Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Response to the NTER Review


JENNY MACKLIN: Last week, the Government released the report of the independent Review of the NTER which found that the situation in remote NT communities and town camps remained sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency. For this reason the current stablisation phase of the Northern Territory Emergency Response will continue for the next twelve months before transitioning to a new long term development phase. The Government is determined to improve the safety and wellbeing of children in remote Northern Territory communities and to make real inroads into closing the gap. We will maintain the core elements of the Northern Territory Emergency Response such as compulsory income management, the five year leases, and alcohol and pornography controls. We will also strengthen them to make sure that they are more clearly special measures. The revised measures will conform with the Racial Discrimination Act and will not involve suspension of the Act. The Government is committed to compulsory income management as a tool to reduce alcohol related violence, to protect children, to guard against humbugging and to promote personal responsibility. We will immediately start to design a compulsory income management policy which does not require the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act. We will be developing the most robust system possible to protect women and children. We will not adopt a policy which comprises the benefits and protections for vulnerable people in communities that have been secured through the current income management arrangements. We will be focussing on protecting the vulnerable, particularly women and children, like we really need to do. We will not be responding to the interests of the most powerful.

JOURNALIST: On the income management that was a central recommendation of the Review Board what has made this no longer compulsory. You are essentially rejecting a central recommendation of the Review Board aren’t you?

JENNY MACKLIN: We recognise just how important compulsory income management has been to protect the interests of women and children. If you have a look at the evidence before us from the stores for example, we’re seeing increased purchasing of fresh food and vegetables, a significant reduction in the purchasing of cigarettes. We’re seeing some reduction, we certainly want to see more, in alcohol fuelled violence. We do want to make sure that what this is all about is the protection of women and children from violence and the evidence shows that compulsory income management has been very helpful in that regard. I have to say to you too, that from the women that I’ve spoken with, they have pleaded with me to keep compulsory income management. They want it for their own protection.

JOURNALIST: How are you going to design a system in terms of welfare quarantining if it doesn’t contravene the Racial Discrimination Act?

JENNY MACKLIN: We think it will be possible to demonstrate that compulsory income management is in the interests, and for the benefit of, aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. We will make sure that we consult widely on this issue with aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. We know how important it is if you are going to bring about real reform, if you are going to see improvements in people’s lives, you have to bring people with you. So we’ll spend the time talking with people, we’ll design a system that is consistent with protecting the vulnerable, but also making sure it is designed as a special measure in the terms of the Racial Discrimination Act.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) just indigenous people in the Northern Territory, it’s not a (inaudible) system to apply to people (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: As you would be aware, we’re currently trialling two different approaches. One in Western Australia, which we’re finalising with the Western Australia Government to introduce a different form of income management in the Kimberley and in the suburb of Perth, and of course, we’re also trialling the family responsibility commission approach in Cape York. So we’re interested in looking at different approaches in the way that we can use income management that benefit the interests of Australians who aren’t taking the responsibility of their children as seriously as they should.

JOURNALIST: But if this is not to be racially discriminatory with regards to what the Act says, it possibly applies broadly across the community must it not?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, it can be demonstrated to be a special measure in our view. We think that there’s plenty of evidence that this measure has been to the great benefit of indigenous people in the Northern Territory and there are many, many people in the Northern Territory who take that view.

JOURNALIST: But if that’s fit for them why should the same benefit be denied to the white children, the children of white people in our country?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s another issue that we can consider, but what we’re here today to talk about is what we intend to do in the Northern Territory, how we intend to continue the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

JOURNALIST: What are doing on (inaudible) pornography and the (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: On the five year leases we do intend to continue the five year leases, but today I have written to the Northern Territory Valuer General asking him to do the valuations that are necessary to provide the advice to me to enable us to pay just terms compensation. That will be done.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a ball park figure on that? Do you have any idea?


JOURNALIST: Are we talking millions?

JENNY MACKLIN: I doubt it, because we’re talking about unimproved land in very remote parts of Australia.

JOURNALIST: And alcohol (inaudible)

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll continue the alcohol and pornography measures. We also have plenty of evidence to demonstrate that they have been of benefit. We think that there’s room for improvement in this area so I’ve asked my Department and the Northern Territory Government to work together to see how we can improve these measures. We know that we need to do all that we can to stop the alcohol fuelled violence. There are certainly improvements that can be made in both of these areas and there’s more work to be done.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just to clarify, are you reinstating the Racial Discrimination Act?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re doing over the next twelve months is leaving the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in place, which is the way the legislation is currently drafted for the Northern Territory Emergency Response. We’re leaving in place the comprehensive compulsory income management in the 73 communities in the Northern Territory and we’re leaving the other measures in place as well over the next twelve months.

JOURNALIST: Minister, are you actually changing anything in the short term?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re doing in the short term is making sure that we design a new income management system that is going to protect the vulnerable, particularly women and children, that can also be demonstrated to be a special measure under the Racial Discrimination Act.

JOURNALIST: And that’s what will take effect after this twelve months?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ll need to introduce legislation into the Parliament and we intend to do that in the Spring Session next year.

JOURNALIST: Given you’re rejecting a key (inaudible) of the Review Board by keeping compulsory income management in place, does that indicate that you are disappointed with the Review Board?

JENNY MACKLIN: In fact, we’re today announcing that we accept their three overarching recommendations. Their first overarching recommendation is that we should continue the emergency response because of the extremely high levels of disadvantage that exist in Northern Territory indigenous communities. The second major recommendation from the Review Report was that we should engage with indigenous people far more actively than has been done in the past, and we intend to do that. We know that if we’re going to bring about the sorts of changes that we need that we need to bring people with us. We want to do that. The third recommendation is that we should remove the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act and we intend to do that after we have developed a compulsory income management system that will meet the needs of vulnerable women and children and that can be designed as a special measure for the purposes of the Racial Discrimination Act.

JOURNALIST: Just from your own advice and philosophy, why is it a better approach to basically design a system that doesn’t rely on the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, and that any features of that new design that you wouldn’t be able to pursue if you were not to rely on the current arrangements?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think that what’s important is for us to have at the front of our minds what’s good for women and children. I had an extraordinary meeting with a large number of women in Wadeye a couple of weeks ago and if I needed any reminding they told me just how much they wanted to keep compulsory income management so that they could put food on the table and clothes on their children. We understand this is a difficult issue from both points of view. I understand that some people feel very strongly about being opposed to compulsory income management, others really want to get rid of the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act. What we’re doing is choosing a middle path recognising that we can do both, that we can design a system that meets the needs of women and children but also doesn’t require the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act.

JOURNALIST: How long do you see the situation continuing after next year (inaudible) are you going to have income management there forever?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think what’s been demonstrated to us is that we, at the Commonwealth level, the Northern Territory Government, we need to be involved in these communities for a long time. The level of disadvantage is acute. We know that we have far too many children not thriving, far too many children not going to school regularly enough, many of them not even enrolled to go to school, far too much violence that’s being imposed on women as well as children. These are very very difficult issues. We know the level of unemployment is extremely high. All of these issues need to be addressed and they will take a considerable period of time.

JOURNALIST: So there’s no sunset clause on that?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we want to do is be in these communities, supporting these communities for the long haul. We are going to need to make sure that people have decent houses to live in, that’s why we’ve agreed with the Northern Territory Government the most significant development of a new housing program. More than 750 new houses will be built over the next four years. We’re putting in 200 extra teachers. We want to see a major reform of the Community Development Employment Program. We want to get people working. We have a huge task in front of us and what we’re demonstrating today is that we intend to take the tough decisions that are needed for us to be able to achieve the changes that are necessary.

JOURNALIST: Minister would you like to see any of these measures adopted by the other States at all remote aboriginal communities?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve just recently agreed with the people of the APY Lands in the north of South Australia to a major program of new housing arrangements. A lease has been granted over a housing estate so that we can improve the housing conditions for people. As a result of the response to the Mulligan Inquiry we’ve made major investments for improved policing and child protection. So these are issues that we will to talk with our State and Territory colleagues about, but today is really about needing to make sure that we do continue the Northern Territory Emergency Response because of the extraordinarily high level of need that exists there.