Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage 2009 Report, COAG

Program: ABC Melbourne

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Jon.

JON FAINE: Why is it getting worse?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s a mixed report and there are certainly many indicators where things are getting worse. And I just need to mention that it’s critical that we recognise that 70 per cent of Indigenous people in fact live in our cities and regional towns, and this report covers Indigenous people in those places, as well as in remote Australia. And if we’re to address the life expectancy gaps and the problems with literacy and numeracy, Year 12 attainment, we have to make sure that we address these issues in the cities and towns, as well as in the very difficult parts of remote Australia. But just to go back to your main point, some of the areas where we are seeing the gap remain, we actually have seen some improvement but we have a long way to go, such as employment. And we know that unless we do everything possible to get Indigenous people into work we’re not going to see their standard of living improve. We’ve just from 1 July introduced major reforms to the Indigenous Employment Programs and the Community Development Employment Program, all focussed on work readiness. Housing is another critical area, and once again we know that the old ways of doing things, particularly in remote parts of Australia, are just not working. And housing is just so critical to everything. Basic good health, children’s safety, making sure mums and dads and children have a safe and quiet place to sleep at night, so they can go to school and go to work. So we’re dramatically reforming the land tenure and tenancy management arrangements, as well as putting a very substantial increase in funding into housing, especially in remote parts of Australia for Indigenous people. So it’s going to require us to work on many, many fronts.

JON FAINE: Is it just a matter at what point do you question the policy of throwing money at Aboriginal Affairs, number one and number two, you’ve not mentioned grog; you’ve not mentioned petrol sniffing; and you’ve not mentioned gunja?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think what that highlights Jon is exactly the point I’m making is that we have to work on so many fronts so I can go on to talk about each and every one of those issues. And you’re dead right we must tackle alcohol. Some of the good stories in this Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report come from areas like Fitzroy Crossing, out in remote part of Western Australia, where the local women have really tackled the issue of takeaway alcohol and we’ve seen a reduction in violence. Seen a reduction in the levels of alcohol induced violence. The same is starting to be true in the Northern Territory. We’ve seen more money spent on food, less on alcohol. So there are some signs of positive improvement but it does require us to work on each and every one of these fronts.

JON FAINE: The carpetbaggers, opportunists, and profiteers from alcohol surely are the ones that need to be tackled as well? For too long the Northern Territory Government has shirked its responsibilities on the issuing and policing of alcohol licences in Alice Springs, in remote communities in Darwin itself. Is that being addressed at all?

JENNY MACKLIN: The licencing is one issue, you’re dead right, and we need that to be much more strictly controlled. We have more places now in the Northern Territory where alcohol is prohibited. But the other thing that I think is starting to help, but it’s really only just starting, is that as a result of the Northern Territory Emergency Response we now have police in eighteen communities where previously there were no police. No police at all. So as you put it, the carpetbaggers, and the grog runners, had a free reign. At least now we have police and permanent police in many more communities but we have a big job to get these police stations built on a permanent basis. All the sorts of protections that you and I expect in the suburbs of Melbourne are unfortunately for many, many Indigenous people do not exist in many parts of remote Australia. And that’s another big part of the job in front of us.

JON FAINE: If you’re putting in all these policies, you presumably are confident that they’ll have some immediate and then longer term impact. At what stage, as you measure that, do you review those policies if in fact it continues to get worse or show no improvement?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s a very important point and the Council of Australian Governments yesterday in Darwin agreed that it was critical that they measure their performance, and our Commonwealth performance, against the targets that we’ve set. Pretty tough targets with specific timelines to close the life expectancy gap and the literacy and numeracy gaps, the employment gaps. We’re going to look at our progress every six months. The Prime Minister is reporting to the Parliament annually and we’ll measure ourselves against our performance targets. And if we’re not on track, of course we’ll review why that is, change our policies. I can assure you there’s some very rigorous monitoring about to start to make sure that we deliver against these targets.

JON FAINE: Jenny Macklin we’re talking in very pragmatic terms about delivering services but there is a strong view in Indigenous politics that they are still voiceless, that you’ve failed to keep promises to replace ATSIC with some representative body, and that it’s still being centralised and bureaucratised and Indigenous voices aren’t being heard enough. Are you planning to do anything on that front?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, we’re in the process of wide ranging consultations on a new national Indigenous representative body. And Tom Calma, the Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner, is conducting those consultations with a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around Australia, and I expect him to report to me in the next month or so about propositions that they have to take this issue forward. So we do recognise that it is critical that we work in partnership with Indigenous people. We’ve been engaged in wide ranging consultations on many of the issues I’ve just raised with you. A couple of days ago I was up in a very remote part of the Northern Territory, a little place called Lajamanu, consulting on a new housing lease, introducing the idea to people in this community about the need for leasing, the need for tenancy management, to improve their standard of housing. So there’s a lot of very practical on the ground consultation taking place.

JON FAINE: And just finally on a personal level. Is it harder than you thought it would be?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s both incredibly tough Jon, but amazingly rewarding when you do see improvements. And the report that we got yesterday just strengthens my resolve to push on with the reforms that we have in place because one thing’s for sure what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked.

JON FAINE: As so often happens. A very good question on text messages. Jenny Macklin have you seen Samson and Delilah and what did you think?

JENNY MACKLIN: I have seen Samson and Delilah.

JON FAINE: I should say it’s about petrol sniffing in remote communities.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in the town camps of Alice Springs in fact, and of course in other parts of remote Australia as well. But it’s set in the town camps in Alice Springs. And in fact I was in a couple of the town camps in Alice Springs earlier this week and I just say to your listener, who’s texted in Samson and Delilah, is exactly as anyone would find it if they went into these town camps. You may know that I’ve indicated that it’s time for serious action in these town camps, and we’ve decided to invest a significant amount of money in improving housing and infrastructure and services in Alice Springs and in the town camps. And I’ve given notice that I’m considering compulsory acquisition of the housing leases in these town camps.

JON FAINE: With the Tangentyere Council that’s gone down like a lead balloon of course with the powerbrokers in the Indigenous communities of Alice Springs.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I’ve given them two options. One is to accept the forty year leases and improved tenancy management as was previously agreed by Tangentyere Council about a year ago. Unfortunately they’ve reneged on that deal and that’s why I’m now considering compulsory acquisition. We can’t leave people living in the conditions that are so horrifically represented in the Samson and Delilah film. It is time for us to consider very serious action to improve the standard of living of people in these town camps.

JON FAINE: I look forward to being able to speak to you with an altogether different report some time in the future. I think it would be welcomed by pretty much the entire nation. Jenny Macklin let’s hope you can get there. Thank you.