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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1798


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (16:34): I speak in support of 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. At the beginning of this speech, I pay tribute to the Hon. Jenny Macklin. She is an extraordinary parliamentarian and a wonderful minister. I have had the privilege of working with her as chair of the caucus social policy committee for the past four years. She is the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform. She has a wonderful heart and a tremendous work ethic. I pay tribute to her for the extensive consultation that she has undertaken in relation to this matter. This legislation comes as a result of the incredible hard work that she has put in to consult with men, women and communities across the length and breadth of this country.

I support this legislation because I believe that it will make a difference in the lives of people in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and in communities across the country. Indeed, one of the areas of income management happens to be in your electorate, Deputy Speaker Livermore, the federal seat of Capricornia. I will speak about that later.

The legislation lays out the approach that we are going to take in relation to the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. We are committed to closing the gap. We have a history of taking action and implementing reforms. I noticed the Prime Minister's recent speech on the annual report on where we are up to in terms of closing the gap. We have in place some very strong aspirations and we have backed that up with serious commitment and serious funding, and we are making a difference. We are delivering real and measureable outcomes in these Indigenous communities across the country, not just in the Northern Territory.

More than 90,000 additional jobs have been won by Indigenous Australians over recent years. Indigenous unemployment has fallen from 31 per cent to 16.6 per cent. Infant mortality rates in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have fallen by 36 per cent. Indigenous workers across the country are taking action in Northern Territory and Queensland in the fight against chronic disease such as heart conditions, diabetes, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and mental illness and against other problems in these communities. We have seen an improvement in retention rates for Indigenous young people completing year 12. It is too low at 47 per cent, but it has increased from the 30 per cent that it was in the early 1990s. It is not good enough yet, but steps are being taken. We are making a difference, we are making gains, but it is not easy after many years of disadvantage and difficulties. There is no doubt whatsoever that there is a long way to go, but legislation like this will make a difference. With the support of Labor and coalition governments across the length and breadth of the country, and with the goodwill of Indigenous and other communities, we can make a difference. We are looking to improve housing with about 4,700 new or refurbished homes across Indigenous communities across the country since 2009. We are looking at hundreds and hundreds of refurbished homes in the Northern Territory—about 1,400 by June 2013. This is the largest ever remote housing investment in the Northern Territory's history. We are making a difference because we believe in helping. On this side of politics we believe that helping our brothers and sisters is not an optional extra, it is not an aspiration, it is not a handout—it is a help up. We want to make sure that we can deliver real gains in that regard. We are determined to close the gap in relation to Indigenous disadvantage.

The object of the stronger futures legislation is to make sure we build safer communities in the Northern Territory. We want to make sure that children go to school. We want to make sure that housing is decent and affordable. We want to make sure that alcoholism is not a scourge on these communities in the future. Too often, men and women have continued to drink alcohol to excess. Women often drink during pregnancy, resulting in FASD difficulties for their children. There is too much domestic violence in these communities, too much criminality, too much conflict, too much dispute and too many marriage and relationship breakdowns. There is simply not enough goodwill evidenced in the past by governments of both persuasions—not enough commitment of funding, not enough determination to tackle these issues. The legislation before the House, particularly the stronger futures legislation, deals with real, practical measures to tackle alcohol abuse, with making sure that we have more nutritious food and better food security in these remote communities and with assisting economic development in the town camps and community-living areas in the Northern Territory.

In the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill we have five new sites announced, including Logan, which is adjacent to my home city of Ipswich, and Rockhampton in Queensland. We will see amendments made that involve income management. That can be triggered by referrals from state and Territory organisations. I can imagine these organisations are very keen to be helping people who are vulnerable, who are suffering from social and economic disadvantage and who are in need of a helping hand to manage their financial affairs. There are school attendance plans under the social security legislation. I was interested to note that the government's Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure, known as SEAM, which other speakers have referred to, was mentioned recently in a press release by the Hon. Jenny Macklin, the Federal Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, as well as by the Hon. Peter Garrett, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. They mentioned the 2010 evaluation of SEAM report and made the point that, under SEAM, parents who do not respond to attempts to ensure their children are enrolled in and attend school can have their income support payments suspended. This has been trialled in 14 communities in the Northern Territory and 30 schools in Queensland. It is important that children turn up to class. It is important that children are literate and numerate. It is important to their educational outcomes and to their future financial security that that is the case. Children who do not complete school end up regularly engaging in miscreant behaviour.

That is why the report Doing time—time for doingof the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, of which I am the chair, noted so many Indigenous juveniles and young adults involved in the criminal justice systems around the country. The tragedy is that Indigenous juveniles are 28 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous juveniles. Indigenous juveniles make up more than half of the detainee population on an average day. Indigenous young adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous young adults. If you are an Indigenous woman you are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised by partner abuse than a non-Indigenous women. There are real problems in these communities. This is not some esoteric, theoretical problem; these are real problems in families and in individual and community life in our country. It is in our backyard, it is in our neighbourhood, it is in our community—and we cannot ignore it. That is why in the report that the Hon. Peter Garrett and the Hon. Jenny Macklin mentioned the point is made that SEAM was successful in ensuring that all children of school age, who were involved in the trial, were enrolled in school and alternative education programs in 2010. There was an increase in participation: SEAM students increased their participation from 74.4 per cent to 79.9 per cent in the Northern Territory and from 84.7 per cent to 88.7 per cent in Queensland, my home state. There were other indications that the SEAM program is quite clearly working. The report also found that after social workers from Centrelink contacted families students were less likely to miss school—that is, less likely to be engaged in truancy.

We create good social norms and build safer communities by building up families. Family is the bedrock of our community, and that is important. That is why so many of these reforms are so critical to families. Alcoholism is a really bad thing. About one in 10 Australians suffer from alcohol abuse. Anyone who has experienced alcoholism in their family, as I have, has seen the impact on family life, on a person's capacity to complete school and on relationships. It results in ostracism for many people. It results in financial deprivation. It often results in abuse—psychological and emotional—in family life. It results in real disadvantage for young people. Alcoholism is a really bad problem and the Northern Territory, on all the evidence, is a problem area. I was interested to see in some reports that were coming out of the Northern Territory that in the Northern Territory alcohol consumption is far greater than elsewhere. The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011—alcohol proposals regulation impact statement/post implementation review made it really clear that the problem of alcohol consumption in the Northern Territory has not gone away and in fact is very much there. According to that report, in 2007 it was estimated that 88.7 per cent of non-Indigenous adults in NT had consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months, compared to 84.6 per cent of the rest of Australians. But it was worse when it came to Indigenous people. It really is a problem. I commend everyone to have a look at that report, because you will be absolutely stunned at the impact of alcohol consumption on people's lives and upon the problems that are clearly there in the Northern Territory.

The World Health Organisation makes it plain that harmful use of alcohol is a global problem which impacts not just on individuals and families but on the social development of whole communities. The whole of the Northern Territory has been afflicted by these problems. The problem is the pattern of drinking and the volume of drinking. The volume of drinking in the Northern Territory amongst Indigenous people is very, very high. The problem is also the pattern, where a father gets hold of the money and then consumes alcohol, passes it on and gets the partner or wife involved, regardless of whether she is pregnant or otherwise. This can result, of course, in a child suffering from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other kinds of problems.

I am pleased that, arising out of the Doing time report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs is looking into foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I happen to be on that committee, and we have had a number of hearings, particularly in North Queensland. You can see the impact of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder on the lives of those people. There are a lot of things we can do in terms of prevention, assistance, income management, advice, counsel, education and mentoring. I mentioned education before, because education is really important for our young people and for people in the Northern Territory.

I am going this Friday to some seminars with an Indigenous lawyers association in Brisbane. I am very interested to see how they are going. Josh Creamer is a very well-known Indigenous barrister in Brisbane. I talk to Josh and I know him through a mutual friend, Sharon Murakami. They are having a meeting to talk about how they can provide friendship and fellowship to one another. There are very few Indigenous people—not enough—in professions around the country. I want to have a situation where an Indigenous young person from a remote community can have the opportunity, as Josh has had in his area, to work and practice as a barrister. Mentors like that can make a difference, but education is the key. Making sure that kids get to school is absolutely crucial.

I want to talk briefly about income management and why I think it is important. It has been successful elsewhere. We have seen this in Western Australia since late 2008, but we have also seen the importance of contact through Centrelink. Centrelink is a really important organisation throughout the country, as I saw after the floods in my electorate. In the future, in places like Rockhampton, Logan and, I hope, my area of Ipswich, we will see the referral of parents who just cannot cope, who are vulnerable to financial crisis, to Centrelink for income management. We want to make sure that the people who volunteer for income management, people who are struggling, can get the help they need. We want to make sure that children get every opportunity.

The legislation before this House deals with the Northern Territory. It deals with a lot of things. It deals with housing, food, land tenure, alcohol problems and education. This is a whole-of-government approach. I will finish where I started, by commending Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. She is a great public servant to this community, and this legislation is testimony to her commitment to Indigenous people around the country.