NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #SocialDeterminants #Housing : Why do we need another study to evaluate the impact of housing policies on the health and wellbeing of our mob ?

 ” A new study will evaluate the impact of housing policies on the health and wellbeing of First Nations people thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Australian Government.

Shelter WA will lead this work around the country to assess environmental health impacts, short term versus long term policy vision and how we manage the construction and maintenance of housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Minister Ken Wyatt Press Release See in full Part 1

A recent Senate Estimates have highlighted the failure of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to negotiate a new remote Indigenous housing agreement with the states and territories.

In its May Budget, the Coalition effectively axed the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH), which had invested $5.4 billion over the previous decade to address severe overcrowding.

The Government’s own independent review clearly states that “high levels of overcrowding and poor housing condition negatively impact on outcomes in health, education, employment and safety.

 The decision left Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia without any ongoing funding arrangement for remote Indigenous housing.

Shadow Housing and Homelessness Minister, Senator Doug Cameron, said the hearing also exposed the scale of the Coalition’s cuts to remote housing.

” Houses that are not well-maintained fall out of commission quickly and do not provide their basic function of supporting the health and wellbeing of tenants. While overcrowding is present, the need for maintenance is even greater.

Future funding is needed from governments as the costs of housing cannot be covered by rental income or other forms of investment due to market factors. Governments should work together to set a target for reducing the taxpayer subsidy for running social housing in remote Indigenous communities.

Ongoing funding, at least to maintain housing created, will protect the $5.4 billion investment already made under the Strategy. Without this funding, the Panel is confident houses will quickly fall out of commission, wasting the Strategy’s progress.”

See all the recommendations from 2017 Remote Housing Review Part 3 below

WA’s peak housing body has been angered enough to wade into a toxic fight over WA’s remote Indigenous communities, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison commented in Perth that the 10-year Commonwealth-state funding agreement was for “a couple of years” only, and that remote housing was a WA responsibility.

Twelve thousand outback residents wait in limbo, some suffering illnesses including leprosy, tuberculosis and trachoma – which has been described as a “national disgrace”, and is directly related to overcrowded, inadequate housing. ”

Read full media coverage Here 

 ” Indigenous affairs envoy Tony Abbott appears to be trying to make amends with the Borroloola community, who were less than impressed with his first visit, by giving them second hand RAAF base houses, some of which may already be over forty years old.

The NT News understands that the houses may only be liveable for two to five years and the NT Government provided feedback that they were not a suitable option.

The secretive process that the federal indigenous affairs envoy and NT Senator Nigel Scullion undertook in plucking 12 houses from beside the Stuart Hwy has come under scrutiny and questions have been raised as to the suitability of the homes, most of which were built in the late 1970s and have been sitting roadside for over four years.

Read NT media coverage HERE 

 

Read NACCHO Press release HERE

Part 1 Housing Study Aims to Improve Health of First Australians

The 2017 national My Life My Lead report highlighted housing’s importance, finding better housing conditions would improve First Australians’ health and were also linked to increased participation in education, employment and the community.

The Commonwealth’s investment through the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing has delivered significant results.

Our Remote Housing Review, completed in partnership with leading Indigenous Australians, found that there had been a significant decrease in the proportion of overcrowded households in remote and very remote areas, falling from 52.1 per cent to 37.4 per cent by 2018.

Read or download the report HERE 

review-of-remote-housing

The Commonwealth remains committed to future investment in remote Indigenous housing and has agreed to provide $550 million for future remote housing investment in the Northern Territory.

Offers for further investment in Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia remain on the table for state governments to consider.

Shelter WA will work closely with project partners the National Aboriginal Congress and National Shelter to deliver this study, helping to ensure there is a strong First Nations voice and national perspective in future housing policy.

Work will commence immediately with the results of the study expected to be concluded by mid-2019.

 

Part 2 Labor Press Release October 2018

A recent Senate Estimates have highlighted the failure of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to negotiate a new remote Indigenous housing agreement with the states and territories.

Shadow Housing and Homelessness Minister, Senator Doug Cameron, said today’s hearings also exposed the scale of the Coalition’s cuts to remote housing.

In its May Budget, the Coalition effectively axed the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH), which had invested $5.4 billion over the previous decade to address severe overcrowding.

The Government’s own independent review clearly states that “high levels of overcrowding and poor housing condition negatively impact on outcomes in health, education, employment and safety.”

The decision left Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia without any ongoing funding arrangement for remote Indigenous housing. Evidence today from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet revealed that contrary to claims by Minister Scullion that “there are no cuts to housing”, no new Commonwealth funds have being delivered this year.

“As a matter of urgency, Minister Scullion must establish a program of negotiations with state and territory governments to resolve future

Commonwealth funding arrangements for remote Indigenous housing,” Senator Cameron said.

“Priority must be given to a building program that assists in reducing the negative health implications of severe overcrowding.”

Reports by the ABC just this week have drawn attention to the prevalence of Rheumatic Heart Disease in remote Indigenous communities. RHD is a preventable illness affecting about 6,000 Australians, with Indigenous children 55 times more likely to die from the disease than their non-Indigenous peers.

The causes can be as common as repeated throat and skin infections, caused by living in overcrowded housing conditions, but the consequences can be devastating, leading to permanent heart damage and even death.

“Despite the seriousness of the issues, Minister Scullion’s performance today was aggressive, amateurish and incompetent,” Senator Cameron said.

“It’s clear that if the Minister is unable to reach agreements with the states and territories he will be responsible for the ongoing poor health outcomes in remote communities.”

Labor believes a committed, ongoing partnership from all levels of government is essential to meet the scale of the need in remote communities.

The Morrison Government should be working cooperatively with Indigenous communities to ensure services are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible. Senator Cameron said that in light of Minister’s performance, Prime Minister

Morrison should seriously consider whether he has confidence in his ability to carry out his responsibilities in the portfolio.

Part 3 8.3 Key Findings

Continued investment by governments will be required beyond 2018, at least in the maintenance of existing tenancies, where there are limited opportunities to recover costs through rent or other charges.

Governments should work together to set a target for reducing the minimum cost of taxpayer subsidy for the operational expense of running social housing in remote Indigenous communities.

High costs prohibit financial returns and mean funding is required for a remote housing program to be sustainable, even with improvements to PTM.

Government funding could be used to develop impact investment financing models, but this needs further exploration and trialling in less unfavourable markets, before it would be sensibly trialled in a remote context.

Future Directions – Panel recommendations

The Strategy has made a significant difference to the lives of many families in remote Indigenous communities. A long-term investment in remote Indigenous housing is needed for additional houses and to maintain existing stock.

Our recommendations build on the lessons learned from the Strategy and previous investment.

Recommendation: A recurrent program must be funded to maintain existing houses, preserve functionality and increase the life of housing assets

Houses that are not well-maintained fall out of commission quickly and do not provide their basic function of supporting the health and wellbeing of tenants. While overcrowding is present, the need for maintenance is even greater.

Future funding is needed from governments as the costs of housing cannot be covered by rental income or other forms of investment due to market factors. Governments should work together to set a target for reducing the taxpayer subsidy for running social housing in remote Indigenous communities.

Ongoing funding, at least to maintain housing created, will protect the $5.4 billion investment already made under the Strategy. Without this funding, the Panel is confident houses will quickly fall out of commission, wasting the Strategy’s progress.

To avoid creating two classes of housing in communities, a future agreement should include repairs and maintenance of all dwellings in remote Indigenous communities, not just those built or refurbished under the Strategy.

Recommendation: Investment for an additional 5,500 houses by 2028 is needed to continue efforts on Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage

The investment under the Strategy has improved the life outcomes of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, but problematic overcrowding still exists and the population is growing.

An additional 5,500 dwellings are needed, to address current levels and the potential for a return to higher overcrowding levels due to population growth if efforts are not maintained.

An additional 5,500 dwellings are projected to further reduce overcrowding to a level of 25-30 per cent by 2028 and as such will continue to support efforts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Closing the Gap.

Recommendation: The costs of a remote Indigenous housing program should be shared 50:50 between the Commonwealth and the jurisdictions

Under the Strategy the Commonwealth was the sole funder of the program which meant jurisdictions lacked skin in the game and the Commonwealth reacted to protect its interest by introducing a series of processes that had unintended consequences.

A genuine financial partnership between the Commonwealth and jurisdictions would focus the attention of both levels of government to the delivery of outcomes, not outputs. Shared responsibility for funding would establish a partnership that works toward shared goals.

If responsibility for funding is shared, then both levels of government have incentives to run an efficient program.

Recommendation: Establish a regional governance structure to facilitate better administration of the program

Commonwealth and jurisdiction governments need a way of working with each other and with communities that facilitates management of an inherently complex program. All parties should be able to contribute information and perspective to help guide sound decision making.

A regional governance framework would facilitate more effective collaboration between Commonwealth, jurisdiction and local governments, and communities. It would have the added benefit of bringing planning and decision making closer to the ground and would create a more responsive program. In addition, communities that can organise themselves will have a formal mechanism for input.

Bringing local government into the governance structure means the community and region would have a greater stake in the success of the program.

Recommendation: A higher level of transparency is required: a sound performance framework and information processes that are relevant to individuals and communities, and derivative of the information that is needed for regional governance of the program

One of the key failures of the Strategy was its information collection.

Improved transparency would foster mutual responsibility for all parties to identify problems and share solutions. It is important the reasons for decisions are known and all parties are incentivised to find innovative solutions to local problems.

By focusing on collecting data that is needed for decision making to serve overarching policy, performance indicators for the program as a whole can be developed that have real meaning in terms of the achievement of better and sustained housing amenity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote Australia.

Recommendation: Best practice fora should be established to share information across the Commonwealth, jurisdictions, regional governance bodies and service providers

To improve housing delivery, best practice, challenges and experience need to be shared. Multilateral fora between the Commonwealth and jurisdictions to share experiences are important. There should also be opportunities for regional governance bodies, service providers and community leaders to share their learnings.

Best practice fora should consider housing experiences outside communities and jurisdictions funded by the Strategy. Other jurisdictions, and urban and regional housing providers should be included in broader discussions for best practice in social and Indigenous housing.

Recommendation: A minimum five year rolling plan for the program should be established

The two year timeframes introduced as part of the competitive bids were too short for proper planning and undermined the effectiveness and efficiency of jurisdictions’ efforts to deliver the Strategy particularly for housing construction.

A minimum five year rolling plan for the program should be established with proper mechanisms for performance management and information systems as outlined in the previous recommendations.

A program that retains the intended long planning cycles in practice would enable better decision making and flexibility to respond to local conditions, incentivise investment in better systems, improve coordination between service providers and administrators, achieve economies of scale, and support the development of additional capacity and training of local workforces and businesses.

Recommendation: Regional sample surveys (using the survey–and–fix methodology of the Fixing Houses for Better Health program) must form a core part of the regional governance and monitoring strategy

A recurrent, proactive maintenance program is fundamental to preserve functionality and increase the life of existing housing assets in remote Indigenous communities. Cyclical maintenance programs must be developed more consistently across the program.

This should be reinforced by a requirement for regional sample surveys using the survey-and-fix methodology of the Fixing Houses for Better Health program.

The long-term cost of property management is decreased by having a cyclical maintenance program in place. Data from the surveys would enable the governance structure to make sound and evidence based policy decisions about delivery of the program and to develop long-term plans for additional construction, conduct repairs, and establish a recurrent and proactive maintenance program.

Recommendation: Details about certification of properties (at all stages of building, and for life after acceptance and tenanting) should be reported to the governance structure to ensure construction in remote communities is compliant with the appropriate building and certification standards and sub-standard builders are eliminated

Housing in remote communities must be built and upheld to the same effective standard as in urban areas. Compliance with existing Commonwealth and jurisdiction legislation for housing standards and the National Indigenous Housing Guide (that lifts the standard to that appropriate for remote areas) is not negotiable. Regulation of housing standards needs more assertive management across the project management life cycle – planning, project delivery, acceptance and post-acceptance functioning.

Certification of houses should be robust and require a level of compliance appropriate to remote environments, delivering the same amenity as applies for houses in urban areas. All non-arm’s length certification arrangements should be eliminated and independent scrutiny that houses meet standards post acceptance and for years after tenanting would add rigour.

This rigour will ultimately improve conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, improve health and other social outcomes and will ultimately reduce costs and protect governments’ investment over the longer term.

Recommendation: The regional governance bodies should work with local employers to plan how to develop the local work force and create more local employment

The employment opportunities that arise from housing construction and maintenance activities have provided positive outcomes for communities in some areas. There is scope to increase efforts and derive benefits more broadly.

Where possible, local employment opportunities should be maximised and the local labour force developed in partnership with local businesses and councils. A regional governance body should work with local businesses or councils as potential employers, and with regional training organisations, to develop a plan to train and develop the local labour force and businesses.

Where local people are employed by local businesses or councils to do the work, it can reduce the cost of delivering PTM and improve the timeliness of response.

Recommendation: Comprehensive planning across governments, involving local communities, is essential for the next remote Indigenous housing national program

Town and community planning are important to ensure that communities are developing in ways that meet the aspirations of local people. Plans need to assess whether housing is appropriate for its location and local cultural requirements.

Governments should link and develop plans for infrastructure and housing together, under town and community planning principles. Plans should include housing-related infrastructure in parallel with housing delivery, and coordinate municipal and essential services requirements and infrastructure needs including the need for new land development or upgrades of essential services.

Plans should be completed to the same quality standard as applies for urban environments.

Governments should focus on resolution of land tenure in communities with significant need that have not received investment.

A long-term, coordinated effort between governments would avoid duplication in effort and wasted investment.

Recommendation: Tenancy education programs should be implemented. Outreach services for tenancy tribunals to improve access in remote communities should be funded

Consequences and enforcement of rights and responsibilities are important for both tenants and landlords. Tenants and landlords (jurisdictions) have frustrations in enforcing their rights and ensuring compliance with responsibilities.

Clear understanding of rights and responsibilities by tenants would assist. Better access to tenancy tribunals in remote communities could assist both tenants and landlords resolve complaints and enforce compliance. There are opportunities for sharing and replication of best practice in the creation of incentives for householders to look after and preserve their housing.

Activities that continue to support better application of PTM will assist tenants in managing their rights and responsibilities under the program.

 

NACCHO and @RACGP Aboriginal Health #Housing #Crisis #ClosetheGap #Socialdeterminants Overcrowding leads to poorer health outcomes for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

 ” In the first of a series focusing on the coming third edition of the National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, newsGP examines the effects of overcrowding on health outcomes “

Download Brochure

National-Guide-prerelease-info-Flyer-2017

Many households in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are deemed overcrowded, a situation that can lead to a wide range of health problems.

Author of RACGP article Morgan Liotta

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the RACGP’s National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (the National Guide) and the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research’s working paper, The scale and composition of Indigenous housing need, define overcrowded households as those that do not meet the following requirements:

  • No more than two persons per bedroom
  • Children aged <5 years of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom
  • Children aged ≥5 years of opposite sex should have separate bedrooms
  • Children aged <18 years and the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom
  • Single household members aged >18 years should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples

The National Guide reveals that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families living in overcrowded circumstances are more susceptible to contracting infections through lack of hygiene from poor sanitation and close contact with others.

Added by NACCHOFor example, situations in which several people are sharing a single bathroom, and the bore water supply (on which many remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities depend) struggles to maintain appropriate levels, result in inadequate fresh water for basic cleaning. Another example is the ease with which an infection can spread via bed linen when several children are sharing a bedroom.

Chronic ear infections (eg otitis media), eye infections (eg trachoma), skin conditions (eg crusted scabies), gastroenteritis, respiratory infections (overcrowding has been identified as a risk factor for pneumococcal disease), and exacerbation of family violence and mental health issues are all potential outcomes from overcrowded environments.

In remote areas, overcrowded households (more than two children aged <5 years) are associated with a 2.4-fold increased risk of the youngest child having otitis media.

According to the Systematic review of existing evidence and primary care guidelines on the management of otitis media in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, these high rates of infection could be prevented if overcrowding in Aboriginal communities was improved.

Overcrowding can also present as an environmental stressor for people living in such households, including from issues such as a lack of privacy, which can have an impact on mental health. Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that 14% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote areas cited overcrowding at home as this type of stressor, compared to 9% of those living in non-remote areas.

In addition, the Y health – Staying deadly: An Aboriginal youth focussed translational action research project addresses overcrowding as a potential factor when exploring issues of Aboriginal youth mental health.

However, other significant factors to recognise are that some houses need to accommodate for overcrowding due to extended family visits to deal with illness, mourning a death in the family, or sometimes for cultural reasons.

Various government strategies are in place to combat the negative impacts of overcrowding, including the National partnership agreement on remote Indigenous housing, funded by the Federal Government. This policy aims to assess the current state of poor housing conditions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as well as issues of housing shortage and homelessness.

These strategies are working towards improving housing conditions in rural and remote areas, a key part in helping to close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

NACCHO and the RACGP’s National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, provides further information on overcrowding in the following chapters:

  • Hearing loss
  • Eye health
  • Respiratory health – Pneumococcal disease prevention
  • Mental health
  • The health of young people

How to access the National Guide:

The third edition of the National Guide will be available early 2018.

Free to download on the RACGP website and the NACCHO website:

www.racgp.org.au/national-guide/ and www.naccho.org.au

For further information, contact

RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health on 1800 000 251

or aboriginalhealth@racgp.org.au

 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health #ClosingTheGap #Socialdeterminants and Remote #Housing crisis : @ANU_CAEPR ” Three Billboards Outside Canberra ” Michael Dillon

 

Three Billboards on the Road Back to Where We Came From

” The bottom line on this issue is that despite the ongoing failure to Close the Gap due to lack of an effective strategy tying resources to objectives, and the evidence of the Commonwealth’s own statistics that the most intensive disadvantage is in remote regions, the Commonwealth continues to dance around the crucial issue of funding social housing in remote communities.

The policy rationale for cutting funding does not exist, the administrative and political processes associated with deciding future arrangements are either neglected or deliberately short-circuited.

The government and in particular Minister Scullion appears incapable or unwilling to provide funding certainty to state governments, Indigenous citizens, and the public at large, and it seems probable that both Ministers Wyatt and Scullion have misled the Parliament in asserting unequivocally that funding levels have not been cut. Time will tell.

We appear to be heading back to where we came from, with every prospect that housing conditions in remote Australia will worsen, overcrowding will worsen, and as a result so too will the associated consequences for health and economic participation.

The already deep levels of disadvantage amongst our most disadvantaged citizens will only get worse.

We don’t need public billboards to tell us that.”

Michael Dillon is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU. He was most recently the CEO of the Indigenous Land Corporation, and veteran of Indigenous policy in government.

This article was first published on Dillon’s blog A Walking Shadow: Observations on Indigenous public policy and institutional transparency. It has been edited here for length by Pro Bono

 ” Closing the Gap in health disadvantage requires action on many fronts.

One of these is to improve living conditions for Indigenous people. Housing facilities needs to improve to raise Indigenous health outcomes.

I have been to many communities where the housing for Indigenous people is actually a driver of poor health and creates a cycle of disadvantage .

 Ministers from South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia have recently expressed concern that the Federal government will not renew the current Commonwealth State funding agreement for Indigenous Housing.

We call on the Federal government to invest in remote Indigenous housing.”

 Mr John Singer, Chairperson of NACCHO

Read full NACCHO Article HERE  or

Download the NACCHO Press Release HERE

NACCHO URGES FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO INVEST IN INDIGENOUS HOUSING 5 2018

Read 100 NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Social Determinants articles

The recent film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri describes a mother’s frustration at the lack of progress of the local authorities in solving the murder of her daughter, and her actions in bringing attention to the inexplicable dereliction by authorities through posting giant signs on a local road.

I can’t afford to rent three billboards, but can post three more modest brief “billboard signs” here.

There have been three developments in the last few weeks in relation to the future of the remote housing program worth signposting.

Download Letters to Minister Scullion from NT WA SE Qld Re Indigenous Remote Housing Funding

Billboard One: Closing the Gap

The prime minister’s Closing the Gap Statement, released last Monday, includes two salient sets of information.

First, throughout the report, it is made clear in relation to virtually every target that the results in remote areas significantly lag the rest of the country.

In relation to child mortality, the Northern Territory rate is around double the national Indigenous rate.

In relation to early childhood education: “The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children attending early childhood education programs was largest in remote (6 percentage points) and very remote (11 percentage points) areas.”

In relation to education: “Indigenous attendance is lower in remote areas than non-remote areas, and the attendance gap remains larger in remote areas.” Moreover, “there has been no meaningful improvement in any of the states and territories. In the Northern Territory the Indigenous attendance rate fell from 2014 (70.2 per cent) to 2017 (66.2 per cent).”

In relation to literacy and numeracy: “Outcomes also vary significantly across regions, with outcomes for Indigenous students substantially worse in remote areas.”

In relation to employment, the Indigenous employment rate fell over the past decade, from 48.0 per cent in 2006 to 46.6 per cent in 2016, with “the employment rate falling in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory but stable or rising in the other states.”

In relation to life expectancy, the report notes: “Over the period 2012 to 2016, Indigenous mortality rates varied across the jurisdictions. The Northern Territory had the highest Indigenous mortality rate (1,478 per 100,000 population) as well as the largest gap with non-Indigenous Australians, followed by Western Australia (1,225 per 100,000).”

These statistics speak for themselves, yet nowhere does the report attempt to comprehensively lay out a holistic strategy for dealing with remote issues. This is a major gap in the government’s approach to closing the gap.

It amounts to an admission of failure by the present government that remote policy issues are too hard, too difficult and ultimately insoluble.

Second, on page 112, the only reference to Indigenous housing totals just two paragraphs, reproduced in full below:

“Good quality housing underpins all of the Closing the Gap targets in health, education and employment, as well as community safety.

“The Australian government has invested $5.5 billion over the past 10 years to improve the quality of housing in remote communities. This has seen percentage of houses that are overcrowded drop from 52 per cent to 37 per cent. Tenants now have rights and responsibilities they didn’t previously have and the system of housing operates as a genuine public housing system.”

This is an extraordinarily paltry level of analysis and attention for an area of government investment which is crucial to the quality of life in remote communities.

I can’t help but note that the actual figure is $5.4 billion after the government’s 2015 budget cuts, but what’s $95 million between friends? Prime ministerial accuracy is clearly a second order priority. Despite the progress made, and the fact that the Closing the Gap report demonstrates that the most intense disadvantage amongst Indigenous citizens occurs in remote areas, the government appears to be laying the groundwork for its comprehensive disestablishment.

The Closing the Gap report does lay down two key metrics for the future of the remote housing program: first, will the government commit to a 10 year investment, and secondly, will it invest $550 million per annum in the program.

Billboard Two: Recent parliamentary questions on remote housing

In response to a number of questions in the Senate on 12 February, Minister Scullion clarified a number of points which have so far been unclear and not announced.

In response to a question from Senator Dodson: “Has your government taken a decision to end the decade-long Commonwealth investment in remote Indigenous housing agreed in the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing?” (link to the full answer here)

Senator Scullion said: “No, we’re not walking away from that at all, Senator Dodson. But one of the things you need to know, which I haven’t had the opportunity to personally come round and explain yet, is that since Christmas we’ve been doing some calculations about why it is that the clear calculations we did about 10 years, which are about numbers — how many houses we need to invest in and predictions of population — haven’t quite got there and we now need another little addition.”

He added: “A national partnership involves every state and territory. It is self-evident that New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria are no longer in it. So now we’re moving to a bipartisan approach. [I assume he means bilateral approach]. We’ve made the announcement with the Northern Territory and we’re still in discussions with the other states and territories. But fundamental to this is ensuring that the states and territories are held to account, and those opposite should ensure that they are holding them to account in each of their jurisdictions.”

Senator Dodson also questioned a comment made in the previous week in the House of Representatives: “Minister Wyatt, declared: ‘The funding has not been cut. It has not been reduced. Senator Scullion is in ongoing negotiations with the relevant ministers.’ Is the minister correct?”

Senator Scullion said: “Yes, he is. We have done an independent inquiry, which you would have a copy of, that shows what is required now, and our investment in the national partnership over a decade reduced the overcrowding significantly but we still have some work to do. So it’s about that actual number, and we are negotiating, continuing to negotiate, with the states and territories about that number. But we now need the states and territories to transition to take on their own responsibilities of public housing, and we need to ensure that when the states and territories are allocating public housing—because, whether you’re in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia or the Northern Territory, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still members of a state or territory. We’re not walking away at all, but we are ensuring, and those on the other side should encourage, that each of the state and territory governments stand ready to take on their responsibilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in their jurisdiction.”

He said he would be “meeting shortly with the ministers for housing in South Australia and in Western Australia”.

In response to a question from Senator McCarthy, and an interjection from Senator Wong the following exchange took place:

“Senator Scullion: If I can just clarify again, I am not withdrawing from this process.

“Senator Wong: Well how much money are you putting in? The funding is ending. How much are you putting in?

“Senator Scullion: We have indicated that we’ve undertaken in the Northern Territory, because that’s the only bilateral that’s been finished, to put in $120 million a year and that the Northern Territory would be matching it. So, that is the way it’s going. We are looking to the states and territories, who I suspect actually withdrew. So in the places where we’re requiring NPRH to be built, there was a decision by those jurisdictions to act by not spending a cent of the funds that the Commonwealth invests and that they should invest in remote communities. We’ve yet to find out if that is the case. I hope I’m wrong, but I have seen absolutely no evidence to demonstrate that they have taken any other course. (Time expired)

“Well, we’re certainly not walking away from funding remote housing. And can I say that there is another issue about jurisdiction. They are now being required to put this in a fund that is managed between the state, the Commonwealth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Now, I guess that hasn’t been accepted well. We’re just supposed to put it straight into the coffers.”

It seems to me that there are a number of issues here.

The first is that it is clear that the National Partnership approach (and thus the 10 year timeframe) is dead, and the Commonwealth is moving to shorter bilateral agreements. The rationale offered by Minister Scullion (that only four states are involved) does not withstand scrutiny. The NT has previously had a National Partnership agreement with the Commonwealth on its own; there has never been a requirement for all jurisdictions, or even most, to be involved in National Partnership agreements.

The second relates to the assertion of both Minister Wyatt and Scullion that the funding has not been cut. In the absence of an actual formal announcement, it is impossible to definitively determine the accuracy of these statements, but for the ministers’ statements to be accurate (and thus not to mislead the Parliament) the government will need to put $550 million per annum on the table (ideally for 10 years). Minister Scullion does admit that the level of remote housing need in the NT is around half the national need, and has allocated $120 million per annum for an unspecified period there. This suggests that the national allocation will be in the region of $240 million per annum, well below the $550 million required for both Ministers’ statements to be accurate.

The third is that the establishment of a “fund” which is managed by the Commonwealth, the states, and Indigenous representatives is a return to a proposal originally floated by the Giles government in the NT, and which looks very much like the pre-NPARIH model known as IHANT.

The problems faced by IHANT were that resources were extremely limited and did not match the needs, and the representative nature of its membership meant that funding was spread thinly across more than 60 locations, with little focus on asset management, poor economies of scale, and thus minimal continuity of work for the firms involved in construction. I provided a critique of this approach in this post from July 2016.

Finally, it is clear that the minister has adopted a bizarre (or even mischievous) approach of dealing with jurisdictions sequentially and without formally writing to state ministers to outline the Commonwealth’s proposed approach. It is unacceptable and deeply troubling that the Commonwealth has adopted an administrative and political process which means that states such as WA or SA have not been formally approached about the future funding arrangements for a major capital intensive investment program that ends in less than five months’ time.

Billboard Three: appalling process supporting retrograde policy

The recent review of remote housing for which the minister’s department provided the secretariat, stated in its final report that it had invited public submissions.

Following Senate Estimates in October 2017, Senator McCarthy placed a question on notice (Question no.253 link here) seeking details of the invitation notice requesting public submissions.

In a belated response on 2 February 2018, the department and minister provided an answer to the Senator’s question in the following terms:

“PM&C advertised for public submissions on its website between 9 December 2016 and 6 January 2017 (copy at Attachment A). Further, PM&C emailed approximately 100 stakeholders on 2 December 2016, and a further eight on 5 December 2016, inviting them to submissions.

“The expert panel is seeking submissions on how Indigenous housing investment could be improved and made more sustainable. We want to hear from Indigenous communities and businesses, housing service providers, peak bodies, land councils and state governments on what has worked well and what could be done better. We also want to hear about how to get better community involvement, including local Indigenous employment and business engagement in housing. We are looking for practical ideas based on your extensive experience with the legislative, regulatory, operational and policy frameworks that underpin Indigenous housing.

“If you would like to make a submission, please send it to the review secretariat at TheReview@pmc.gov.au by 16 December 2016.

“Alternatively, for short submissions you are welcome to provide input through this web form or complete our survey questionnaire.”

The department’s answer is too cute by half. In other words, the notice requesting submissions (which appears merely to have been posted unannounced on the department’s website) mentions particular stakeholder groups, but nowhere mentions public submissions, and asks for submissions by 16 December, but was only posted on 9 December 2016, thus giving members of the public a scant seven days to make a submission.

As it turns out, and unsurprisingly, it appears from the appendices that only organisations and individuals invited to make submissions actually did so. I previously posted regarding the numerous deficiencies in the review report, which is relevant because it should provide the analytic and factual foundations for the Commonwealth’s policy going forward. The deliberate avoidance of public input merely exacerbates the previous critique, and undermines the reviews legitimacy as an independent policy document.

This is a further example of the government’s disrespectful approach to seeking community input into the policy, and appears designed to ensure that public input was not provided. The chaotic and disorganised administrative processes around both the review and the subsequent negotiations with the states at best reflect poorly on the department and the minister, and at worst, appear to amount to a deliberate attempt to avoid any opportunity for public input and potential criticism of the government’s retrograde policy in relation to remote housing.

Conclusion

The bottom line on this issue is that despite the ongoing failure to Close the Gap due to lack of an effective strategy tying resources to objectives, and the evidence of the Commonwealth’s own statistics that the most intensive disadvantage is in remote regions, the Commonwealth continues to dance around the crucial issue of funding social housing in remote communities.

The policy rationale for cutting funding does not exist, the administrative and political processes associated with deciding future arrangements are either neglected or deliberately short-circuited. The government and in particular Minister Scullion appears incapable or unwilling to provide funding certainty to state governments, Indigenous citizens, and the public at large, and it seems probable that both Ministers Wyatt and Scullion have misled the Parliament in asserting unequivocally that funding levels have not been cut. Time will tell.

We appear to be heading back to where we came from, with every prospect that housing conditions in remote Australia will worsen, overcrowding will worsen, and as a result so too will the associated consequences for health and economic participation. The already deep levels of disadvantage amongst our most disadvantaged citizens will only get worse. We don’t need public billboards to tell us that.

About the author: Michael Dillon is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU. He was most recently the CEO of the Indigenous Land Corporation, and veteran of Indigenous policy in government. Previously, Michael has been a deputy secretary for FaHCSIA as well as senior roles for Aboriginal organisations in East Kimberley and Central Australia, the Northern Territory Government, AusAID and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This article was first published on Dillon’s blog A Walking Shadow: Observations on Indigenous public policy and institutional transparency. It has been edited here for length.


Michael Dillon  |   |  @ProBonoNews

Michael Dillon is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the ANU