Interview with Minister for Indigenous Affairs
KIM LANDERS: And the Minister for Indigenous Affairs is Senator Nigel Scullion. He joins me on the line now.
Minister, good morning.
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Good morning Kim.
KIM LANDERS: Why are you making participants in this program wait for simple changes, like better ways of telling Centrelink that they can’t attend activities?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Well, you have to do these things in a way that is sustainable and one of the reasons that we saw a 60 per cent exit of the previous RJCP (Remote Jobs and Communities Programme) because Labor rushed it in before an election, the 2013 election …
KIM LANDERS: Sorry, let’s just stick …
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS:… period in opposition, the only thing that came to me when I came to communities they said we’ve returned to passive welfare. Sixty per cent of people are now off the program …
KIM LANDERS: Minister, let’s just talk about the current program if we can.
Some of the participants are saying that they are having trouble like, they make a phone call, they can’t get through to anyone. They leave a message, nobody returns their call.
So why not fix some of those programs to make your program work a little better.
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Well, my program is going to work a little bit better and we have released a discussion paper that reflects the wishes of the communities on the changes to the CDP (Community Development Programme) program.
I wished to make some of these changes to the CDP program, I have to say, before the last election and the parliamentary process, Labor basically said no we’re not doing any of this now. That’s a bit tough sometimes during an election process. I acknowledge that.
KIM LANDERS: So you’ve released …
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: I have been working right across the political divide to ensure that we make improvements to this and look, I’d like to acknowledge that in remote areas one of the biggest challenges in communication and the issues that Loretta had around Centrelink are significant issues.
Whilst much of it has been improved, it still hasn’t been improved sufficiently and that will be reflected in some of the new changes and can I say, I know you don’t …
KIM LANDERS: So you’ve got this discussion paper, I mean, can you promise that hurdles …
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: When you only have 6 per cent of people in a …
KIM LANDERS: … like that will be eliminated?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS:… demographic who are actually attending something, we have now moved to 72 per cent. So that’s what CDP has done.
You can’t just say listen this program has been a failure or it has been very difficult. You have to look at what this program has changed and the fact that we’ve gone from 6 per cent participation to 72 per cent, is a reflection that we had to have a system that re-engaged participants and that was required and requested by the communities.
KIM LANDERS: Does it strike you as odd that in the last financial year just 120 people were granted an exemption due to domestic violence when you know that domestic violence, particularly in Indigenous communities, is of a much higher rate?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: No, it doesn’t strike me as odd at all because I know that domestic violence is not reported as domestic violence because in a cultural way, it never is.
It’s always reported to the participants as 120 occasions …
KIM LANDERS: So is that another flaw on this program that has to actually be fixed?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: No, I’m sorry. It is still reported but if you understand the cultural issues around saying, “Excuse me, I’m reporting for work but I can’t come to work because my husband belted me.” That never happens.
But what does happen we say, we record it as ‘sick’, we record it as other ways and they are not required to attend but we don’t write down DV and it’s another entire issue you know.
Is that if you report that your kids are being, you’re being belted, one of the first problems is you might lose your kids, you might get to stay in that bloody safe house.
So look, there is a huge range of issues around why that is under-reported as DV but we have processes in place.
It’s not, you know, when you have suffered domestic violence you don’t have to come to work not because there’s any difference between domestic violence and what we generally say is a reason why you’re not coming to work.
And it may well be associated with your cultural obligations as an auntie, so looking after not only your own children when those things occur, they are taken into consideration and complete exemptions are provided by the provider and have been done for some time.
KIM LANDERS: If I could ask you something else related to your portfolio about remote housing.
You’ve said that you’ll match the Territory Government’s $1.1 billion dollars over ten years for fixing remote housing, but the Chief Minister Michael Gunner says he hasn’t heard from you.So are you standing by that commitment?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Well, maybe, I don’t know. He might have cloth ears but I certainly had a conversation with him and he’s, you know, he put up this $1.1 billion.
I said, listen, what we’ll be doing, we’ll be matching dollar for dollar. I was answering a question in the context of Australia. I said everyone will have to be matching dollar for dollar.
The states and territories have to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are citizens of their country and not citizens of the Commonwealth.
So what we’ve done, we invest $6 billion annually and those $6 billion goes into public housing.
What we’re saying to the states and territories – because they’re Indigenous people – we’re not taking over because they’re Indigenous their housing requirements. In the past we have paid, we paid a huge surge to ensure that we had the numbers of houses that would meet requirements.
Now ongoing, we’re saying well the Territory Government showed an example that they’re putting money on the table. We want them to match the money. We will match the money but we want to see the money on the table and that will have to be through a contractual arrangement that also ensures that the funds go to Aboriginal builders, the funds go to leaving a legacy of maintenance, the funds go to a legacy of management with community-owned and controlled housing associations.
So yes, we have a lot to do but my commitment is on the table. It’s a real commitment.
KIM LANDERS: Alright, well let me ask you one other matter before we run out of time, one of the Government’s most trusted advisors Professor Chris Sarra this week said that it’s time to acknowledge that the date of Australia Day is dividing Australians, it’s not a day most people in the Aboriginal community want to celebrate.
So isn’t it a time to listen to that advice and change the date?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Well listen, it’s good that I’ve heard that advice from Chris but can I say, as a good friend of mine who I speak to often, he’d be the only Indigenous Australian who has said to me and I’ve just spent the last week, different communities around Australia, it never comes up as an issue.
Look, this is one of those things that comes up from time to time.
What people are telling me that they want to make sure that their kids get a good education. What about more opportunities for access to the health system in circumstances? What about opportunity …
KIM LANDERS: So not a single Indigenous person has ever expressed to you …
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS:… That’s what they talk about.
KIM LANDERS: … not a single Indigenous person has ever expressed to you, as the Indigenous Affairs Minister, that they want the date changed?
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: That’s correct, that’s correct. Absolutely correct.
This is not something that comes up at all and outside of Chris, I can tell you, there would be no one, as a fact, so you know, in the bubble around our tea trolleys we might sort of say, “Well, I’ve heard…” and therefore we have a discussion but no one’s brought that to me. We have NAIDOC Week, we have Sorry Day, we have Reconciliation Week, we have Mabo Day and if you want to divide the nation, this is how we go down that line.
I acknowledge, very much, and I share my Australia Day, not specifically, with my mates obviously as a Territorian, there are many Aboriginal people particularly who share Australia Day and we have to say we share it in much the same way.
KIM LANDERS: Alright Minister …
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: But I acknowledge that it is acknowledged in different ways.
KIM LANDERS: Okay Minister …
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: … so tragically, tragically for Aboriginal people because their culture was smashed but for so many other people it is another celebration. But this is a very low priority certainly on my agenda.
KIM LANDERS: Alright Minister, thank you. We’re out of time, thank you so much for joining AM this morning.
MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: Thank you so much. Good morning.