Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s $70 million offering was rejected by Michael Gunner. (ABC News)
Thousands of Aboriginal Territorians are being left in limbo as a remote housing squabble between the Commonwealth and NT Governments reaches an “outrageous, crazy” fever pitch.
- The NT Government has handed over the maintenance and management of 44 remote Aboriginal communities’ housing to the Commonwealth
- Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s move has been slammed by Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion as unconstitutional
- CEO of AMSANT John Paterson said Indigenous Territorians were being treated like political footballs
Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner on Monday relinquished the remote housing leases of 44 remote communities back to the Federal Government — the latest move in an heated public spat over a $550 million housing agreement.
Mr Gunner’s decision will mean the NT Labor Government’s hallmark $1.1 billion housing policy will cease to be rolled out across those 44 communities in Central Australia, the West Daly, Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.
The Territory will continue to run housing maintenance and rental management in the communities until the end of June, a spokesman for the Gunner Government said, after which the Commonwealth could be forced to adopt responsibility for maintaining and managing the houses.
Mr Gunner announced his decision in a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, days after the PM confirmed an offer of $70 million — two payments of $35 million — to be paid to the NT Government over the next two years to help fund property, tenancy and management services.
“These two offers of funding are made in good faith that you agree to continue negotiating a partnership agreement for the remaining funds of the $550 million in the best interests of Aboriginal Territorians,” Mr Morrison wrote.
In his response, Mr Gunner rejected this deal outright.
“Disappointingly your offer does not honour the [original $550 million] deal we made in good faith, therefore it is not accepted,” Mr Gunner said.
“Your leases will be returned to the Australian Government today.
“It is disheartening that the Australian Government is preferring to play politics on a matter crucial to the lives of Territorians.”
Scullion blasts Chief Minister’s ‘failed Government’
The Chief Minister’s move was last night blasted by outgoing Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion as “a crazy decision” that could have constitutional ramifications.
“This was clearly Michael Gunner’s plan all along to relinquish his Government’s role in Indigenous housing when he knows full well that all public housing — whether remote or non-remote or Indigenous or non-Indigenous — remains a constitutional responsibility of the Northern Territory Government,” Senator Scullion said.
Ali Curung will be one of the 44 communities affected by the changes. (Supplied: Steve Edgington)
“The Commonwealth will carefully consider the ramifications of Gunner’s outrageous decision to abandon his Aboriginal citizens without any consultation with Aboriginal Territorians.”
He questioned whether the Government was “able to deliver the services it is responsible [for] under the constitution”.
“Perhaps Michael Gunner should call in an administrator to take over his failed Government,” Mr Scullion said.
‘Treated like a political football’: Patterson
Indigenous leaders have voiced their anger at how the negotiations have been handled.
John Paterson, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, said his board was “absolutely furious that we can’t get two governments to sort out … an essential service such as housing for Indigenous Territorians”.
“We have Indigenous Territorians that are suffering from rheumatic heart disease, from other serious chronic illnesses, living in substandard housing throughout the NT, who had all these promises from both levels of government and here we have a big spit-fight between the two governments and using the Aboriginal housing as a political football,” Mr Paterson said.
“This is absolutely disgraceful and a lack of leadership from everyone.”
John Paterson says Indigenous people have been treated like political footballs. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)
Mr Paterson said he would be taking further action with the Federal Government if no resolution was sorted out promptly.
“If we can’t get a resolution or find a solution to this fairly quickly, then we’ll be writing to the Prime Minister to seek his intervention as he’s done with the Close the Gap process and demonstrate and provide the appropriate leadership to have this resolved,” he said.
Stoush ongoing since June 2018
The stoush dates back to June last year.
In 2018, the Federal Government offered the Territory Government $110 million per year for five years, in return for the Territory Government matching the funding and retaining responsibility for sub-leasing arrangements in remote communities over the same period.
But so far the Commonwealth has failed to come through with the funding, due largely to two contentious conditions in the proposed National Partnership Agreement.
The Northern Territory Government has also fallen short of its promised spending on remote Indigenous housing, missing its $110 million yearly target for the first year of the scheme.
The first issue relates to a “penalty regime” linked to Indigenous employment targets.
The second issue revolves around a governance model that would give greater funding control to Aboriginal land councils, instead of the Territory Government.
Mr Gunner has demanded the conditions be dropped.