QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS - Indigenous Affairs

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Senator Scullion) to questions without notice asked by Senators Dodson and McCarthy today relating to funding for remote housing services.

It's blindingly obvious to any observer that the Closing the Gap targets will never be achieved while remote housing services are not fixed. There's been a decade of investment from Commonwealth, state and territory governments on this issue. A decade of collaboration and cooperation on remote housing communities has been bearing fruit. These communities urgently need to have their housing needs addressed in order to have them achieve any of the Closing the Gap targets. This is one of the most critical factors we have to address in closing the gap.

The World Health Organization has made it plain that stable housing is a necessary precondition to a stable health system. The World Health Organization argues that:

There is a clear need and opportunity for governments and others to promote health in the course of making investments in housing. International guidance on healthy housing—targeting construction experts, architects and engineers as well as housing agencies and local authorities—would enable action that is scientifically-based, and protects and advances public health.

This is a global situation, and the Australian situation falls short in our remote communities. Without safe and stable housing, infant disease and poor health get worse, kids cannot study for school, domestic and family violence rise, homelessness increases and, in fact, gender equality deteriorates. We cannot, as a Commonwealth, risk walking away from this national partnership. The minister needs to be held to account on this issue on this particular day of closing the gap.

There have been no hard commitments made to the Northern Territory, Western Australia or Queensland in what the minister has reported. What he has indicated is more talk and obfuscation about state and territory government needs and the contributions in this field. The minister's answer clearly indicates that his representative in the House was not provided with accurate information at the time he rose to answer the question in the House. We met last week with representatives of the Western Australian government, the South Australian government and the Queensland government. I also met with the mayors of the Queensland shire councils. I met today with the minister of the Northern Territory government. The story coming from the state and territory governments has been consistent: not one of these states has received a letter from the minister in relation to the need to negotiate new bilateral funding agreements. Before they came to Canberra last week, not one of these jurisdictions had been approached by the minister or his office to commence negotiations.

Minister, before last week, and when the minister stood up to represent you in the House, not one of those jurisdictions had been advised that the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing would be coming to a stop in June this year. In fact, you are yet to publically and formally indicate that the national partnership is being withdrawn and how, through this fog of confusion, you are not going to walk away from remote housing. These are not intergovernmental negotiation processes. They are centralised, top-down decisions being pushed out to your partners in the states and territories. These processes lack transparency and courtesy and fall short of the relationship required for governments of all persuasions to bridge the Closing the Gap targets.

Minister, you referred to the Remote housing reviewand indicated you gave me an advanced copy of this report, and I thank you for that. The key findings of the Remote housing revieware clear: high levels of overcrowding and poor housing conditions negatively impact on outcomes in health, education, employment and safety. There's particularly clear evidence of the strong relationship between health outcomes and the installation and proactive maintenance of hardware in houses that will both stand up to the conditions and facilitate key healthy-living behaviours. Overcrowding prejudices the chance of the head tenant or the head family person to maintain a home routine and a calm, clean, healthy and safe environment for family members. The report indicates good progress has been made against the strategy objectives, and that's the confusing and confounding matter of the minister's response. (Time expired) 

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