Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Town Camps

Program: Drive

ROHAN BARWICK: Yesterday the Federal Government insisted that the old scattergun approach to Indigenous affairs hasn’t worked and that something different was needed. They announced fifteen priority locations in the Territory, 26 Australia wide that will be getting resources from the newly announced remote service delivery strategy. It comes at an interesting time as attempts to improve conditions in town camps have stalled with Tangentyere as yet refusing to sign over the leases to the Federal Government. Jenny Macklin is the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Minister good afternoon.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good to be with you Rohan.

ROHAN BARWICK: Now you’re going to be discussing the Government’s proposed $50 million take over of the town camps in Alice Springs tomorrow with Tangentyere. These negotiations have taken a long time; you must be disappointed with how long the process has taken.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they certainly are taking a long time and tomorrow’s meeting will be very important to make sure that the proposal is fully understood. We certainly want to make sure that we can get real progress in the town camps in Alice Springs to upgrade the homes and build new housing. We understand very, very clearly how urgent this is and that’s why I will be coming to Alice Springs tomorrow.

ROHAN BARWICK: The Tangentyere Council’s William Tilmouth today has said that town camp residents want the newly registered Central Australian Affordable Housing Company not Territory Housing to run the camps. Are you negotiable on that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we agreed in July last year with Tangentyere Council that we’d have an agreed work plan providing for the upgrade of the town camps in Alice Springs and there were a number of parts to that agreed work plan. One was that there would be leases to the Federal Government. Secondly, that we would provide an investment of $50million by the Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government and that for a three year period the Northern Territory Government housing department would be responsible for tenanting management.

ROHAN BARWICK: So what do you think about the idea of the Central Australian Affordable Housing Company looking after those houses as William Tilmouth has asked for?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve also agreed as part of that work plan to provide $160,000 to establish the Central Australian Affordable Housing Company. That money has been provided and we look forward to the establishment of that organisation, but in the meantime we did agree last July as part of the work plan that for the next three years the Northern Territory Housing Department would be responsible for tenanting management.

ROHAN BARWICK: So you won’t budge on that topic at this point in negotiations tomorrow?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I should indicate that this is what’s been agreed with the Northern Land Council, it’s what’s been agreed with the Tennant Creek town camp. So we’ve negotiated a 60 year lease arrangement with Julalikari in Tennant Creek and now we’ve got more than $35 million flowing into housing upgrades in Tennant Creek, so this is a consistent approach that we’ve had in our negotiations with the Land Councils and with town camp organisations.

ROHAN BARWICK: Minister Jenny Macklin how confident are you that Tangentyere will sign on the dotted line tomorrow?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what we’ve set is a deadline of the 4 May. Tomorrow’s meeting is all about making sure that what we have in front of us is fully understood by everybody concerned. We’ll continue our discussions and negotiations. We want to get an agreement so that we can get this extra money, $50 million of Australian Government money.

ROHAN BARWICK: And what happens if you don’t reach an agreement by May 4?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ll continue to negotiate, obviously I’m not going to do that via the media that’s why I’m coming to Alice Springs tomorrow and we’ll be sitting down and having further discussions tomorrow.

ROHAN BARWICK: So you think that that period for negotiation could continue past May 4?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve said that May 4 is a sufficient length of time and Tangentyere Council have indicated that they’ll have completed their negotiations and discussions with the Housing Associations by May 4, so I’m expecting an agreement by the 4 May.

[ top ]

ROHAN BARWICK: All right, moving on to the remote service delivery strategy that the Government was giving some information about yesterday, there are things in this strategy that’s going to be affecting 15 priority locations in the Territory that sound very positive, but it also sounds very much like the Federal intervention. Would it not have been better to do things that you are promising in conjunction with what’s already happening?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s very much building on the investments that have already been made in many of these towns and communities in the Northern Territory. We’ve got a number of lease agreements covering many of these towns. Galiwinku, Maningrida, just to give you a couple of examples, and of course we have township lease agreements in Nguiu and also for the towns on Groote Island. So a lot of progress has been made for many of the priority towns and communities that we’ve identified in the Northern Territory. Significant money has already been allocated for housing investment in these towns and of course as you know many of these towns are very large. We have huge needs for housing both upgrades and new homes in these towns and communities and we’re very pleased to be able to get on with it.

ROHAN BARWICK: The Federal Government has indicated in the past that some smaller communities might not be sustainable. These communities that haven’t been made priority locations in this list should they be worried about their future?

JENNY MACKLIN: No they don’t need to be. What we’ve indicated is that these are the priority communities for our remote services strategy. But what I’d say to other communities in the Northern Territory is that we’ll just continue of course to make investments in education, health, housing upgrades. People need to know that that will continue. What we want to do with the 15 targeted or priority communities is really see these as service hubs, places where we can coordinate our efforts across the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory, Local Government, the non-Government organisations, so that we can really see these towns develop and to have the sort of service standards that we’d see in towns of similar size in other parts of Australia.

ROHAN BARWICK: Do you think that it’s a good thing for people in those smaller communities to be moving to these bigger communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well what we know is that we already have very high population growth in these communities already, whether you’re talking about Galiwinku or Wadeye for example. These towns are already two or 3,000 people strong with high population growth. It’s not about saying people need to move, it’s about recognising that the demand for housing and other services is already very, very high in these areas. I have to say that we have an unprecedented level of investment available from the Federal Government to invest in housing in these communities and elsewhere in Australia and I’m also pleased that the Northern Land Council, the Land Councils on Groote Island and Nguiu have already agreed to leases and so we’re able to get on with the job of building houses.

ROHAN BARWICK: Just briefly, I’m speaking with Jenny Macklin, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Crisis accommodation in Alice has hit oddly enough at crisis point meaning there’s a huge amount of people from out of town crammed into Territory housing, or sleeping rough around town as there’s nowhere else to go.At what point would the Federal Government step in to help considering many would argue that this problem has been exacerbated by the Intervention?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we have $50 million on the table to build new houses, and upgraded houses in the town camps in ….

ROHAN BARWICK: Not just houses Minister, we’re talking about a crisis accommodation where people who are coming into town where there’s a hostel where they can stay, and where they can be taken from sleeping in the river or from sleeping rough in other places.

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure but if we have additional housing built then we’re obviously going to take the pressure off some of the homes that are already in Alice Springs, but moving onto your second point about hostels, we’re very interested in talking with the Northern Territory Government about hostel accommodation in Alice Springs and elsewhere. In fact here in Western Australia I just announced yesterday that we will build a hostel like that in Broome, so….

ROHAN BARWICK: But as I mentioned, many would consider we are certainly at crisis point here in Alice and people are saying that we need some action now and we need crisis accommodation now so how quickly do you think the ball will roll into getting that accommodation?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well as I’ve said, I’m very happy to talk to the Northern Territory Government about any proposal like that that they might like to put forward.

ROHAN BARWICK: All right, Jenny Macklin, Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, thank you very much.


ROHAN BARWICK: Jenny Macklin there speaking about a number of issues including the negotiations with Tangentyere, she’s arriving in Alice Springs tomorrow to have those discussions about signing over the leases for the town camps. And indications there really that should they not get their act together by May 4, there may be even more continuing discussions so we’ll have to see what comes as a result of her discussions with Tangentyere tomorrow. You’re on 703 ABC.