Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs town camps – ABC Alice Springs Morning Show

Program: ABC Alice Springs Morning Show

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BARRY NICHOLLS: I spoke with Jenny Macklin, the Minister, Indigenous Minister for the Federal Government a little bit earlier and I asked her why did she start laying down the law now. What was it about now?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’d be aware we’ve been negotiating with the Alice Springs town camps and with Tangentyere Council for more than a year. Last July we came to an agreed work plan that included a 40-year lease and included an agreement that the Northern Territory Housing Authority would be responsible for tenancy management. Unfortunately, Tangentyere Council have gone back on that agreement. They are no longer are willing for the Housing Authority in the Northern Territory to have responsibility for tenancy management as they have for other people in the Northern Territory. Really I can’t let this go on any longer.

BARRY NICHOLLS: But why have you let it go on for that long. You’re talking about living conditions in the camps being appalling why not act earlier?

JENNY MACKLIN: I have tried very hard to get an agreement. I’ve significantly increased the amount of money that we intend to spend upgrading homes, building new houses, improving infrastructure. It was a significant effort on the part of the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory to get an agreement. It seems that that is no longer possible and so I have taken this very serious step towards compulsory acquisition.

BARRY NICHOLLS: All right, if you don’t get an agreement on the negotiations how will this work if there is a takeover by the Commonwealth of these town camps?

JENNY MACKLIN: I have yesterday given notice to Tangentyere Council and to the individual housing associations that I intend to compulsorily acquire the leases covering these Alice Springs town camps. There’s now a period of notice that goes to the beginning of July. During that time people have the opportunity to put submissions to me. Tangentyere Council can reconsider their position and if they are willing to agree to the offer that’s on the table then that will be able to go forward. But the time for negotiation is over, unless they come forward in the next month compulsory acquisition will proceed post the beginning of July.

BARRY NICHOLLS: All right, if that does occur, how will it happen? You must have a plan in place as to how, where the people will be housed, what the timeline will be?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, of course, people will not be removed as a result of this compulsory acquisition. What this is all about is making sure that we improve the housing and living conditions of people in these town camps. Our first priority will be to get in and do some basic cleaning up. The conditions in these camps are nothing short of horrific. The amount of rubbish everywhere, the dog control is next to zero, we’ve got a serious clean up to get on with. There’s some basic cleaning up inside the homes that we can do very quickly and of course then it’s a matter of getting on with upgrading homes, rebuilding infrastructure, building new homes.

BARRY NICHOLLS: During that time, if this plan does go ahead what will happen with the people in the town camps. If you are looking at pretty major infrastructure development and refurbishments here, where will they live?

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JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll need to work through with each of the individual housing associations and residents about where people live as we both upgrade their homes and clean up around them, build new homes in areas that need it. So all of that will be done in a consultative way but the time has come to get on with it and we intend to do just that.

BARRY NICHOLLS: The reason I ask that Jenny Macklin, is there’s an extreme shortage of public housing here in Alice Springs and I’m just wondering where the people could go?

JENNY MACKLIN: I understand that and that’s why this will have to be carefully managed. It is also why we’ll start with some basic clean ups and efforts within homes that are reasonable to clean up. It is a matter of getting on and doing the things that we can do as quickly as possible that will make a difference to people’s lives. But we also know that some of these homes at the moment are just appalling and we are going to have to manage a program of people living elsewhere while we clean them up. So that will all have to be carefully managed.

BARRY NICHOLLS: When it comes to matters like this where the Federal, the Commonwealth Government does take over an area or compulsorily acquires land, there is normally some sort of compensation. Have you got any idea about the value and the form that that compensation would take, if this plan were to go ahead?

JENNY MACKLIN: We will pay compensation, and the compensation will be paid to the housing associations and I’ll ask the Northern Territory Valuer General to deliver an independent valuation of what needs to be paid. So, that of course will happen if the compulsory acquisition proceeds which I expect it will.

BARRY NICHOLLS: The Alice Springs Town Council, will they be expected to take on municipal services if this takeover does occur?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you’re aware, we’ve also announced $25 million to go into the town of Alice Springs to build more transitional housing, more emergency housing, more sobering up, and alcohol management programs, and we intend to do that in cooperation with the Alice Springs Town Council and other service providers in the town.

BARRY NICHOLLS: So will that money be used to support the Town Council providing these services?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Town Council, we intend to work with the Town Council to see municipal services in the town camps improved to the same standard that should exist in any other town in Australia. That will take some effort on our part, on the part of the Northern Territory Government and the Town Council because the conditions are so seriously bad, but we’ll work through all of those issues in a cooperative way with the Town Council.

BARRY NICHOLLS: And that money will be on top of the $25 million that is unconditional?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll work through all of those issues with the Town Council.

BARRY NICHOLLS: Just finally, Jenny Macklin, there are concerns that people will, if this takeover does occur, that residents of the town camps will end up on the street because they won’t have any idea about conditions and the rules and regulations under Territory housing. Do you have any plan in case that does happen?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there are two things I’d say about that. One is that there are many residents living in these town camps who want the normal protections that tenants have in public housing elsewhere in Australia. They want to know that they’re going to be safe in their homes, that people who are drunk and dangerous and violent are not going to be able to just come into these town camps and ride roughshod over their living environment, so that’s the first thing. There are a lot of people in these town camps wanting to do the right thing by their kids, and I want to work with them to protect their rights. The second thing I’d say is that this is one of the reasons that we’re providing additional funding, $25 million to build transitional housing in Alice Springs. We know that people have good reasons, health reasons, for example, for wanting to come to Alice Springs and we need to make sure that when people come into Alice Springs they’ve got a safe place to live, that they don’t pour into the town camps.

BARRY NICHOLLS: Is home ownership part of this deal at all, will there be the opportunity for home ownership?

JENNY MACKLIN: There will be the opportunity for home ownership. Of course that is one option that is available and in fact when I was at the meeting with Tangentyere Council and many people from the town camps just a few weeks ago, it was raised by residents as one of the things they’d like to see.

BARRY NICHOLLS: All right, Jenny Macklin, thanks a lot.