There will be a lot of words spoken and a myriad of issues debated during this election campaign but one policy challenge that may struggle to gain attention is indigenous housing. This is despite the proven success to be had if you get the policy settings right, particularly in relation to meeting the targets regarding Closing the Gap on indigenous disadvantage.
Since the Federal Government opted to let the National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPRH) agreement expire on 30 June last year, indigenous communities on Cape York and elsewhere have had to live with the uncertainty of not having a dedicated program to reduce overcrowding.
This at a time when proper housing is recognised as a critical building block to Closing the Gap. Not having a program to replace NPRH risks seeing overcrowding tick up again, with lasting impacts on Indigenous health, education and community safety. And another thing: there were 850 local jobs and apprenticeships created under the previous program, which also served to stimulate local businesses and suppliers in regional urban centres in Queensland.
The Commonwealth Government’s own independent report on the review of NPRH highlights Queensland’s achievements and recommends continued long-term Commonwealth funding to maintain houses and respond to overcrowding and growth.
Over the past 10 years in Queensland alone, overcrowding in remote indigenous communities has dropped by almost half. Almost 1,150 homes, a further 1,500 refurbishments and maintenance for almost 4,300 houses has been delivered. But it’s not just the houses. The program also helped build the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Councils, who with Indigenous businesses now deliver over 80 percent of housing construction and repairs in these communities.
Outgoing Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has resisted all entreaties to find a replacement for the expired partnership agreement and accuses the Queensland Government of failing its responsibilities for housing.
Federal Labor has joined the criticism of Senator Scullion but is silent on what it would do to resolve the issue if it wins government.
The frustration of the local communities is being expressed loud and clear.
The LGAQ’s federal election policy plan cites indigenous housing as one of seven top priority issues that need to be addressed during this campaign. The funding ask is significant, a minimum of $5.5 billion nationally over the next decade, but a far greater price would be paid if our major parties walked away from these communities.