The failure to fix overcrowding in remote community houses calls for urgent reform measures, according to the Central Land Council’s executive committee.

The call comes in the wake of another critical report about the lack of progress on national remote housing targets, this time from the Australian National Audit Office.

The report shows that the Closing the Gap target of 88% of Aboriginal people living in houses that are not overcrowded by 2031 is far from on track.

“The audit report found that more than half of our houses are still overcrowded,” CLC chair Sammy Wilson said.

“Overcrowding kills, as this pandemic has shown once again, because our growing families can’t safely isolate from the virus.

“How many more reports do governments need until they admit that they are not reducing overcrowding fast enough?”

Meeting in Alice Springs today, the council’s executive said the ANAO report is another reminder that the remote housing system is broken.

The CLC wants the major parties to commit to increasing their investment in remote housing if they win government and to rebuilding the Aboriginal community-controlled housing sector.

In 2018, a $550 million federal government funding commitment, the National Partnership Agreement for Remote Indigenous Housing, was expected to provide 650 three-bedroom houses in remote communities by 2023.

The ANAO report found that only 19 per cent of targeted new home builds, the equivalent of 121 three-bedroom houses, had been completed by last September.

 “To save lives and improve the life chances of our people, we need the federal and NT governments between them to spend at least two billion over the next five years,” CLC chief executive Les Turner said.

”This will build 2,000 new houses and make another 4,000 houses more liveable in communities and homelands across the CLC region.”

The audit report found that the National Indigenous Australians Agency “has not gained assurance that the NT Government is meeting its commitment to contribute $550 million to remote housing over the life of the National Partnership”.

Mr Turner said the governments need to stop pointing the finger at each other and work with the NT’s Aboriginal representative organisations to build a sustainable Aboriginal housing sector.

”The governments need to support remote community housing trials that will reveal the true cost of shifting to Aboriginal-controlled housing and invest in re-building the sector that was decimated by the Intervention,” he said.

“Bush voters want to know what the major parties will do if they win government in May.”

Alan Rankin and Shirley Dempsey.

Shirley Dempsey (pictured right) knows the benefits of very remote outstation living. But she also knows the big risks. In recent years, now 64-year-old Ms Dempsey collapsed and had to be flown to Adelaide. Fortunately she was in Alice Springs at the time.

But the timing might have been bad. She might have been at home, nearly 540 kilometres away at her outstation Urlampe, 30 kilometres from the Northern Territory-Queensland border as the as the crow flies, off the unsealed Plenty Highway, and arguably closer to Mount Isa.

So Ms Dempsey and her partner Alan Rankin decided to devote all the $150,000 allocated to their outstation in the Aboriginals Benefit Account outstations project to upgrading their airstrip so it’s Royal Flying Doctor ready.

Other outstations, such as Walka, equally remote in the opposite direction, near the Northern Territory-Western Australia border, south of Kaltukatjara (Docker River), will support their small scale tourism enterprises with the same allocation. Most welcome the funding opportunity to simply make ultra-remoteness more liveable, such as Brumby Plains outstation where resident Desley Rogers is a director of the surrounding successful Mistake Creek Aboriginal-owned cattle station. The station is much closer to Kununurra in Western Australia’s Kimberley region than to Alice Springs.

With about one-third of its $150,000 allocation, Brumby Plains has upgraded its telecommunications to a system allowing mobile telephony and internet access. “With that up and running now, it’s really good,” says Ms Rogers. “I can do a lot of things on my mobile, like check my emails. It’s really good.” Like Urlampe’s airstrip, Ms Rogers also fully appreciates the safety implications of much better communications in such remote circumstances.

The 105 outstations, also known as homelands, in the Central Land Council area each given the chance to receive the $150,000 have the CLC executive to thank for initiating the ABA outstations project. The committee lobbied the Australian Government hard to have $15.75 million provided to outstations in the CLC area from the ABA. The same went to outstations in the Northern Land Council area, and smaller amounts to those in the NT’s two smaller land council areas.

The ABA receives from the government the equivalent amount paid to the government in royalties from mining on Aboriginal land in the NT, for the benefit of NT Aboriginal people. The ABA advisory committee comprised of representatives of the NT’s four land councils makes recommendations to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, who ultimately decides on ABA grants. Then it’s usually over to the grantees to do what’s specified in the grant agreement.

The ABA outstations project has involved additional governance and project management complexities, handled in different ways by the different land councils.

The CLC had to find a fair and transparent way to choose the 105 outstations to potentially receive the funding out of the 309 total outstations in the CLC area. If the $15.75 million was shared among all 309 the resulting works wouldn’t have been worth doing. And a fair, clear and comprehensible way of spreading the 105 around the CLC’s nine regions had to be found, considering some regions have many more outstations than others. The project could not initiate new outstations. The project is only for outstation upgrades, with the funding allocated only to those places passing the assessment criteria of need, benefit and capacity.

So, the CLC began the project by surveying as many of the 309 outstations in its area that it could, in regional information sessions with their residents or some-time residents. The survey covered a wide range of data, including existing outstation infrastructure and its condition, supports from service providers and residents’ employment. It has resulted in CLC’s first comprehensive, centralised spreadsheet of outstation data, long overdue, but already due an update to remain relevant and widely applicable to CLC’s various operations.

Summaries of the data, and recommendations based on the assessment criteria, were taken to a council meeting, where the CLC delegates chose the outstations in agreed numbers per sub-region to make up the 105. Fully briefed and integrally involved, they did so without dispute, though over 200 other outstations missed out on the funding entirely.

The CLC subsequently consulted at the chosen 105 towards detailed applications for each addressing the assessment criteria. At last count, the minister had approved 90 of these, with the remaining 15 held up by COVID-19.

Those approved go to the National Indigenous Australians Agency. The NIAA is charged with engaging suitable providers of the works at clusters of the approved outstations, ideally Aboriginal organisations hiring members of the outstations to do some of the work.

With the completion of all works, it is expected more than 100 Central Australian outstations will be better equipped as sanctuaries in the event of crises like COVID-19, indeed safer and more liveable for the Aboriginal residents on their country, crisis or not. Residents like Desley Rogers and Shirley Dempsey of remote Brumby Plains and Urlampe outstations respectively.

Update, 18 November 2022

By design with the CLC at its outset, this project as a whole is now the responsibility of the NIAA, with outstation providers at each of the more than 100 outstations to receive project support.

The CLC has not had responsibility for this project since fulfilling its role by November 2019. Yet it continues to receive inquiries from outstation residents about the project’s progress. It is directing them to call the NIAA on 1800 354 612.

The Wurrpujunta Anyul Mappu digital archive is literally a case of ancient Aboriginal culture meets state of the art digital technology, the Dreaming meets ‘the cloud’.

The archive is an initiative of Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation at its impressive Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre in Tennant Creek, 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs. The archive electronically and physically stores cultural and historical material of the many Aboriginal language groups in the Northern Territory’s Barkly region, centred on Tennant Creek.

At peak performance, as a tool of a living, dynamic yet ancient Aboriginal culture at the hands of more local Aboriginal people employed on it, the archive will increase and preserve that material, help transfer the cultural knowledge in it to the groups’ young, and educate the wider public, provided suitable access protocols are in place.

The archive needs Aboriginals Benefit Account funding to reach that potential, largely to modernise its software to a so-called cloud-based platform, better arrange metadata and the electronic archival material itself on this platform, and strengthen archive security while generating more and varied content and wider use. Julalikari is applying to the ABA for the necessary funding with the help of the Central Land Council’s ABA applications support project.

Enterprise and employment, education and training, sport, health and safety, language and culture, land care and land management, building and other infrastructure, media, leadership and youth initiatives are all eligible for ABA funding.

An initiative planned at Arlparra, 250 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs in the Sandover/Utopia region, combines health and safety with sporting infrastructure works, for instance. A horse program at Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), 85 kilometres southeast of Alice, offers pathways for school students into land and animal management. And the Aboriginal organisations behind these initiatives too have requested the CLC’s ABA applications support project help towards the strongest possible applications to the ABA.

Julalikari director and Nyinkka Nyunyu steering committee member Michael Jones Jampin said that before the digital archive traditional ceremony recordings and those of more public dances were stacked up there in cupboards and drawers. “It wasn’t good that way,” he said. “The archive is the way of keeping everything safe for our next generations.”

Michael Jones Jampin.

So what did Mr Jones (pictured right) think of the workshop project held with him and others on the steering committee to kick off its help with the archive upgrade application?

“It went good, very well. Helpful,” he said. “A lot of people were saying that was very good.”

The ABA receives from the Australian Government the equivalent amount paid to the government in royalties from mining on Aboriginal land in the NT, for the benefit of NT Aboriginal people. The ABA advisory committee, comprised of representatives of the NT’s four land councils, makes recommendations to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians who ultimately decides on ABA grants.

The CLC’s ABA applications support project started because the ABA was receiving too many weak or incomplete applications that didn’t meet the minister’s approval, or didn’t even get that far. So, otherwise good Aboriginal initiatives didn’t get funded and the ABA hasn’t benefited as many Aboriginal people as it should have.

The project now gets more requests for assistance than it can handle thoroughly, requiring considerable expectation management with potential applicants and CLC staff alike. The project looks to help those who request it first in each of the CLC’s nine regions, towards a variety of initiatives that require the help and the funding most and that benefit the most people, in Aboriginal organisations who have the ability to manage the funding and make sure their initiative succeeds and lasts if funded. These are the main, but not the only, considerations brought to bear to decide which ABA applications to assist among the many seeking assistance.

Typically the project’s two personnel spend hours with the assisted ABA applicants, workshopping the application assessment criteria of need, benefit and capacity, each initiative’s risk management, the keys to making the initiative last and the documents required to support the application.  Then they draft the applications and some supporting documents and stay in touch with the applicants until submission time. Though they give it their best, they don’t do all the work; and they provide no guarantee of funding.

Since starting in earnest in mid-2020 (after six months of COVID-19 restrictions), the project has helped 15 applicants with ABA applications, across eight of the nine CLC sub-regions. Some disengage entirely from the help for their own reasons or because, despite the help, the ABA application process remains a long and difficult one. That is in turn largely because the application guidelines are in dire need of revision.

As part of its ABA applications support project, the CLC has spent considerable time advising the National Indigenous Australians Agency on better guidelines; and in fact has effectively provided two re-drafts.

With clearer, more accessible application guidelines reflecting a more user-friendly and transparent ABA application process, the CLC’s application support may one day no longer be needed. Meanwhile, it is assisting as many applicants as it can towards more sustainable initiatives to benefit Central Australian Aboriginal people. Initiatives like Julalikari’s Wurrpujunta Anyul Mappu digital archive, using hi-tech in the service of ageless Aboriginal traditions.

Update, 18 November 2022

The CLC’s ABA Applications Support Project has received 81 requests for application support from its start in 2020 to November 2022. It has assisted 26 applications across almost all eligible activities and the CLC’s nine regions. Eighteen assisted applications have been submitted to the ABA, worth a total of $38.1 million. Of these, seven have been approved for funding for a total of $4.8 million, three were unsuccessful and eight are still being assessed. Project assistance to one further applicant resulted in funding through the CLC’s $36.7million ‘economic stimulus’ fund, a separate ABA-funded initiative (see

The project has had to reject most requests for its support due to insufficient resources. Its part-time consultant project manager and single full-time project officer haven’t had time to give more applicants meaningful support. The project would have needed nearly three times the current personnel to fulfil all requests.

This is one lesson from the project. There are others.

Of the three supported unsuccessful applications, two in fact asked for and received minimal project support, suggesting support matters. The seven supported applications approved by the ABA to date received an average of $697,420 in funding each, nearly $100,000 each more than the total cost of the project. They represent a 70 per cent success rate for the project that, if maintained over the remaining eight applications for assessment, would bring an extra $23.3 million in total to the supported applicants combined.

In both current and projected calculations, the project represents very good value for money. It has proved a good investment.

Typically, the project’s support has been comprehensive and prolonged, constituting at least 50 per cent of the substantial work of each application, often more, over many months. It frequently starts with a long workshop with the applicant and builds some applicant capacity on the way towards funding. “We learnt very fast when drafting the application ideas,” a workshop participant surveyed for feedback said.

But the project never did all the work of applications, or else there was no such capacity building opportunity. Because of limited project resources, the capacity building was limited to that around the initiative proposed for funding, not the capacity of the applicant as a whole.

The project too often found this wider capacity patchy or stretched at best.

If eight of the 26 applicants assisted failed to ultimately submit their applications, this is a fair indication that nearly one-third of applicants’ capacity remains too weak to make the most of the project’s support to gain often much needed funds.

There are of course other dynamics at play here, some quite applicant-specific, and wider questions raised about organisational capacity to actually implement initiatives and acquit funding.

The ABA applications guidelines haven’t helped applicants to get funding in the first place.

Revised by the National Indigenous Australians Agency mid-way through the 2021-22 financial year, the guidelines emerged 39 pages long and a poor guide even to applicants with quite strong capacity and the project’s assistance. One said when surveyed: “Without you, I’m not sure we would have been able to get this across the line.” The guidelines may in fact have deterred some applicants entirely.

Hopefully, applicants are given much better guidance to apply to the Northern Territory Aboriginal Investment Corporation, the new body to take over ABA grant application, approval and payment processes.

It is likely some, perhaps many, applicants will still need assistance like that of the CLC’s ABA Applications Support Project. The project manager has suggested modifications to the project, including to help address the issue of some applicants’ incapacity to ultimately apply for funding despite project assistance.

This should further raise the already high value of this CLC project should it be continued, to bring yet more benefit to CLC constituents at comparatively low cost.

The Central Land Council welcomes a landmark Northern Territory Supreme Court ruling that lifts the bar for housing standards in remote Aboriginal communities.

CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard said the ruling has profound implications for the housing quality, condition and maintenance standards to which remote community tenants are entitled.

“The court acknowledged that it is not enough for houses to be ‘safe’ – they must also meet contemporary standards of ‘humaneness, suitability and reasonable comfort’,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

“The ruling echoes the concerns our delegates and constituents have voiced for decades and challenges dated assumptions about what constitutes acceptable housing standards for Aboriginal people.”

“It sets an important precedent and belatedly establishes new standards for all NT remote Aboriginal communities.”

He said the ruling, which relates to litigants from the Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) community, validates the complaints about grossly inadequate repair and maintenance regimes the CLC has heard from its constituents for too long.

“Our constituents want a thorough overhaul of the remote housing system – one in which they have a major say about what is provided and how it is provided, and in which the government invests enough to maintain their houses,” said Mr Martin-Jard.

In July, the four NT land councils endorsed a detailed proposal to return housing services to community control over the next decade.

“The Northern Territory Supreme Court ruling adds impetus to our call,” said Mr Martin-Jard.

“We look forward to working closely with the Australian and NT governments and the NT Minister for Remote Housing, Chansey Paech, in his new role.”

“We congratulate Minister Paech on his appointment to this critical role and look forward to working with him on improving all aspects of remote Aboriginal housing.”

The four Northern Territory’s land councils want the Morrison and Gunner governments to commit to replacing the NT’s failed public housing system with a new Aboriginal-controlled model for remote communities, homelands and town camps.

Meeting in Darwin with Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, the land councils have told governments that returning responsibility for housing design, construction, maintenance and tenancy management to Aboriginal people is essential to closing the gap.

The land councils support a transition to a community housing system governed by Aboriginal people at the local, regional and NT levels that maximises Aboriginal employment and training and delivers professional and responsive services to all tenants.

Part of the detailed new model is a statutory NT-wide Aboriginal-controlled body, together with regional housing organisations that would allow the Territory’s diverse regions to participate according to their needs, aspirations and capacity.

The NT-wide body would manage housing funds and implement appropriate housing regulation and standards, and an independent Aboriginal-controlled peak body would monitor its performance.

“Both governments have invested substantial funds in NT Aboriginal housing and are willing to move towards a community housing system. We now have a roadmap for real action,” Central Land Council chief executive Joe Martin-Jard said.

“It’s encouraging that Minister Wyatt is committed to working with us on housing reform. We welcome his support and call on whoever forms the next NT Government to commit to joining this effort.”

“The new model is not one-size-fits-all but allows for flexible service delivery and choice,” Northern Land Council Chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi said.

“The land councils will continue to consult with traditional owners and community residents across the NT to find out how the model can meet their needs and negotiate with the Australian and NT governments to see it implemented.”

Anindilyakwa Land Council chair Tony Wurramarrba said that in the Groote Archipelago they are already implementing one of the building blocks of the new system, a regional Aboriginal community housing organisation.

“We support the new model because we believe only Aboriginal accountability and control will resolve the national disgrace that is the current NT housing system,” he said.

“We welcome the model’s support for our neglected homelands that haven’t seen any new houses for more than a decade,” Tiwi Land Council chief executive Andrew Tipungwuti said.

“COVID-19 has taught us that working and living on our land is essential for the health and safety of our peoples.”

CLC: Elke Wiesmann / 0417 877 579 /

NLC: Leah McLennan/ 0427 031 382

The CLC Chairman, Mr Francis Kelly, today welcomed the decision of the Australian Government to support the CLC’s work on remote housing. The $300,000 will be used to ensure that Aboriginal people in our region have a strong voice on housing matters, and to develop a new approach to housing services in remote communities, in partnership with both levels of government.

“Instead of talking about us and around us, government should be talking to us” said CLC Chairman, Francis Kelly.

The Central Land Council has consistently voiced its concern about the state of housing in remote Aboriginal communities and the system for delivering housing services over the last decade.

The system is characterised by chronic overcrowding, poor housing conditions, maintenance that does not get done, policies and procedures that are culturally alien and absurdly complex, and management systems that are dysfunctional and unresponsive.

“For more than ten years we have been calling for a new approach where Aboriginal people themselves are at the table providing advice on the design and implementation of a new housing system for remote communities,” said Mr Kelly.

The CLC recognises the important role of both the Commonwealth and Territory governments in housing for remote communities – but if Aboriginal people are not fully involved in the design and delivery of the system that provides that housing then it will fail as it has done for more than a decade. We seek a partnership that respects the interests and contributions of all parties.

We are very concerned that negotiations between the Commonwealth and Territory in relation to the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, that seemed to be moving positively in 2018, appear to have reached an impasse.

We reiterate our call for both Governments to negotiate in good faith so that the funds both levels of government have committed can be unlocked and used to deliver desperately needed new housing in our remote communities. The people who really suffer as a consequence of the continued bickering between levels of government are the old, the sick, and the children in our communities. Poor housing means poor physical and mental health, exacerbates social tensions within families and communities, provides barriers to schooling, and hampers participation in the workforce.

The CLC stands ready and willing to meet with both levels of government to progress what is our number one priority – decent housing for our people!

Good Housing Starts with Community Control
From the Aboriginal delegates at the Northern Territory Aboriginal Housing Forum

Aboriginal delegates at the Northern Territory Aboriginal Housing Forum have welcomed the Chief Minister’s support for the development of an Aboriginal community-controlled peak housing body for the NT.

Around 190 delegates travelled to Darwin for the NT Aboriginal Housing Forum from across the Territory and the nation, including from many remote areas, to discuss the issues of Aboriginal housing in the NT.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner addressed the Forum on Thursday 8 March in what was seen as a positive and productive dialogue.

Co-chair of Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT) Barbara Shaw said: “The support from the Chief Minister Michael Gunner means we are now one step closer to establishing an Aboriginal community controlled peak housing body, however this will require adequate funding and support.”

Delegates are also seeking clarity from the Australian Government on what will happen to funding from 1 July 2018, when the Commonwealth National Partnership Agreement on Remote Housing (NPARIH) is set to cease. The Forum called on the Australian Government to shoulder its responsibility to funding remote Aboriginal housing on a needs basis. The Commonwealth appears to be walking away from commitments made by successive Commonwealth governments over the past 40 years.

“Without resolution, remote and regional Aboriginal communities face significant risk of uncertain housing service provision,” Ms Shaw said.

The Forum recognised the inequity in current policies relating to remote and regional Aboriginal communities, homelands, outstations and town camps, and called for consistency in funding that recognises these different community contexts.

The Northern Territory is unique in its demographics with more than 30% of its population being Aboriginal, 80% of whom live in remote areas. Aboriginal families account for 100% of remote tenancies and 50% of urban tenancies.

“With a young and fast growing population, we urgently need to address the intergenerational housing inequity that successive governments have failed to address,” said Ms Shaw.

“We know that housing is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of our families and communities and to outcomes in education, employment and community sustainability,” said Ms Shaw.

“The shift to a public housing model has seen reduced control and loss of Aboriginal employment and no improvement in achieving the Closing the Gap targets.

“We want to see the NT Government work collaboratively with AHNT and Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT) to develop regional and local housing models, with a plan to return control of all housing functions in a staged approach to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.”

The Australian Government must step out from behind closed doors and involve Indigenous people in a transparent process for reforming the discriminatory remote ‘work for the dole’ scheme, the Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APO NT) urged today.

The Government committed to reviewing the program, called the ‘Community Development Program’ (CDP) and consulting with remote communities in May 2017.

John Paterson, from APO NT said “We have been calling on the Minister for Indigenous Affairs to clarify and formalise the Community Development Program reform process since last December. Every request is met with silence,” said Mr Paterson.

“The Prime Minister and Minister for Indigenous Affairs never tire of talking about how they want to do things with us, not to us. That they want new ways of working with Aboriginal people. Yet here is a program that affects the lives of 29,000 Indigenous people and has caused immense harm, and we still can’t get confirmation of a process that includes us,” said Mr Paterson.

Australia’s election to the world’s leading human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council, this week relied on a pledge to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ‘in both word and deed’. The Declaration requires the Government to work in partnership with Aboriginal people and respect the right to self-determination.

“The Australian Government said to the world that it would tackle Indigenous disadvantage in partnership with our people. Meanwhile the Government’s racially discriminatory program results in Aboriginal people receiving more penalties than other Australians, and hurts our communities,” said Mr Paterson.

“If the Government is serious about the promises it made to get elected to the Council, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs will immediately announce an independent and transparent reform process involving a partnership with Aboriginal people,” added Mr Paterson.

APO NT launched a positive alternative to CDP in Canberra last month (APO NT alternative to CDP).

Our model would create 10,500 part time jobs to be filled by people in remote communities who currently get less than the minimum wage to do work they should be employed and paid properly to do.

Our model would create new jobs and enterprises, strengthen communities and get rid of pointless administration. It has incentives to encourage people into work, training and other activities, rather than punishing people who are already struggling.

David Ross from APO NT, said, “Thirty-three organisations from around Australia have endorsed our new model. We have done the work, we want to talk, and we want a program that will actually deliver positive outcomes on the ground.”

“The Australian Government appears to be unable to put the rhetoric of collaboration into practice. What do all these commitments mean if they don’t deliver a seat at the table on this fundamental issue? Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past and impose a top-down program from Canberra that is guaranteed to fail in remote Australia,” Mr Ross concluded.


John Paterson (Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT), APO NT Spokesperson: 0418 904 727
David Ross (Central Land Council), APO NT Spokesperson: 0417 877 579


The CDP is the main program of job related assistance for unemployed people in remote areas of Australia. It is the equivalent of jobactive (formerly JSA) and Disability Employment Services in the rest of the country.

The CDP has around 35,000 participants, around 83% of whom are identified as Indigenous.

People with full time work capacity who are 18-49 years old must Work for the Dole, 25 hours per week, 5 days per week, at least 46 weeks per year (1150 hours per year). Under jobactive Work for the Dole only starts after 12 months, and then for 390-650 hours per year.

Despite having a caseload less than a 20th the size of jobactive, more penalties are applied to CDP participants than to jobactive participants.

In the 21 months from the start of CDP on 1 July 2015 to the end of March 2017, 299,055 financial penalties were applied to CDP participants. Over the same period, 237,333 financial penalties were applied to job active participants.