Millions disappear in consultants' fees but still no houses

atasha Robinson | The Australian | August 19, 2009

Click for larger imageThe consultant who warned that Aboriginal housing delivery under the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program was seriously off-track has been sidelined by the NT government.

Jim Davidson, who was employed by the joint program managers of the SIHIP, Parsons Brinckerhoff, confirmed that he was removed from his position on Monday morning.

The Northern Territory government said yesterday it was "renegotiating" its agreement with Parsons Brinckerhoff in the wake of intense pressure over the amount of money being spent on administration and other indirect costs under the SIHIP.

Mr Davidson, who effectively headed up the SIHIP for the Northern Territory government, was the consultant who warned former indigenous policy minister Alison Anderson and another Aboriginal MP that the $672m program might deliver as few as 300 houses, less than half of the 750 promised by the federal and NT governments.

Mr Davidson also warned the politicians that up to 70 per cent of the SIHIP funds were to go towards indirect costs such as consultants' fees and travel costs, and administration.

He was not commenting on his dismissal yesterday aside from confirming that it had occurred. The dumping of Mr Davidson comes as two former public officials spoke of their despair at the massive bureaucratic wastage and incompetent management of remote housing they observed during their employment with the Territory government.

Tasmanian couple Kerry Gearman and Bronwen King were employed as remote audit building managers by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, and later were seconded to work with the body in charge of public housing in the NT, Territory Housing. The couple, who were paid a salary of $71,000 each, told The Australian they spent five months, along with five other managers, doing "absolutely nothing" during their employment with the NT government.

"They paid us wages for months to basically do nothing, because there wasn't anything for us to do," Mr Gearman said. "We were told to do a bit of research, go and introduce ourselves to people, but essentially we were given nothing to do."

The couple recently quit their jobs with the government in disgust at the wastage and mismanagement of remote housing, including under the SIHIP.

They said they agreed with the views of Ms Anderson that "rivers of money" were flowing into the Northern Territory to address indigenous disadvantage, but nothing was being done on the ground.

"I think Alison Anderson is right," Mr Gearman said. "An awful lot of this money is going to disappear in consultants' fees and other things when the hope was the stakeholders would pull together and get something done.

"An awful lot of this money is going down a big black hole. And indigenous people are still out there living 15 to a house. We have no faith that anything good is going to happen out there."

Mr Gearman and Ms King cited many examples of bureaucratic wastage and inefficiency in the NT government's management of indigenous housing.

In one instance, seven remote audit building managers employed by the NT government were each given new Toyota Hilux utes, worth more than $50,000 each, to be used twice a year for trips to remote central Australian communities. Mr Gearman and Ms King were given a car each, and during their five months of employment with the NT government only ever used the cars to drive to work.

"When we left, the cars were sitting out in a carpark collecting bird shit and leaves," Ms King said. "From the time I got the car in March until I left, the vehicle had only done about 36km."

The audit being carried out was collecting inaccurate and useless data, which duplicated a previous audit, the couple said. They also observed tradesmen being brought in from other states to carry out maintenance jobs. Territory Housing once hired an engineer from Perth at a cost of $15,000 for a piece of maintenance work on a remote central Australian community, they said.

Indigenous housing bill to 'blow out to $1b'

Melinda James | ABC Radio Australia News

MEDIA: Indigenous Housing Boss Sacked ABC TV - 7.30 Report

Jim Davidson, the former director of the $672 million Aboriginal housing program. (ABC TV)

Video: Indigenous housing boss removed (7.30 Report)
Map: Darwin 0800
Related Story: Head rolls over Indigenous housing wrangle
The ABC's 7.30 Report has been told that the budget for a controversial $672 million Aboriginal housing program is likely to blow out to well over $1 billion.

The ABC learned yesterday that the director of the Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program [SIHIP], Jim Davidson, has been removed from his position.

It was Mr Davidson's briefing on the program that led to the former Indigenous policy minister, Alison Anderson, quitting the Labor Party over concerns that most of the money would not be spent on actually building houses.

Ms Anderson said she had been told as much as 70 per cent of the $672 million would be spent on indirect costs.

At the time, the Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, and the Housing Minister, Rob Knight, said the briefing was wrong and SIHIP was on track.

Mr Davidson told The 7.30 Report last night that the housing program's budget is only enough to build 300 houses - not the 750 houses promised by the Territory and Federal Government.

It is understood the cost of infrastructure and headworks will have to come out of another pot of Government money - the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing -

Feds build 1000th home in three months ... in Rudd's electorate

Chris Graham | | 22nd July 2009

As Federal Minister for Housing Jenny Macklin boasts that the Rudd government has just begun construction of its 1000th home under its broader stimulus package, construction has not started on a single home under the Northern Territory Intervention's housing program.

Construction has begun on the 1000th home in just three months, as part of the Rudd government's $6.4 billion national social housing stimulus package. The housing is being built in the inner Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba, in the Prime Minister's own electorate of Griffith:

The Rudd government's mainstream public housing success comes amid revelations that the pace in Macklin's other portfolio - Indigenous Affairs - is nowhere near as frenetic. Construction has begun on zero homes under the NT intervention's housing program, despite federal Labor supporting the declaration of a "national emergency" in remote NT communities more than two years ago.

But Macklin shouldn't be surprised- leaked government documents obtained by the National Indigenous Times reveal that she was warned in early 2008 that the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) - which the Rudd government inherited from the previous administration - had major flaws, and that if the $700 million program proceeded it would not deliver any black housing in the Northern Territory until 2011, at the earliest:

The government was also warned that the program would drive the price of housing in remote regions up, was based on a model that sparked a Royal Commission in NSW in the 1980s amid high-level corruption of the public tender process, and was unlikely to meet its employment objective of a 20 percent Indigenous job rate in construction.

The advice was contained in a "private briefing memo", from NSW Labor Senator Ursula Stephens to Jenny Macklin, dated May 12, 2008. A copy of the memo has been obtained by the National Indigenous Times. Yet despite the advice, Macklin approved the SIHIP process.

Now, more than two years after the NT intervention was launched, construction hasn't even begun on a single home, the government is facing accusations the program is mired in red tape, and more than $100 million of the program funding has reportedly been set aside for administration.

The full story appears in tomorrow's edition of the National Indigenous Times.

On a happier news front, Macklin said the $4 million project in Woolloongabba in Brisbane's south was "an important milestone in the Government's social housing program".

"The construction of these 18 one-bedroom apartments means people will be able to move off the social housing wait list and into new accommodation," Macklin said.

"As well, the local construction industry is getting the boost it needs to support jobs during the difficult times of the global recession."

Construction on the 18 one-bedroom apartments is expected to be completed by April next year.

"The roll out of new social housing began only three months ago with the construction in New South Wales of the first homes to be built under the stimulus package.

"Reaching this milestone today demonstrates the Government is on track to deliver 20,000 homes across Australia by June 2012."

The SIHIP program is supposed to deliver 750 new homes, 230 replacement homes and about 2,500 housing upgrades, also by 2012. At the current pace, the Rudd government will have constructed just five percent of the targeted new homes by 2011.