Dear Prime Minister you cannot abandon the National Partnership on Remote Housing

6 February 2018

Dear Prime Minister

The National COSS (Councils of Social Service) Network is working towards a just, inclusive and sustainable Australia where everyone can exercise their inalienable human rights, has equal access to resources and opportunity to participate in and benefit from social and economic life.

With this in mind we are deeply disturbed that the Australian Government is abandoning investment to address the critical housing need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities.

The continued funding of the National Partnership on Remote Housing (NPRH) is a critical foundation to meeting the Council of Australian Governments endorsed targets to address Indigenous disadvantage.

The NPRH represents a ten-year agreement between the Commonwealth, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. With co-investment from States and the Commonwealth, significant progress has been made towards the agreed targets; particularly the construction of new houses and increase in employment opportunities for residents of remote Indigenous communities.

While the immediate impact of this decision will be felt only in these four states and territory, the entire COSS network strongly advocates for the continuation of this agreement beyond its expiry on 30 June 2018.

The Australian Government’s own review of NPRH finalised in late 2017 recommended that:

  • A recurrent program must be funded to maintain existing houses, preserve functionality and increase the life of housing assets.
  • Investment for an additional 5,500 houses by 2028 is needed to continue efforts on Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

It is clear that the work of the NPRH is not complete in rural areas. We are encouraged by reports of Minister Scullions offer to fund Northern Territory and to offer other states matched funding. However the Commonwealth’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook in December 2017 confirmed no budget allocation for remote Indigenous housing after 30 June 2018.

Housing is a basic human right and provides the foundation for a range of social and economic outcomes for all Australians, none more than in ouremote communities. Housing in remote Indigenous communities across Australia still falls way short of providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families with the foundations to support other wellbeing outcomes such as health, education, employment, and participation in social, cultural and community life.

Outcomes from this investment go beyond providing housing infrastructure. Outcomes include improvements in mental and physical health, and school attendance, and a decrease in domestic and family violence, and youth offending. The investment also provides vital and scarce economic input into communities through jobs and the purchase of goods through the supply chain. It is critical this funding is continued. There is also a pressing need to extend the strategy into urban areas where there is overcrowding and homelessness, as Indigenous people suffer discrimination in regular housing markets.

Given this demonstrable need, the COSS network calls on the Australian Government to not walk away from these communities and provide ongoing funds for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remote housing in the 2018-19 Budget on at least an equal share basis with the states and territories. The costs of meeting the supply shortfall and performing necessary refurbishments and property and tenancy management have been estimated conservatively at $9 billion/10 years. The COSS network seek immediate action from the Australian Government to a 10 year commitment to meet these costs, shared equally with the states and territories.

The Australian Government should also develop a new national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing strategy with supplementary funds earmarked in the new national housing and homelessness agreement to support culturally appropriate housing, including growth of the Indigenous Community Housing sector.

Yours sincerely

Cassandra Goldie CEO, ACOSS

Susan Helyar Director ACTCOSS

Mark Henley CEO QCOSS

Louise Giolitto CEO WACOSS

Tracy Howe CEO NCOSS

Emma King CEO VCOSS

Ross Womersley CEO SACOSS

Wendy Morton CEO, NTCOSS

Kym Goodes CEO TasCOSS