Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Importance of delivering remote Indigenous housing in an efficient and affordable way – Delivering Indigenous Housing

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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This Government is committed to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

For us, this is a national responsibility and a national priority.

Because the old ways of doing things haven’t worked.

In fact, they have so comprehensively failed that Indigenous Australians now lag far behind non-Indigenous Australians on all key health, education and employment indicators.

To turn this around the Government is doing things differently.

Addressing decades of under-investment in services, infrastructure and governance.

Setting specific and measurable targets in housing, health, education and employment.

Re-building the positive social norms that underpin family function and strong communities,

And re-setting our relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to build trust, respect and mutual responsibility

The problems we face together are complex and difficult and there is no single answer.

But we are determined to implement our reform agenda because decade upon decade of failed government policy have left a legacy of poverty, despair and hopelessness.

Healthy living conditions are fundamental to healthy and productive lives.

This is the most basic of building blocks.

Housing is at the centre of our reform agenda.

Getting housing right is critical to closing the gap.

In urban and regional Australia, we are making the single highest investment in social housing in more than 50 years.

Indigenous Australians will be major beneficiaries of this investment.

In remote Indigenous housing the Australian Government is making an unprecedented – $5.5 billion over 10 years.

And we are driving major reforms through secure tenure and tenancy and maintenance reforms to deliver stronger communities and Indigenous jobs as well as more houses.

In remote areas, old housing models have not served Indigenous interests.

Over the decades, millions of dollars have been poured into Indigenous housing with abysmal results.

We still have appalling levels of overcrowding – up to 20 people in one house.

In these conditions, people have no reliable power or water.

Infectious diseases are easily spread and the daily routines that underpin going to school and having a job are just not possible.

Tenancy management is irregular or non- existent so no one is responsible for upkeep, repairs and maintenance or paying or collecting the rent.

Getting housing right is absolutely critical to closing the gap.

That’s why I am determined to drive Indigenous housing reform.

As I have stated very clearly in recent weeks, as part of the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program which is part of the National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing, both the Australian and Northern Territory Governments are absolutely committed to deliver:

  • 750 new houses;
  • 230 rebuilds; and
  • 2,500 refurbishments of houses in remote Northern Territory communities by the end of 2013.

And as we roll out this unprecedented housing program, I want to make it very clear that new houses continue to be built.

One hundred and two new houses constructed in remote Northern Territory since. December 2007 while the new housing program has been gearing up.

This is compared to:

  • 94 in 2004-05
  • 51 in 2005-06
  • 64 in 2006-07

Despite the misinformation around SIHIP, what is crystal clear is that we have not dropped the ball on Indigenous housing in the NT.

We have been building more than the previous government did in its last three years while simultaneously setting up a major new program which will double pre-existing construction outcomes in this area.

We will be doing it efficiently and effectively.

As with any reform, it can be tough going.

But we are making important progress and I’m determined to keep breaking through the bottle necks and build momentum.

Which is why I sent a senior official from my Department to work with her Northern Territory counterpart to forensically examine the program and report to me on the changes that needed to be made.

This review found that:

  • the SIHIP program design is sound;
  • there have been delays of around three months in house construction;
  • action has been taken to ensure unit costs per house will average $450,000 over the life of the program;
  • this will ensure that the SIHIP program targets of 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds and 2500 refurbishments will be met.

But I was very concerned that the review found that progress on the construction of housing under SIHIP had been delayed by three months.

However, I am also conscious of the comparison in the SIHIP Review with the previous Australian Government housing program, National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS).

While SIHIP has taken 13 months from announcement to commencement of construction work, the previous government’s’ NAHS projects took an average of 19 months from the initial visit to the community to the start of construction.

But having noted that – the Review’s finding that the governance of SIHIP was overly bureaucratic with too many layers of management demanded immediate action.

I have already taken that urgent action to get the program back on track.

Action has already been taken to reduce the administrative costs of the program from 11.4 to 8 per cent.

I have also taken the very unusual step of insisting on a stronger, more hands-on role for the Australian Government in the delivery of the program.

This was also as recommended by the Review.

My department is embedding a senior Commonwealth Officer in the management team to ensure that the program meets these targets within the budget and the housing program is delivered.

I am also putting a Commonwealth officer into each of the three Alliance teams.

It is important to remember that houses are being built under SIHIP.

Under SIHIP, construction of new housing has started on Groote Eylandt, and in Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands it will start very soon.

This program is also making existing houses liveable again.

Housing refurbishments and rebuilds as part of the first three SIHIP packages on the Tiwi Islands, Groote Eylandt and the Tennant Creek town camps began in May as scheduled.

On the Tiwi Islands, some refurbishments have now been completed and work is continuing on the next lot of houses.

On Groote Eylandt, the first refurbishments have been handed back.

Work on the next of the 75 refurbishments across Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island is currently underway.

I have had a chance to see the work at Tennant Creek myself where eight currently unoccupied houses are in the process of being rebuilt.

Seventy-eight houses will be substantially rebuilt over the next 18 months including houses that were previously uninhabitable.

These refurbishments and rebuilds are putting new kitchens into houses so that families can cook healthy food; they’re putting in new bathrooms so that children can shower and bathe.

The 230 rebuilds, together with the construction of 750 new houses, will add 980 houses to the housing stock to make a significant impact on overcrowding.

This will capitalise on the significant opportunities to completely rebuild and make fully functional houses that are currently unfit for occupation.

This will be done at around half the cost of constructing a new house.

SIHIP is now delivering the work so badly needed in the remote communities of the Northern Territory and will continue to increase the pace at which this happens.

I am committed to getting on with the job of delivering this extremely important program on time and on budget. I am determined to build quality, durable houses that will last, including in the most remote locations.

To overcome years of neglect, we are making the largest ever investment by any Australian Government in remote Indigenous housing – $5.5 billion over ten years.

Such an unprecedented level of investment demands security of tenure to protect assets and make sure ongoing repairs and maintenance are done.

Secure tenure is central to our Indigenous housing policy – in the same way it underpins public and private housing markets around the country.

Just going into a community, building houses and then leaving the rest to fate has not and will not work.

In the past, the absence of secure tenure has seen millions of dollars poured into Indigenous housing with abysmal results.

Houses were built but no one took responsibility for repairs or maintenance or collecting the rent.

And now they are unliveable.

Asset life spans were cut short and tenants were the losers.

That’s why I am insisting on secure tenure – in line with any public housing model.

We require a lease agreement so governments have the legal right to go on to a property to carry out repairs and maintenance.

In the NT, long term leases have been signed in Tiwi, Groote Eylandt, Tennant Creek, Wadeye, Gunbalanya, and Maningrida.

The long term lease in Galiwinku will be finalised shortly and I have been advised that the traditional owners at Ngukurr have indicated their interest in signing a lease.

Aboriginal communities are demonstrating their willingness to grant leases to obtain decent houses for their residents.

In fact, we already have enough leases in the Northern Territory to meet our targets for new construction under SIHIP, over the next two years at least.

In Alice Springs, the previous Government walked away, claiming a solution was important but too hard.

We have obtained signed 40 year leases from most of the 18 town camp associations.
Unfortunately, legal action from a small number of residents has prevented the town camp associations from executing the leases, and delayed the start of work.

The Government’s unprecedented investment in remote Indigenous housing is critical to our broader Indigenous reform agenda.

This includes radically overhauling the way we deliver all services and infrastructure in remote communities.

For too long remote communities have been the recipients of disjointed, ad hoc and uncoordinated actions and responses from governments at all levels.

Communities like Wadeye in the Northern Territory where the numbers of students would swamp the available classrooms – if they all attended.

Where adequate teacher housing is not available.

Where outstation housing was built – at great expense – to separate warring gangs of jobless young people.

We must remove the stubborn, systemic blockages which over generations have deprived Indigenous Australians of the basic foundations of a safe, healthy and productive life.

To do this, we will completely overhaul the way governments deliver services and invest in remote areas replacing it with a co-ordinated approach across all levels of government.

Initially we will target priority locations across Australia but, of course, other communities and townships will continue to receive government support and services.

Under this new – and path-breaking – Remote Service Delivery Strategy, all governments have signed up to a concentrated and accelerated approach to tackle deep-seated disadvantage.

We have the opportunity to work together harnessing our combined resources and efforts to deliver real and lasting change.

To deliver housing where the lights switch on, where water comes out of the taps; where you can cook on the stove.

Where there are streetlights at night, police on the beat, a community hall to meet in, a sportsground to play footy on, a health clinic and a school with teachers.

A place where parents expect to work.

Our benchmark will be to progressively deliver in communities or townships the facilities and services you would expect in any Australian town of the same size.

The same infrastructure and services that support and sustain healthy social norms so people can reach their potential and businesses can thrive.

So children grow up safe and healthy and go to school; where they have the best role model possible – a parent who goes to work each day.

So children see their parents taking responsibility for the family’s economic security and planning and providing for the future.

As well as financial independence, a job gives purpose and meaning to people’s lives.

The Australian Government is absolutely committed to delivering its unprecedented increases in allocations for Indigenous housing in an efficient and affordable way.

We have committed to major reforms

  • In the area of secure tenure
  • In tenancy management aimed at extending asset life spans and giving Indigenous tenants guaranteed access to repairs and maintenance of their housing.
  • In the way construction contracts are let and managed

And we have demonstrated our commitment to step in at an early stage to ensure programs administered by the states and territories stay on track.

We are committed to meeting our targets under SIHIP and the National Partnership

We are committed to ensuring the living standards of Indigenous people across Australia, particularly in remote Australia, are progressively improved.

We are committed to ensuring Indigenous people have access to increased employment opportunities in social housing construction contracts in remote Australia.

We are committed to working with Indigenous people.

We are committed to closing the gap