Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory—Deputy Leader of The Nationals) (16:21): I take this opportunity to again place on the record the coalition’s views on stronger futures. I also look to take to task Senator Siewert’s remarks with regard to some of those matters. Senator Siewert says that the intervention completely failed and she brings forward what I would say is at best anecdotal evidence.
I am quite often lectured by Senator Siewert and others in the Greens about evidence based policy, and I would ask them to listen to their own admonishments and start to provide that themselves. Certainly we see evidence in some of those areas of the provision of police as well as the complete collapse of defence injuries, as provided in the statistics by the medical centres. There is also all the support evidence by independent surveys conducted in these communities. I know that you would love to have everybody say that we were just into rebadging the intervention with Stronger Futures. Stronger Futures only deals with, as you would be well aware, Senator Siewert, provisions around community stores; the rescheduling of the alcohol provisions where the community asked for that prior to Strong Stronger; and the announcement that the leasing arrangements will now be voluntary. I have to say that the circumstances and the funds behind the intervention cannot be compared with a rebadging under the Strong Futures legislation.
Senator Crossin touched on the consultation involved in the Stronger Futures. One of the things which I will support the Greens on is that anybody who has had anything to do with the Stronger Futures would know that if we needed a lesson on how not to consult—and I acknowledge that it is a difficult challenge—it would be that. As a committee, we arrived at a community to find that they had already had the government’s department in there for 10 days. They really did not know what we were doing there. They had never heard of it at all. It means that quite clearly we do need to go back to the drawing board in that regard. As Senator Crossin indicates, the shire council reforms were not only confusing but very destructive in terms of how people felt about their communities and their capacity to be able to say, ‘These are the priorities that our community needs in the shire context.’ The Country Liberal coalition in the Northern Territory has a policy to return the full say that existed prior to those reforms to those individual shires.
Again, Senator Crossin, you talked very fondly about the consultation on SIHIP and how you had your house built. I agree; I think a lot of people were quite happy with that. There were two problems with it, though. The first is that it cost $53 million before a single brick was laid. The second is that the feedback the Aboriginal people gave the government about what sorts of houses were to be built was completely ignored. So I am not really sure that that would be something I would be boasting about.
Before I briefly go to the homelands, I have just heard, sadly, that Olympic Dam mark II will not be going ahead. I had heard from a lot of people, from a lot of different organisations and from government that an awful lot of Indigenous employment was to be levered against it. I have to say that it not going ahead certainly does not come into my context of a stronger future. I think we would all be extremely disappointed about that.
The homelands movement is one with a great deal of history. Senator Crossin reminded us that late in March the federal government announced $221 million to provide some basic amenities. This is a bit confusing. The $221 million is there simply because we have decided to multiply our normal budgetary remarks by 10—it looks bigger. Wouldn’t we all love to just multiply everything by 10? So I think we should contextualise that. This is $22 million a year, as it always has been. It is the $22 million a year that was originally provided in 2007 by the coalition. As Senator Crossin said, the clear agreement was that the Commonwealth government would provide this money to the Northern Territory government, because at that stage they really needed some infrastructure improvement, and the Northern Territory government would take responsibility for it in four years. It is a bit rich to come in here and say, ‘We were never going to do it,’ because that is, as I understand it, not the agreement at the time. In any event, that $22 million is now going to be continued by this government, and the coalition would, of course, support that.
There is one real challenge with some of this money that I can recall from earlier this year. In fact, it was probably on the first day that you can cross the Mann River, whenever that was, and we still had water in the windows; so it was pretty early in the year. I visited 21 homelands that were the responsibility of one of the homeland resource centres. I spoke to the people in all of those communities. I said, ‘What’ve you had done in the last few years that you can remember where somebody came here and did anything with the power, the water, the septic system or anything else?’ There was in fact only one thing, which was at Marwin. They very proudly walked me up to a very large, $3,006, I think, poly water tank. They were very proud of the tank. But the fact is that it had sat on its side, 20 metres from the stand, unplumbed, for 18 months. They were proud of it, and I was obviously proud with them. But it was a pretty poor indictment that over that much time the reality on the ground is that the money is going somewhere but it is not going there.
I think all future governments—I am trying to take the politics out of this—should remember that, instead of giving money to organisations so that we can stand in this place and say to the people of Australia, ‘We gave this much money; we gave $22 million to the Northern Territory,’ and then walk away—because how is money supposed to put water in a tank?—we need to, with the leverage of the Commonwealth, change the way we do business. What we need to do as a Commonwealth, with the great leverage that we have, is start buying outcomes. It does not matter if it is the Territory government or the Western Australian government or the Country Liberals or Labor, we simply need to guarantee to ourselves that we are buying an outcome rather than pushing up a government. But that is not happening at the moment, and it is something that I believe just simply cannot continue.
There is also a very small matter of the administration of these fees. We expect $10 to buy $10, but it does not. It invariably buys $9 or $8. When you start getting out in the bush a bit, it sometimes creeps up. We need to ensure that, when the Commonwealth is using its massive leverage, we take that into consideration and actually provide outcomes. One of the things in relation to the homelands more generally is the provision of $619 million for an additional 60 police officers. They are not actually additional. They are the same police officers that were provided by the coalition on the basis that the Northern Territory government provided the number of police officers they were supposed to. Of course they have not done that.
I think all these arrangements need to be treated with the respect they deserve, whether they have arisen through COAG or through an independent agreement between the Northern Territory government and the Commonwealth. Stronger Futures is a piece of legislation which tidies up and continues some of those elements of the intervention, some of which have, very sadly, been allowed to drift aimlessly.
We have heard from Trish Crossin. I think she spoke quite passionately about the fact that the government are not actually pursuing most of those things that that nasty bloke John Howard—without verballing you, Trish—had instigated. She said they had got rid of those things. I think it is that sort of attitude which has allowed some of these very good programs to drift aimlessly. Sadly, the truth is that today we should have been in the position of being able to look back on good work having been done and, as a result of that work, being able to exit those communities.
I am loath to criticise and belt those on any side of politics, because this is a very difficult task. But we must learn from our mistakes—mistakes all of us have made. It is starkly clear that there are plenty of things which have been done wrongly and we cannot continue to repeat those wrongs of the past. But, after five years of this sort of federal investment, it is quite clear that we should by now have been in a position to be able to get out of these Aboriginal communities. We should by now have been able to see them having and achieving the same aspirations that other Australians have—a roof over their heads, the potential to own that roof, kids going to school and a job. Sadly, that is still not the case.
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