Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs town camps – ABC Radio National Breakfast

Program: ABC Radio National Breakfast

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FRAN KELLY: Minister, good morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Why this move to compulsorily acquire these camps?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Tangentyere Council really have left me with no other choice. We came to an agreement last July over a 40-year lease and to see tenancy management transferred to the Northern Territory Housing Authorities. Unfortunately, Tangentyere Council have backed away from the agreement that we made last year. We’ve been negotiating in good faith for ten months now. We’ve put a very substantial amount of money on the table, $100 million to upgrade the town camps and another $25 million to spend on emergency accommodation and other services in Alice Springs itself. Unfortunately our offers have been rejected and the situation in these town camps is so horrific it leaves me with no other choice but to take this serious action.

FRAN KELLY: Now the sticking point in negotiations seems to be the notion of running the camps, collecting the rent, maintaining the houses, even perhaps assigning the houses to people. The Commonwealth is insistent that the Tangentyere Council relinquish control and be managed by the Northern Territory Government. Why are you so insistent on this?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think if you look at the management of these town camps over the last 30 years nobody would say that the conditions that people are living in is adequate. It is just nothing short of horrific the standards that people are having to put up with. There is unfortunately no other option left to me and I would just say again that Tangentyere did actually agree last July that for the next three years the Northern Territory Government, their Housing Authority, would have the responsibility for housing management. It was understood that there was a need to have the same rules apply to tenants in the Alice Springs town camps as apply everywhere else in Australia. I want the same protections to apply to tenants in these town camps as apply to other people in Australia in public housing. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen.

FRAN KELLY: Yeah you can tell from listening to you that you’re concerned about the conditions in these camps. What in particular is it, what element is it particularly that’s brought you to this hard line position?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s of course terrible overcrowding, you can have as many as sixteen, twenty people in a house. There’s just been no management of the numbers of people who flood into the town camps. Of course, we have a responsibility here too and we are meeting that by putting additional money into the town to build temporary and emergency accommodation. But the town camps have to have decent tenancy management. We can’t just have people flooding in, the drinking is out of control, the upgrades of housing is just not being done. We’re not seeing rent properly collected, we’re not seeing people evicted when they’re drunk and out of control. The level of violence is beyond most people’s imagination.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Minister we only have a minute or so before the news but just on the issue of welfare quarantining because the Government had said it’s determined to design some kind of a compulsory income management policy that doesn’t suspend the racial discrimination act, that’s the challenge before you. Tony Abbott, the Shadow Minister, says one way to do that is extend the quarantining of welfare to all welfare recipients nationwide, black and white. Will you consider that?

JENNY MACKLIN: No we won’t be doing that. As I’ve said before the vast majority of welfare recipients in Australia are responsible and do the right thing, look after their children, so we don’t need to do that. What we do need to do is make sure that where income management is working, where it clearly is beneficial to people, that it continues. But we’re about to embark on a major program of consultation with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory on that issue.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, and we’ll look further at that in the future. Jenny Macklin, thank you very much for your time.