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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6122

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (16:11): Mr Deputy President, I made it my business to come in this afternoon and listen to all of the contributions from the Greens in their opening speeches on this section of our business today. I think that if you had listened very carefully to the last 10 minutes you would not have heard one policy idea, you would not have heard of one initiative, you would not have heard of one solution, you would not have heard of one way of moving this debate forward. I understand, Senator Siewert, that you have an interest in this area but I think that your knowledge of what is going on through the length and breadth of the Northern Territory clouds your view about what a lot of people think about this.

So let us go to stronger futures. It is not a rebadging of the intervention. It suits you and it suits your political rhetoric to try to encourage Indigenous people in the Northern Territory to believe that but though there are many aspects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which was introduced under the Howard government, in it they have now gone and no longer exist in this legislation because we have spent four years talking to Indigenous people about a way forward. This is unlike when the intervention was first introduced by a former minister, Mal Brough, and occurred overnight. What we did, as I said in my speech in a contribution to the stronger futures legislation debate, was get Peter Yu and his group of three to conduct consultations. We changed the legislation so it complied with the Racial Discrimination Act.

We have been out there a number of times talking to people about what they want. People focus on the 12 weeks in which the consultations on that particular piece of legislation this year were focused, but the reality is that people like Minister Warren Snowdon and his staff, me and my staff and Minister Macklin, to her credit—and Senator Scullion, I have to say—actually get out on the ground week after week and hear a much more balanced view about what is going on out there than you do.

Three weeks ago I had the privilege of going to Dhanaya, which is a homeland in north-east Arnhem Land, and I sat there with nearly 300 people for 11 hours that day. I was extremely privileged to be part of a young boy's initiation ceremony followed by, several hours later, a funeral, and in the course of that day I got to speak to many people at Dhanaya. What I know is this: people out there are very confused about the shire council reforms that have been undertaken by the Northern Territory government and they say that these have taken their voices away.

The Northern Territory government is working through that because it was an inefficient and inept system of managing local government. We and the Northern Territory government are working to ensure that those small communities have consultative groups that work within those shires. They talk about their voices being removed. Let us make sure that that is not wrapped up in the stronger futures package. Let us be really clear about this. It is about the local government reform, which is major and massive—73 communities are now down to nine super shires. Is it going to work overnight? Of course it is not, but it is going to take years to make sure that people know what has happened.

We talk about consulting with Indigenous people. I think we have done it better than many governments have done it in the past. Wherever we have built houses, we have a local housing reference group. I was at Wadeye three weeks ago where there are 75 new houses. You would seriously think that it was a suburb anywhere in this country. It is in a square grid. It has sealed roads. It has guttering. For the first time ever I have seen new houses put in Indigenous communities with guttering, lines marked on the road, power lights overhead, footpaths and fences. I was astonished when I saw it and the people there were eminently proud of this new lot of housing. It was done in consultation with Indigenous people, so 75 houses were not just built anywhere. I could say the same about Maningrida and the new houses on Groote Eylandt.

All of the growth towns have a local implementation plan—an LIP. Those communities have been asked to identify 10 priorities in their community. Those priorities change and are different. Each of those communities has a local implementation plan committee working with local government, the NT government and the Commonwealth government and the community. There are four parties that sign up to that local implementation plan.

So things are very different out there. Sure, it is a struggle. I have been in the territory for 31 years and I still grapple with why children are not going to school everyday. I still grapple with why we have the health outcomes that we have, and there are plenty more challenges. But looking back 31 years, I do see a difference. What we are determined to do is to stop this small cycle of funding where plans for community groups and organisations get put in place and then, after one or three years, they have to reapply for their funding.

I think the greatest thing that has come into place with stronger futures is a 10-year bipartisan funding commitment between the government and the coalition. So no matter what happens at next year's federal election or the federal election after that—or the federal election after that, for that matter—$3.4 billion will be there so that we can have a generation of implementation of programs.

Senator Siewert, you have not heard Aboriginal people ask you month after month to, 'Please give us a decent block of funding, give us funding that goes beyond three years so that we can actually plan.' I have constantly heard that everywhere I have gone throughout the Northern Territory in my working life there. I really do have to pay tribute to Jenny Macklin and people like Senator Wong and Wayne Swan who decided that that they would get this money together and fund these programs for 10 years.

Everywhere I go Indigenous people say two things to me: they want to stop the alcohol abuse; and they want to stop people ruining their lives by getting easy access to alcohol and to have an alternative. Stronger futures tackles that challenge. They want assistance to get their kids to school and stronger futures tackles that challenge as well, working in partnership with Indigenous people. Women want to continue with the BasicsCard because they feel some security about that and they want us to continue to improve the safety in their community. Stronger futures does that.

We have worked very hard with the homelands policy. Even the coalition said to the Northern Territory government, 'We will find homelands for a certain number of years but after that you have to find the money yourselves.' Well, it was not going to be possible and it is not possible in the economic base of the Northern Territory. Under the stronger futures package we have given $200 million over 10 years to support municipal and essential services in the homelands. The coalition have partnered with us as part of the 10-year funding commitment. I hope that $200 million is now safe and secure. During this election campaign Paul Henderson, under his dynamic leadership and extensive consultation with people in the Northern Territory, travelled out to Gan Gan, a homeland in north-east Arnhem Land, two weeks ago and announced that they would match our $200 million with $300 million. So under the Labor Party, both federally and in the Northern Territory, you have a $500 million commitment for homelands for the next 10 years because we acknowledge the profound connection between Indigenous people and their homelands. We acknowledge their culture, we acknowledge that they want and deserve a right to live on their homelands. Through stronger futures and our homelands policy we support that right. (Time expired)