An Aboriginal woman prepares food in the squalid conditions of a Central Australian town camp, while a dog lingers nearby. (ABC News)
People living in poor and overcrowded conditions in remote communities in the NT face major uncertainty as a housing funding impasse between the Territory and federal governments intensifies, the Northern Land Council has warned.
- Funding arrangements for remote Indigenous housing remains a point of contention between the two levels of government
- The subleases that give the NT Government control over the program currently will soon expire
- A Federal Senator has suggested a new funding model be introduced, that would reduce NT Government control
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has proposed a “fundamental change” in housing funding delivery that would reduce the NT Government’s control.
But the NT Government said the plan lacked detail, and has continued calls for Federal Government to match it’s $1.1 billion funding commitment towards the program.
The clock is ticking on the two governments to reach an agreement before June 30, the first expiry date for subleases that give the Territory Government responsibility for all aspects of Indigenous housing, including tenancy management and repairs and maintenance.
If the leases are not renewed by the NT Government, responsibility for Indigenous housing will revert back to the Commonwealth, which has no mechanism for managing it.
The ongoing political impasse risks “major uncertainty” for people in remote Indigenous communities, the CEO of the Northern Land Council Joe Morrison warned.
“The concern is that Aboriginal people who are already suffering from overcrowded conditions in remote communities are going to suffer further if there’s no clarity about this,” Mr Morrison said.
Northern Land Council chief executive Joe Morrison said the messages about remote housing were unclear from each level of government.
NT Government rejects Federal funding offer
Numerous reports have shown that poor and overcrowded housing in remote Indigenous communities contributes to issues such as ill-health, higher rates of child abuse and poor school attendance.
The Federal Government’s remote housing review, released last year, said 1,504 new houses had been built in the Northern Territory since 2008 under the current federally-funded 10-year agreement.
But it also estimated at least another 2,750 new houses would be needed in the Northern Territory by 2028 to keep overcrowding to “acceptable levels”.
The Federal and Northern Territory Governments have been in a stalemate over a new deal on the funding and management of Indigenous housing before the current 10-year housing agreement ends in June.
Under current arrangements, the Commonwealth holds 40-year leases in many remote communities but has issued short-term sub-leases to the NT that give it responsibility for delivering and managing Indigenous housing.
In a letter to the NT Government in February this year, Senator Scullion asked the NT Government to renew the subleases for five years to provide “certainty and stability” over housing service delivery.
But the ABC can reveal that late last month, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner wrote to Senator Scullion rejecting that proposal as well as the Commonwealth’s offer of two years of Indigenous housing funding.
“The offer presents an unacceptable level of risk for the Northern Territory Government in taking on leases without a matched Australian Government funding commitment for the same period,” the letter stated.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has rejected a Federal Government proposal to renew the renew remote housing subleases for five years. (ABC News: James Purtill)
New model for housing funding: Scullion
Northern Land Council chief executive officer Joe Morrison said an agreement between the two governments was well overdue and the ongoing uncertainty over leases and funding was causing alarm.
“Aboriginal people are very concerned about this situation at the moment because there are very unclear messages coming out of both the Northern Territory and Federal Government,” Mr Morrison said.
But there was no sign of an end to the impasse.
Senator Scullion is now flagging a new model for delivering remote housing that would reduce NT Government control over federal housing funds.
Instead of going directly to the NT Government, Senator Scullion said housing funding would instead go to a new entity that was partly managed by land councils.
“To ensure that the jobs stay here, to ensure that we oversee the way that the budget is dealt with, that we ensure that the procurement happens here in the Northern Territory,” Senator Scullion said.
“It is no longer going to be managed as part of the Northern Territory Government coffers.”
Senator Nigel Scullion has flagged a new model for delivering remote housing. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy, file photo)
Federal Government called to deliver more funding
Over many years, NT Governments of both stripes have been accused of redirecting federal funds intended for Indigenous people and Senator Scullion’s latest comments could play into that debate.
The NT Government said even at this late stage in negotiations, Senator Scullion had provided little detail on how his proposed new entity would work.
“Senator Scullion has provided no detail on this nor has he given any certainty on the Commonwealth’s (funding) contribution,” a spokeswoman for NT Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy said.
“Senator Scullion has had plenty of time to “consider” what he’s going to do with remote housing money, now he needs to deliver it.”
The NT Government has been calling on the Commonwealth to match its commitment of $1.1bn for remote housing over 10 years.