Address to the Northern Territory Tripartite Forum

Thank you Donna, and welcome everyone. I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the many lands from which we come together for this meeting, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I want to recognise the Chair of the Tripartite Forum, Donna Ah Chee for hosting us, and I am also very pleased that my colleague Ken Wyatt, our Minister for Indigenous Australians, was able to say a few words and join us today. To have Ken here, I think, is a terrific reflection on just how important the role of the Tripartite Forum is, and a testament to the wonderful leadership that all of you continue to provide in your communities during what has been a really challenging year. It's been a truly outstanding effort.

I also would like to give a special mention of congratulations to Kate Worden, the new Minister for Territory Families, and Lauren Moss, the new Minister for Youth. So, Kate and Lauren, welcome to the Tripartite Forum and on behalf of the Federal Government I'm very much looking forward to working closely with both of you.

Of course, 2020 has been one of the most difficult times in Australia's history. The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted enormous damage and pain throughout all corners of our nation, with many children and families severely impacted.

Federally, the Morrison Government has put enormous resources into supporting Australians doing it tough during the pandemic.

Our increases to JobSeeker, the introduction of JobKeeper, more mental health and housing support, extra help for victims of domestic violence, Medicare assistance and emergency food relief are just some of the actions that we've taken to assist Australian families over the past six months.

While the immediate issues of the pandemic have been addressed, it is important to remember the reason we are meeting today, which is to improve the lives of our kids, and prevent them from entering the Territory's youth justice and child protection systems.

The Royal Commission put a spotlight on these issues and the need for major reform. And I'm pleased that most of recommendations which the Australian Government has sole or joint responsibility for, have now been delivered, with the others on track to be delivered.

Importantly, this Forum itself has already laid some crucial groundwork to deliver on one of the Royal Commission's major recommendations.

This is to develop a 10-year Generational Strategy for Children and Families in the Northern Territory. And earlier this year, I was very pleased to announce that the Department of Social Services would be providing this Forum with funding of $1 million to help progress this work.

Of course, another centrepiece of the Royal Commission's recommendations resulted in the report published by the Productivity Commission into Expenditure on Children in the Northern Territory.

Now this report is a very significant piece of work – and I understand that it was discussed at your meeting in May. I can confirm that the Australian Government is finalising our response to the report, and therefore I certainly do not wish to pre-empt that here today.

However, please be assured that our Government supports the work that this Forum is already doing to meet a number of the report's recommendations, such as the development of a Coordinated Funding Framework.

As the report laid out, the Federal Government is currently providing huge amounts of funding into the Northern Territory each year, towards services that are dedicated to improving the lives of children and young people.

This was estimated by the Productivity Commission to be worth about $225 million in 2018-19, and this highlights the priority that we place on supporting these kinds of services in the Territory.

How we can best co-ordinate this funding, in partnership with the enormous investments also provided by the Northern Territory Government each year, was a key issue raised by the Productivity Commission, and consistent with issues highlighted by the Royal Commission.

This is something that we need to sort out. Better funding arrangements, means achieving better results on the ground, for vulnerable kids and their families who need the most support.

And of course, this is what developing a new Funding Framework is all about, and I expect that it will interact with other policies in this space, such as Closing the Gap, and the Generational Strategy.

I'm also optimistic that the new Funding Framework could set an effective template for how funding is allocated in other states and territories. So it is absolutely crucial that we get this right, and all of you, as leaders of this Tripartite Forum, will be central in helping us to achieve it.

So once again, it is a pleasure to be able to join you for today's meeting, and thank you for having me here.