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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1736


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (12:18): The Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011 and the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011 amend the Social Security Act 1991 and the Social Security Act 1999 to enable state and territory agencies such as the Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal in the Northern Territory to trigger income management through referrals. The Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill also amends the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to enable the minister to designate states, territories and areas in which income management can be implemented. This in effect provides the government the necessary flexibility for the operation of income management in the five trial sites announced in the 2010-11 budget.

Protecting the welfare of Indigenous children—indeed, all Australian children—is the fundamental responsibility of any government. When intervention is required to protect children, to respond to threats against children, the government must be ready, willing and able to step in and protect those most vulnerable in our society.

The change of government in 2007 was not a good thing for the people of the Northern Territory. In fact it would be the hallmark of a policy shift that has been detrimental to Territorians, particularly Indigenous Australians. Labor decided to smash the coalition's commitment to doing what was right and what was needed in the Northern Territory, namely, the emergency response. The ideological pursuit of opposition to the Northern Territory intervention caused widespread collateral damage and undid the good work of the former coalition government. Labor through their various incarnations, firstly, the Rudd government and now the Gillard government, are opposed to real welfare reform. They are opposed to promoting measures that will actually help not burden the people concerned. This minister says she not only really believes in reform, in change, in helping people in the Northern Territory, and indeed all Australians, but she proclaims the urgency of this bill, all the while having fallen asleep at the policy wheel.

The other side were vocal in criticising income management. Now they profess it is an important part of our welfare system. The government is now picking winners. It is okay, for example, to have this in the Northern Territory but not in the minister's electorate. It is okay for the government-nominated trial states but not in the Treasurer's or the Prime Minister's electorates. If it is good enough for parts of Australia, for some Australians, we on this side say that it is good enough for all Australians.

This government has now had an epiphany that it should somehow work hand in hand with other agencies, with state and territory agencies such as the Northern Territory Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal. My congratulations to the Gillard Labor government for coming to a realisation of this and for adopting the approach that we have pursued for years. The hypocrisy of the government simply knows no bounds. This bill, however, is a welcome measure. Together with elements of the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory legislation package, which I will come to shortly, the objectives are important and the coalition hopes that the desired outcomes are realised. But we will not be holding our breath. This is a government which is big on promises. It makes agreements; its leader, the Prime Minister, signs those agreements—then she rips them up. Whilst courage and conviction are not in great supply on the other side of the chamber, dysfunction and disunity are in abundance particularly today.

Suddenly the government is concerned about school attendance. Indeed, this bill seeks to amend social security legislation that underpins the Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure or SEAM. This bill will enable local tailoring of this measure to allow for greater intervention in the Northern Territory's Every Child, Every Day initiative. Combined, these measures will hopefully support greater improvements to school attendance. Moreover, under the amendment arrangements a parent may be required to attend a compulsory conference to discuss their child's school attendance and to enter into a school attendance plan. The bill mandates the parent then complies with the plan. The bill provides for parent income support payments to be suspended where a noncompliance occurs.

When the government chose to depart from the successful measures of the emergency response, they chose to ignore the inevitable consequences of this and how it would have an impact on the welfare of Indigenous children. When the Gillard government chose to water down and to soften the previous coalition government measures, they confirmed to the Australian people that they were more interested in populism than progress and they were more interested in press statements and releases than in sound public policy.

The measures enacted in this bill are another classic example from the Gillard government of a government desperate to be seen to be doing something. The coalition supports these measures, but the coalition also supports a proactive approach to welfare, not a reactive one. We support comprehensive policy development, not quick fixes designed to patch over endemic issues. The government has contributed to—indeed, has caused—many of the problems that it now proudly proclaims it will fix. This government is not taking the tough decisions. It is not providing hope, reward and opportunity to Territorians—indeed, to all Australians. The government is merely playing politics with an issue close to my heart and close to the hearts of many people on this side of the chamber.

The Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs talks about income management. She proclaims how great it is. I challenge her here and now to introduce income management to the APY lands in northern South Australia. Use the powers she has right now and do something for these people in one of the most remote parts of the country. The people of the APY lands are crying out for income management, no group more so than their Women's Council that I visited a few months ago. If the government is truly committed, then order income management for the APY lands which this legislation will enable to be done.

The coalition supports these measures and, therefore, this bill. We have little confidence in the government, however, that what will be done and necessary will come to fruition. I fear they will not do. I hope that the government go some way to proving me wrong, for if for nobody else's sake it is for the sake of our brothers and sisters and their children in the Northern Territory and in places like the APY lands who have been so wilfully neglected by a government so utterly weak and incompetent, so bitterly divided and dysfunctional.

Let me turn to the other bills, the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill and the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill. Firstly, the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill incorporates additional measures for tackling alcohol abuse by increasing the powers of the minister to suspend, modify or cancel liquor licences and individual permits issued in prescribed areas. Current legislation provides that, once the minister grants an exemption for a permit or licence to be issued, the terms, conditions and enforcement of such is the responsibility of the Northern Territory government as legislated through the Northern Territory Liquor Act. The measures also provide powers to the minister to request the Northern Territory government appoint an independent assessor to examine any licence or premises where the minister has reasonable grounds to believe that a particular licensed premise anywhere in the Northern Territory is linked to substantial harm to Indigenous people.

An additional measure provides and empowers the Commonwealth minister to approve all alcohol management plans for Indigenous communities. The measures proposed in this bill are in line with the policies and measures established by the Northern Territory government. It should be noted that the Labor government has not proposed any new or additional alcohol control or management initiatives to enhance existing measures. The government has merely duplicated existing measures in order to appear to be taking a strong stance on alcohol management.

I turn to land reform. Township leasing arrangements are fundamental in facilitating private home ownership and commercial development in Aboriginal communities. The Labor government has not actively pursued this vital reform in government, with the Northern Territory Emergency Response monitoring report dated October 2011 noting:

Following feedback from the land councils on these proposals, township leasing is now being pursued as a longer term priority, unless traditional owners initiate discussions.

The Labor government have now incorporated this measure into their 10-year plan. While the coalition is supportive of this measure, it should be highlighted that this must be considered as a priority.

The bill seeks to expand measures introduced by the former coalition government's community store program where stores were assessed and outback stores were supported to enter a community in order to raise the quality and quantity of food products and reduce the prices of food and household items. All measures in these bills are to be reviewed after seven years of operation. A sunset provision of 10 years is incorporated.

While long-term behavioural change and structural change in Indigenous communities cannot be achieved overnight, allowing any government measures to run for seven years before a review sends the wrong message. It says in reality that this area is not a priority. It says the issue is not one demanding urgent attention. Labor's approach in this area lacks leadership, lacks vision and lacks any new ideas.

Pursuant to the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill, an exemption is required to be granted by the minister to obtain a liquor licence or permit in an alcohol protected area. All licences and permits are then issued and regulated by the Northern Territory government through the provisions of the Northern Territory Liquor Act. This bill grants the power to the federal minister to modify, suspend or cancel liquor licences and permits. Those powers to be conferred are essentially a duplicate of the powers already vested in the Northern Territory minister and the Northern Territory Liquor Commissioner. Monitoring, suspending or cancelling of liquor licences and permits is currently the responsibility of the Northern Territory minister and the Northern Territory Liquor Commission. Any intervention in this area by the federal minister will, therefore, lead to duplication of effort by governments or confusion by permit holders and licensees over which minister or which regulations are in force.

The coalition amendments, circulated in my name, remove any potential confusion or duplication of effort by clearly specifying when and how the federal minister may act. The amendments, if adopted, would require that prior to issuing a determination to modify, suspend or cancel a liquor licence or permit the minister must first write to the Northern Territory minister and the Northern Territory Liquor Commission setting out the issue and the proposed action. The Northern Territory minister and the Northern Territory Liquor Commissioner must then respond in writing within the specified consultation period with any comments or actions that they consider appropriate. The amendments require that the federal minister must have regard to those comments prior to making any determination.

These amendments ensure that any federal intervention in the management of the Northern Territory Liquor Act does not duplicate or complicate the legislation of the Northern Territory or actions of the Territory government. The amendments reserve the right of the federal minister to make a determination where the Northern Territory government is unable or fails to take appropriate action to address harm caused by alcohol abuse. I therefore commend the coalition amendments to the House.