Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Interest rates, pressure on working families, Alice Springs town camps, Racial Discrimination Act, Deputy Prime Minister, Darwin town camps

Program: Channel 10, Meet the Press

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JENNY MACKLIN: Good to be with you, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, going to the interest rate rise, but will the Government accept any blame for the rise in rates. The Opposition says your borrowing, your going into debt, is putting pressure on rates?

JENNY MACKLIN: What the Government is doing is everything possible to protect and support Australian jobs in the face of this terrible global recession. I think mortgage holders have got every reason to be furious with the Commonwealth Bank. We want the banks to be working to help the Government, help the Australian people deal with the impact of the global recession. We need to do everything we can to support our economy in these very, very difficult times, not see interest rates go up.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So the Government accepts no blame?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re doing, of course, is we’ve had a couple of rounds of stimulus payments – the payments in December and the payments in March. And we’re still having the tax bonuses being paid now. We’re starting to see the infrastructure being rolled out, whether it’s housing projects, and, of course, the school projects, in many parts of Australia. This is all about trying to counter the global recession. All the Opposition wants to do is to sit and wait and watch. We’re about acting and about doing everything we can to support jobs.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So is the price we pay a rise in rates?

JENNY MACKLIN: We understand, along with mortgage holders, that this is not the way to go. What we want to see is support for the Australian economy, support for jobs in these very difficult times. We want the banks to be working with the Government, not against the stimulus approach that we’ve been putting in place over some months now to try to protect our jobs against the impact of the recession overseas.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, the Rudd Government made a lot of working families and the pressures on them. Can you guarantee the payments that families are receiving now will continue despite the pressure on your budget or will you have to fight very hard to keep the family payments and other payments going?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as you know, we’ve had two rounds of stimulus payments, the tax bonuses are still being paid, and so we haven’t seen the impact of those tax bonuses on the economy to date. We will be paying an additional carer supplement that will start in the coming fortnight. So from the 17th June the $600 carer supplement will start to be paid and tomorrow in the Federal Parliament, I will be introducing the pension changes, so this will see from 20 September this year, the $32 increase for single pensioners and the $10 a week for couples combined. So we have some additional payments, additional increases, still to be paid. These are going to be very important for carers, for pensioners – they need this money – but it will also be good for the economy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We have an email from Murray in Sydney who wants to know if a pensioner who qualified for the December bonus payment but passed away before the payment was made, would his family or her family have to pay back the full amount?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, they won’t have to pay anything back. If people were entitled to these payments on 14 October, which was the date we set, then their family or their estate will receive that money. It’s really only the Liberal Party that’s so hard-hearted as to say to a grieving widow wouldn’t receive this money.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return, a special report on the tragedy behind the hit movie ‘Samson & Delilah’. And stone the crows! The 1970s quintessential ocker Bazza McKenzie in the guise of our Prime Minister.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on Meet the Press with Minister for Families and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. And welcome to our panel – Natasha Robinson from the ‘Australian’. Good morning, Natasha.


PAUL BONGIORNO: And Mark Kenny from the ‘Adelaide Advertiser’. Good morning, Mark.


MARK KENNY: Jenny Macklin, as we saw the conditions in those camps is really appalling. There are people living in absolute squalor. I guess the question is are we moving quickly enough to address the problems?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re now in a period of notice. I’ve been advised that I need to give this period of notice until the end of July before I move to compulsorily acquire these camps. I have tried very hard to get an agreement. We’ve been negotiating for some time to get an agreement with Tangentyere council, that hasn’t been possible. They’ve gone back on the deal that I thought we had, which was to give the Government a 40-year lease and for the NT housing authority to be responsible for the tenancy management in these camps but the time has come for me to act. It is just not responsible for me to sit by any longer and see these appalling conditions. This is not some refugee camp in a Third World country. This is the outskirts of a town in our country and I have a responsibility to act.

MARK KENNY: Well, you say you have a responsibility. Governments have been trying to address these problems for a long time. You’ve had some change in the legal advice to you and there is now this delay. Is it possible that a future Government will have to say sorry in the same way as Rudd Government made much of saying sorry about the stolen generations at the beginning of your governmental term?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’m determined to either compulsorily acquire these leases or if Tangentyere changes its mind and provides us with security over the very substantial investment that we’re offering, then, of course, they have the right in this notice period to come forward and accept our offer. We’ve got $125 million ready to start improving housing in these town camps. I was just there a couple of days ago. I sat and talked with two elderly ladies, both renal dialysis patients. They had their mattresses outside. Five mattresses were outside around a little fire, not even under a veranda. It was zero degrees in Alice Springs that morning and these elderly ladies were living outside in appalling conditions. I’ve got a lot of money I want to spend to build new houses, to upgrade houses, to improve infrastructure, and I want to get on with it.

NATASHA ROBINSON: Jenny Macklin, you’ve indicated you’re committed to reinstating the Racial Discrimination Act, which was suspended when the intervention was first introduced. Exactly how are those critical elements of the intervention – like income quarantining, alcohol bans – going to work with that act reinstated?

JENNY MACKLIN: You’re right. I have given a commitment to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act and the process we’re about to begin next week is we will have consultations in each of the 73 prescribed communities in the Northern Territory. There will be separate women’s and men’s meetings, proper interpreters available, so that people can give their response to income management, alcohol controls – those sorts of measures. My personal view is that these measures have been beneficial to the Aboriginal people living in these remote communities. The women tell me that now that they’ve got more money to spend on food, their children are getting better fed, that there’s less money being spent on alcohol and drugs, less money being spent on gambling. So that’s the view that’s been put to me informally. We will now go and do a proper process of consultation before I put that legislation into the Parliament later this year.

NATASHA ROBINSON: Income quarantining is, in effect, probably going to have to become voluntary, rather than compulsory.

JENNY MACKLIN: No, that’s not necessarily true. We’ve got a few different options that we’re proposing people talk about in these consultations. And of course people can raise other options if they wish. But it’s not necessarily the case that it will end up voluntary. If people see the benefits of compulsory income management, then we’ll certainly be taking that very seriously. My personal view is that compulsory income management can be seen as a special measure under the Racial Discrimination Act.

MARK KENNY: Jenny Macklin, can I switch topics and talk about the Government? The Prime Minister last week nominated Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister, as the heir apparent, the obvious person to lead the Labor Party next time. Is that a view that you share or is the Prime Minister, having taken over the selection of the ministry, now taken over his own succession as well?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think Julia Gillard is doing a fantastic job as the Deputy Prime Minister, as the minister for a very large range of portfolios. I think she is outstanding. She’s made it clear she has her eyes very fixed on the job she’s doing, but if the opportunity comes at some time in the future for her to be Prime Minister, I’ve got no doubt she would do a great job.

MARK KENNY: Does that mean she stands head and shoulders above, say, Wayne Swan, the senior economic minister, Lindsay Tanner, highly regarded, and there are a number of others. And Julia Gillard is head and shoulders above those? Is she the next obvious person?

JENNY MACKLIN: As far as I’m concerned, all of our senior people are doing outstanding jobs. You talk about Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner, both of whom, with the Prime Minister and Julia Gillard, have had to put together the stimulus packages that have been so critical in our fight to protect Australia against the global recession. So each of our senior ministers are I think are outstanding – Julia, Wayne, Lindsay, all of them doing I think very, very tough jobs in these hard times.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, before we go, your Labor colleague, Senator Trish Crossin, says you should also take over the town camps in Darwin. Will you stop at Alice Springs, or do you accept she has a point?

JENNY MACKLIN: We do have a substantial amount of money to spend on improving housing in the Northern Territory, including the town camps in Darwin, and we will sit down with the residents of the town camps in Darwin, discuss the priorities with them, and with the Northern Territory Government.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thanks very much for being with us today, Jenny Macklin.