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Jenny Macklin joins the 7.30 Report -

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Jenny Macklin joins the 7.30 Report

Broadcast: 26/05/2009

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin joins the 7.30 Report.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Today is National Sorry Day a day to commemorate the history of forceful
removals of Indigenous Australians from their families and acknowledge its impact, as recommended
in the 'Bringing them Home' report back in 1998.

So it's a rather unfortunate accident of timing that the Rudd Government has chosen this week to
explain why it will impose a housing solution on the notorious Alice Springs town camps, with their
3,000 residents, involving compulsory acquisition. There's a narrow window of opportunity for the
Tangentyere Town Council to accept a $125 million housing package to be managed by the Northern
Territory Government or face the acquisition. Critics say such a move would be a breach of
international law, under Australia's United Nations obligations.

Earlier tonight, I spoke with Indigenous Affairs and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin, who
was in Canberra.

Jenny Macklin, it's unfortunate timing, isn't it, that in the week commemorating National Sorry Day
to announce the forced acquisition of town camps accommodating 3,000 people? Was there really no
other resort, particularly given the claim that this will be in breach of international law?

JENNY MACKLIN, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS & COMMUNITY SERVICES MINISTER: I have worked very, very hard over
the last year to get an agreement with Tangentyere Council and with the housing associations
covering the town camps in Alice Springs. I certainly wanted an agreement. And I thought we had
one. Last July, we did agree that there would be a 40-year lease over the town camps, and it was
also agreed that the Northern Territory Government's Housing Authority would take responsibility
for tenancy management for the next three years. Unfortunately, Tangentyere Council have gone back
on that agreement, and they no longer agreed that we needed to make sure that we had fair and
transparent tenancy management system in place. It is, in my view, no longer tenable for us to wait
any longer. The level of overcrowding, the level of violence, is just too great, and I considered
that it was time to act.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The town camp leaders say that they don't trust the Northern Territory Government to
have control of their housing. Is that what's going to happen under compulsory acquisition?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they did agree last July that the Northern Territory Housing Authority would be
responsible for housing management on the town camps. So ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But they've obviously had second thoughts about precisely that.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don't think you can renege on a deal once you've done it. But the important
thing is that what we're seeking to do, with the Northern Territory Government, is put in place the
same sorts of rights for tenants and the same sorts of protections for tenants as exists for public
housing tenants right around Australia. No more, no less. And the same applies to the
responsibilities that tenants have to be good neighbours, to look after their homes. We know that
the situation in the town camps in Alice Springs, it's there for everybody to see, that the living
conditions that people have are terrible. That of course means it's incumbent on us to put the
money in to upgrade houses, to build new houses, but there's a responsibility on us to have a
decent system of tenancy management.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On the broader issue of the Racial Discrimination Act and intervention, you've
promised to restore the Racial Discrimination Act in the Territory in October. Have you yet been
able to work out how you'll be able to do that while still imposing a disciplinary regime under
intervention in some communities, thereby treating them differently to other Australians?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in my personal view, these are beneficial measures. The income management, for
example, the alcohol controls, I think have demonstrably benefited Aboriginal people living in
remote communities in the Northern Territory. So many of particularly the women that I've spoken
to, but men as well, have said to me how important compulsory income management has been to enable
them to put food on the table for their children, to have less money spent on alcohol and drugs.
These are important changes that are to the benefit of Aboriginal people. But we have an ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But come October, you want to see the Racial Discrimination Act back in practice
alongside compulsory income schemes. Now, those two - how do those two coexist? They're
contradictory.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I don't believe they are contradictory. As you'd be aware, under the Racial
Discrimination Act, we can introduce special measures, measures that are to the benefit of
Aboriginal people. In my opinion, they are beneficial, they are special measures under the Racial
Discrimination Act, but what I'm doing is going out and talking with Aboriginal people themselves
in their communities. We'll use interpreters, we'll have separate meetings, women and men, we'll
make sure that we listen to people's views. But certainly, the evidence to date suggests to me that
these measures are going to be for the benefit of Aboriginal people.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Kevin Rudd made a number of practical pledges to close the gap between social
conditions for Indigenous Australians and the rest of us to go hand in hand with his apology last
year. What tangible evidence - tangible evidence will you have by the time you go to the next
election that you have begun to close the gap? I'm not looking for that litany of spending programs
that you're putting in place - you know what I mean - tangible signs that's worked thus far?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, I do. Sure. Let me just give you one example in the area of literacy and
numeracy. You'd be aware that we've given a commitment, a very tough target, to halve the gap in
literacy and numeracy that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children over the next 10
years. We now have a baseline data from the tests that children did last year. That will be the
base line. Children are being tested in some places, I think, right now. So we'll have data each
year to demonstrate whether or not we're on the path to see the closing of that gap. If we're not
on that path and we're not proceeding as quickly as we should be, then we of course will have to
change tact. It is going to be more difficult in the area of life expectancy, because the data
comes in far less frequently. What we'll use there is data on hospitalisation rates, smoking rates,
some of the things that indicate to us whether or not people's health is improving.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On the Budget reform to lift the retirement pension age to 67 by 2023: have you been
surprised by the depth of negative reaction? Had you anticipated the fact that some working people
will be affected more than others?

JENNY MACKLIN: Of course I understand this point very deeply. It's something that I know from my
own experience. In my own electorate, people who are working very, very tough manual jobs that does
affect their health. But we have a responsibility on two fronts, I think. One is to make sure that
we recognise that for people who are working in hard manual jobs, getting to 65 is quite difficult.
So we need to be working with people in their middle age to think about re-skilling, taking up new
types of jobs to enable them to keep their working life as long as possible. But we also have
another responsibility, which is about making sure that our very significant pension reform. An
increase of $32 a week for the single pensioner is affordable into the long term. And that's why we
have taken what is a very tough decision to increase the aged pension age. We're doing it gradually
because we do understand that people need time to plan for this change, but we think we had to take
that tough decision so that our pension increases are affordable over the long term.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But that's not a sort of one-size-fits-all solution, is it? Treasurer Wayne Swan has
said, "I don't believe we can change the age for a particular group in the community, but we have
to acknowledge that different groups of people are affected differently." You're doing the same. I
mean, that's nice to say so, but that in itself is no compensation for those who by age 65 really
will be looking for a hole to lie down in. And is it enough to say, "Well, we'll help you retrain
for something else." What? At age 50 or 55?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think that - I think we should be doing that now. There are, unfortunately,
many, many people who get to their 50s and who find continuing to do their manual work very
difficult. We do understand that, and that's why we're putting a considerable amount of investment
into retraining opportunities, re-skilling opportunities, encouraging people into different types
of working environments. And we should be redoubling our efforts to do exactly that. We shouldn't
wait until people get into their mid-60s and find that their bodies aren't gonna take them to 65.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Or 67.

JENNY MACKLIN: Or 67.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Jenny Macklin, we're out of time. Thanks for talking with us.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.