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Govt announces new era for Indigenous policy -

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KERRY O'BRIEN: In his speech endorsing the apology, the Prime Minister said Australians want their
politicians to move beyond the infantile bickering, point-scoring and mindless partisan politics of
the past and strive for genuine national bipartisanship on Indigenous policy at least.

He's proposed a new joint policy commission co-chaired by himself and Opposition leader Brendan
Nelson, which Dr Nelson has embraced, to tackle housing problems as a start.

To talk more about the window of opportunity now potentially available on the troubled Indigenous
landscape, I'm joined now by Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin.

Let's go straight to this policy commission. Why housing as a start?

JENNY MACKLIN, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER: Housing is so important for all the other parts that
are needed to be addressed if we really are serious about closing the gap. We won't be able to
close the gap if people don't have a decent roof over their heads. So that children can sleep
safely at night, so that kids can do their homework in the afternoon, so that mothers and fathers
can get ready for work the next day. The health implications of the severe overcrowding that exists
in many, many parts of Australia, of course worst in the remote parts of Australia, really make it
imperative that we look at this housing question.

We are one of the few, if not the only, developed country in the world that continues to have
rheumatic fever in many parts of remote Australia. We know that there are medical solutions to that
disease that we could implement but unless we deal with the housing, we don't get rid of that
disease. So this is why we want to start with housing and of course we've got very specific
initiatives that the Government will continue to pursue on health and education.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But in choosing housing, is there also some careful thought in choosing that as
possibly one of the less complex areas that might give you a genuine hope of bipartisanship?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think that is an important point. We can come together and really push to get
results in this critical area. It's for the reason you describe but it's also because if we don't
do it we won't actually get to close the gap.

We've got a 17 year life expectancy gap at the moment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
Australians. It's been stuck there for some time. We do need the health interventions but we won't
get there by health interventions alone. We have to get serious about housing and many other
issues, but let's focus and get some results.

KERRY O'BRIEN: One assumes apart from the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, and I know this is
very early stages, I assume that also there will also be you as Minister and the Liberal Opposition
spokesman Tony Abbott and presumably you would want to keep the numbers manageable given the
fragility of bipartisanship and this is going to be a very strange process, isn't it, that the hope
that you would meet together in this spirit, while at the same time you could be at war in the
Parliament and out, on a whole raft of other political issues.

JENNY MACKLIN: That's true and I also think we have to recognise there's a lot of people outside
the Parliament and outside the public service who will also be able to bring a lot of advice and
practical assistance to delivering this very important objective. So, we're going to sit down and
think that through and talk with the Opposition about it. We're serious about bipartisanship. I
don't think we're going to be able to move forward on Indigenous Affairs unless we have a
bipartisan approach.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But it was a fragile start, isn't it, that you can't immediately say a bipartisan
approach for all Indigenous policy, you have to start with one and build from there.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it's a practical way to go. Let's be sensible about this new approach; let's
take an area that is critical to closing the gap; let's take an area that we can work practically
on together; let's take an area that is desperately needed and get some results.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've promised to halve the gap and Kevin Rudd has promised to halve the gap in the
infant mortality rate between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and also halving the gap
between reading, writing and literacy within the next 10 years, that's for both those. Suppose
those are laudable targets but what targets are you also setting for yourselves in your first term
to allow voters in two to three years to be able to make a genuine judgment about whether you're
making progress or not, whether you're delivering?

JENNY MACKLIN: That's a very good point. I have already in fact asked my department to set out some
timelines that we should be aiming to meet over the next three years because, unless we make
progress in this time, we're not going to meet the 10 year target and we certainly can't hope to
meet the longer target. That's where we're at the minute, is going through looking at what needs to
be done to get to different points in the first year, second and so on.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On the Indigenous health front, I assume you will need a small army of health
workers available to work in Indigenous communities right around Australia to achieve your goals.
Where are they going to come from?

JENNY MACKLIN: This is a big issue and the other commitment that the Prime Minister made today was
the commitment to get every four-year-old, Indigenous four-year-old in remote Australia, into
preschool. That too demonstrates how hard it is to find all the preschool teachers we're going to
need.

So in that area we've made a commitment to expand the number of university places in early
childhood education by about 1,200 a year, and then we're going to offer to pay half of their HECS
to encourage them to go out into remote Australia. So, in that area where we have set a very clear
target, that is how we're going to go about it.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Just come back to health and tell me, because that is an enormous task and it fails
if you can't find the people to deliver.

JENNY MACKLIN: That's right and that's why in the health area we need to recognise some of the big
commitments we've made to deliver. For example, a new Commonwealth dental health scheme, one of the
big issues that's been identified is the enormous dental health needs that children have. We've got
to get the dental workers out into the remote areas, get the dental treatment delivered but the
Commonwealth, the new Commonwealth Government has said we will have a new dental program just to
choose one area, we're targeting specific issues and we're going to pursue them to get the results.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And finally, Minister, the issue neither side wanted to talk about today,
compensation for the Stolen Generations. I don't see how logically you can acknowledge or honestly
acknowledge all the pain, all the personal tragedy and the in justice but then say all we're going
to give you by way of compensation is to say the word 'sorry'.

JENNY MACKLIN: What we're saying is that our priority is to close the gap. We have to decide where
we will put the necessary Federal Government money and we think the place has to be in addressing
the terrible levels of disadvantage in housing, in health, in education, in making sure that people
are participating in the economy. That's where the desperate need is. And so that's where we think
the Federal Government money should go.

KERRY O'BRIEN: One can have sympathy with that goal, but surely the problems of future generations
of Indigenous Australians is a clear separate issue from compensating for the particular losses and
pain of the Stolen Generations as a matter of justice. The 'sorry' word is resonating around the
nation today but one wonders when those people, those damaged people go back to their own lives,
how long that word will continue to resonate for them.

JENNY MACKLIN: Many of them have actually said to me that, not all, I acknowledge there are many
different points of view, but many do say no amount of money will bring back my mother, that what
they want to do is make sure that the next generation, the children being born today, have the
chances that they didn't have. So we're getting very diverse range of views. I understand what
you've saying but people really aren't coming at this from one point of view.

KERRY O'BRIEN: No, but I just wonder, honestly, how you can justify as a person who is sincere
about Aboriginal issues, forcing these people individual by individual through the further pain and
possible humiliation, those who want to choose the path of compensation through the further pain
and possible humiliation of the court system to get just compensation. Surely this has to be a
matter for national Government?

JENNY MACKLIN: The national Government thinks that the highest priority is to do the things that
I've outlined, to really focus particularly on the children, to make sure that for the next
generation they have the opportunities that people in the past haven't had.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Jenny Macklin, we're out of time but thanks for joining us on this historic day.
Thank you.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.