Michael Gunner is Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
The failure to ensure Aboriginal Territorians in remote communities have a place to safely raise a family has been critical to their social welfare, mental wellbeing and health.
A remote housing crisis has caused social dysfunction, poorer health and education and deteriorating law and order with serious long term repercussions across the whole of the Territory.
Populations in these communities are increasing and the gap in housing needs will only get worse over time unless drastic action is taken.
When Territory Labor was elected into office in 2016 we embarked on an ambitious $1.1 billion 10-year program to build new houses and renovate and expand existing houses in remote communities.
In just a little over two years we have made remarkable progress building or upgrading 1,321 houses with more than 2,100 expected to be completed by mid-2019.
But the Territory’s budget alone is insufficient to build thousands of homes that are needed by 2028 to eliminate overcrowding.
The Territory needs the support of the Australian Government.
We thought we had negotiated a ground-breaking deal with the Coalition Government but months into the financial year not one cent of $550 million that was promised has been released.
On multiple occasions Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion promised to match our 10-year funding, dollar for dollar.
Senator Scullion is a Territorian and knows only too well the suffering and dysfunction caused by overcrowded houses in remote communities.
Kids can’t get a proper education if they don’t come from a home where they can get a good night’s sleep and arrive at school fed and healthy.
The Federal Government reneged on the promise of matching funding over 10 years and reduced the offer to five years.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the offer in writing in April and June last year, which we accepted.
But since then Mr Morrison’s Government has put conditions on the release of the money that are unacceptable to us because they would leave Territorians living remotely short-changed.
The NT Government is now left with no option but to return land leases for 44 remote communities to the Commonwealth, shattering our plans to improve the lives of many Territory families.
For eight months we have been delivering housing services in these communities on behalf of the Federal Government but without Commonwealth funding we are unable to continue beyond June 30 this year.
The crisis in remote housing is too important to be play politics with.
But Territorians living in overcrowded and dilapidated houses deserve to know that after five years as Aboriginal Affairs Minister Senator Scullion will soon be leaving Parliament with a set-for-life superannuation package but without having contributed one cent of a pledged $1.1 billion remote housing package for his own constituents.
Canberra has also failed to match the Territory’s $510 million for a land serving program which is critical to ensuring houses are built on land with access to power and water.
All this is profoundly disappointing at a time the 11th Closing the Gap report card shows targets on health, education, employment and life expectancy outcomes for Aboriginal Australians are not being met.
In the Territory we are determined to see as many jobs as possible go to Aboriginal Territorians, including through our Remote Housing Investment Package.
We are also devolving control of remote communities, including housing, back to local Aboriginal communities under an historic Local Decision Making policy.
The brutal reality is that unless Canberra partners the Territory previous efforts to improve remote houses will have been largely wasted because with chronic overcrowding in the harsh environments they are falling apart.
Right now the Territory is doing it tough as it faces an economic downturn and a cut to our Commonwealth GST funding of $500 million a year.
We are urgently pushing ahead with our remote housing program because it is crucial to protecting our most vulnerable communities and securing a safe and happy future for all Territorians.
But we simply cannot do it without the Commonwealth’s help.