‘It's outrageous’: Advocates demand long-term funding certainty for remote housing
Thursday, 2nd May 2019 at 4:46 pm
Western Australia housing groups warn vulnerable people are bearing the brunt of a lack of investment in remote housing, as Labor pledges $120 million in a bid to remedy the crisis.
Labor leader Bill Shorten this week said a federal ALP government would make a $1.5 billion investment into remote housing over the next 10 years, to address overcrowding and create jobs in isolated Indigenous communities.
This includes $120 million for WA in 2019-20, with Labor then committed to working with the state to develop a ”genuine, ongoing” partnership as part of the Closing the Gap Refresh.
Michelle Mackenzie, the CEO of Shelter WA, told Pro Bono News she welcomed this announcement but noted long-term funding certainty was needed.
“We acknowledge [for WA] this is an interim arrangement. What we’ll continue to do is advocate for longer-term funding,” Mackenzie said.
“We’ve got a number of significantly large remote communities up in the Kimberley and the Pilbara region and while people think of them as remote communities there are hundreds of people living there.
“So it’s absolutely critical that people have access to safe, affordable and culturally appropriate housing.”
The states and territories have been in a prolonged stoush with the federal government since the National Partnership on Remote Housing – a program addressing the critical housing needs of Indigenous people – concluded on 30 June 2018.
WA received $110 million a year as part of the agreement, and the program’s closure left the state with a $400 million housing shortfall and 1,350 unbuilt houses.
Labor’s $120 million pledge came after WA rejected the federal government’s $60 million exit offer over three years, which the state government would have had to match.
Mackenzie said this funding uncertainty led to dire consequences for vulnerable people.
“We know many people in those communities are ill because the lack of housing leads to chronic overcrowding,” she said.
“We just think it’s outrageous that the poorest people in our society are bearing the brunt of this lack of investment.”
Mackenzie said the federal government needed to step up by matching or even bettering Labor’s announcement, because having a house “shouldn’t be contingent on who wins the federal election”.
She said investment in remote housing was also vital for creating jobs.
“It creates apprenticeships, traineeships and can really skill-up people. And it has a fabulous flow-on economic impact across the whole region,” she said.
“So you might just think you’re investing in a home but you’re actually investing in people’s lives and economic productivity.”
Shelter WA want any funding agreement to be at least 10 years long and linked to the Closing the Gap initiative, with clear targets around the number of houses built and desired outcomes.
“It should be an agreement between the Commonwealth and the states so they’re working together on a common goal,” Mackenzie said.
“And it’s critical that Aboriginal people in those remote communities are key partners and are driving the change that’s needed.”
The federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has continually defended the government’s approach, pointing out the previous 10-year federal investment was a one-off national partnership and that remote housing was a state responsibility.
Scullion has also responded to WA government criticism by accusing the state government of having a “racist approach” to using federal funding that prioritised “houses for white people in Perth” instead of remote Indigenous communities.
But WA Housing Minister Peter Tinley and Treasurer Ben Wyatt doubled down on their criticism of the federal government following Labor’s announcement, slamming Scullion and Prime Minister Scott Morrison for refusing to negotiate a new long-term housing deal.
Wyatt said the WA government already spent about $90 million a year supporting housing and essential services in about 165 remote communities across the state.
“WA has consistently argued that the Commonwealth has historic and moral obligations to provide ongoing funding support for remote communities that, in WA, are home to an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 of the country’s most disadvantaged people,” Wyatt said.
“It is gratifying to see that a federal Labor government will recognise and honour that responsibility – something the Morrison government has flatly refused.”
Tinley added the only way to achieve the aspirational targets of Closing the Gap Refresh was to put roofs over people’s heads.
“This is not something the state can do, or indeed should do, on its own – it requires a working, collaborative, sustainable and enduring partnership with the Commonwealth,” Tinley said.
“It’s great to see that Bill Shorten is stepping up and is willing to open doors, rather than walk away from this challenge the way Scott Morrison has.”