This week we travel to Alice Springs to explore the issues surrounding Indigenous housing.
Fixing Indigenous Housing was at the heart of the Labor Government’s promise to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.
In what is the biggest project on remote housing ever, the Federal and Northern Territory Government dedicated $672 million to building 750 news homes, refurbishing 2,500 existing houses and rebuilding 230.
But the project has come under scrutiny - a recent Government report into the project found delays, a gross underestimate of costs and excessive red tape.
The Government has since announced it will take greater oversight of the program and has stuck to its commitments to deliver 750 new houses.
But there are concerns the houses built under the program will be smaller and refurbishments will not be as robust as first planned.
Meanwhile, Indigenous communities are growing more skeptical - they’re worried the program won’t tackle core health issues such as overcrowding or improve sub-standard conditions.
For the first time ever we bring together all the key players to find out if the Government can deliver on its promise to fix Indigenous housing and close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.
This week we travel to Alice Springs to explore the issues surrounding Indigenous housing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight, we're joined by people from several Territory communities, the Minister, Jenny Macklin, as well as others trying to solve the problems. But first let's look at how some people are living right here on our door step at the town camps in Alice Springs. Here's Emma Cook.
TOWN CAMPS STORY:
REPORTER: Emma Cook
This is home for David Wijunda, just a few hundred metres from the centre of Alice Springs. David has chosen to leave one of Alice Springs's 18 town camps and live here on the Todd River. He's joined by others on the river bed, who have left the camps fearing for their safety. It was also too much for Mark Lockyer. He moved away from this camp in Hidden Valley in the eastern suburbs of Alice Springs 14 years ago. A drinker by the age of 13, Mark says he could see where his life was heading.
MARK LOCKYER, FORMER TOWN CAMP RESIDENT: I noticed all my family started passing away from drinking too much grog and from the violence that I realised that if I didn't stop what I was doing and start taking control of my own life that I'd end up the same way as those family members who aren't with us anymore.
He's now living in public housing but has made it his mission to speak out against the state of the camps. The town camps are scattered across Alice Springs. There can be up to 3,000 people living on them, sharing just 198 houses. Now managed by Tangentyere Council, which also secured leases over the land, and now the Government wants to take them over. The conditions on most of the camps are appalling with people forced to make their bed every night among the sea of rubbish. Mark returns to Hidden Valley every second night to stay with his sick mother in the house she shares with her other son, his wife and relatives who come to stay. He says he's seen the safety of the camp deteriorate.
MARK LOCKYER: There's way too many people in the camps. If we've got something like a sports carnival or a funeral happening in town everybody from bush comes into town and when that happens there's a lot of drinking and fighting and overcrowding.
This tin shed behind Mark's mother's house accommodates its fair share of bush visitors. At least 30 people have called it home for the last 10 years including young children who struggle for space with renal dialysis patients.
MARK LOCKYER: Those people in the tin shed are paying rent to live there and they haven't even got access to a toilet or a shower. They're living there in unhygienic conditions and the only services that Tangentyere provides to those people living in that tin shed is to drop a pile of wood off for them once a month or something.
Mark wants the Government to take over the camps and build the houses that it's been promising.
MARK LOCKYER: I think the Government needs to take it seriously about saving the children. When you've got 30 people living in a 3"‘bedroom house it's not a good environment to raise your children.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well welcome, everybody, great to be here and good to have you all here with us. Mark, you mentioned that tin shed in that tape story, how many people was it who live in there sometimes?
MARK LOCKYER: It can get up to about 30 but originally there's only about four people, five people that actually live there, the rest are just bush visitors coming in and you get the good visitors and the bad visitors coming to that area and camping out in the camps.
JENNY BROCKIE: And someone on dialysis lives in that shed?
MARK LOCKYER: Apparently, that's what I've heard, there may be two people on dialysis or one person on dialysis but I've seen them at the renal clinic as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: May, you're Mark's mum, you own the house that he stays "‘ or you rent the house that he stays in. You're on dialysis yourself.
MAY LOCKYER, TOWN CAMP RESIDENT: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's housing like at Hidden Valley?
MAY LOCKYER: Well I don't really like the housing in Hidden Valley because it's too "‘ bedrooms are really small, we can't easy get in, you know, and too small for family to live in the house. We need a little bit more bigger house there.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how many people come and stay in your house?
MAY LOCKYER: Only my two sons and his wife. One of them get wife and two daughters but we got 4"‘bedroom house, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what about other relatives? Do they come and stay as well?
MAY LOCKYER: My visitors come in from out bush, they don't make a big mess. They just up there for oh, a couple of days and go back again.
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you agree with Mark, do you want the Government to take over Hidden Valley, the Federal Government?
MAY LOCKYER: Well I don't know. Hidden Valley's not safe, you know. Any town camp it's not safe.
JENNY BROCKIE: But what do you want, what do you want in terms of housing? What would you like to see happen?
MAY LOCKYER: I'd like to see Tangentyere doing a good job for us, you know, for the new houses, more.
JENNY BROCKIE: The Tangentyere Council?
MAY LOCKYER: Yes, and when we asked them, when we asked them to put this up for us they don't "‘ they tell me "‘ I ring them up sometimes and they tell me oh, we got no money, no money. No money.
JENNY BROCKIE: Walter, you're president of the Tangentyere Council which provides the major services for the Alice Springs town camps, why are they in such a terrible state and what about what May says and what Mark says?
WALTER SHAW, TANGENTYERE COUNCIL: Historically Tangentyere Council has lived and run off the peppercorn funding days and I mean it's a lack of appropriate funding and where our funding base is coming from and if it's streamlined directly from the Federal Government rather than coming to the Northern Territory Government and then us coming down on the pecking order in the systemic way. I think Tangentyere Council has operated to its full capacity with the lack of resource and lack of appropriate funding.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're saying it's all due to lack of money?
WALTER SHAW: It's all due to lack of money.
JENNY BROCKIE: Helen, what do you think "‘ sorry, Helen, you're over here. Helen, what do you think? You live in another town camp called Trucking Yards, what's the housing like there?
HELEN KANTAWARA, TOWN CAMP RESIDENT: Well compared to the Australian standard I'd be ashamed to say that it's in Third World conditions because they one of the original houses that Tangentyere built there and they're well and truly, um, over 20, 30 years old and since that time there hasn't been any improvements to those houses.
JENNY BROCKIE: So tell me how people live, just describe it for people watching this at home, you know, what don't people have in that town camp in terms of housing? What sort of things are missing?
HELEN KANTAWARA: Well, for a starters, I can tell you that we don't have any street lights there. At night it's dark and it's not safe. Um, we just have the basic four walls and the floors, the design's inappropriate to the Aboriginal way of life in how they live. It's all, like May said, it's all this little poky little rooms and in those rooms there's whole families living in there and it's just not appropriate.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's your house like?
HELEN KANTAWARA: I live in a 2"‘bedroom unit with my daughter, her husband, three kids, another one on the way and my son.
JENNY BROCKIE: Two bedrooms?
HELEN KANTAWARA: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so what do you want to happen? What are you looking for?
HELEN KANTAWARA: We definitely need some more houses but I think the urgent need is to fix the ones that we've got to improve our families' lifestyle because they just putting up with no air"‘conditioning, no heating, they're absolutely like ice box during the winter and they're like ovens in the summer.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rob Knight, how much money does the Territory Government give to the town camps for housing every year because they're in a shocking state?
ROB KNIGHT, NORTHERN TERRITORY HOUSING MINISTER: It averages around 5 to $6,000 per house and we put $1.4 million into municipal service like local government services which provide for the rubbish collection and maintenance. So I mean I know there's a huge legacy issues with those town camps and the overcrowding creates a whole greater demand for these service providers.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, you're disputing that, Walter?
WALTER SHAW: Yes, for individual dwellings on our camp, the housing stocks, every house receives $2,200 and just the last financial year in 08/09 the shire councils received $7,500 in terms of maintenance for individual households.
JENNY BROCKIE: And so where is that money going though?
WALTER SHAW: Well, I mean "‘
JENNY BROCKIE: What is it being spent on?
WALTER SHAW: A comment was made about the state of the houses on our camps for the last 30"‘odd years. I think for us to construct houses we had to accommodate people living in hardship conditions, living in dingy shacks, living in car bodies. So for us to have four walls and a roof over our head that was a first step. I think we needed mechanisms and systems put in place where governments can be held accountable in terms of the distribution of funds.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rob, just quick.
ROB KNIGHT: That's what the whole Alice Springs transformation is about, it's government taking accountability, being accountable for those houses.
JENNY BROCKIE: But those houses are shocking.
ROB KNIGHT: That's why government needs to be held accountable. I mean indigenous housing has been a second rate public housing system. Money has historically just been given to indigenous community houses organisations, um, and no sort of obligation of government and that's why government getting more involved and being accountable, being held accountable by taking on a greater role of management on to those houses is "‘ it's a really good step.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny Macklin, I'd like to bring you in at this point and thank you very much for joining us from Melbourne today. Who is responsible for the mess the town camps are in? Is it the Federal Government, the Territory Government or the Tangentyere Council?
JENNY MACKLIN, INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER: Well, I think the best thing to say, Jenny, about all of this is that we are all responsible. We are all responsible for what is an absolute disaster. Walter is right, we do need to put more money in and that's why the Federal Government has said we have $100 million to put into these town camps to build new houses, to fix the houses that people are living in but also to make the town camps safer. And it is also about, making sure that into the future governments are held responsible and that's why we're insisting on a 40"‘year lease. It is entirely so that in the future it is very clear that governments must be responsible for building the houses, maintaining the houses and making sure that tenancies are done properly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, you want to take control of 16 of the 18 town camps that you're able to take over with those 40"‘year leases and I know Barb Shaw you've taken "‘ you live on Mount Nancy town camp, you've taken legal action against the Federal Government's plan to do that. Why, when the Government wants to spend money on housing?
BARB SHAW TOWN CAMP RESIDENT: I've actually taken legal action because of tenancy agreements with the Northern Territory Government or Territory Housing and our tenancy rights are going to actually have people out in the streets, there's going to be more overcrowding and evictions and if there's overcrowding now when people are sleeping in the rivers then what is the Government doing about the people sleeping in the rivers?
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Jenny Macklin, a response from you to that?
JENNY MACKLIN: That's a very, very important point that we have a number of issues to deal with. One is the overcrowding in the town camps themselves and of course we're going to build at least 85 new houses as well as fix up the existing houses, fix up the infrastructure, make sure the sewerage and water and all of those things are fixed. But the other point that's raised about the very significant number of visitors that come into the town camps we do recognise that this is an issue that needs to be resolved so we've made a commitment to build additional transitional housing in the town of Alice Springs, but governments don’t build houses on land that they don’t have any access to, certainly this government is not going to.
JENNY BROCKIE: Walter, 14 of the town camps have already signed the Government's 40"‘year leases, why?
WALTER SHAW: Well, considering the political climate that all the town camps were facing in terms of the minister closing or shutting shop on the negotiation process and moving towards the notice of compulsory acquisition, there was an imminent threat put in place and imposed on town camps and the housing association.
JENNY BROCKIE: But what, you feel like you didn't want to or "‘
WALTER SHAW: I feel because of the imminent threat of compulsory acquisition, I mean the execution of the leases were under duress.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, under duress, Jenny Macklin?
JENNY MACKLIN: We've been in discussions and negotiations with Tangentyere Council and the housing associations for more than 18 months now. In July before last we actually had an agreement signed by Tangentyere Council, by the Northern Territory Government and by the Federal Government to enter into a 40"‘year lease and also for the Northern Territory Government to take responsibility for tenancy management for the next three years, unfortunately Tangentyere Council then reneged on that deal and we went back into discussions and negotiations. There does come a point where governments need to say enough is enough on behalf of all the people who are living outside, camped outside or living on mattresses in the dirt, elderly women, renal dialysis patients, little children. I have a responsibility to make sure we get this fixed.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, quick response from you, Walter?
WALTER SHAW: We signed that particular document under the proviso that it would enter into the negotiation consultation process. When you look at an agreement it means that two parties sit together and come to some form of favourable outcome. An agreement was not met with the Federal Government with respect to the leases. The leases how they sit now is much of the same as is what is put on the table by your predecessor Mal Brough which was that the leases were a non"‘conditional offer.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, I'm going to move on because I just "‘ I want to ask you, Helen, Helen, your town camp is one of two who hasn't signed the lease, are you worried about losing your land under this proposal with the Government saying it wants to take over "‘ it wants to take over on a 40"‘year lease. Are you worried about that issue?
HELEN KANTAWARA: Well for a start I'd like to make it very clear that it's not our land, we don't own it. It belongs to the Mbundiwa People, the Arrente people, central Arrente people. So my elders at Trucking Yards that's whey they agreed not to sign, voluntarily sign that 40"‘year lease because it wasn't our land to sign over.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and so how do you see a way of resolving this in terms of getting the resources to improve the town camps from the Federal Government?
HELEN KANTAWARA: Well that's where the organisation that represents the native title holders, that's when they can come in and then negotiate with the Government.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Karen, your corporation represents the native titleholders of Alice Springs, what do you think?
KAREN LIDDLE, LHERE ARTEPE ABORIGINAL CORP.: There will be a compensation that will go to the housing associations and if it means that the Government's got to acquire that land to enable Aboriginal people to have a better quality of life well so be it.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you don't have a problem with the compulsory acquisition of the land if it improves the town camps?
KAREN LIDDLE: No, that's our main aim is to improve the town camps and the quality of life.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Mark, what do you think of the battle going on here with this discussion because every time you start talking about indigenous housing there are layers and layers and layers of these discussions what do you think when you hear it and you're living one of one of the camps?
MARK LOCKYER: There's been a lot of consultation between the Tangentyere and the town council, the Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government and all Tangentyere's doing is saying that this is not good enough, we're not satisfied and, um, instead of getting results and action actually happening on the ground, it seems Tangentyere just wants to waste time.
JENNY BROCKIE: Walter.
WALTER SHAW: I think a way forward is for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities to play a major role in terms of the drafting of policies, the implementation of policies but dealing with policies on a higher level with government rather than dealing with the bureaucrats sitting on the ground and visiting us at our community councils or at our houses.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Jenny Macklin, you're offering 85 new houses, how did you reach that figure?
JENNY MACKLIN: We made an original offer of $50 million and we recognised that in doing the planning for what needed to be done in each of the town camps, when you look at the water, sewerage, roads, lighting, as well as all the housing issues, that we needed more money. So we decided to double the amount of money, put $100 million into it a lot of thinking's been going on to really figure out how this money should be allocated.
JENNY BROCKIE: Insight is coming to you from Alice Springs where we're talking about indigenous housing and how to fix it. The Rudd Government has pledged $672 million and has promised 750 new houses, 2,500 refurbishments and 230 rebuilds of houses here by 2013. But not everyone in the Territory is confident they will benefit from the Government's program. Here's Anne Worthington.
LOUISE CAVANAGH’S STORY:
REPORTER: Anne Worthington
LOUISE CAVANAGH, SANTA TERESA RESIDENT: This is my toilet and shower and wall. This part has got cracks on the walls everywhere. It's all crumbling down.
Louise Cavanagh grew up in Santa Teresa, a remote desert community located 80km south"‘east of Alice Springs. More than 600 people live here but there are only 100 homes. And there are no new houses on the horizon - it's refurbs only for these residents.
LOUISE CAVANAGH: I would like to see concrete laid on my veranda here.
Louise has lived in this house for eight years and pays $45 a week rent. Her house is being considered for government money but there's no guarantees. Only 34 houses will be selected.
LOUISE CAVANAGH: The house that I'm living in is a bit lopsided, especially the shower and the toilet, and the foundations are very bad. The walls are all cracked and when I'm sitting from inside I can see the outside as well. So I've got nowhere to store all my food.
Inside Louise's house things are not much better.
LOUISE CAVANAGH: See this cupboard here it's just wide open, I don't have like a drawer to put some of my other stuff in like cutleries and spoons and forks. And, yeah, cockroaches as well and I've got cockroaches there and ants. Cockroaches is the worst ones that are creepy crawling at night time.
The chronic shortage of houses was made worse when a severe storm ripped the roofs off these houses more than 10 months ago.
LOUISE CAVANAGH: There is a lot of overcrowding in the community, plus you get a lot of young fellas and, you know, who haven't got a home, they still live with their parents. They are still living with the overcrowded house because there's nowhere that they can go to and live.
REPORTER: How many people can end up in a house at one time?
LOUISE CAVANAGH: Oh, maybe more than 15, maybe 20.
BANJO: Falling to pieces.
Up the road and I meet Banjo and Ursula. Their house is also in line for a possible refurb. They tell me they sometimes have as many as 15 people sleeping in their house. They show me the tiny room where each night they sleep with their teenage daughter, nephew and son.
URSULA HOOSAN, SANTA TERESA RESIDENT: They sort of feel shame too sleeping in the same room. I can understand that, 16"‘year"‘old boy and 14"‘year"‘old nephew I got here and 13"‘year"‘old girl I got here in the same room.
Like Louisa's house Banjo and Ursula's place is falling to bits. Electrical wiring hangs from walls, the drains are often blocked and despite her best efforts the kitchen is so riddled with cockroaches Ursula's forced to cook outside.
LOUISE CAVANAGH: All these ants are going into the house.
Santa Teresa's residents are worried the Government's plans will do little to fix their housing issues.
LOUISE CAVANAGH: I would like to see my "‘ people here at Santa Teresa for proper homes to be built. Chuck away, demolish the old ones. That's what I need to tell the people at Canberra, we need more homes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ursula, what do you want to say to the Minister who's here tonight? What do you want to tell her?
URSUAL HOOSAN: It's terrible.
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you want new houses or would you be happy if your house was just fixed up?
URSULA HOOSAN: Some more new houses and the houses we lived in fixed up properly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you want both those things? Jenny Macklin, I'm wondering in Santa Teresa, how does refurbishment solve the overcrowding problem, for example?
JENNY MACKLIN: I can absolutely understand the position that's been put by people in Santa Teresa. I think what we all have to recognise, Jenny, is that we face an enormous backlog right across remote Australia and especially in remote parts of the Northern Territory and what we've seen here in Santa Teresa is very similar in many, many communities. We have had to make some very tough decisions about where we're going to put the largest ever investment in new houses, rebuilt houses and refurbishments and we have decided to really concentrate very large increases in houses in those communities, which are already very, very large.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Adam Giles, I know that you have a view of about this issue of addressing the bigger communities rather than the small ones, what is it?
ADAM GILES, NT SHADOW INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: I've heard the Minister's answer. I don't understand why it's not being taken as a crisis. To hear those amount of people that are living in that small house, clearly it's a crisis and there's got to be alternative solutions. Now I appreciate that the Federal Government or the Territory Government can't provide all the money to house everybody.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well your Government didn't. Your Government, you know, left this mess "‘
ADAM GILES: I'm 100% agreeing that all governments of all colours and all ilks have failed.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's what you all say. That's what all governments say on both sides of this debate that governments have failed but we never seem to be moving forward.
ADAM GILES: Jenny, I think the answer is to allow the private sector to come in and be able to provide housing for people in places like Santa Teresa. I don't think that the Government is ever going to be in a position, no matter what the Government"‘ which government it is "‘ to be able to provide housing for every single person across the Territory. The private sector has a real opportunity to bring money in to provide that housing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we'll get on to alternatives in a moment but I want to talk to a few more Santa Teresa residents. Farrah, you're from Santa Teresa and you work with the police, where do you live at the moment?
FARRAH FLOWERS, SANTA TERESA RESIDENT: Well I've been staying with Jason and Colt and there's about four adults and five kids.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how often do you stay with Jason, are you staying with him all the time or move around?
FARAH FLOWERS: Move around.
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you have children?
FARAH FLOWERS: Three kids.
JENNY BROCKIE: And they move with you. You have a job but you don't have a house in Santa Teresa, why don't you have a house?
FARAH FLOWERS: They said there's no house vacancy or available and I've been asking them since 2003.
JENNY BROCKIE: Imelda, you're a teacher at the local school and I'm just interested in how overcrowding actually affects kids in that community?
IMELDA PALMER, SANTA TERESA SCHOOL: Because we're dealing with their behaviour nearly every day because the little kids come home "‘ come from a crowded house very angry, upset, stressed and there's no, um, privacy or safe place where they can live, you know?
JENNY BROCKIE: Jason, you work at the local health clinic in Santa Teresa, what sort of things are you seeing when people come in from that community?
JASON KING, SANTA TERESA RESIDENT: There's contagious infections getting spread easily like pneumonia, skin infections, gastros and they spread quite quickly and easily in overcrowded houses especially when you have a family living in one room. And there's people with chronic conditions who need to change their lifestyle with exercise and diet and they find it hard that they don't have a room to do exercise.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so overcrowding there's a direct link between overcrowding and the health problems that you see?
JASON KING: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Pholeros, you're an architect, you help fix up houses, a lot of people, I think, watching this are just not going to be able to understand how the houses get to that state in the first place and you've looked at why the houses are in such a state of disrepair, what have you found?
PAUL PHOLEROS, ARCHITECT: We've looked at why they're in that repair but more importantly we fix them while we're there and that's the important bit of this whole story is not just to state the problem but to actually do some work and fix it while you're there. The prime reason why we do most of our fix work, over 60% is due to lack of normal day"‘to"‘day routine maintenance that just isn't done. It doesn't get there, it isn't done for whatever reason. Almost a quarter of the money we spent in the last 10 years on over 6,500 houses around Australia has been due to poor initial construction, faulty work. That's a toilet without a drain attached, a tap without water attached, a light switch without electrical cables attached.
JENNY BROCKIE: So why is that happening? Why are houses being built like that?
PAUL PHOLEROS: Poor supervision, people don't go back and check them, there's no test when a house is completed, there's no test when an upgrade of a house is completed. The money's handed over and the house is faulty from the day people move in.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you think is responsible for that?
PAUL PHOLEROS: The person who has the contract to build the house, the builder is responsible, the licensed trades are responsible for not fulfilling the condition of their licence, the State Government is responsible for not going and checking that the money they're spending has been well spent and ultimately the Federal Government is taking money, directing it to the States and that money's being wasted as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, that's a very, very good set of arguments to put to you Rob Knight. I mean where is the accountability? If what Paul's saying is right and a lot of those houses have been really badly built to start with isn't that your fault as housing minister?
ROB KNIGHT: Look, that's why we've gone for the alliance contracting. That's why we've gone for a very different model on housing delivery. Before there was a substantial less amount of money going into construction but it was going to little community housing organisations, little local government councils right across the Northern Territory and that accountability, that supervision, that handover wasn't there. Contractors sometimes wouldn't come back for the 5% that was sitting left to be paid to them because they couldn't be bothered.
JENNY BROCKIE: But it's a failure of your government that it's got to this, hasn't it - that those houses exist in the first place. You say that's why we've got to the alliance model but this has been going on for years?
ROB KNIGHT: Indigenous houses has been delivered primarily from the Commonwealth government into the Territory for housing construction but it was a way of doing things and that's why things had to change.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Paul, I want to just go through a few pictures that you've taken just to show people at home the kind of stuff that we're talking about because I think a lot of people still have trouble understanding how the houses can fall apart sometimes as quickly as they do. Let's have a look at this first photo, talk us through that, what is that?
PAUL PHOLEROS: Okay, the top it's a hot water system element for an electric hot water system, those of you who have never seen one. The top one is brand new. The bottom one is in water conditions that are around Alice Springs but they're around most of the parts of Australia away from the coast and they have a lot of mineral salt in them and that's an element after two weeks in the hot water service, the bottom element with the white and that's salt. After about three months that element will be so encased in salt that the system stops working. So if you've designed it and specified it and you're a nice architect or a builder somewhere in a city and it works fine there, it won't work fine in conditions in the rest of most of Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you've got to use something else?
PAUL PHOLEROS: You've got to use something else.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, let's look at the next photo, it's a shower rose, explain what's going on there?
PAUL PHOLEROS: There's two stories here. It's the same salt problem that clogs up the fine holes in a shower rose. If you get it wrong the shower stops working and people don't get a wash and they end up at the health clinic with problems caused by not being able to have a simple shower every day. The key bit of this story though really is we took that rose off a house where the resident had punched all those holes with a nail very carefully to allow the water to flow. And only 8% of our budget we spend nationally is on fixing damaged, misuse, overuse or other use of house and that's a story that never gets out.
JENNY BROCKIE: Because a lot of people, I imagine, think the houses aren't being looked after probability.
PAUL PHOLEROS: And if you have in your head that Aboriginal people trash the houses everyone else gets off the hook. The builders are off the hook, the designers are off the hook, maintenance systems are off the hook, everyone's off the hook but here's an example of residence who have actually taken the care and the time to make their shower work. We took it off and gave them a new one but it was working when we got there.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, Brian Hughey, you head up the building consortium New Future Alliance, you've been assessing Santa Teresa and only around 34 of 100 houses there are being refurbished. Who's deciding which ones?
BRIAN HUGHEY, NEW FUTURE ALLIANCE: That's not quite correct. We hope to be able to refurbish approximately 65 to 70 houses on a community. We've done an initial scoping of Santa Teresa which included 36 houses and, um, we're going through the scoping on all the 29 communities in the southern shires and developing the workload for those communities. Once we go back and start on the community the remainder of the houses that haven't been scoped will be scoped.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you're going to be scoping those houses and how are you going to ensure the kind of things that Paul's talking about don't happen?
BRIAN HUGHEY: Well Paul has worked with all the alliances in advising the alliances on the type of materials to use in the houses and we're following those guidelines and we're providing "‘ we're going to the communities to provide functional refurbs so that the kitchens, the bathrooms, the laundries and the toilets will work.
JENNY BROCKIE: So can you guarantee that? Can you guarantee that you will be doing that with those houses in Santa Teresa?
BRIAN HUGHEY: Yes. We can.
JENNY BROCKIE: Under the current scheme?
BRIAN HUGHEY: That is our scope of work, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alan, you're managing another consortium doing houses work in other places, is that what you understand is going to happen with refurbs? Do you think they will deliver what people need?
ALAN MCGILL, TERRITORY ALLIANCE: Absolutely. That's what the refurbishments will deliver but the whole of the SIHIP program is probably the first Aboriginal housing program that's had built in all the controls that will ensure the quality, safety and all those standards are met. We're building houses as though they were built in any city anywhere else. We have to comply with every other law and we have to have the building certified when we hand them over, handing over all that certification that goes with it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, Paul, do you share that confidence given the way the money's been carved up and the way the program's rolling out?
PAUL PHOLEROS: I'll wait and when we've tested all the houses then I'll agree that all those checks and balances have actually been put in place. What's needed is when the houses are complete for them to be tested, independently tested to make sure they're working properly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, how do you feel though about the way the money's been carved up"‘ the amount that's being spent on new houses, the amount that's being spent on refurbishments on and the amount on rebuilds from what you've seen because you've worked in these communities for a long time?
PAUL PHOLEROS: I think in some of the projects I think it's random. I don't see how anyone can promise how many new houses, how many upgrades and how many rebuilds before you even know the condition of the houses in the community in great detail.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Brian Hughey, response from you.
BRIAN HUGHEY: I can't totally respond to that but all I can say is that the refurbs that will done are functional refurbs to get the kitchens, the laundries, the bathrooms and the toilets working, functioning properly so the residents can live healthy in the house.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Jenny Macklin, how are you deciding on these things and how can you make those guarantees?
JENNY MACKLIN: We absolutely will insist that they are checked after the work is done. Paul is absolutely right. We have far too many examples over such a long period of time where builders haven't done the right thing, governments haven't done the right thing. We know we've got a lot to live up to but we're determined to do everything we can to get this right.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about the Government's indigenous housing scheme for the Northern Territory and what it's likely to deliver. Um, Alan McGill, a year ago your group Territory Alliance was awarded the first package under the Government's housing package on Tiwi Islands. The Government has budged an average of $450,000 a house, what will that deliver?
ALAN MCGILL: It will deliver 90 new houses and 155 refurbishments or rebuilds across the three communities on the Tiwi Islands.
JENNY BROCKIE: And are you satisfied that they are going to meet the requirements of that community?
ALAN MCGILL: We've got sign off from the community, from each of the three communities about their satisfaction with what we're doing with the design and the scope of work that we're doing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Has the notion of a refurb changed since the review happened because there was a review into how this program was going that found quite a few problems with it? Um, has that changed?
ALAN MCGILL: It's in the process of being reviewed at the moment. The outcome of the review will probably re"‘define and that's part of the review's findings was to re"‘define and refocus what the SIHIP program was to achieve so there is some work being done on the definition of what a refurbishment will be.
JENNY BROCKIE: Will the quality of a refurb change as a result of that?
ALAN MCGILL: I can't tell you at the moment. We're still working with that with the SIHIP management about what the scope of that will be.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul Pholeros?
PAUL PHOLEROS: I've got to say too, I think refurbishments will have an impact on overcrowding because if my toilet doesn't work I might go to my friend here, his house because his toilet does work and when we know nationally about 30%, and town camps here's no different, about 30% of showers work only in houses, 10% of houses have safe electrical power systems so when my power doesn't work I'd probably need to go to someone to get some power and that does impact on overcrowding.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm just trying to get a sense of whether you feel the program's being squeezed though because Alan's being very careful here in what he's saying, I think.
PAUL PHOLEROS: Very simple, you can take a picture of a new house, it's very hard to take a picture of an upgraded house. When the money is squeezed it will go to new houses and it will be pulled out of refurbishments and upgrades, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: And that's your fear?
PAUL PHOLEROS: I think that is a real fear, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what is it you're suggesting, the new houses are more about politics than a need for new houses, what you saying?
PAUL PHOLEROS: New houses are easy to photograph. Underground pipe work, things that actually make houses work are hard to photograph. Kitchens that work, all the things people talk about, showers that work, places in a house where you can cook a meal, have a shower, use a toilet. Those things to get them working is far less sexy, far less glamorous than a new house which you can take a picture of. I'm not saying we shouldn't have new houses at all but I think we've got to be very careful that we don't leave 80% of houses untouched, many houses need to be improved.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny Macklin, response from you. You can't photograph some of the work that needs to be done. How much politics is there in some of these figures?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that's why we've got a balance across both time types of work that needs to be done - 750 new houses to address what is patently needed.
JENNY BROCKIE: I just want to get back to the point that Paul was making though, that a lot of these things that really need to be done can't be photographed. You know, new houses get the political attention and I just wonder, you know, I just wonder how much politics there is in this, and how much squeezing is going on. I mean your own review has already found that the program's running behind, that admin costs were too high, there's been excessive red tape. Is everything being squeezed at the moment including, you know, even the quality and the size of some of the houses?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we're certainly squeezing the admin costs. We have done a lot of work on this issue. We've sent Commonwealth officials working with the Northern Territory officials in Darwin to make sure we get those admin costs down from around 11% of the cost to around 8% of the cost. So that is an issue that we're addressing. I know how important it is to deliver on both sides of this equation, to build the new houses as all the people in your audience today have said they want and understandably we need.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Jackie.
JACKIE BAXTER, TOWN CAMP RESIDENT: I just want to know how much are they estimating each house to cost?
JENNY BROCKIE: 450,000.
JACKIE BAXTER: Per house?
JENNY BROCKIE: Per house.
JACKIE BAXTER: Why is it costing that much to build a house when if I was to go just hypothetically, if I was to go buy a house at Stirling Heights on a block of land and put a house on there it wouldn't cost nearly that much?
JENNY BROCKIE: Alan McGill, why do the houses cost $450, 000 - a lot of people are going to wonder why they cost that much, watching this at home. Can you answer that?
ALAN MCGILL: I can fit this in briefly, A packet of breakfast cereal in Canberra the other day cost $4.90 and in Darwin it coat $6.05 and in Galiwinku it cost $10.72. I use that as an example of how things are more expensive in more remote areas. The house prices are influenced by the things that we have to do, we have to comply, as I said earlier with all the building standards, the safety requirements, everyone who goes on our site has National safety accreditation to comply with and all of the town planning requirements in each of these communities that we work in, so there are extra costs of compliance and review and I guess you have identified that as a factor in house prices.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Mal Brough.
MAL BROUGH, FORMER INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER: I just think "‘ when I first came to the portfolio that was the sort of money and we actually paid more to build a couple of houses in the wet, extraordinarily more. I believe that there is quality housing that can be built which will meet the needs of people with inside/outside kitchens, inside/outside bathrooms, the sort of house people want with the big verandas and the air flow through which are insulated it can be cone cheaper. I think there are six layers of bureaucracy that these people are paying for and therefore they're not getting the houses and the number of houses that they should be for the investment.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Paul. Are they costing too much the new houses?
PAUL PHOLEROS: I think it's "‘ we could talk about cost forever. What I want to know is what you get for the cost. Are you getting a Mini Minor or are you getting a Rolls Royce and until we see what it is then I'll make a judgment on cost.
MAL BROUGH: That's an extraordinary comment. I build a house"‘ I don't mean to be offensive to you, Paul, but if I build a house I know what I'm going to get when I sign the contract. You should know, everyone here should know what they're going to get for their money before they're built, not hoping afterwards that they're Rolls Royces for $450,000 average price. It's no wonder people are angry.
JENNY BROCKIE: But I don't think that's what you're saying, is it? No.
MAL BROUGH: What are you saying, Paul?
PAUL PHOLEROS: I'm saying that I'd want to see, and I'm not designing these houses, I'd want to see exactly what it was you got for the money you spent. For example, are you going to get yard areas, furnished yard areas, outside taps, good verandas, well insulated, a decent hot water system. We could put in a hot water system in Alice Springs that would cost $2,500 a year to run and we've saved $2,000 on the system. The residents are going to pay for all these costs so I think we've got to be very careful when you look at cost.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Jack Thompson, you've joined us and I know that you've set up a foundation that's built four houses in Arnhemland using local timber and teaching skills to locals a well which Paul does, of course as well. Um, how is that going and how much are those houses is costing?
JACK THOMPSON: It's going very well. The total cost per house has been around $160,000. They may not be the same houses that they're building on the Tiwi Islands. All of the houses, depending on the size, of course, would be different. But the program that we've established is essentially to teach people in the homelands the skills to use the materials available to them, in particular in East Arnhemland where we've done our pilot program. They're cutting timber, they're milling it and they're being taught the skills by tradesmen and they're getting qualifications that will allow them to go on building their own houses and will allow them to work outside the homelands in building industry. Now what I'm concerned with about the entire building program is that when it's all done where is the support program? Who do they call as the plumber or the electrician that they call in town? Where are the tradespeople being provided to these communities?
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, Helen, who do you want managing your house? If you got a new house who would you want doing exactly what Jack's talking about? Maintaining it?
HELEN KANTAWARA: I'd like to manage it myself, really, I don't trust anybody else otherwise it would fall apart. But seriously "‘
JENNY BROCKIE: Why don't you trust anybody else?
HELEN KANTAWARA: Well, I mean like, um, the stories that was told today, you know, the builders are taking shortcuts and stuff like that. But the Trucking Yards camp where I'm staying, I'd like our family to actually control that camp, control the tenancy and also the work that is going to be done and have that power to say who can come in and who can't to come in and do that work and we've got skilled young people within the town camp itself that is quite capable of doing all the work that is, um, being done by outside contractors.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Rob Knight, I know that you will be in charge of maintaining these houses after the new works are finished yet you've hardly got a stellar track record as a government on this, yours and previous governments. You haven't even been able to get the roofs back on those two houses we saw in Santa Teresa that were blown off 10 months ago. So why would people have faith in you to actually do the ongoing?
ROB KNIGHT: Let's just make it clear. I mean previously we've had dozens and dozens of indigenous community housing organisations actually doing the maintenance on that. That's changed now. The Government will take some responsibility. Through the SIHIP program at least 20% of the work force will be indigenous and this is for the first time it's mandated within those contracts that they will get the training and for the first time they're getting accredited training. So those people will be able to maintain those houses and, you know, we are treating these as public housing in the bush - government's responsible, anything goes wrong with them the Government will be held to account. So first time ever we're taking it seriously.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Jenny Macklin, how much confidence do you have in the implementation of your program given the Northern Territory Government's track record on housing here and what we've seen tonight?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well plainly we are working very closely with the Northern Territory Government because we both want to see these houses built, we want to see them refurbished and we want to see the future tenancy management done in a totally different way from the way it's been done in the past. We all know that we have all failed Aboriginal people over the last 20, 30, 40 years. The tenancy management has been a disaster and we all have to take responsibility for that. And one of the ways we're doing that is saying if we're building new houses we are going to require leases so it is very clear who is responsible and as Rob Knight said, the Northern Territory Government will now be responsible. There will be a clear line of sight. They will clearly be responsible for maintaining these houses that people themselves will also be responsible for making sure that they are good tenants, that they pay their rent, that they're good neighbours. We've got to get proper tenancy management into these communities in a way it just has not existed before.
JENNY BROCKIE: Walter.
WALTER SHAW: I don't think if appropriate way or the steps to go is to systemically overhaul all Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal people need a say in the design, the construct and also the drafting up of tenancy and policies within tenancy and housing reform. This is all about housing reform. We spoke earlier about existing housing stock being upgraded to a standardised living condition but we also talked about future development of housing, of houses. We need to deal with the social attitudinal changes over the last 30"‘odd years to where we've got how and we also need to look at the overcrowded situations, not only here in Alice Springs but also particularly on our camps is that the exacerbation of the urban drift from the remote base community Aboriginal people into the townships in the Northern Territory.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to speak to some people from the communities here to wrap up here, we have to wrap up. Helen, I'm just wondering whether public housing is necessarily the answer here and I wonder whether indigenous people should be looking at other options, developing other options for housing in additional to public housing.
HELEN KANTAWARA: Yeah, public housing is not the answer for a lot of Aboriginal people at the moment pause they're struggling to pay the rent in the town camps and in their communities. Um, but having said that there are family members from my family who grew up in a town camp who have moved on, not only just in public housing but they're actually buying their own houses. So the opportunity is there.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how has that opportunity come about?
HELEN KANTAWARA: It's just through education, through education, they got their education, they went on and got good paying jobs and the opportunity was there for them through that education and good paying jobs and the support of the family. So there's about five members from my family who are actually paying for their houses and there are other members who are living in Territory Housing but it's not the answer for a lot of my family members who are struggling on low income just like everybody else in the town camps so public housing is not an answer to all our Aboriginal people.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mark, I'd like to finish with you, having heard everything that you've heard tonight do you think housing is going to get better?
MARK LOCKYER: I think probably Territory Housing taking over and the Government taking over is a step in the right direction, that people need to move into the mainstream and it's alright having Aboriginal people loan but if the services provided aren't being provided then what's the point in being Aboriginal organisation or owned because there's no point in that anyway because "‘ and I'd say for my situation from the camp I grew up in, the people I grew up in are either dead, in jail, unemployed, or heavy drinkers and how do we expect these people to get up and get jobs and all that sort of stuff and live in proper houses if this is all they've learnt?
JENNY BROCKIE: And are houses the answer to that problem?
MARK LOCKYER: I'd say it's a step in the right direction and then we can deal with issues like alcohol, violence, child abuse, child neglect and move forward that way.
JENNY BROCKIE: May, what about you? Do you think housing's going to get any better?
MAY LOCKYER: Well if they got new houses for us probably it will all change. Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we are going to have to leave it there, thank you very much for being with us, Jenny Macklin, for joining us from Melbourne tonight.
JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.
JENNY BROCKIE: There is still a lot to talk about, you can watch an extended interview with May Lockyer on our website and get some more information on the history of the Alice Springs Town Camps and the governments Indigenous Housing Program.