SUBJECTS: Closing the Gap, Government’s response to Northern Territory Royal Commission, Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

SABRA LANE: Joining us now with Labor's response is Senator Pat Dodson, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Welcome back to AM this morning, Senator.

DODSON: Thank you very much, Sabra.

LANE: Firstly, your reaction to that news that three of the seven Closing the Gap targets are now back on track to being met?

DODSON: Well, that's very welcoming.

I mean, the depression that we felt a couple of days ago, when we had the report from the Indigenous group, was very sobering, that it wasn't being progressed.

If there are progress, as microscopic as it might be, that's refreshing.

The methodology by which you get those outcomes is critical, and I don't see much evidence that that's changing, as well as what the results are.

It'd be important to make sure the Indigenous participation in Closing the Gap over all of these fronts is resourced, and that they are clearly participants in the way of delivering the services.

LANE: How are you going to dig into that detail?

Are you going to try and use the Senate Estimates process in a couple of weeks to do that?

DODSON: Well, I certainly will.

The Government says that they've spent, they're spending, you know, some $54 million assessing the effectiveness of their programs.

Now, hopefully that's going to deliver something better than what we've seen.

So, we'll be wanting to know how that's going and exactly how that's going to shape, to get better improvements around Closing the Gap and other things.

And particularly the housing support - that's one of the real, clear social requirements in these communities, to make sure that housing is resourced and funded.

And we're not getting a clear message from the Government that that's happening.

So, if housing funding falls away, then I think many of these other factors will also come back, and we'll see a regressing of where the progress has happened.

LANE: Ken Wyatt seems to be suggesting that Government now is open to the idea of a target on incarceration rates and child protection.

What's your response to that?

DODSON: Well, if they are - I mean, they're open to many things but you've got to see the actual commitment - I think that'd be a great thing.

There's far too many people incarcerated.

The growing number of women that are incarcerated is something that we've got to take stock of, and certainly the out of care home situation for young kids, and the juvenile justice matter.

And again, the Government's got to respond more positively to the Northern Territory Royal Commission and to the Northern Territory Government over the Don Dale recommendations.

You just can't invest fifty-four or so million dollars in a royal commission and then say, well, I'm only going to support three or so of the recommendations and not put any more funds into helping the Territory Government - who is making its contribution - to responding to that real, deep need.

LANE: Yeah, the Government's put out its response to that late last week.

I think there were more than 200 recommendations from the commission.

The Government, Federal Government said only 28 of those recommendations applied to the Commonwealth in any way, and two of them I think they ruled out outright. Others they passed…

DODSON: Yes, they've suggested they've got some interest but they're not putting money into, say, the Don Dale, the institution has to be rebuilt, a new one has to be built.

Now, that's going to, you know, capital outlays for that is critical.

So, the Federal Government's got to work a lot closer with the Territory Government to achieve those better outcomes.

LANE: On the Closing the Gap strategy, the Government now is working on this rebooted policy, launching, aiming to launch that in October - is that the right approach?

DODSON: Well, if the mechanism to deliver is comparable or compatible with the objectives that the Indigenous people say should be part of the goals that need to be redressed.

Now, we don't know, we haven't been included in those discussions; I would hope that they are positive; there are indications that we may be included.

But, this is not a game between the Labor and the Liberal party.

This is really about the future of Aboriginal people having a quality of life in this country, and for all of us in politics to ensure we can collaborate in an effective way with the states and with Aboriginal organisations to get these results.

It's an appalling situation that Australia is in, you know, we stand convicted, because the simple things we can't get done.

LANE: Labor is promising $9 million now in compensation for over three years for the Stolen Generations, survivors in the Northern Territory and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory).

That would mean I think payments of up to $75,000 per person.

How soon would people receive this money, and what process would they have to go through to get it?

DODSON: Well, I think it would be similar to the model that's in New South Wales.

They wouldn't be a whole onerous process; people have had enough burdens in their lives in this situation.

We're talking about a relatively small group of people that are now left - elderly people in the main.

So, we'd design a program where that could be, you know, empathetic to their situation rather than the one that bureaucrats would want to, you know, have a box to tick on every matter.

LANE: Ken Wyatt also says that Indigenous Voice to Parliament is still very much an idea that the Government's considering, though it wouldn't be enshrined in the Constitution.

DODSON: Yeah, we're getting mixed messages from the Government over this.

On the one hand, a legislated entity is something that we would be interested to work with the Government on.

It doesn't rule out our commitment though to see the entrenchment in the Constitution of a voice.

And there are other matters in the Constitution that are arose in those previous enquiries that we would also want to look at.

So, the Government needs to get on and move what it is that they say they want to do, and don't dilly-dally any further.

Bring the Aboriginal leadership into this and co-design what it is the legislation is going to look like, what its functions are going to be, how's it going to operate.

I mean, we'd be very keen to work closely with the Government around that, and with the Indigenous leadership, because there's no merit in simply leaving the Indigenous peoples at the door and excluding them from the real action.

LANE: Senator Pat Dodson, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

DODSON: Thank you.



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