Fudging funding for the NT Indigenous housing program

Chally is a scary feminist. Among other things, she’s a non-white, heterosexual, cis, disabled, middle class woman. She enjoys knitting, Doctor Who and cake. You can find her at Zero at the Bone.

Background here. More here.

Two years ago, a $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) was announced for the Northern Territory. It was supposed to involve the building of 750 homes, 230 rebuilds and 2500 refurbishments by 2013. As yet, not one home has been built. Let’s see what’s going on, shall we?

In response to this slackening off and wastage, Alison Anderson, the Indigenous policy minister in the Northern Territory, has quit the Labor party. Ms Anderson believes that only 30 per cent of the allocated funds will actually be spent on new homes. She terms the
situation ‘the biggest scandal I have seen in my political career’. (via the National Indigenous Times.)

As of a couple of days ago, the Federal Government may take over the program, which I am not at all convinced will be better, because, well, we know how that sort of thing tends to go. NT Housing Minister Rob Knight thinks his government can still come through. The ABC reports ‘The Commonwealth says if the management of the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program does not improve within four months, it will take more direct control.’

This sudden flurry of activity comes about following a report into SIHIP which says that significant changes are needed. Namely, $450 000 needs to be spent per house, not the planned $350 000. The report puts the present estimated administrative costs of the program at 11.4 per cent, a cost which can be reduced to 8 per cent. The cherry on the cake is that, according to NT Deputy Opposition Leader Kezia Purick, over $45 million has already been spent. I’ll remind you that not a single solitary house has been built. Where have the administrative costs been going?

And this isn’t just abstract political fudging, either; in July, the people of Ampilatwatja moved out of their homes in protest of living conditions. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says that Ampilatwatja isn’t one of the communities listed to receive new housing, anyway. There is pressure on the minister to step down due to all this mismanagement.

Note: You may be wondering why most of the sources I’m citing are from the ABC. That’s because, as much as I’d like to mix up my sources, a lot of this stuff is getting ignored or only partly covered by other sections of the media.

This post is a portion crossposted from the original article published at Zero at the Bone.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, indigenous, media, social justice


7 replies

  1. It makes me sick to my stomach. NT is a mess, but the rest of the country isn’t much better. I get angry when I know this stuff is happening, and the mainstream news is bleating about meaningless crap.

  2. I’m not sure why each house should cost $450K, that’s a lot of $$ for a house and makes me wonder if someone, somewhere along the line is skimming a lot of cream off the top. Either that or they are planning on fitting the houses out with solar panels which would make a lot of sense where they are. I suspect that jacked up prices may be more the case though.

  3. That made me a bit ??? too, Mindy.

    • Yes, can building prices really have gone up that much since 2007?

      The cost of the house itself is well publicised. In every weekend paper, home builders offer fully finished homes on your own land. These start at $110,000 and go up to $250,000 and more for the much vilified McMansions.
      Source: Institute of Public Affairs July 2007

      Not according to Sydney Homeworld, one of whose featured new-built homes this week costs ”from $191,000″.

      The Allcastle Elite is ideal if you have an existing home on a narrow block and are thinking of rebuilding. The Elite offers 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, rumpus/family and upstairs living area, there’s even a balcony. The Elite offers contemporary living at an affordable price.

      If I wanted to spend $400K plus at Homeworld, I could have the Wildrose III for still well under a list price of $450K:

      5 double bedrooms plus Library/6th bedroom. Master bedroom has parents retreat, dressing room, spacious ensuite with toilet. Downstairs – Lounge with Music Room, Study with powder room access to double as guest suite or Granny Flat. Open plan kitchen leads to Rumpus/ Family /Meals & Conservatory.

      Now, are the planned indigenous homes meant to be anything like this luxurious? I bet not. That’s a cost blow-out and a half.
      I do understand that transport costs to remote areas are huge, but Darwin is a port, so it’s not like this stuff has to come cross-country to get there – a lot of it could just be dropped off a bit earlier in the voyage by all the container ships from Asia bringing materials to the homebuilders of Sydney and Melbourne. So where is all this cost coming from?

  4. My other half has been spending his spare hours designing housing for remote communities in Australia – something that can be built sustainably and cheaply and requires minimal and mostly unskilled onsite labour. Won’t do anyone any good if no-one can manage to build a single bloody house.
    [Edited because I managed to utterly fail to read tigtog’s last paragraph]
    I suspect that it isn’t just transport costs, it’s also the cost of labour in remote locations. I doubt it accounts for all the money – project management is often up to 40% of the cost for stuff in Sydney, so lots of punters may have decided they are entitled to that sort of cut in the management process…

    • I hear you Ariane, but what about economies of scale? The prices in Sydney are for a single house built on a vacant or a demolished house block. Surely the indigenous housing is planned as being built in clusters? So that labour can be brought in to do things in stages where they rotate through one cluster of houses and then onto another cluster of houses? If not, why not?
      Perhaps an indigenous housing program that is looking at new housing in suburban areas won’t be able to use such a cluster system of project management, but surely any housing built in remote communities will be able to do so?

  5. Just a few points on SIHIP.
    A lot of the costs and delays comes from the fact that they are refusing to build any houses without leases. As you can imagine since the land is already owned by the local Indigenous people not many are happy to sign it over.
    In working out what people want and in signing the leases you need to talk to the TOs who are not necessarily the strongest clan group in the community, the group elected to the local council or even a person who lives on that land as they may be on a homeland.
    In the top end you have to charter to a lot of places to do the negotiating and that can cost well over a thousand for each charter and in central you can spend days driving which costs a lot of money in vehicles fuel and wages.
    When they do get leases its not like you can just drop stuff of. In East Arnhem everything has to be barged and there is only 1 freight company and they are not cheap.
    SIHIP also has a big focus on local labour and that increases costs and slows down the building process. While it is yet to be played out this is not necessarily a bad thing if it can increase skills and meaningful employment.
    In most of these communities there is no accommodation so it means you have to build a contractors camp first so this gets added to the cost. You also have to find people (mostly men) who have quite sought after skills in mining to live in a hot remote place where they can’t drink, there are few available women and they may have to stay for weeks or months at a time.
    There has been a lot of dodgy housing built on the “cheap” out here and SIHIP aimed to ensure that didn’t happen. SIHIP was or is also supposed to be able to track costs down to the last doorknob so where the money is actually going can be tracked.
    The real scandal with SIHIP is they never really factored in the cost of upgrading the sewage ponds, having water pressure, having water at all, new roads dumping building waste appropriately etc. This is where a lot of the actual extra costs were coming from and the costs are now going to be met by another bucket of money. SIHIP definitely has its problems and the review was probably good to give things a shake up. This “scandal” was largely driven by The Australian who I think are looking for an out or someone to blame for the NTER to distract from the fact that they were its chief cheerleader.

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