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Transcript of interview with Graham Richardson: Sky News: 12 June 2013: Indigenous affairs; gender issues

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Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister for Disability Reform

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW, SKY NEWS Interview with Graham Richardson

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Subject: Indigenous affairs; gender issues

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: And I'm delighted to say that tonight we've got Jenny Macklin who amongst other things is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and I thought it timely to ask you some questions about it.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Graham.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well are we still throwing a few hundred million dollars at it and is it working?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there's no question that it takes money to build houses, it takes money to make sure we help people into work. but I think going to the heart of your point, it really is about making sure that we change the approach that we have to being one that recognises that Aboriginal people themselves actually want to be in better control of their lives, want to be working, want to be looking after their families, want to make sure that they actually can see their children get a great education. They're actually the aspirations that so many Aboriginal people have and it's our job to support them achieve that.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: You know as I said I thought that we were on the wrong tram for a long time and one of the things that I remember about my trip in December '93 is going to a place called Balgo, we were going to have a town meeting. That's at the end of the earth. I think it's way out near to the desert and it's marooned for six months of the year, you can't get near it. But I remember going there and looking around there were only women who came to the town meeting. And you say well why the women come with all the children, and the reason is that they couldn't leave them at home because of fear of sexual abuse basically. Now I didn't do anything about that. I knew it and I did nothing about it and I think that was the culture we were all in at the time. Are we still in that sort of culture?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I don't think so and one of the primary reasons for the terrible levels of child abuse that does still exist in too many Aboriginal families and of course it's not just children being abused but women as well, is of course alcohol abuse. And having spent a lot of time like you obviously did speaking with Aboriginal people, not just in remote communities but in towns and cities as well, people know that we have to deal with the abuse of alcohol, and it's not a simple task of course. But one of the ways that I've really been determined to act is to see locally based alcohol management plans put in place to support those people, Aboriginal women particularly who do not want to see alcohol in their communities and you would know that this is a very active...

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …there are growing numbers of them, yeah.

JENNY MACKLIN: ...debate especially in the Northern Territory, more recently in Queensland where people are speaking out and saying have a look at the abuse that comes from alcohol, make sure that we do everything possible to control access to alcohol, to support people who are trying to deal with their addictions, to make sure that people have pride in themselves and are going to work and going to school so as they're not turning to alcohol.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: We've had the Northern Territory intervention and I also see the interventions of Noel Pearson. I read his stuff in The Australian when it comes out, occasionally, and he seems to be pretty much spot on.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well he's been very outspoken about the enormous damage that's been done by alcohol and the need to really be up front and control the supply of alcohol. It's not complicated. If you don't have the huge rivers of grog as it's often described, then you can reduce the level of abuse. But Noel Pearson's approach of course has been more complex than that and I've been really pleased to support the Cape York Welfare Reform approach that Noel Pearson has really put forward so strongly, which has its heart the recreation of what he describes as social norms. So an expectation you'll go to work, that your children will go to school, that you won't abuse alcohol, you'll pay your rent, all of these normal expectations that we have of each other. And we are starting to see some improvements in the Cape York Welfare Reform communities. Aurukun for example, more children going to school. These may seem to some people to be small steps but never the less very, very important.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Oh no they are important because I know that the level of attendance at schools in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, these places have been terrible...


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I mean I'm aware of that and I witnessed some of it and it's pretty scary because kids have to go to school if they're going to have any chance in life. But I guess it comes back to real progress. You see you try to measure where you're going with Aboriginal reform and trying to make things better for Aboriginal people. Health is obviously a key area. Health levels are still lousy aren't they, I mean I stopped being Health Minister in 1994, it's you know, more than 19 years ago. But I'm just not sure if things are any better…

JENNY MACKLIN: …they are actually and...

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …oh good, well tell me about it.

JENNY MACKLIN: The good thing that we've done I think is to really set clear targets. We did this after the apology in 2008, set ourselves very, very clear closing the gap targets. One of which is to close, this is the hardest one, to close the life expectancy gap which is around 10 or 11 years between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, so we do expect that will take around a generation to shut because of the terrible levels of chronic disease especially...

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …kidney disease…

JENNY MACKLIN: …kidney disease, heart disease caused by bad diet, smoking, all of the things we know cause these terrible chronic illnesses. But the area where we're seeing real improvement, and this has come about as a result of long sustained effort over many many years, is infant mortality. There's still a gap and the gap is of course unacceptable. But we actually think we are on target to close that gap and I think that will be a wonderful achievement, but something that's come about through concerted, determined effort. Making sure mums when they're pregnant stay healthy, that they don't drink, they don't smoke, they eat well, all the things we know about, that when they have their babies, the babies are born in safe places, that when the parents looking after their newborn babies that of course they know how to do it and get the support that all of us know we need when we're new parents.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Now you've got Liberal governments in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland where I guess a lot of the Aboriginal people live. I mean it's not all of them obviously but a lot, certainly a lot of the problems are in those areas. And in New South Wales you've got another one. I mean, does working with Liberal governments present a problem? At least I haven't heard the arguments that we get in education and health with Aboriginal affairs.

JENNY MACKLIN: We have been determined to make sure that our whole closing the gap approach is one that's delivered by all governments. You can't do it by just the Commonwealth alone. So one of the targets we set ourselves for example was to make sure that all children living in remote areas, or four year olds, had access to an early childhood or preschool place. Well we're actually achieving that this year. And of course we could only do that by yes, the Commonwealth put in extra money to make sure that the places are there, but we had to do that with the state and territory governments and that will be achieved this year.

Now the next target that we've just set ourselves is to make sure that around 90 per cent of those kids actually attend on a regular basis.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, that's the big problem, I know that's been a big problem for a long time. If I could just sort of, just one last question on Aboriginal affairs. Has this intervention in the Northern Territory worked?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well once again I think you need to look at the specific initiatives. Some things have definitely improved. So I think if you look at all the issues around whether or not children are getting the care and support they need, you'd have to say there's a huge amount more to be done. And as I come back to where I started, alcohol abuse is still a huge issue in the Northern Territory and this is really where I do part company with the new government in the Northern Territory. They've taken away the Banned Drinkers Register, they've refused to join the Commonwealth in assessing what are called animal bars in Alice Springs. They've refused to take a comprehensive approach to alcohol management in Alice Springs where we know alcohol is a huge problem….

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …oh, it's a massive problem...

JENNY MACKLIN: …massive problem.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Actually I've never been to a place quite like it. If you ever go to Alice Springs on a Thursday and Friday night you get to see how bad it can be and it's appalling. I have to ask you some other questions. The hardest one is not on Julia Gillard which I'll get to, well actually I probably won't get to, I'm running out of time. But I really am interested in this question of single mums and what you've done to them, putting them on a smaller payment when they were already struggling. That does not seem to me to be a Labor thing to do.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think it's important to remember the history. Back in 2006 the previous government made the decision that all new single parents coming on to the single parent benefit would lose that benefit and go onto Newstart when their youngest child turned eight. What we did was really say well that would apply to those who weren't just new people coming on but those who'd been on the payment for a little while. So I think the history's very important.


JENNY MACKLIN: It is obviously tough to live on unemployment benefits. I'm the first to acknowledge that. But I do also think it's important to acknowledge that we are doing everything we possibly can to help people into work and that's really the best thing we can do to help.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Alright, unless they live in Geelong. It's getting pretty hard there. Now, one last question if you're very brief because I'm way over time. What happened with Julia Gillard yesterday? This stuff about abortion and blue ties, why? Why throw all this in? It's just crazy.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don't agree with you. I actually think it's important to name what Tony Abbott is doing, trying to have a makeover of his image to make out that her is some sort of nice guy...

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …what's he doing on abortion?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it's also important for people to know what Tony Abbott's view on abortion would be…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …but what's he doing, he doesn't done anything. I mean...

JENNY MACKLIN: …he was, as you were, he was the Health Minister...


JENNY MACKLIN: …he had a very, very conservative view about abortion when he was Health Minister.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But he's been the Leader of the Opposition for two years. I haven't heard him mention the word. Look I have to leave it, I mean I listened to your defence and I've got to say that the number of times I've had Ministers come on here and defend what she's done because there's been a serial number of these dramas, and

then when they get off air they always say to me, oh mate, you were dead right. Now I don't think you're in that category and that's why I'm making the point.

JENNY MACKLIN: …well I don’t agree with you…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …I don’t think you’re in that category, that’s why I’m making the point…

JENNY MACKLIN: …I don't agree with you and for most Australian women this is a very, very important issue. People want to know that…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …I don't doubt its importance. I just doubt very much whether there's any evidence that Tony Abbott has moved on it. Anyway look I do have to leave it. Thank you very much for your time Jenny Macklin.