Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Communities in Control Conference, NT Emergency Response, Petrol

Program: ABC 774, Melbourne


JON FAINE : But this morning, on the anniversary of the intervention in the Northern Territory, or the report – the release of the report that led to the intervention in the Northern Territory, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, who’s also Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services in the Rudd Government, Jenny Macklin, is opening a big communities conference here in Melbourne.

Rochelle Hunt is 774 ABC Melbourne’s reporter at the Communities In Control Conference with the minister. Rochelle, good morning.

ROCHELLE HUNT: Good morning, Jon. Well, the conference is actually just getting underway now, Communities In Control. I’ve been told around 1500 people will be arriving today and around 80 per cent of those people are grassroots community leaders. So it’s going to be really interesting to see what they have to say today, Jon. And there’s sort of a nice overriding theme of in the face of global adversity, will local action actually make a difference. How does grassroot actions make a difference in your community.

But sitting here with me down at Moonee Valley, the sun is streaming in through the windows. We have a beautiful vision of the city landscape. Minister Jenny Macklin, good morning, Minister. What’s your role here today at the Communities In Control Conference?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, it’s really, first of all, to recognise the fantastic work being done by so many different types of community groups around Australia. I gather there’s around 700,000 different types of groups, and they can range from sporting clubs, to the local parent groups, senior citizens organisations. There’s so many different types of things happening. But really, the point of this conference is to figure out how we can together – community groups, governments and I think more and more private sector organisations as well – can work to include those who at the moment don’t feel they can get involved in a community group.

It can often be hard if somebody new trying to get involved. Sometimes you might feel a bit shy, you might be disabled and unable to participate in the way that the group functions. So today is really about all of the different groups coming together and saying, how can we make it easier to get involved? How can we include those who have been excluded before?

And we’ve got a little program – it’s only a small thing – but something which we’re putting a little bit of money in from the Commonwealth. But really, the driving force has been the Pharmacy Guild, and I think this is an excellent example of the Pharmacy Guild recognising that local pharmacies in our suburbs and country towns are places where most Australians go, sometimes very regularly, and what they’re going to do is connect with a whole range of community groups through our community, through the internet, and Telstra today are announcing that they’re coming onboard as well, so they’re going to lend their in kind support to this project.

And it’s all about joining – it’s called, Join In, Join Up. So the message through to your listeners today is Join In, Join Up, get involved and if you want to know how to do it, you’ll be able to do so through your local pharmacy.

JON FAINE: Minister Macklin, the communities in the Northern Territory, are they any more in control a year on, than they were when the intervention was first declared and justified?

JENNY MACKLIN: There are a number of things that have been happening Jon that I think positive signs. Some of the difficult measures that came out of the Little Children are Sacred Report show that this is a massive task that’s not going to be fixed in one year. But some of the early indications are that in some of the communities we’re seeing an increase in the amount of food being purchased. In some communities, not all I’m sorry to say, there’s been an improvement in the number of children going to school. In some communities there’s been an improvement in the level of violence. But it is going to take a long time. And we’ve certainly made some new commitments in this year’s Budget, one of them for example is to put 200 extra teachers into the community schools in the Northern Territory. One of the difficulties was that around 2000 children are not even enrolled to go to school…


JENNY MACKLIN: …in the Northern Territory. If we get them to go to school, at the moment there wouldn’t be a teacher to teach them, so there are major issues that are going to take a very long commitment from us. Another…

JON FAINE : We’ll speak to the AMA in just a moment minister, but Rex Wild was one of the authors of the Little Children are Sacred Report and this is what he had to say on commercial television over the weekend about the intervention.

[Start of excerpt]

REX WILD: I don’t think they – they’ve done enough at this stage, despite all the rhetoric they haven’t attacked the basic fundamental underlying dysfunctionality in strong enough terms.

[End of excerpt]

JON FAINE: Minister, what do you think he means by the underlying dysfunctionality?

JENNY MACKLIN: A few things I think he means. One is, of course, in many communities too much of people’s money has been spent on alcohol or gambling and that’s why we have continued the whole program of income management. There are now around 10,000 people having their welfare payments income managed and what that means is that half of their welfare payments have to be spent on things that benefit children. But we’re still in the process of rolling that out. That’s been a very, very complex new way of doing things to try and make sure that at least some of people’s welfare payments are being spent for the benefit of children.

We are seeing some improvements. It’s very early days though, but certainly we’re getting some reports back from communities that more money’s being spent on food. Some of the mothers and grandmothers are saying to us that there’s less humbugging, what they call humbugging, where, you know, sometimes it might be teenagers harassing grandmothers for money. The grandmothers are able to protect their money in the interests of the little children in ways that they weren’t able to before.

So it’s still early, but we’re – we are certainly seeing some improvements. There’s…

JON FAINE: All right. I need to…

JENNY MACKLIN: …police in…sorry, sorry.

JON FAINE: I need to ask you about the fuel poll in a moment and the AMA want to buy in as well. What do you say to the doctors who are basically voting with their feet, the AMA saying; look, we’re not prepared to continue under the current terms in our involvement with the health programs as part of the intervention?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I understand what the AMA is saying, but I think the important issue really is that there are a lot of doctors in Australia who are willing and I think keen to come to the Northern Territory and to other remote Indigenous communities to really help with what they know is a shocking level of gap in life expectancy and, of course, chronic illness as well. So the new government has…

JON FAINE: Is the AMA playing politics here?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t want to get into those issues Jon. I certainly don’t want to play politics with it. What I want is to encourage doctors to come to the Northern Territory to work with communities and we’ve certainly put additional funding in both for – to pay for doctors, but just as importantly I think, to make sure that we’ve got decent health infrastructure in the Northern Territory.

JON FAINE: All right.

JENNY MACKLIN: So there’s additional money for that as well.

JON FAINE: All right. And just finally before I let you go to the conference to make the speech you’re about to make, the latest polls in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age today say that the Government’s on notice over fuel, the public want you to do more.

JENNY MACKLIN: Look, I certainly don’t need a poll to tell me that people are unhappy about the price of petrol, but the other message that we get from the community is that they do understand that the international price of petrol is making it very difficult for everybody. I heard one of your listeners earlier say that what he wanted was a tax cut. Well that’s exactly what he and many, many other Australians are going to get on the 1 July. There’s a major tax cut being delivered. So for a family on around – a combined income of around $70,000 that family, if they’ve got children getting the benefits of the new and increased child care tax rebate and the education tax refund, that family will be getting around $52 a week. So we can understand…

JON FAINE: So you’re just going to tough it out between now and the end of the month are you?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I, I – well it’s only a couple of weeks away. I think the important thing is to recognise we have actually been listening. We do understand that families are under significant financial pressure. These major tax cuts were in our Budget. We promised them before the election. We’re delivering on our election commitments and I think most families will say that $52 a week in tax cuts will help. We know that the international price of petrol is putting a lot of pressure on family budgets, but these tax cuts will be delivered in a couple of weeks.

JON FAINE: All right, I’d better let you go and make your speech. Thank you.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you very much.

JON FAINE: Jenny Macklin, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Families, Housing and Community Services with Rochelle Hunt at the Communities in Control Conference.