President’s column

THE PROSPECTS of achieving tangible social housing justice for remote Indigenous communities – and the local jobs and Indigenous business opportunities that flow from well-organised housing programs – are at risk.

The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH) ends in June, and despite solid evidence it has relieved overcrowding in indigenous communities and boosted employment opportunities, the Federal Government has said little about what might follow.

The NPARIH was begun in 2008 after COAG agreed to a comprehensive reform strategy aimed at alleviating overcrowding, homelessness, and poor housing conditions in remote Indigenous communities.

A 2013 progress review of the $5.5 billion NPARIH program found that nearly 1600 new homes had been built and over 5200 refurbished, “significantly exceeding expectations and ensuring further progress in addressing severe overcrowding in remote Indigenous communities”.

The review also noted that the program’s target of setting an indigenous employment rate of 20 per cent during construction had been “consistently achieved or exceeded”.  

Like any program, it’s had its issues. An expert review last year found it had been “complicated by multiple objectives, poor governance and constantly changing policy settings”.

Overall, however, it has made a significant difference in many remote Indigenous communities, such that ALGA’s Federal Budget Submission explicitly calls for its renewal.

Failing that, ALGA is advocating the Commonwealth provide at least $5.5 billion over the next decade to address the needs of Indigenous communities, most especially in housing.

Housing is a fundamental human need. Poor quality, over-crowded or run-down housing is a significant obstacle to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in health, early childhood development, education, and economic participation.

I will be stressing this at next week’s COAG discussions on the Closing the Gap framework. I’ll also be stressing the role that Local Government can play in delivering local solutions for – and with –  local Indigenous people.

In Indigenous communities in North Queensland and the Northern Territory for example, Local Government is increasingly comprised of local Indigenous people who know the issues first-hand.

They know that Local Government leadership means local listening, local understanding, and local solutions. Working together with funding agencies, the ability of these regional and remote councils to do what’s necessary and right for their communities has been remarkable – and they want to do more, much more.

To quote LGAQ’s Chief Executive, Greg Hallam, in a recent “Council Courier” column, “Nearly 800 apprentices and trainees are attached to the NPARIH building program each year in Queensland. The proportion of local businesses and organisations involved in the program has jumped from just 10 percent in 2011 to 70 percent last year”.

However, for these revenue-constrained councils to fund local actions – and to build a sense of ownership, accountability and participation – it’s imperative they continue to receive the external funding support of programs like the NPARIH.