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Transcript of press conference: Nhulunbuy, Arnhem Land: 23 July 2008: community cabinet; Northern Territory intervention; Indigenous initiatives; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

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Prime Minister of Australia


Transcript of Press Conference, Nhulunbuy, North East Arnhem Land

23 July 2008

Subject(s): Community Cabinet; Northern Territory Intervention; Indigenous Initiatives; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme


PM: Well it’s good to be here in north east Arnhem Land on the Northern Territory and we are here for our fifth community cabinet. We have had community cabinet so far in Perth, in Brisbane, in Western Sydney, Mackay and now we are here in North East Arnhem Land and we are looking forward to meeting with local people.

So far we have had 2200 people attend our community cabinets across Australia. And we have had 300 one on one meetings with individuals or community organisations. And for us it has been a good way of engaging the Australian people on their local needs. It is also a good way for our cabinet to remain in touch with the needs of Australians on the ground.

And that is as important here in this part of Australia, and we are dealing with remote and regional communities and the indigenous communities in this part of the world, as it is anywhere else.

We have been dealing with locals through our community cabinet process on practical questions like roads, healthcare, housing as well as the cost of living and I imagine those will be some of the topics that we will address here as well.

Also, particular challenges in this part of Australia for economic development, for education, for employment opportunities and to ensure that we are delivering good an effective healthcare on the ground.

When it comes to this government’s approach to indigenous policy, we sum it up in three words. Closing the gap. That’s what we are on about. That’s our mission and it is going to take a while to get there. But that’s what we intend to do.

We have set ourselves some ambitious targets when it comes to education, early childhood education, year 12 completion rates, literacy and numeracy achievements on the part of indigenous kids as well as health outcomes, in particular closing the gap when it comes to the mortality rate for little kids under five.

These are practical targets we have set ourselves, with real timelines and I can tell you, it will be tough, it will be very tough.

But unless you have got these targets within closing the gap, as the central organising principle to what government is doing on the ground, we simply drift.

I am the first to say the challenges are enormous and these two folk with me here, the Minister and Warren, know full well from their engagement and Senator Trish Crossin here, know full well from there engagement here in this community and other indigenous communities across Australia just how big the challenges are.

But our view is, we are here to make a difference. And we are here to make a difference over time with practical actions on the ground. The last thing I would say is, already since the election we have committed some $666 million in specific practical programs to assist with indigenous communities in this part of Australia.

And to give you some indication of where those investments have already been made, some $98 million already invested in an additional 200 teachers, some 50 teachers each calendar year to 2011, $30 million to build three new indigenous boarding facilities across the Northern Territory. Some $99 million over two years from 08’ - 09’ to expand primary healthcare services in the Northern Territory for Indigenous people.

Some $92 million to form the creation of (inaudible) jobs that support the delivery of Australian Government funded

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services and some $75 million for the further implementation of income management across the Northern Territory.

So to summarise where we were. Three words summarise our approach to indigenous policy, closing the gap. Practical actions to close the gap. And in our first six to seven months in office we have committed these funds, invested in practical areas with one end point in mind, closing the gap between indigenous and non indigenous Australians.

Hard work, practical work, but we intend to get on with it. Over to you folks.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, there is a huge infrastructure backlog (inaudible)

PM: Well first of all I have yet to be presented with the document you have referred to so I will be looking at it with interest. I am sure that’s going to happen.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Well I am assuming that you have rendered it accurately. (inaudible) pardon me for sort of being a stickler for process. I would rather be presented with a submission first, before I respond to it’s content to you good folk from the media.

But can I say this more broadly. We know full well that there are massive infrastructure problems in rural and remote Australia.

And that includes in indigenous communities. One of the things I referred to before was the prospective investment in primary health care and prospective investment that we have already earmarked for education.

These are practical steps forward. But I am the first to say that we have got much, much more to do.

And after our engagement with the local indigenous community today, we will have further plans for action for the future.

Also, key inputs from our Northern Territory representatives who are here with us today as well.

JOURNALIST: The intervention is also going to come up with Aboriginal leaders (inaudible)

PM: Well I will again wait to have our meeting with indigenous leaders. But I would draw your attention to some facts and figures on this question. As of 16 July, income management was in place in 63 communities and nine town camp regions and over 14,300 people are currently being income managed compared with 1,700 at the end of November 2007.

Secondly, there are now 54 Government Business Managers in place, servicing some 72 communities and town camp regions. And thirdly, we have had something like 11,000 child health checks which have been undertaken in 70 communities.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: I will just finish the point. Therefore, these are important registrable achievements but we have to evaluate where we have got to through a proper process of review. Remember our pre election commitment was, at the one year point, we subject this to appropriate review. That board of review has already begun it’s operation. Three of it’s members I

understand are in Darwin more or less as we speak and they are going through each element of the intervention against the key criteria of what is working and what is not.

And we will know through the conclusion of that process, how we take this forward into the future. I believe very firmly in evidence based policy and I am concerned about what is working and what is not, against our objectives, which is closing the gap.

And closing the gap is what this government is on about.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) a fundamental flaw of the intervention was the fact that the previous Government never properly engaged Aboriginal people in the decision making process. That indigenous people deserve to be involved in the decision making process that affects their lives?

PM: One of the reasons we are here today, is to engage directly with this local and significant indigenous community here in North East Arnhem Land.

I won’t rake over the coals in terms of what the previous Government did or did not do in their engagement or non engagement of indigenous communities. What we are doing by virtue of being here, we’ve brought a large slab of the

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Cabinet to North East Arnhem land to spend the better part of the day engaging with this significant local indigenous community on their views.

And what I know from my previous discussions with indigenous communities, I’m sure Jenny and Warren and Trish feel the same, is that there’s going to be a whole range of different views. There will be different views within communities and let me tell you across the 400 plus remote communities right across Australia there are different views between those communities.

We are committed to a process of engagement with them, but what decisions we take ultimately will never ever have uniform support. We’ve got to make tough decisions for the future. The end point is how do we close the gap and that’s what we’re in this business of Government for when it comes to indigenous Australia and that’s what we intend to get on and do.

JOURNALIST: On emissions trading are you going to have to negotiate with the Greens do you think?

PM: We have a clear cut strategy for Australia’s long term future on our Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. And I would strongly urge all people who are interested in the countries long term interests to get on board, rather than playing short term electoral politics which now seems to be caught up in the leadership politics of the Liberal party on this critical question of climate change.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister there are reports in NSW today that people from the Iemma Government have confirmed that there were phone calls of a party political nature made to the Iguana club in relation to Belinda Neal and John Della Bosca (inaudible)

PM: I haven’t seen the reports and I’d rather have a look at the reports first.

JOURNALIST: Would you be concerned if that was the case?

PM: I’d rather look at the reports, it’s a bit like talking about a submission that I haven’t seen yet. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nelson says he will not accept an emissions trading scheme that starts before 2011?

PM: On something as critical as climate change which affects our economy, our river system and our future job and our kids. We have a clear cut course of action for the future, the Liberals are playing short term politics and they should get real.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) there’s been reports and allegations that the Northern Territory Government has underspent Commonwealth Government grants (inaudible)

PM: You know what we’ve been on about since we’ve been in Government on the question of the dispersal of funds across the States and Territories for indigenous programs is for the first time in the country’s history the Commonwealth putting together a proper system of transparency across all Governments.

That’s why through the Council of Australian Governments we have initiated a process. From my recollection, I ask the Minister to add to my comments here, is that we’re due to receive a report back through the Premiers and Chief Ministers at the first COAG of next year on all of that.

These sorts of reporting and accounting mechanisms haven’t existed up until now. Am I right on that? And therefore we have actually set that in motion, we have a report back process on it.

We believe very strongly in partnership with the States and Territories on our overall missions statement of closing the gap. We’ve done so already, with this program that I just referred to before for example for the Northern Territory, will also attract a significant investment from the Northern Territory Government (inaudible) on the question of housing and their own program of closing the gap.

Jenny do you wish to add?

MACKLIN: As the Prime Minister has indicated we are doing exactly this through the Council of Australian Governments, we understand how critical it is for every State and Territory to be able to guarantee that they are spending the money they should be spending on indigenous people because we have such a huge task in front of us to close the life expectancy gap.

We are working cooperatively through the working group on indigenous reform, one of the COAG working groups and we’re also engaging the expertise of the productivity commission and their overcoming indigenous disadvantage in this task.

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JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MACKLIN: Well really its all about transparency, that’s the task that we have in front of us is to make sure that we have transparent information about where money is going so that all Governments are accountable for the commitments that they make to indigenous people.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister one more question. Another idea that’s going to be put to you today is the reinstatement of elements of the Racial Discrimination Act that were taken out during last years intervention. Are you open to that?

PM: Well we are engaged in the proper process of review of the entire intervention and I look in particular to what the review board has to say on the question of the RDA. The RDA is fundamentally important to the Labor Government, it has been in the past, it will be in the future. We’ll be particularly attentive to what the review board has to say on that and the other criteria which have been advanced to the review board by the Government to evaluate what’s working and what’s not in terms of this intervention.

I conclude with this. We are in Government to take tough decisions for the long term future for the country and that includes indigenous Australia and that means being real about Closing The Gap. I’m interested in practical action, I’m interested things that work, that make a difference.

It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be smooth. It’s going to be tough in various parts of Australia but we intend to roll our sleeves up and have a go.

Thanks very much

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