Australia

Remote housing a front-and-centre issue for Indigenous voters in NT

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Sleeping under the stars on a Darwin street, Paula Roberts dreams of her own home. The former teaching assistant and grandmother of twelve says she could afford to pay rent, if only she had access to a house.

Paula Roberts’ bed is a cardboard box, a blanket and a bean bag pushed up against some payphones.

She calls herself one of the “long grass people”, homeless and Indigenous, sleeping rough on the streets of Darwin. The Ngukurr woman from East Arnhem Land said she ended up in the city due to her remote community’s long problem with sub-standard and overcrowded housing.

“My house was pulled down, it was demolished,” she told SBS News.

Thirteen new homes were built in Ngukurr last year, with funding from the Northern Territory Labor government, but Ms Roberts said she believed it hasn’t been enough. She's been offered housing elsewhere, but she wants a home in her own community, with her family.

Paula Roberts is sleeping rough in Darwin while waiting for a house in her remote Indigenous community.
Paula Roberts is sleeping rough in Darwin while waiting for a house in her remote Indigenous community.
SBS News

"I'd be capable enough to keep up with my rent," she said.

"I'm a mother of five. Grandmother of twelve. Been waiting for many years. And I did try through the community, the Ngukurr community council, to get myself a house, but then again, I’m still here." 

Long frustration with the issue is changing her political views.

“I used to vote Labor all the time, but I’m with One Territory now,” she said.

Analyst Rolf Gerritsen from Charles Darwin University said concern over housing is a key theme right across the Top End and central Australia.

“Indigenous voters are mainly concerned about housing, that’s the big issue,” he said.

Both federal Labor and the Coalition have pledged major investments in remote housing in the Territory, with the ALP promising to match the NT government’s $1.1 billion remote housing program over the next 10 years.

The Morrison government has promised it will deliver $550 million over the next five years.

Paula Roberts says she's sleeping rough as a long grasser because of her remote community’s long problem with sub-standard and o
Paula Roberts says she's sleeping rough as a long grasser because of her remote community’s long problem with sub-standard and overcrowded housing.
SBS News

Yothu Yindi Foundation chief executive Denise Bowden said spending must be transparent and carefully scrutinised.

The education-based NGO organisation has previously accused the NT government of under-spending funding earmarked for disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

“We do not want to see our funds scattered without being able to follow wherever significant taxpayer funds are being spent in the bush, in very remote and Indigenous spaces,” she said.

With Labor poised to retain the two Territory seats of Solomon and Lingiari, the NT looks set for another term with its key federal representatives in opposition.

Labor Member for Solomon Luke Gosling looks set to retain his seat, along with Warren Snowdon.
Labor Member for Solomon Luke Gosling looks set to retain his seat, along with Warren Snowdon.

Ms Bowden said political differences must be put aside for the benefit of those who are suffering.

“There are people suffering in those very remote places,” she said.  

“We’ve got to overcome these issues of going against the grain here, because at the end of the day, it’s those people that are on the ground, and we’re messing with their lives.”

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