The future of a national partnership on remote Indigenous housing is close to collapse after Nigel Scullion called out state counterparts for failing to commit to funding
21 Mar 2018 - 3:04 PM  UPDATED 21 Sep 2018 - 3:43 PM

The Northern Territory senator fronted Parliament on Tuesday after Labor called him out to explain his 'failure' in detailed negotiations with state jurisdictions about the future of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Housing. 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said both 'Queensland and Western Australia have not put a single dollar on the table when it comes to remote housing in either of those states.' 

Mr Scullion was responding to WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson who said correspondence provided to the Senate between the Minister and and his state and territory counterparts showed no 'high-level' dialogue. 

"The documents confirm the fact that this government has abruptly and unilaterally closed the door on a decade of commitment to remote housing, primarily for First Nations families," Mr Dodson said. 

Mr Dodson said it was evident there was 'no formal intergovernment communications' on the future of the program, and no 'sustained effort to redesign the program' to build on its successes. 

"Minister, it seems evident that you got rolled in the ERC, the Expenditure Review Committee, that the cabinet of this government decided to pull up the drawbridge on a decade of collaboration," he said. 

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"There was no effort on the part of you as a minister, or your officials, to enter into serious, respectful and transparent negotiations on remote housing. You did not pick up the phone, it seems to me, to commence negotiations or invite the participation of the states and territories into an ongoing program." 

But Mr Scullion said he had written to the states and the Northern Territory with an unequivocal commitment to provide Commonwealth funding.

"I'm strongly of the view state and territory governments should make a contribution," he said.

Senator Scullion said Labor should be questioning their own state housing ministers in Queensland and Western Australia. 

"You should be asking Mick de Brenni and Peter Tinley, the housing ministers for Queensland and Western Australia, why no commitment has in fact been made," he said. "But I'm here and willing to stand up for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians living in remote Australia, despite your defence of Western Australia's and Queensland's lack of commitment in this important area." 

But Senator Dodson said it is clear the Minister's response in the Senate on Tuesday showed Mr Scullion has not engaged respectfully with the states. 

"The Minister assures me negotiations are ongoing, and I hope those negotiations are in the spirit of shared responsibility to housing. This issue should not be a game between the commonwealth and the states, both have a responsibility to ensure safe and secure housing," Mr Dodson said. 

"Housing is a key determinant of health and safety and is critical to success in Closing the Gap," he said. 

In 2008, COAG agreed to six targets for closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage - safe and appropriate housing was identified as a fundamental requirement for addressing these issues and the National Parternship Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing was established to address this. 

This year marks the end of the ten-year strategy with the Commonwealth providing a one-off $5.4 billion over a decade to the states and the Northern Territory. 

The strategy, replaced in 2016, aims to address the critical housing needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities, particularly overcrowding, homelessness and poor housing conditions. 

By 2018, the strategy hopes to deliver over 11,500 more liveable homes in remote Australia and lead to a significant decrease in the proportion of overcrowded households. 

An independent review estimates an additional 5,500 homes are required by 2028 to reduce levels of overcrowding - half of the additional need is in the Northern Territory alone. 

A spokesperson for Minister Scullion said the partnership '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," the spokesperson said. 

The Northern Territory committed funding of $1.1 billion over the next ten years, which the Commonwealth has reportedly only matched two of the ten years , but the federal government says other states have not made any public commitment. 

- with APP 

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