The Federal Government has hit back at accusations it is turning its back on Indigenous Australians by slashing funding to remote Indigenous housing.
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22 Dec 2017 - 11:26 AM  UPDATED 22 Dec 2017 - 11:26 AM

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has said the government will not be intimidated by "hollow threats" after being accused of turning its back on Indigenous Australians. 

Speaking to reporters in Perth, Ms Bishop said the government will ensure that Indigenous communities receive appropriate funding.

"We won't be intimidated by hollow threats from the state Labor government," she said. "The Australian government has a strong record in Indigenous communities, and we will continue to do so." 

West Australian Housing Minister Peter Tinley has accused the Turnbull government of slashing funding for remote housing and leaving the states to pick up the bill. 

Mr Tinley said the cuts will leave South Australia, Queensland and WA with a funding shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars.

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He said the pre-Christmas decision by Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion goes against the 'Closing the Gap' report and the Turnbull government's own review into remote housing.

"This latest decision, especially the way the Turnbull Government has tried to sneak it through during the festive season, is absolutely appalling and demonstrates its lack of concern for indigenous Australia," he said.

A $776 million commitment by the Federal government to the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Housing (NPARH) has been cut to just $100 million, and for homes only within the Northern Territory.

The original 10-year NPARH partnership was brokered by the federal Labor Rudd government and contributed about $100 million per year to WA.

Indigenous leaders are deeply concerned the government is backing away from its commitments to address the critical shortfalls in remote housing during the current Closing the Gap strategy refresh process. 

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and fellow Co-Chair of the Close the Gap Campaign, Dr June Oscar, is worried about the impact for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in remote communities.

“It is well established that social determinants, including and especially housing, have a major impact on the health of our people” said Dr Oscar.

“As we have said too many times before, you can’t cut your way to closing the gap” said Mr Rod Little, Co-Chair of the Close the Gap Campaign and Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

Yawuru man Peter Wu, from Broome, told ABC Radio housing is a fundamental right for all Australians and cuts to funding will be damaging. 

"It basically undermines the current achievements that have been there since there has been an increase in funding, it also means it brings significant pressure back on the regional centres and enhances the prospect of greater dysfunction, and disorganisation, and marginalisation of people in communities" he said.  

"We are not even touching the sides when it comes to the need for housing in Aboriginal communities."  

But Minister Scullion said Mr Tinley's claims are misleading and outrageous, and undermine the good faith negotiations between the Commonwealth and state governments. 

"It is complete and utter nonsense to suggest that Commonwealth funding for housing is ceasing. This is a fiction created by certain Labor state ministers who are clearly trying to abrogate their own responsibility to their Indigenous housing tenants and it should be called out for what this is,” Mr Scullion said. 

Mr Scullion said, despite Labor's claims, no announcement or decision has been made by the Commonwealth Government to cease funding. 

“In fact, the Commonwealth commenced discussions with Western Australian Government officials only yesterday [Wednesday] about a future funding contribution to remote Indigenous housing – clearly the hapless Peter Tinley is unaware of what his own department is doing," he said. 

Instead, the Commonwealth say they provided $5.4 billion over ten years to 2018 through the NPARH and the National Partnernship for Remote Housing. And that this was was one-off National Partnership Agreement to assist states to undertake their own responsibilties for the delivery of housing. 

“The National Partnership on Remote Housing was always scheduled to cease on 30 June 2018. Under the NPARH the Commonwealth paid the states $5.4 billion to reduce overcrowding yet they abjectly failed to achieve this – this is why we are once again in negotiation with the states," Mr Scullion said.  

In joint statement, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness Doug Cameron and WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson have demanded immediate clarity. 

“If these reports are true, remote communities in Western Australia will continue to be overcrowded for the decade to come,” Senator Dodson said.

The Labor senators pointed to the Turnbull governement's own remote housing review which demonstrated the long-term strategy had delivered over 11,500 more liveable homes in remote Australia, 4000 new houses, and 7500 refurbishments. 

They say the government must take immediate steps to ensure the continuation of funding for remote and indigenous housing.

"Failure to do so will be another example of a government that is out of touch and only concerned with their internal disputes and dysfunction," they said. 

- with APP 

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