Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Remote Indigenous housing, WA alcohol restrictions, Newspoll

Program: ABC News Breakfast

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The Federal Government has unveiled a new approach to funding for remote Aboriginal communities. In what’s been described as a dramatic policy shift, the Government will concentrate more than $5 billion in housing and infrastructure funding in just twenty-six of Australia’s largest remote Aboriginal communities. The plan is steps away from a so-called (inaudible) approach and aims to build the towns into prosperous centres. For more, we are now joined from Canberra by the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin. Minister, good morning and thank you for joining us.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good to be with you.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: First of all you target communities for this package for those communities who have the potential for economic development you say, explain that a little bit more if you can.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we do understand that there’s horrific need for more and more housing in so many different Indigenous communities across Australia but what’s been done in the past is just scatter a few houses here and there and you don’t see any improvement, you don’t see any significant development happening in those communities. So we’ve decided to really concentrate our efforts to make a difference in twenty-six different communities around Australia, in different States and in the Northern Territory. That means a lot of building work will take place in those communities but we’re also insisting on land tenure reform so that we can get economic development in these towns so we can see people going to work.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: What do you mean by that, that’s exactly what I wanted you to explain, when you say land tenure reform, you mean so that perhaps private enterprise can move into these towns, the land is not necessarily owned by the locals there?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the land, the underlying land may still continue to be owned by local people. Take the agreement that we’ve got on Groote Island for example. We’ve negotiated township leases on Groote Island in three communities, an eighty year township lease. What that will mean is we’ve now got secure tenure for the housing that we’re going to construct. That will mean we’ll have proper tenancy management for that housing that we construct. It will also enable people to own their own homes if they for example have the capacity to pay back a mortgage. But it will also enable businesses to establish to have the tenure possible for them to go out and get a bank loan, to get the sort of security they need to conduct a business. So we’ve negotiated that township lease in that area, we’ve negotiated housing leases in a number of other communities, in both the Northern Territory and the APY Lands in South Australia, and we intend to pursue this issue of land tenure especially in these twenty-six communities where we’re going to put such a substantial investment.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Tony Abbott would like to know how it is you actually assess the economic potential of those communities, and then also what happens to those outside of those twenty-six communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well just to answer the second part first, we are going to make sure that a significant amount of this money will go on repairs and upgrading of houses, and when I talk about upgrades I mean serious upgrades, new kitchens, new bathrooms, making sure that homes are liveable. Many of them are really in a shocking state right now…….

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just can I jump in Jenny Macklin just to clarify, so the money to be spent outside the twenty-six communities, this is not some long term way of actually closing down perhaps those other communities and centralising them in these twenty-six?

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JENNY MACKLIN: No it’s not. It’s really saying that in the twenty-six communities we are going to concentrate our effort and make sure that it’s properly coordinated. We’re going to appoint a Coordinator General who’ll have statutory functions to make sure that when we put the housing money in, the schools are working, the health facilities are working, that we’ve got the land tenure, that we get economic development. We want that coordinated effort to really lift these communities and demonstrate that you can close the gap. But our money will be spent in communities right across remote Australia because we understand the need is significant but a lot of concentrated effort will go into these twenty-six communities.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So then just to get an answer to the first part of that question, so you’re relying then on the assessment of that figure of that order, as it were, in order to point out to you the economic potential of these communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: No we’ve already looked at the potential for each of them so in some of the Northern Territory communities for example, we already have very large populations with very significant need for housing but also a lot of significant potential for economic development in their towns. Towns of two and three thousand people where we’ve got the chance to have the development of shops and retail precincts, some of them want to develop tourism facilities, there’s fishing opportunities. So there’s a lot of economic ideas, we’ve got to get the land tenure right. We’ll put the economic development in by housing in the first instance. We want to get these communities functioning like towns where people can work, but have a decent home to live in as well.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In the very short time we have remaining can I ask you just two quick questions? Police in Halls Creek are saying that the economic stimulus package that’s been paid is responsible for a spike in alcohol fuelled violence in that community, they’re simply waiting for the money to run out. Do you accept partial responsibility for that situation as a member of the Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: What I’d say to the Western Australian Government and I’ve said this many times before, it is critical that we get alcohol control implemented in these towns in the Kimberley as a matter of urgency.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well it doesn’t help if you splash out great sums of money that of course is going to be used on booze.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we understand how critical it is that this money is used responsibly but this has been an issue in Western Australia and other parts of Australia for that matter for a long time. I’ve been calling for alcohol controls, strong alcohol controls in these communities in Western Australia for some time. We want to see them implemented. We know in Fitzroy Crossing it’s made a big difference to the lives of particularly women and children. Let’s get these alcohol controls in place as quickly as possible.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And just quickly on the Newspoll in relation to Australia’s view on more troops for Afghanistan, it would seem we’ve picked up what the Government’s been saying which is that Australia has pulled its weight and put enough people in there, NATO now needs to step in and Australians don’t want more troops, what would you say to Australians who think that?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think the issue of, when we think about the issue of Afghanistan we have to remember that this fight against terrorism is going to be a long one. We are going to be in Afghanistan to do our bit, to fight terrorism. Too many Australian people have lost their lives as a result of terrorist activity, terrorists who were trained in Afghanistan. We have a responsibility to be in there, we will be there to do our duty to support those who want to fight against terrorism.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Jenny Macklin thanks so much for your company.