Minister Rishworth interviewed on ABC Alice Springs Breakfast.

Topic: Central Australia funding for local Aboriginal corporations; cashless debit card;

STEWART BRASH: It’s an absolutely awful statistic. Central Australia has the highest rates of domestic violence in the country and it's something that governments of all different persuasions have attempted to tackle. Now at the moment, the Federal Government has given its earliest indication about how it plans to support efforts to address domestic violence in this part of the country. This morning there's been the first- first trickle of funding committed at the Federal election by the ALP to be allocated, taking the form of $3 million for three separate local Aboriginal corporations, again, looking around crime and domestic violence. Now it's includes money for Tangentyere Council, the NPY Women's Council and Lhere Artepe, with the focus on prevention, patrolling and early intervention.

Amanda Rishworth is the Federal Social Services Minister. She's due apparently to be in town today, and she spoke with Evan Wallace about the funding package and how it fits with the Government's broader plans for the Northern Territory.


EVAN WALLACE: This announcement looks excellent on paper, but is this $3 million just a rehash version of the $14 million that your party took to the federal election to tackle crime in Alice Springs?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: This is a really important announcement. What you're referring to is our Central Australia policy. Of course, this is a really important policy, but the $3 million that we've announced has been planned with the Northern Territory Government and the Central Land Council, and of course the Alice Springs Town Council, where we've looked at how we truly partner with our Indigenous organisations, Aboriginal corporations to deliver early intervention and preventative services. And we think this is a really important investment.

EVAN WALLACE: But is this money just part of what's already been previously committed?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We're just in government and what we're doing is working very hard in our first few months to actually start delivering real outcomes to communities. And this is what this $3 million is the start of, but we are absolutely committed more broadly to delivering on our Central Australia policy, and that will continue to happen.

EVAN WALLACE: Okay, so I take it that it's not new funding. In your eyes, is it enough? So $3 million can disappear very quickly. How are you going to ensure that it actually reaches the people who need it the most?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Of course, we're partnering with local Aboriginal corporations who are established and trusted and have a record of delivery. That is really important. And there'll be a range of services provided. There will be, of course, family and domestic violence support services as well as perpetrator engagement with young men as well as perpetrator services to intervene and prevent violence. And of course, youth crime. We think this has been developed well in partnership and it is actually looking at local solutions with true partnership with First Nations people.

EVAN WALLACE: We know that tackling domestic violence is one of the government's main priorities and rates of domestic violence are absolutely shocking here. In fact, they're the worst in the country. Do you accept that direct funding for services isn't enough?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, of course, we're working on a national plan to end violence against women and children. And a part of that has a stand alone action plan for First Nations women and children. We think having a standalone action plan is critically important to drive investment and drive action. So we will continue to partner and work with community organisations with the Territory Government. Of course, there's already a number of investments underway and we'll continue to work with them on tackling what is a very difficult issue.

EVAN WALLACE: Looking at this space, underlying so many issues is housing. So, overcrowded housing both creates environments of abuse and it means that women and family and children don't have somewhere else to go. Will Central Australia and the Barkly be prioritised for new housing as part of the $1.7 billion that's been promised by your government to support women and children at risk?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We have indicated that we will work with state and territory governments. We have acknowledged in our Central Australia policy prior to the election that overcrowding and rundown housing are serious issues in the town camps and remote communities. So we have said that we will work with the Northern Territory Government but also make sure that we are investing in housing more broadly, in public housing. So that will be a matter for the Government. But we will continue to work closely with the Territory Government as we know there is an acute need.

EVAN WALLACE: But will the Northern Territory be prioritise given the disproportionate domestic violence rates in the Territory?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: As I said, we will work with the Territory Government, but there is no doubt that we as a government recognise the need. That will be a matter for our Housing Minister and our Indigenous Australians Minister to work through. But we certainly understand the acute need.

EVAN WALLACE: Advocates in the NT have long asked for needs based domestic violence prevention funding. Do you understand why they're asking for that? And do you think the notion has merit?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I can understand we need to make sure that we're tackling domestic violence issues in our community and particularly recognise that First Nations women and children are 34 per cent times more likely to experience family and domestic violence. So that is why we have absolutely committed to a First Nations action plan and it's why some of our other policies have also focused on Aboriginal women and children. For example, our 500 extra frontline workers has put a priority on ensuring we engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers as part of that. So, we recognise the need particularly in the First Nations communities, and we'll work with the Territory Government and also other states and territories to address that.

EVAN WALLACE: Let's look at positives, just briefly. What do you most love about Central Australia and the Barkly?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I have to say that when I'm flying in, looking at that landscape, looking at the landscape is absolutely beautiful to start off with. There's something- people talk about Central Australia being the heart of Australia and it certainly feels like that when you fly in. Of course, in addition to that, I think it's important to recognise that Alice Springs and the surrounding areas are so well known for their art and culture and I think embracing some of that local art and that culture is such a wonderful part, that is- actually, I think the whole of Australia is very proud of. So I think there is incredible strength. There's, of course, the tourism aspect and the wonderful experience that people get when they come to Central Australia as well. It’s a bucket list destination in addition to that. So, I think there are many positives and I really see a huge opportunity for Alice Springs and surrounding areas to really capitalise on that. 

EVAN WALLACE: You use the description of Central Australia as being the heart of Australia. Does Australia then have a broken heart? So, I'm sure across your desk in recent times there's been reports of crime, the end of the stronger future laws, and then also to the potential expansion of pokie machines here in Central Australia. I appreciate the optimism that you have for the community, but how concerned are you about the future of Alice and Central Australia and the Barkly, given what information must be coming across your desk now?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: What has been really clear to me is that we need to work on support, solutions, investment that actually deliver outcomes. And I think what's really clear is that there have been many communities crying out for some attention and some investments. And what we've done with our policy that will be delivered in the October budget and beyond is a commitment to that investment in the region. But let's not forget that Central Australia was the place where the Uluru Statements of the Heart was put out there. And there's a challenge for us about taking action. And I don't buy into practical versus symbolism. Enacting the Uluru Statement from the heart is about practical action and supporting communities to deliver the services that they need, not just imposing our ideas or what we think works in other places. That isn't going to work. We need to partner with the local community to deliver and that's what we intend to do.

EVAN WALLACE: Your government has put its hand up to support the community here. For example, the $14 million crime package or the $20 million CBD Revitalisation package in Alice Springs. There's been money pledged for youth infrastructure. When can residents in Central Australia expect to see that money get out into the community?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is partly why we're having a budget in October. We intend that budget in October to ensure that our election commitments are properly accounted for and then we will ensure we're working with the community on how we deliver that. So we're not wasting any time. It is a new government, but we're working in a speedy way to ensure that we deliver on our election commitments and that's what our October budget is all about.

EVAN WALLACE: And so October, that might be a timeframe for when we might see- materialise?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We will have a plan, but of course we need to get this right as well and we need to work with communities to deliver.

EVAN WALLACE: Looking specifically at alcohol and the end of the Stronger Future laws, last week we spoke to Dr John Crozier from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, who said with respect to Darwin and Alice Springs that there had been, and I quote, an uptick in patterns of alcohol related presentations with respect to injuries at Northern Territory hospitals. By allowing the Stronger Future laws to reach their end and with no obvious planning for what came next, has your government put the health and safety of community members at risk? 

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, let's be clear. It was not our government that did not plan for the end of Stronger Futures. The previous government and the previous Minister did not take action to put anything in place. We've been elected for ten weeks now and the Stronger Futures legislation finished a couple of weeks ago. So let's be really clear about where- if we're going to talk about the end of stronger futures and the lack of planning, where that problem resides. That problem resides with the former government. But in terms of the Stronger Futures legislation, the previous government, through their lack of action, acknowledged that that was not necessarily the answer to alcohol misuse. And we- that is why we need to be working with communities about what does work when it comes to alcohol mismanagement.

EVAN WALLACE: Can we expect some sort of recalibration on the Government's front on the- yeah, in terms of how you are planning to engage in alcohol availability and management? Do you now propose taking a different policy or a different approach to essentially just a non-policy which seems to be the case right now?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I wouldn't say there's a non-policy. The Territory Government has been putting a number of measures in place which we have been supportive of and we will continue to work with them. This shouldn't be about the Commonwealth coming in and making rash decisions that don't allow a community to actually have some control and say over their future. So we will work with the Northern Territory Government who has been putting a number of measures in place. We will continue to work with them and communities to determine what works when it comes to alcohol mismanagement.

EVAN WALLACE:   One of the most significant…

AMANDA RISHWORTH:   [Interrupts] And alcohol misuse.

EVAN WALLACE:   Sure, I understand. One of the most significant social policies that the ALP took to the election was to end the cashless debit card. What's going to happen to everyone who is currently on that debit card, especially those who have regular payments coming from the card? Will they just be transferred to the basics card? What's ahead?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We are working with Services Australia about how we transition away from the cashless debit card. You’ve got to remember this cashless debit card was effectively privatised welfare and wasn’t working for many people. In terms of how that transition happens, there’s about 3800 people in the Northern Territory on the cashless debit card that will be worked with to transfer if they were subject to income management rules onto the basics card, that individual work will be done with each individual to make sure that if there are any direct debits or buy now, pay later arrangements, that they are properly transferred.

EVAN WALLACE: And in an environment where alcohol is potentially easier to purchase and same too when it comes to access to pokies machines, is it really wise and is it the right time to be moving people off the income card?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Let’s be clear, at this point we’re talking about the cashless debit card and we will be consulting with communities into the future about the basics card. So there’s been some conflation there. Of course, that- there are many more people in the Northern Territory on the basics card. But in terms of the effectiveness of the cashless debit card and being able to access alcohol. What’s very clear, and I think you’ve sort of illustrated already with income management in place and indeed the cashless debit card in place, is that there is- if people are going to misuse alcohol, then income management is not the tool that prevents them from doing that. And I think that the evidence has shown, whether it’s been the ANAO report or other studies that we- the cashless debit card itself has not led to people reducing their misuse of alcohol.

EVAN WALLACE:   And just finally, Minister, in Alice Springs the hospitality giant, Iris Capital, has submitted an application for 60 new gaming machines across four venues in town. Two of them currently have none. They’ve also added 115 new pokies at the casino since taking ownership of Lassters. Do you think their proposal for more gaming machines should get the green light?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That is not my decision to make. That is a decision for the Territory Government. I’m sure they have a clear approval process and will be looking into all the details.

EVAN WALLACE: What does your instinct say, though?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I’m not going to make a comment on what is clearly a decision for the Northern Territory Government. 

EVAN WALLACE:   Minister, thanks so much for your time.