I rise to speak in response to the explanation on housing provided to the Senate by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
In his statement, he mentions that he waits for each territory and state jurisdiction to show the money. Well, in the Northern Territory, the Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, and the housing minister, Gerry McCarthy, have worked on their preparation in terms of what they will offer with housing across the Northern Territory, and they have put forward $1.1 billion over 10 years. And to let the Senate know this was the first offer, I thinkand correct me if I'm wrongfrom a state or territory jurisdiction to the Commonwealth in terms of that full-time commitment.
The minister made a comment in relation to that in Gunbalanya in January, and that comment was to support the payments by the Territory, so naturally there was a great deal of positive confirmation coming from the federal government at that point.
However, that has since been rescinded. It is not the $1.1 billion commitment in equal terms with the Northern Territory over 10 years, which is of great concern.
Reading through these documents that have been tabled by the Minister, a number of things come up, and one of them that comes up straightaway - and I think it's important for the Senate to be aware of some of the issues. So here we have a jurisdiction that has shown the money, so to speak, and yet we do not have the political will within the Turnbull cabinet to support a jurisdiction that has already shown the money, so to speak, and we know in the Northern Territory in particular the desire to have improved housing and certainly increased housing for our remote communities. Looking through the papers that the minister has tabled here in the Senate and it is an agenda item from Capital Works Milestone - it has been redacted so I'm not sure who it is prepared by, but it focuses on a situation as of 30 November 2017, a total of 117 new houses have been completed July 2016 with 122 new houses under way. Now, the Commonwealth was then, and I understand this to be the COAG meeting, the Commonwealth then in November was alerted to the fact that the NT Government remains committed to deliver the target of 300 new houses under the National Partnership on Remote Housing as per schedule F of the agreement, but the achievement of that target by 30 June this year is at risk due to factors that are outside the Northern Territory Government's control, and this includes - and again, this is for the benefit of the Senate to understand the intricacies that impact on the lives of First Nations peoples in this country. The first issue here is leasing. Delays in securing land tenure has delayed contracts being awarded most notably in communities of Yarralin, Pirlangimpi and Mutitjulu. There are seasonal impacts. The wet season in the Northern Territory has considerable impacts on the ability to deliver capital works, and the 2017-18 wet season has commenced early in some parts of the Northern Territory, including at Amanbidji, a community program to receive six new replacement houses, and a third area of concern in terms of these risk factors is transitional accommodation. Capital works cannot commence in a community until appropriate accommodation is provided for people to move from either a dilapidated house or those needing a new house to be accommodated somewhere in the interim. So works to have be aligned to ensure transitional housing is in place to avoid delays.
The Northern Territory government requested then in November, via Ministerial correspondence, that the revision of the new house target of 300 to an achievable 243 by 30 June 2018, with a commitment that the remaining new houses be contractually committed to this date and then rolled over beyond June 2018 into the financial year of 2018-19. Now, the status of that request is still unclear, but again an important request by the Northern Territory Government.
The issues that are also compounding here for residents in the Northern Territory is the question and again these are questions for the minister and his department - rental payments as a key element of funding for repairs and maintenance. The current system of tenancy management is dependent on large rental contributions from tenants, so what is the impact of the record and disproportionate numbers of fines and suspensions of unemployment benefits and CDP payments to Aboriginal tenants. We've had debates here about CDP payments and relation to breaching, those participants who are on CDP who are breached - there is actual evidence within the Housing Department that shows there are concerns in the rental payments because of reductions in people's CDP payments and welfare benefits.
The other question around housing for the Northern Territory is homelands and town camps. In 2012, the Labor government from the ABA Fund set aside $10 million for homelands and outstation housing from the ABA funds. In 2015, a full audit of homeland and outstation housing and infrastructure was conducted by the Centre for Appropriatetechnologyin Alice Springs with the support of the Commonwealth and Territory Governments of the Commonwealth is now that the Land Councils carry out a similar audit to determine the priority for infrastructure investment in the same homelands and outstations.
So whatpayments will bemade for the Land Councils to rescope infrastructure work on outstations? These are the conversations that need to have been had well before June 2018. Hasn't the Commonwealth previously stated they want no further involvement with outstations? Since they paid out the Giles Government. The Commonwealth created 600 -700 outstations from the 1960sonwards,and has nowwalked away from any responsibility if that regard. In terms of town camps, the Commonwealth has offered nothing to address the substandard infrastructure they created across the Territory. We know the Minister is currentlyunder waywith the Closing The Gap refresh, and one of the areas that consistently comes up is the importance of housing. And as we've heard from previous senators here, Senator Dodson and Senator Cameron, that the importance of housing and homelessness and the link to the fact that we cannot close the gap in health, in education, in employment, so I know that as part of the conversations that are taking place now around close the gap, that it is critical, absolutely critical, that this government, that this government look at the importance of housing and the lack of it, and the impact it's having on the very policy that you stand up in the House in February, every year, to give a report on the live expectancy of First Nations People. You need to connect it.
If there was the political will 10 years ago to have a 10-year agreement on an incredibly visionary housing program for our country and for our remote and regional areas, where is the political will today? Where is the political will today? Completely absent. Completely absent. Abrogating every kind of responsibility to find excuses and reasons why it is not this Parliament's duty to the First Nations People of this country to make sure you show leadership, in navigating a way through the absolute complex and political process within the state and territory jurisdictions to have that vision again.
Have that vision again.
Have the backbone to have that vision again.
Have the will to have that vision again.
That is what it requires for a 10-year vision on housing for our remote and rural regions of this country. And I'll give you another exampleonly 18 months ago, in fact, the Minister may remember thiswe celebrated thehandbackto the community of Yarralin in the VRD region, west of Katherine. And we celebrated thehandbackafter 40 years. Where the people of Yarralin have been waiting for their struggle for land. And the story is that a group of Aboriginal workers walked off a job in the cattle station in the NT over 44 years ago to protest over a lack of pay and mistreatment, and today, more than 50,000 hectares belongs to them. 50,000 hectares of land was returned at that moment, and I was there. The Minister was there. The Northern Land Council was there. And all the men and women and children of the VRD region were there. And what was promised as part of that was at least 20 new houses, 17 upgrades, at thehandback. And I have spoken with people from that region who are incredibly disappointed. That not enough has been done in that space, and that's just one example of a number of communities that are waiting.
So I say to the Prime Minister, if you want to close thegap, if you are sincere about wanting to close the gap, you have to be committed in every waynot cherry-picking when you want to dive in and dive outand you've got to back it all the way. We know that housing is a critical aspect of improving the lives of everyone. And the ones who need it the most in this particular instance are the First Nations People of our country. And the Cabinet needs to have the backbone and the vision, because it is within your power to make a real difference here. It is within your power to break the stalemate. It is within your power to rise above to politics of every situation here when you look at the figures of our families and our children on the ground, who desperately need this Parliament to get it right.
SENATE CHAMBER, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 20 MARCH 2018
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra