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Transcript of interview with David Speers: Sky News, PM Agenda: 6 February 2013: Closing the Gap



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Closing the Gap - Sky News, David Speers

06 February 2013 Program: PM AGENDA

DAVID SPEERS: Well for more on this and what the Closing the Gap report shows about tackling indigenous disadvantage, I spoke to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin. Jenny Macklin thank you for your time.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.

DAVID SPEERS: There's been progress in some areas, some setbacks in others. Overall, are you happy with where we're at in closing the gap?

JENNY MACKLIN: I'm certainly very pleased that we've met our first target, and that is to make sure that every four-year-old in remote Australia can get access to a preschool or kinder. Of course now we have to make sure they go every day, but they can't go if there isn't a kinder to go to so...

DAVID SPEERS: Isn't there stats on whether they're going or not?

JENNY MACKLIN: We don't - I don't have them here, but what I do know is we set this target to make sure they had access, and the good news is that target will be met this year. And I think it demonstrates when you really set a clear agenda for - in Aboriginal affairs and invest the money where it's needed in preschool, in health, making sure people have got jobs. Then you can make a difference.

DAVID SPEERS: When it comes to literacy and numeracy though, once they're in school and particularly getting into the more senior years, there has been less progress anyway. What's going on there?

JENNY MACKLIN: We had some progress early on and then as the Prime Minister said today it has slipped back which is very disappointing. And I think that really demonstrates you've got to be determined for the long haul. As you know, we're going to implement a whole new school improvement program. Peter Garrett will make sure that there are indigenous loadings so that we continue to pursue closing the gap in literacy and numeracy.

DAVID SPEERS: Investing in the schools and teachers is great...

JENNY MACKLIN: It's a big issue.

DAVID SPEERS: But again, it's about turning up at school, isn't it?

JENNY MACKLIN: It's both. It's both, you have to acknowledge all the time that of course the kids need to go to school every day, and I'm the number one advocate for getting kids to school every day...

DAVID SPEERS: Is there more you can do on that front?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there is and that's exactly what we're doing in the Northern Territory, we're introducing the school enrolment and attendance measure. Never been done before by any previous government. And these are measures that are both supportive of parents, and also making sure that parents do the right thing by their kids and get them to school every day.

DAVID SPEERS: When it comes to closing the gap, one of the things that the - I guess, everyone looks to is life expectancy.

JENNY MACKLIN: Sure.

DAVID SPEERS: Now we have seen a bit of slippage on this issue as well. The - for men the life expectancy gap is now 11 and a half years, nearly 10 years now for women. The Prime Minister said the target's going to be enormously challenging to meet. Why is this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Partly because the non-indigenous life expectancy keeps improving as well, which of course is a good thing. So both indigenous and non-indigenous life expectancy is improving. But to close the gap, of course we have to do so much more in health, education, housing, employment, all of those issues affect life expectancy.

One of the good news stories in today's report is for infant mortality. Mortality of children under the age of five. Children are being born more healthy as a result of better antenatal care, making sure that children get their check ups when they're little. That mum and dad get the parenting education that they need. These programs and the desire of course by parents to see their kids grow up healthy and strong is really paying off.

DAVID SPEERS: The Prime Minister also used the speech today to call on the Northern Territory to reinstate its Banned Drinkers Register, the Northern Territory Government which came to office last year to get rid of this is today saying we're not going to reinstate it and you've got no power to force us to. What action can the Commonwealth take here?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well in the first instance we're calling on the Territory Government to do the right thing, to do the right thing by Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory...

DAVID SPEERS: Labor already said no to that.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well they need to have another think about it rather than just have a kneejerk reaction because the evidence is it was helping, it is the case that alcohol devastates the lives of Aboriginal people, it is terrible for women and children and the level of violence that we see in too many communities. And it's not just in the Northern Territory, it's also Queensland where they're talking about watering down the alcohol management plans. We've got to have the safety of women and children upper most in our minds.

DAVID SPEERS: Well the Territory Government clearly doesn't think the banned drinkers register is or has worked in the past. So what can you do to force their hand here?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we are calling on them to change their minds, to have another think about, to look at the evidence. What we're also doing is introducing minimum standards for alcohol management plans with a clear focus on the safety of families and particularly women and children. And I do have the power through our Stronger Futures legislation to make sure that those alcohol management plans meet the higher standards and I'll certainly make sure they do.

DAVID SPEERS: The Commonwealth does have more power when it comes to overriding territory laws than states, would you go down that path?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we do have very extensive powers and I certainly will use them to make sure that alcohol is not hurting Aboriginal people in the way that it has in the past. So in the first instance I'm calling on the Territory Government to re-think this issue about the banned drinkers register and the alcohol and other drug courts which they also got rid of. Both of these measures were helpful. Both of them should be reinstated.

DAVID SPEERS: Jenny Macklin the Indigenous Affairs Minister talking to us a little earlier.