A remote housing stoush between the NT and Commonwealth governments shows no signs of abating. (ABC News: Lucy Marks)
The Northern Territory Government has spent just 6 per cent of its flagship $1.1 billion commitment on remote housing, nearly three years after first announcing it, figures provided to the ABC show.
- Senator Nigel Scullion calls on the NT Government to be “less gammon” about their approach to remote housing in NT
- NT Government figures show it has spent far less than its projected annual spend, a situation it blames it on backlog
- NT Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy has blasted support of $300,000 to the Central Land Council for housing as “tokenistic”
The numbers were revealed as the stoush between the Gunner Government and the Commonwealth over $550 million in federal funds for remote housing heated up.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has refused to hand over the money to the NT Government that was agreed to last June, and has instead insisted on a new governance model that would give greater funding control to Aboriginal land councils, instead of the Territory Government.
On Monday, he announced $300,000 would go to the Central Land Council “to support its ongoing role in the rollout of housing”.
Mr Scullion said he did not trust the NT Government to deliver on its housing commitments, after more than a decade of accusations of mismanagement and delivery cost blow-outs.
“I’m not going to throw $550 million at the NT Government and expect different results, because we have seen what has happened in the past,” he said.
“We need to see more transparency from them — a little less gammon and we need to be a little more fair dinkum.”
Mr Scullion added that including land councils in funding decisions would “keep the NT Government honest” over their spending, which has been criticised as being too bogged down with bureaucratic costs.
Department down on projected spend
The Gunner Government pledged $1.1 billion over 10 years through four different remote housing programs before the 2016 Territory election.
That works out to $110 million a year — but the Department of Housing said yesterday it had only spent $62.7 million over the past two years, including nearly $25 million on the HomeBuild NT program that saw just 25 homes constructed to the end of January.
Completed works figures supplied by the Department of Housing show 184 homes in total were completed between September 1, 2016 and January 31, 2019 under the four different Territory programs.
Nigel Scullion has given the Central Land Council $300,000 to support housing. (ABC News: Mike Donnelly)
Despite that figure, the Housing Department claimed a further 585 dwellings were underway or would be completed by the end of June and blamed the sluggish performance to date on a “backlog of works from 2014-16”.
During the same time period, the department said 290 homes had been built through the joint National Partnership on Remote Housing (NPRH) program and a further 744 through the Remote Australia Strategies (RAS) program.
Housing remains ‘confusing as ever’
The NT Government has claimed it has built nearly 1,500 homes in total since coming to power in August 2016, but verifying which government paid for that is complicated and the $62.7 million figure is hard to confirm, said a former remote services delivery expert.
Bob Beadman, a retired Territory and Commonwealth public servant and coordinator general of Remote Services, said the NT Government’s figures were confusing.
“It’s very difficult to ascertain how many programs [there are], how much money is in each program, whether it’s an NT program or an Australia Government program, whether they’re mixed programs … it’s very, very confusing,” he said.
“And when you try to dissect it into financial years, it becomes an impossibility.
“We’re 40 years on from self-government but yet the responsibility for Indigenous housing is as confusing as it ever was.”
Claim of NT Government diverting money
Independent MLA Scott McConnell, a former Labor bush member who worked in remote housing before being elected to Parliament, said the NT Government did not deserve the contested $550 million in federal funding after failing to deliver for years.
“The Commonwealth investing further in Territory Housing delivering in remote communities would be investing in a broken system,” he said.
“[Mr Scullion] is looking at different options and that’s a good thing.
“The evidence is in that Territory Housing cannot deliver on remote housing.
“My understanding was there would be a real appetite by the Labor Government to look at community controlled regional housing organisations and that’s exactly what Nigel Scullion has funded the Central Land Council to look at.
“I think [the Gunner Government] want [the funding] to support the large NT public sector.”
CLC support ‘tokenistic’: McCarthy
The Gunner Government has taken exception to Mr Scullion’s plan to divert funds to the land councils, accusing the retiring Minister of “lying to Territorians” and setting unrealistic indigenous employment targets tied to the $550 million funding.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has previously called on the Commonwealth to give the Territory the money or take over management and maintenance of remote housing themselves.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner accused Senator Scullion of “lying to Territorians”. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough )
Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy said in a statement late last night that giving $300,000 to the Central Land Council was a tokenistic gesture.
“Minister Scullion’s announcement doesn’t change the fact that as the only Territorian to ever hold the Indigenous Affairs portfolio he has failed to deliver one additional cent to remote housing,” he said.
“The Senator’s excuses don’t cut it with the thousands of remote Indigenous Territorians he has let down.
“As Minister Scullion walks away, leaving a legacy of nil remote housing, Indigenous Territorians look forward to a Labor Government which is listening and delivering.”
Land councils want to play bigger role
But a letter, obtained by the ABC, from the Territory’s four land councils to the Chief Minister late last month highlighted concerns of a failing remote housing system.
“The land councils do not believe the current system of delivering housing assistance is working well in remote communities and we are committed to working with both tiers of government to design and implement an alternative one,” the letter said.
“We also see that land councils could play a key role in facilitating arrangements that promote the Territory’s Local Decision Making policy in respect to housing, including setting up community housing providers if supported.”
The letter was signed by the CEOs of the Northern Land Council, the Central Land Council, the Tiwi Islands Land Council and the Anindilyakwa Land Council.
Mr Beadman said putting all the money in a pot and handing it over to a peak Indigenous body to make housing decisions would cut out the partisan mud-slinging.
“Then the jurisdictional debate would finally be ended,” he said.