Monday 29th Feb
Advocacy group Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT) has demanded that the NT Government urgently review its remote housing model after admissions by NT Housing Minister, Bess Price, that some remote Aboriginal housing was not fit for human occupation.
The Minister made the admissions after residents in the remote central Australian community of Santa Teresa commenced legal action against the NT Department of Housing, seeking over 600 outstanding housing repairs.
In an interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National, Minister Price said that the poor housing standards seen in Santa Teresa were a problem right across the Northern Territory.
“I’ve been to Santa Teresa as well, and walked around the community…and agreed with the community residents that there needs to be a huge amount of work done to these houses” said Minister Price.
“I’ve visited communities, where the houses have been built in the eighties, and it’s not fit for a human to live in.”
Chair of AHNT, Tony Jack, said that the Minister’s admissions needed to be urgently acted upon.
“We are happy the Minister has acknowledged the problem, but the question is what happens now?” said Mr Jack.
“We know the current housing model is broken and we need to look for a better way of doing things.”
Mr. Jack said Aboriginal tenants were calling for a more diverse system, and one in which they had some control over their own lives.
“We need local control over our housing, so we keep the jobs and the skills in the community. The top down approach of Department of Housing hasn’t worked.”
Daniel Kelly, director of Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights, the organisation representing Santa Teresa residents in their ongoing legal action, said proposed upgrade works under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH) would not fix the problem:
“Firstly, there is not set date for these upgrades, no tender documents released, and no certainty about when the funding will arrive for Santa Teresa.”
“Secondly, upgrading the existing houses is a short-term solution, it won’t do anything to reduce problems of over-crowding, or the Department’s systemic failure to provide regular repair and maintenance, which means over-worked houses in remote conditions quickly revert to a poor and unhealthy state.”
Mr Kelly said that upgrade works in other remote communities had not resolved systemic issues.
“Papunya is a community that has received all of its NPARIH funding, but we found a lot of evidence of Department of Housing neglect. Families were left without electricity, or any ability to cook for up to 10 months, no hot water for bathing, blocked up toilets and sinks.”
“Upgrades are good, but if they are not supported by a functional repairs and maintenance system, it is money down the drain.”
The legal action arising from Santa Teresa is ongoing, and returns to the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal tomorrow (1 March 2016) for further orders.
Residents of Papunya community continue to negotiate with the Northern Territory Department of Housing over outstanding housing repairs, and are represented by Central Australia Aboriginal Legal Aid Service.