Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program

Program: ABC AM

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TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government has made some big commitments to indigenous Australians, but one of its largest, a $700 million remote housing scheme, has failed to come up with the goods. Not one house has yet been built under the program that was brought in by the Howard Government under its Northern Territory Intervention. There are also reports that the program has been mired in red tape, and that much of the money will be spent on administration. The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, denies there is a problem, and says houses are being built, and upgraded. She’s been speaking with Emma Griffiths.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well over the last 18 months, we’ve actually seen more than 90 homes built in the Northern Territory. What we also know is that there’s been a need to do significant upgrades of homes, and that has started, we’re also insisting on doing things differently from the past. We know that we can’t keep doing things the same way. We’re insisting on high levels of indigenous employment, so that skills are left in communities, when these houses are built.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: But just to clarify, these new houses, they’re not under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program that was put in place as part of the intervention?

JENNY MACKLIN: That is not the point. The real point is how many houses are being built. The reality is more than 90 houses have been built in the Northern Territory over the last 18 months, these homes are being built, but we are putting a new approach in place, and that approach has started with major upgrades, for example, in Tennant Creek.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: But have you failed to deliver on what the intervention promised?

JENNY MACKLIN: Certainly not, what we’re doing is not only building houses, but seeing continuing increases in a wide range of programs, there are now 15,000 people in the Northern Territory on compulsory income management…

EMMA GRIFFITHS: There’s reports today that there was advice given to you from the New South Wales Labor Senator, Ursula Stephens, that taking on this – that the way that you were going to bring in this program would drive up the price of housing in remote regions, and that it was based on a model that sparked a Royal Commission in New South Wales, that it was unlikely to meet its employment objective, and that houses aren’t likely to be built until 2011. Is that the case?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, it’s not the case, and that information is now more than a year old, and of course the issues that she raised have been addressed. What I’m able to indicate is that we’re getting on with the job of building and upgrading homes in many parts of the Northern Territory, and making sure that we don’t make the mistakes of the past, that we don’t just build a house here, build a house there, that we don’t get the Aboriginal employment that we need to get. We want to make sure that we deliver improved housing in concentrated areas in the Northern Territory, so that we can see major improvements in living conditions, major improvements in opportunities for training, apprenticeships, employment, of Aboriginal people.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: There are accusations today that this program’s been mired in red tape, and that a lot of the money is actually going to go for administration, is that correct?

JENNY MACKLIN: That report today is completely wrong, in fact I’ve spoken to officials from my department this morning, to double check. That report in The Australian this morning is wrong. As you would expect, the vast majority of the money that is being made available will go to building new homes, and upgrading homes, exactly what it’s intended to do.