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.”

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.”