Tuesday 9th Feb
Residents in the central Australian community of Santa Teresa have taken legal action against the NT Department of Housing (DOH) over outstanding urgent housing repairs.
Claims lodged at the NTCAT (Northern Territory Civil Administrative Tribunal) detail over 600 housing maintenance requests, including leaking roofs, electrical faults, non-working ovens and blocked drains. Orders are being sought for DOH to carry out repairs and, in some cases, provide compensation to tenants.
Seventy households in Santa Teresa, south of Alice Springs, have instructed Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights (ALRAR) to act on their behalf.
ALRAR lawyer Daniel Kelly said without safe and functional housing, there can be no progress on Closing the Gap.
“If we can’t provide people with decent houses, where they can cook a healthy meal, where they can wash themselves, where they have electricity so the kids can do their homework at night, then we can’t expect progress,” said Mr Kelly.
“We are not getting the basics right.”
Mr Kelly said it’s the first time an Aboriginal community has taken legal action of this kind against the NT Government.
“The houses are old, when it rains the roofs leak and the power goes out, some of the houses even flood,” he said.
“People go for weeks, sometimes months with blocked drains, no oven, no power, they’re worried for the safety of their kids, and their families and it’s been this way for a very long time.”
“These tenants pay rent to the government and they are entitled to safe and habitable housing, the same as every other tenant in the country.
Advocacy group Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT) is working in partnership with ALRAR on the legal action. Chair of AHNT, Tony Jack, said he hoped the action would pave the way for other remote communities to hold the government to account for a housing management system that is clearly failing.
“The tenants took this desperate step because the government is ignoring the housing crisis in remote communities,” said Mr Jack.
Mr Jack said Aboriginal people are becoming aware of their rights and want the NT government to follow the law.
“This is an important step forward for us and it’s been a long time coming,” he said.
Aboriginal control of community housing was transferred to the NT Government following the Intervention. Tenancy management, along with repairs and maintenance of Santa Teresa houses, are currently outsourced to external contractors.