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Minister announces some welfare payments for some Indigenous people in WA will be quarantined.

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Wednesday 27 February 2008

Minister announces some welfare payments for some Indigenous people in WA will be quarantined


MARK COLVIN: The Government is to quarantine part of the money that goes to Aborigines in some West Australian communities. 


In a move with echoes of the Howard Government's Northern Territory intervention, Centrelink will be able to recommend the quarantining of welfare payments. 


The decision is a response to a damning report this week from a West Australian coroner into the deaths of 22 Aboriginal people from the Kimberley. 


It found that Indigenous welfare was nothing less than a disaster. 


The Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced today that, where Centrelink recommended, money would have to be spent on essentials like food. 


The Minister was speaking at the National Press Club, where she promised a new approach to Indigenous Affairs. 


From Canberra Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: It was a bleak report from a WA coroner, who found conditions are getting worse for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, with the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people now a vast gulf. 


JENNY MACKLIN: Like most other people I was appalled to read yet another report describing the despair and hopelessness gripping another Indigenous community. 


I'm sorry to say it didn't surprise me. 


PETA DONALD: Three months into her new job, the Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has addressed the National Press Club. She came armed with the Government's response to the coroner's report. 


JENNY MACKLIN: So today, in line with the recommendation made by the West Australian coroner, I'm announcing that the Australian Government will proceed with a trial of welfare payment conditionality and income management to combat poor parenting and community behaviours in selected Western Australian communities including in the Kimberley. 


PETA DONALD: WA child protection officers will be able to ask Centrelink to quarantine a person's welfare benefit, so that half of it has to be spent on essentials like food. It's similar to arrangements in the Northern Territory, although in the NT all Aboriginal people in remote communities had their payments quarantined, regardless of whether they're feeding their children or not. 


With that announcement made, there was a chance for the Minister to talk more broadly about how she plans to tackle the job. How will the Government reach its targets to halve infant mortality rates in a decade, and close the 17-year gap in Aboriginal life expectancy in a generation?  


Jenny Macklin says her approach will be based on evidence of what works.  


JENNY MACKLIN: All of these decisions will be driven by one single criterion - evidence. This is the Government's obsession and we make absolutely no excuses for it. It is an abiding fixation that I have and I can tell you I readily acknowledge it. 


All of our policy making, all of our decision making will be based on thorough forensic analysis of the facts and the evidence.  


PETA DONALD: Solutions, she says, can't be imposed on people. 


JENNY MACKLIN: It just doesn't work. To work and to be sustainable the solutions have to be developed on the ground and driven by the communities who will then own them. 


PETA DONALD: The Minister is differentiating herself from her predecessor Mal Brough, who was accused of imposing solutions that communities didn't want, such as aspects of the Northern Territory intervention. 


But Jenny Macklin shares Mal Brough's belief in expanding private home ownership as a way to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. 


JENNY MACKLIN: Australians from so many different walks of life have always aspired to home ownership as a measure of ensuring economic, physical and of course very importantly, emotional security. If we have equity in our homes, we have a stake in our economic future. 


So what I want is for Indigenous working families to have that sense of security and control over their future through home ownership. 


PETA DONALD: Unlike Mr Brough, Ms Macklin won't be threatening to remove funding from Aboriginal groups who don't want to give up communal title to their land. 


JENNY MACKLIN: In the Northern Territory our approach to tenure will be neither prescriptive nor coercive. Where communities and traditional owners wish to pursue 99-year township leases, we will consider each and every proposal on its merits.  


PETA DONALD: The new Minister wound up with a quote from an Aboriginal man she spoke to in the remote NSW town of Walgett last week. 


JENNY MACKLIN: I'll remember that wise advice from Joe Flick, which is to take the blinkers off, take the blinkers off and look for new options. That way we can all move forward together.  


Thank you very much. 




MARK COLVIN: The Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin at the National Press Club. The reporter was Peta Donald.