Press Conference – Binjari, Northern Territory

Minister for Indigenous Australians

MARION SCRYMGOUR, MEMBER FOR LINGIARI: Thank you, and I want to thank May and Olivia for the welcome to country. It’s always great to be part of being welcomed to other people’s country. I think the investment and it is a proud moment to stand here with the Prime Minister, with the Minister for Indigenous Australians, and for the announcement in terms of the biggest investment by any government into the Northern Territory. Many of us have been around for twenty, thirty years working in this space and to see the investments that have been rolling out from Alice Springs to the top end up here, and Katherine, to see investments in Tennant Creek to right across the Northern Territory. And I do acknowledge and I want to applaud this Prime Minister, because it is about putting the investment into the Northern Territory. For Minister Burney, it is about that passion to make sure that jobs and all those little ones that came from the school today, this is about their future. So, this is really important for us to be here because it is about building the future for those young ones right across the Northern Territory. So I want to, without any further ado, introduce and invite the Minister for Indigenous Australians to say a few words or are we going to the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Okay, thanks very much. It’s great to be here with Marion, with Linda and with Malarndirri here, our local Northern Territory Member and Senator, and of course, the fantastic Minister for Indigenous Affairs at what is an extraordinarily proud moment for our Government. We have said that we want to close the gap. What we’ve said is that we want to look at measures that will make a practical difference to people’s lives. And there’s nowhere that makes a bigger difference than in fixing up the housing issues that are here in the Northern Territory and in remote communities. If you don’t have a secure roof over your head, the chances of you having a healthy life, of you getting on with your education, of you being able to prosper and seize opportunities which are there simply won’t arise. This is a precondition for a successful community. And that’s why today’s announcement of joint funding between my Government and the Northern Territory Government of Eva Lawler of $4 billion over ten years in order to halve the overcrowding issues which are here for housing in the Northern Territory. We know there’s so much more needs to be done, but investment makes a difference. And we see the practical example of the investment here, where this morning we’ve been able to meet with Stuart and Stephanie and Stevie living here in this home that they’ve moved into just a couple of days ago. They’re so proud, they’re already working on the garden here at the front of the home and they’re proud that they’ll be able to raise a family and to prosper in this home as well. That is up to date, that has good facilities, that has wheelchair access as well, so is able to be adaptable housing and that’s what we want to achieve here in the Northern Territory and in remote communities. In addition to that, we’ve met a young apprentice here who helped to work on the home. We want to use our housing program to assist with our employment program because in the Closing the Gap statement that I made just weeks ago, the centrepiece of the Government’s response was removing the old CDP program that was shown to be ineffective. What we want is real jobs with real wages, with real training and real skills for Indigenous Australians to present those opportunities going forward. And that’s why we announced 3000 jobs in our remote jobs and economic development program, some $707 million in that program. These are all investments that we’re making. On top of the $4 billion, we’re investing a further $120 million over three years to match the Northern Territory government’s investment in the continuing development of housing improvements and essential infrastructure upgrades in remote homelands. We know that this is low hanging fruit to fix the homes which are there, that in disrepair, that currently aren’t able to be inhabited. That is something that we committed to. Of course, we put $100 million in our Housing Australia Future Fund towards that purpose to make a difference going forward. This is much needed delivery and my Government’s determined to make a difference, whether it be housing, health, education. We’ll have further announcements while my Cabinet is meeting in the Northern Territory tomorrow. We have further announcements coming this afternoon, tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon and the next day as well because we know that there’s so much to be done. The former Government ripped $500 million out of Indigenous affairs when they came to office with their horror budgets, that they introduced. Something that they didn’t say they were going to do before the 2013 election, but something that they certainly did and something that’s had an ongoing impact. Well, we’re busy repairing the damage. We have our $250 million program for Central Australia as well that we’re rolling out. And the fine friends here, were all of the representatives, as well as Linda were in Alice yesterday. We’re committed. This is my now ninth visit to the Northern Territory as Australia’s Prime Minister. I will continue to engage here with the community, and the good thing about this program is it’s been delivered by NT housing, by Indigenous communities themselves. This is empowering of these communities, which is what we need to do. Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the last partnership on remote housing between the feds and the territory had a target of 1950 bedrooms. That was met but it was late. This program, I noticed it says ‘up to 270 homes per year’. It doesn’t sound as though there’s a minimum floor that you have to get to. Without that, how will there be accountability?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the funding is going to flow. What we want to make sure though, is that we get the right outcomes. So, it might be that one year we get 281, and one year we get 260. That’s the objective here, to make a difference. The funding will flow. We have the agreement in place. We’ve been doing an enormous amount of work, and I pay tribute to Linda as the Minister, but also to Marion and Malarndirri as the local members, and also Luke Gosling, of course, as the member for Solomon, who’ve been working really hard to make this a focus of the Government. And this announcement today, together with other announcements we’ll be making in the next couple of days, what you’ll see is what we’ve been talking about in action. And this will make an enormous difference, just like this home here has made an enormous difference to Stevie and Stuart and Stephanie and the young lad who was running around here earlier on as well. It also becomes a source of community pride. And this is quality housing that will make an enormous difference here.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, $4 billion for 2,700 houses is almost $1.5 million per house. Why is it costing so much It doesn’t cost that much to build a house, surely?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is over a period of time, so we’ve built in the factors of inflation that occurs over a ten year period. But it’s also, we want to make sure as well that we’re providing employment and skills and that upgrade as we’re going. These homes, we’re looking at three bedroom homes on average. Many of them, of course, are in very remote communities, is what we’re looking at. This community here is pretty close to Katherine, but some will be much more isolated, we’ll be rolling out this housing and with that comes additional costs. We accept that. So, what we want to make sure isn’t that it’s underfunded. Part of the problem of what we’re dealing with in the Northern Territory is community programs that ran out at the end of the financial year last year, is programs that were simply underfunded. So, this is an ambitious program, but it’s the right program, that’s properly funded between the two levels of government.

JOURNALIST: One of the hurdles with the last spend was that the Northern Territory Government let the team down a little bit with repairs and maintenance. And there’s research to show that without a good repairs and maintenance preventive program that you’re going to fall over again. You put some money in there, but how important is it that you actually bring in some rules with Northern Territory government about making that a preventive program?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a part of the agreement and we have funding in there for that. So, it’s not just when, the previous question about housing stock, we want to make sure that it stays at the level that it’s on now as well. That’s how you give pride to communities. That’s how you make sure that we don’t have a situation which in so many areas, it must be said that we’ve been dealing with in housing, is housing that’s been left in a state of disrepair. To be fair to the Northern Territory, or to be unfair to all State and Territory Governments more accurately perhaps, that’s been the case everywhere. So, the low hanging fruit that we have in terms of delivering on housing supply is making houses that are currently there, but not inhabitable, not in a state of repair that enables them to be used and occupied. Fixing them up, that’s the easy thing to do. So, we want to make sure, as part of this funding agreement that we have in there funding for repairs and maintenance, so on an ongoing basis, people can continue to have the pride that we’ve seen from the family who are housed here today?

JOURNALIST: On the NT government’s remote housing website, it says that they’ve only spent just over $500 billion out of their $1.1 billion allocation under the last agreement. And it also says they’ve only completed just over 900 homes out of 1600 that were approved to be built. Can you really trust the Northern Territory Government with $1.9 billion in funding to deliver this, especially when you’ve had to come in personally and intervene with Northern Territory government on something like this?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a jointly funded program and we want to make sure that we’ll be very much hands on. But we’re doing it through NT housing to make a difference. We know that we want to have practical actions to improve the lives of First Nations people. And the first step in that, before you can address health problems, before you can address getting kids to school and getting people educated and getting people the opportunity of a good, well paying, secure job, is a secure roof over someone’s head. That doesn’t just apply here. One of the reasons why I’m standing here as Prime Minister of Australia is the fact that I had a secure roof over my head of public housing, which was council owned. But I had that security and that gave me and my mum that security of a start in life. That gave her the opportunity to encourage her young son to stay at school, to be able to consider the opportunities that I’ve been able to get. What I want to do is hold open that door of opportunity for as many people as possible. That’s what I’m about and that’s what my government’s about. And you’ll see announcements over the next couple of days going beyond housing, which is all about opportunity. It’s been fantastic to meet some of the youngsters here from Katherine High School today. That gives you a great deal of hope that the next generation are really able to seize the opportunity. We want to give them a hand up and not leave them behind. And that’s what today’s announcement is about.

JOURNALIST: Katherine unfortunately missed out on the first round of projects that were funded through the Justice Reinvestment Program the government’s run. There is still a great deal of concern in the community about the level of crime here in Katherine, but also further south in place, like Alice Springs. Are you confident that you’re acting decisively enough to try to get that crime problem under control in the NT?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m very confident that we are doing what we have been requested to do. We have the $250 million program in Alice, that is making an enormous difference, and Linda has been there and Linda might want to respond on the Justice Reinvestment Program. But we know that justice reinvestment – and I pay tribute to former Senator Patrick Dodson, that was something that he was really passionate about – because we’ve seen, I’ve seen back in my home state of NSW, in Bourke, in communities there, that it’s had such an enormous difference. Bringing together local community leaders, police and law enforcement, the local schools, making sure that little problems don’t become big problems, that they get addressed in a way that is empowering as well. But Linda might want to add in.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: I can answer that. The other thing is, I’ve just come from Alice Springs – I’ve met with community organisations, we went through the Arrernte Boxing Academy, we spoke to Oonchiumpa, and they are saying that the investment that we made over summer has made such a difference in Alice Springs. In relation to Katherine, Katherine got the ‘ready money’, the money that helps communities get ready under the Justice Reinvestment Program and they are applying for the second round. They were not ready to apply for the first one and they didn’t feel they were ready, but they are applying for the second round.

JOURNALIST: I was just going to say that the same research that we’ve talked about before talked about the remote housing situation in the Territory being endemic, how bad is it in this territory and how much worse than everywhere else, and I think given that, is that money for homeland as well is going to be enough?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re about fixing it. We’re not about just identifying problems. That’s the other guy. We’re about saying, okay, here’s some practical solutions, working with communities and not pointing the finger, not trying to divide people. We’re trying to bring people together in a constructive way. And that’s what this program is about.

JOURNALIST: Just on the crime question. You talk about people needing a secure home, I think a lot of people in the territory at the moment feel like they don’t have a safe home. Is there something the Federal Government can do? Because a lot of people are saying it’s beyond the Northern Territory government’s control now. The crime rates risen triple in the last five years. Is it something the Federal Government could do? Can it provide more money for policemen, including the AFP? What have you done to make sure people are safe?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we are providing increased investment, including the $250 million for the Central Australia Plan. We’re working with the Northern Territory Government. I’m not sure that bringing people from Canberra up to the Northern Territory is the solution. And that’s not what the police that I’ve met with here see as the solution. What is needed, obviously, is a concerted effort by all levels of government, federal, state and local, and also the community, to address these issues.

JOURNALIST: There are full page ads running in newspapers today with your face on them, saying that Labor’s fuel efficiency policy is going to “jack up prices on cars”. It’s a big campaign that seems to be building steam. What’s your thoughts on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Just another scare campaign from an Opposition that said, quite frankly, some pretty extreme things during the Dunkley by-election. And what people did was they had a look at the billboards that were driven around polling booths, they had a look at the scare campaigns, and they rejected it. The truth is that there are only two countries in the industrialised world that do not have fuel standards. They’re Australia and Russia. Now, Vladimir Putin isn’t my role model for any policy, let alone the standards of vehicles, and I don’t know if people are conscious of the level of Russian presence in our motor vehicle fleet, but I haven’t seen too many driving around. What I see is motor vehicles that were built in the United States, that were built in Japan, that were built in South Korea, that were built in Europe. All of them are built under systems that have fuel standards, which is why when they were last in government, you had Josh Frydenberg and Paul Fletcher, when he was the Transport Minister, or the junior Transport Minister, promoted fuel standards because it’s common sense, and they said at the time it would not add to the cost of a vehicle. So, you’ll have scare campaigns. I’ll stand up for Australia’s national interest, I make no apologies for that. Paul Fletcher, when he was the Minister, approached me, I was the Shadow Minister and we gave support to what was sensible policy. Those were the days when the word ‘opposition’ didn’t mean you had to oppose everything. But under Peter Dutton’s lack of leadership, that’s it, just saying no to absolutely everything except, apparently nuclear reactors, is the only thing they’re in favour of.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton’s offered to debate you anytime, anywhere on the issue of nuclear energy. Are you happy to take him up on the offer?

PRIME MINISTER: Peter Dutton? Peter Dutton’s incapable. He hasn’t been to a National Press Club yet, not once. He’s never done… He couldn’t find it, he couldn’t find it. You’d have to get him a map first. And you’ll have to fly down to Canberra and drive him there because he doesn’t know where it is. He hasn’t given a serious policy speech since he became Leader of the Opposition. When I was Labor leader, which I defined myself as rather than Opposition Leader, I, at this point in time, had done seven or eight vision statements, had spoken at the National Press Club a couple of times, had spoken at the Brisbane Media Club and spoken right around the country doing serious addresses, raising serious policy issues. The truth is that Peter Dutton doesn’t have a serious policy. He had a policy two weeks ago, he was saying they were going to have small modular reactors. Problem is, they don’t exist. They don’t exist anywhere. So, now he’s saying we’ll have big nuclear reactors. He’s not saying where they’re going to be, he’s not saying who will pay for them, he’s not saying how long it will take, except, well, it’s thin air at the moment when the policy’s out there, I’m sure. I’ll give you this tip, when they release their policy, you’ll hear a very clear response, not just from the Labor party in the Parliament and outside, but from the community as well, including the communities where these giant nuclear reactors are going to go. Are going to go. This is a guy who’s scared of a solar panel but thinks that a nuclear reactor will be well received. I’ll wait and see.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Can we expect a response to the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations before the Budget or are we going to get that later this year?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’ll see it when we give it. But we’ve released the report for everyone and the Aged Care Taskforce has done a terrific job. It sets out the problems very clearly. Over the next four decades, the number of Australians aged 65 and over will more than double. The number aged 85 and over will more than triple. And the number of centenarians, people who will make it to the hundred, unlike poor old Carey yesterday, they won’t be stranded on 98, not out, that will increase six-fold. Six-fold. So, there’s going to be an extraordinary amount of pressure. Governments have known this is coming for a long period of time. The former Government had belatedly an Aged Care Royal Commission. We’ve responded to that. We’ve put nurses back in their nursing homes. We’ve funded a 15 per cent increase for aged care workers. We’re addressing the issues which are there with regulation. But we need to do more, and we’ll respond to the report. We want to respond constructively, because this is a problem as well that requires long term solutions. We know through the intergenerational reports what the challenge is, it was left in the too hard basket, like everything else, like climate change, like dealing with the problems here in the Northern Territory, they were all too hard. My Government is a Government of solutions and will be providing solutions, and I look forward to trying to get support right across the Parliament for that. Thanks very much.

/Public Release. View in full here.