, we want to make sure that we get large contracts in place, so that we can be building over a long period of time, not just a house here, and a house there, because we know without decent housing, kids don’t get a decent night’s sleep, they then don’t go to school, parents don’t work, all the other problems that you’ve so rightly pointed out.
ALAN JONES: Well done, okay. Well look, thank you for talking to us, we’ve got to go to the news, but we’ll keep in touch.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you, Alan.
ALAN JONES: And good luck.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.