Media Release by The Hon Mal Brough MP

Government tackles overcrowding in remote Indigenous communities

The Australian Government will implement a significant seven year strategy of major reforms to help fix the Indigenous housing problem.

From 2008 – 09 the Community Housing and Infrastructure Programme (CHIP) previously managed by ATSIC will be abolished and replaced by a new expanded Australian Remote Indigenous Accommodation (ARIA) Programme.

Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, said that the Government was making a substantial down payment of $293.6 million in additional Indigenous housing funding in this year’s Budget to kickstart the strategy over and above the current level of Indigenous housing funding of around $380 million per year.

“This is a substantial down payment to tackle overcrowding, particularly in remote communities. Subject to the success of this reform package and the cooperation of State and Territory governments and local community people the Australian Government will consider increasing expenditure further.” Mr Brough said.

“This major investment shows that the Government recognises the need to unwind the failed polices of the past, particularly under ATSIC, that had an unacceptable state of housing in many remote Indigenous communities.

“This is a practical response to the recent independent review of CHIP commissioned by the government last year and demonstrates that at the national level we are prepared to take hard decisions and commit resources towards fixing the problem.

Australian Government funds will be used to construct new houses and repair and upgrade existing houses in remote locations across Australia where Indigenous housing need is the greatest.

ARIA will also provide assistance for Indigenous people to directly purchase new homes or to lease-purchase a home.

Funding for Indigenous public housing will continue under the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program (ARHP), which is part of the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. ARHP is currently used by State and Territory Governments for Indigenous housing mainly in urban and regional locations.

“The ABS recently found that the Indigenous housing stock had only increased by only 2 per cent since 2001 and in the Northern Territory there are 271 fewer houses than there were 5 years ago. This is despite well over $1 billion spent since 2001″ Mr Brough said.

“The Price Waterhouse Coopers review of CHIP found in some cases houses in remote communities were costing in excess of $600,000. And yet many of these houses are lasting only ten years.

“This ridiculous situation cannot continue unchecked. Taxpayers have a right to expect value for money in this area.

“We cannot continue to throw money at an old ATSIC Indigenous housing programme when it is not making significant headway.”

Mr Brough said that under this reform programme, ARIA funds would be spent on new houses or upgrades only where ownership of the houses could be transferred to state/territory housing authorities made available for purchase by individuals.

“The current Indigenous Community Housing Organisations (ICHO) model has not worked to benefit Indigenous people. While some have been well managed, there are too many where nepotism and poor management have become entrenched. The ICHOs will have the opportunity to upgrade their properties, where they agree to private ownership opportunities or to transfer title to state housing authorities.

“Proper management of houses through state/territory housing authorities or private ownership, where Indigenous people choose to take up that option, combined with more efficient building techniques means that more houses can be built and housing stock should last much longer.”

“More houses that last longer will help address overcrowding and the general housing needs of Indigenous people in remote communities,” Mr Brough said.

Mr Brough said that the increased expenditure includes $30 million for hostel style accommodation in remote locations and $12 million for major infrastructure projects including sewerage, water supply and roads in the Torres Strait Islands, subject to matching funding from the Queensland Government.

“The Australian Government will also be asking state and territory governments to invest more of their own funds to help ensure that together we make a real effort to meet the housing needs of Indigenous people living in remote areas,” Mr Brough said.

A Better Future for Indigenous Australians – Indigenous housing and infrastructure reforms

Why is this important?

  • The Australian Government will implement a significant seven year strategy of major reforms to help fix the Indigenous housing problem particularly in remote Australia.
  • Adequate housing is essential for decent health, education, employment and community safety outcomes.
  • Many Indigenous Australians, particularly in remote Australia suffer from unacceptable levels of substandard housing, overcrowding and homelessness.
  • Despite spending many billions of dollars through ATSIC’s Community Housing and Infrastructure Programme (CHIP), little progress has been made.
  • The recently released ABS Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey (2001-06) showed that despite spending will over $1 billion in the last five years:
    • Indigenous housing stock increased only marginally (by 471 or 2 per cent) to 21,758;
    • the proportion of the housing stock needing major repairs increased from 19 per cent to 23 per cent.
  • The survey adds weight to the findings of the review of the old ATSIC CHIP programme undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers that showed that the program had failed Indigenous Australians.
  • From 2008 – 09 the CHIP will be abolished and replaced by a new expanded Australian Remote Indigenous Accommodation (ARIA) Programme.
  • Additional Australian Government funds will be used to construct new houses and repair and upgrade a further existing houses in remote locations across Australia.
  • ARIA will also provide assistance for Indigenous people to directly purchase new homes or to lease-purchase a home.
  • Funding for Indigenous public housing will continue under the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program (ARHP), which is part of the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. ARHP is currently used by State and Territory Governments for Indigenous housing mainly in urban and regional locations.

Who will benefit?

  • Indigenous Australians, particularly those living in remote locations will benefit from better housing which will improve health, housing, education and other outcomes.
  • The Australia Government will make sure that its investment in housing in remote communities will lead to more opportunities for local Indigenous people to be trained and employed in the construction of new housing and in repair and maintenance.

What funding is the Government committing to the initiative?

  • The government will provide $293.6 million in new funds in the 2007-08 Budget, over and above the current level of Indigenous housing funding of around $380 million per year.
  • State and Territory governments will be encouraged to increase their funding commitments.
  • Subject to the success of this reform package and the cooperation of State and Territory governments and local community people the Australian Government will consider increasing expenditure further
  • Australian Government funding for the Aboriginal Rental Housing Programme (ARHP) will continue.

What have we done in the past?

  • CHIP and ARHP currently receive government funding of over $380 million per annum. These funds are channelled through bilateral Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Agreements between the Commonwealth and states.
  • The CHIP Review (2006) found that the “housing needs of Indigenous Australians in remote areas have not been well served and the interests and expectations of taxpayers not met. The Review also found that CHIP in its current form contributes to confusion, complex administration and poor outcomes and accountability of government funded housing, infrastructure and municipal services.”
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission CHIP Programme failed Indigenous Australians and has not produced value for money.

When will the initiative conclude?

  • This is a seven year strategy commencing in 2007-08