Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Town camp leases, Income Management and Welfare for School

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone for being here today, and I am very pleased to be here with my Federal Ministerial colleague, Warren Snowdon, and the Local Member, the Member for Lingiari, and also my two Territory Ministerial colleagues, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Housing. We’ve just had a very important meeting here with residents from the town camps here in Alice Springs where we emphasised the critical importance to get a 40 year lease to enable both the Territory and the Federal Government to move forward to see improved housing in the Alice Springs town camps. That’s what the discussion today was all about. It’s all about making sure that we improve the services, the water, sewerage, electricity, the basic roads, but also to improve and upgrade houses and build new houses.

The Federal Government with the Northern Territory Government has indicated that just like everywhere else in Australia we require security of tenure for housing investments that we make. I think that it was a very important and useful discussion, a wide range of different issues were raised around of course housing, but also other social services that people understand are very important on the town camps. We’ve agreed that we will continue to negotiate over the next two weeks. We’ve agreed that the deadline for these discussions is the 4th of May and we will continue to work hard with Tangentyere Council to come to a resolution that will see us able to get the security of tenure that we need, the 40 year lease, that will enable proper repairs and maintenance to be done on these town camps, that will enable proper tenancy management to happen into the future, but we’ll also have a role for local people to be consulted about what happens in their neighbourhoods.

REPORTER: What happens if they don’t sign?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve said to them today and somebody asked me that question. We are really wanting to get an agreement so that’s the way I am approaching this next two weeks. We’ll continue to talk intensively to try and get an agreement.

REPORTER: You’ve got the carrot, but what stick do you have, can you take it off the table?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I’m seeking an agreement so what I’m about is sitting down and having productive negotiations. I think everybody in the town camps understands just why it is so important to get these leases, to get the upgrades of housing, to get the new houses built, to get the infrastructure built, we intend to work hard over the next fortnight to try and get this agreement.

REPORTER: Any movement on the company that’s been set up as an alternative to Territory Housing?

JENNY MACKLIN: We were briefed on the Central Australian Affordable Housing Company and there has been some good progress. The Commonwealth’s provided funding to facilitate the development of this new company. This approach of community housing is one that the Federal Government supports right across Australia and we certainly understand why it is important for people here in the Northern Territory to also be looking at community housing models. The Northern Territory Government is supportive of this approach so we were pleased to see the progress that’s been made so far.

REPORTER: The Federal Government could withdraw the Tangentyere Council’s funding, is that on the cards?

JENNY MACKLIN: There was no discussion about that today at all. That’s not what these negotiations are about. These negotiations are about making sure that we can see substantial improvement in the housing conditions and living conditions of people who live in the Alice Springs town camps. We want security of tenure if we’re going to invest $50 million. You can understand why the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government want that security. We also want proper tenancy management and that’s understood by local people as well.

REPORTER: Can you describe the mood for the meeting as we know there’s been frustrations on both sides of this discussion?

JENNY MACKLIN: It was a productive meeting. People were able to raise a wide range of different issues. I was able to respond to them. I thought it was a positive meeting.

REPORTER: What’s happening in terms of getting the Intervention compliant with the Racial Discrimination Act?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve indicated that we will put legislation into the Parliament in the Spring session, so somewhere after September this year, to make sure that the Intervention is compliant with the Racial Discrimination Act. To do that what we’re going to set out to do over the months between now and September-October this year is have wide-ranging consultations with Aboriginal people here in the Northern Territory.

REPORTER: Does that involve changing welfare quarantining?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what it involves is sitting down first of all and talking with people about what they think about income management or welfare quarantining. Many people have a very positive view about it especially many women, other people are not so positive. So we want to sit down and work through the issues with people. One of the important things in the way we approach these issues is that we intend to behave in a way that involves Aboriginal people in these discussions and that’s of course critical to us moving forward.

REPORTER: At the (inaudible) trial, welfare for school attendance hasn’t been listed as another discriminatory measure, is that something else you will need to consider before you change any (inaudible) legislation?

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t believe that that is a discriminatory measure. As you know we’ve set up this trial in a number of places here in the Northern Territory. We’ve done it in the town of Katherine, it applies to all children and all parents. If parents in the town of Katherine for example, it doesn’t matter what colour they are, if their children don’t go to school then they will of course face the same penalties as anybody else.

REPORTER: It’s already, we’re already one term down, why has the trial taken so long to get underway since it’s only been in place for a week?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve had once again, wanted to make sure we had plenty of discussions with people, that people understood the nature of the trial. This has never been done before, we’re trying a new approach. We’ve always had a lot of encouragement to get people to make sure their children go to school. I know plenty of teachers and principals who work hard every single day of the school week to try and encourage kids to come to school. We understand, and the Northern Territory Government understands that there is a legal obligation on every parent to make sure that their children get to school. That exists now. What we’re saying is that parents in these six communities have an obligation to let Centrelink know that their children are enrolled to go to school. There are more than 2,000 children in the Northern Territory alone who are not even enrolled to go to school. If they are not even enrolled to go to school, they’re never going to get the chance to get a decent education. We want them at school. We want them enrolled, we want them attending regularly. We will work hard with parents before we go down the path of suspending welfare payments. But in the end parents have a responsibility and we have a responsibility to make sure that kids go to school.

REPORTER: You have announced funding for the major communities like Hermannsburg and Yuendumu, you’re having this much trouble getting leases over the town camps, what happens if you can’t get a lease over those communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the discussions so far I’d have to say have been very positive and you’d be aware that in the northern part of the Northern Territory we have secured leases. On Groote Island we’ve secured a township lease. Across a number of the major communities in the north we have secured with the agreement of the Northern Land Council 40 year leases to enable us to start investing in housing”.

REPORTER: But not here.

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re continuing the discussions here. I would like to just take this opportunity to also say that other communities that are not one of the 15 priority communities here in the Northern Territory, the other communities still will be able to get the sort of investment that the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory make into aboriginal communities. So health, housing upgrades, the sorts of things that are important in education, those investments will continue to be made.

REPORTER: I spoke to you yesterday about the issue of crisis accommodation in Alice Springs. You said that you’d be speaking to your Northern Territory Government colleagues. You’ve got two of them behind you, have you had time to talk to them about the issue?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve been in the meeting with Tangentyere, that’s been the entire focus of our discussions so far, but as I said to you yesterday I will have that discussion with my colleagues.

REPORTER: Can I just ask if that investment that you’re making in those 15 communities is that in any way a response to the urban drift that the Intervention has caused?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, it’s really about recognising that here in the Northern Territory we have a large number of communities with very, very high populations already. In the area that the Minister for Housing represents around Wadeye, the Wadeye community is two to 3,000 people strong. About 100 babies born every year. It has a lot of need, a very, very substantial need right now for additional housing. We need to invest in housing where we have large concentrations of people here in the Northern Territory and we want to get on with it.

REPORTER: Is the Commonwealth going to support any of the town camps that were to split from Tangentyere?

JENNY MACKLIN: That wasn’t raised today. We’re seeking to get an agreement with Tangentyere.

REPORTER: Why wasn’t that raised?

JENNY MACKLIN: You’d have to ask them, it wasn’t raised by people in the meeting.