Remote Aboriginal housing is now on Abbott government's table

... well, being pushed under the table, actually!

A top-down brain-wave for remote housing by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Nigel Scullion, does not to have the consent of the First Nations peoples that it will effect.

Once again it completely disregards the individual needs, culture and ideas of families, communities and tribes in remote regions.

"All" of the invaders, their offspring and their invitees have the right to choose their own housing, but the First peoples and legal 'carers for country' continue to have no rights at all.

Here is two articles from 'The Australian'.

Nigel Scullion, Abbott governments Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (third from left), looking as confused as ever
Image: The Australian

Nigel Scullion (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) The Australian 10 March 2014

The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing initiated by the former government in 2008 has not delivered on the promise of being a "long-term fix to the emergency" in remote indigenous housing.

The byzantine national arrangement is unwieldy and does not reflect the very different environments that need to be dealt with across the country. Bilateral agreements with states and the Northern Territory may be a better way to go.

In very remote Australia, housing is central to meeting our priorities of getting kids to school, encouraging adults into work and providing for safe communities where the rule of law applies.

More than $2.5 billion was spent by the Rudd-Gillard governments from 2008 through the national agreement. Indigenous Australians tell me that they have not got value for money.

Delivery of housing in remote communities has been marked by delays, cost blowouts and bureaucracy.

New houses can cost more than $600,000 and have an average lifespan of only 10 to 12 years.

There have been poor standards of construction, unsatisfactory rental payment arrangements and sub-standard tenancy management.

Despite this massive expenditure there can be no argument that overcrowding remains chronic in remote Australia, where there is no regular, functional housing market. There are no private rental options and no home-ownership opportunities in most of these places. Most of these communities are dependent on commonwealth-funded public housing and this has been badly managed.

Residents of remote communities need to have the option, as others in Australia enjoy, of private rental and home ownership. Any strategies that we adopt must work towards that goal.

A radical rethink is overdue.

The state and Northern Territory governments must manage remote indigenous housing just as they do other public housing.

Rental agreements should be in place and enforced; rents should be collected; any damage caused by occupants should be paid for by occupants; and municipal services should be delivered to acceptable standards by the jurisdictions.

This is how social housing operates in non-remote areas. Why should it be any different in remote indigenous communities?

Why have we come to expect lower standards from housing authorities and residents in remote areas?

Is it another layer of passive racism to accept less for indigenous people in remote Australia?

Why are we building houses in places where land-tenure arrangements prevent people from ever buying the house?

One aspect that I will focus on is how we can offer housing in a way that encourages mobility for those who want to move to areas with better employment opportunities. I will be working with the states and Northern Territory governments to reform the current arrangements that are clearly failing residents of indigenous communities.

In negotiations, I will want to set some conditions that might include:

  1. Moving relatively quickly towards building social housing only in those places that have appropriate land-tenure arrangements for home ownership.
  2. Attractive mobility packages for remote residents, including portability of special housing and home-ownership eligibility for those who want to move to areas with stronger labour markets.
  3. Ensuring rents are set at mainstream social housing rates and requirements of tenants are specified, understood and complied with.
  4. A requirement for states and territories to apply their usual sale of social housing policy, as occurs in urban and regional areas, based on realistic market values.
  5. Priority for the allocation of social housing to families in employment or where children are regularly attending school.

We also need to ensure that people in social housing are not adversely affected when taking up employment opportunities. This, however, is mainly an issue for mainstream social housing rather than remote indigenous housing.

I know that a number of jurisdictions are focused on reform and I look for forward to working with them.

But if a state or territory is not up to the task, the commonwealth might have to step in and take over delivery of social housing or contract providers with significant indigenous and community involvement to do the job.

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Call for inquiry on remote housing

Two of the most powerful Indigenous bodies in the country have urged the Abbott government to consult traditional owners before embarking on moves to radically transform Aboriginal housing, with one calling for an inquiry before far-reaching changes are implemented.

Patricia Karvelas The Australian 10 March 2014

The nationally elected Indigenous representative body the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples has criticised moves revealed by The Weekend Australian that would transform Aboriginal land rights.

Congress co-chairs Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker told The Australian that congress would not support government policies developed in "isolation from our peoples and communities".

The chief executive of the powerful Northern Land Council, Joe Morrison, said while all options must be on the table, communities should not be disadvantaged where traditional owners did not want to sign on to 99-year leases.

The Abbott government is proposing the most radical and far-reaching changes to Aboriginal housing.

They include a plan to move Indigenous people who send their children to school forward in waiting lists.

The changes would also enable Aboriginal people who get jobs away from remote communities to transfer their social housing and home ownership entitlements.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion signalled that preference for new public housing would be given to areas where land tenure provided for home ownership, such as 99-year leases or freehold title.

Congress yesterday called on the federal government to establish a meaningful process, such as an inquiry or commission, "that will allow our organisations and communities to publicly comment on any proposal to link land leasing in exchange for access to critical housing needs".

"In the meantime, congress will engage with our members to seek advice on how to best work on this issue in partnership with the government," it said.

"Our peoples have a right to exercise free, prior and informed consent to any measures impacting on their daily lives.

"In fact, the success of any program or policy depends upon it," congress said.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are entitled to both safe and affordable housing as well as education, employment, and support to maintain their connection to traditional lands.

"Closing the Gap requires a sustained and systemic approach.

"We cannot be trading one right off against others," congress said.

Mr Morrison said he looked forward to discussing home ownership options in Aboriginal communities with Senator Scullion and Indigenous Advisory Council chairman Warren Mundine.

"My view is everything must be on the table for consideration to improve housing and employment, as well as a suite of other connected social issues in Aboriginal communities," he said.

"There are a range of models to ensure home ownership but there is no silver bullet and no one answer, and it would be wrong to preference new public housing only for communities with a Section 19A township lease, as seems to have been indicated in recent media reports."