Aboriginal housing program concerns us: HIA

By Anna Henderson | www.abc.net.au | July 24, 2009 | + MORE RELEVANT ARTICLES

The Housing Industry Association says many contractors continue to believe an Indigenous housing program in the Northern Territory will not meet its targets.

The association represents many of the contractors involved in the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program [SIHIP].

The program has been criticised for being inefficient because it has been operating for 15 months but at this stage no new houses have been built.

A secret 2008 memo sent from Labor Senator Ursula Stephens to the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, warned that building industry representatives were worried about the SIHIP.

"Those from the construction industry were flabbergasted by the approach - which they best likened to a 'shoddy defence procurement model'," the memo, obtained by the ABC, states.

The association's Territory manager, Bryan Winslade, says he is hearing that wide-scale building action in communities will not get underway until 2011.

"The industry view out there is the fears then have been at least partially realised from that point of view," he said.

"So the concern remains that it's going to take longer and it's going to deliver less than originally planned."

Mr Winslade says the set up, design and tendering processes have already significantly eaten into the SIHIP funding.

"Certainly a substantial sum has been soaked up already and a lot more will go in ancillary works.

"It won't go into housing, for example.

"I am aware there's a fair bit of infrastructure being done and while it provides benefits for housing on the ground to be done ,it doesn't necessarily translate into houses which is where the desperate need lies at the moment."

Residents of Tennant Creek's Aboriginal town camps say they are yet to see the benefits of the SIHIP.

Ms Macklin says the program has been refurbishing houses in the town camps.

But Jeanie Sambo, who lives in a Tennant Creek town camp, says she is still waiting for repairs to her house.

"It's not pretty good at the moment.

"Everything's not good in the house and we've been waiting for someone to come and tell us they're going to do our houses up and, yes, we're still waiting for them.

"They told us they're going to do them last year and we're still waiting."

Minister adds fuel to house fee anger

Natasha Robinson | July 27, 2009 | The Australian
A second indigenous minister in the Northern Territory has demanded an explanation from his government on how $800million in public funds for Aboriginal housing will be spent.

The Territory's Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton, has backed the concerns of Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson, who last week labelled Labor's handling of the program as a "big farce".

Mr Hampton told The Australian yesterday he was "not happy" when briefed that the $672m Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program may deliver as few as 300 houses, rather than the 750 promised by the Rudd government.

He was particularly disturbed when told during the same briefing by the consultant heading SIHIP, Jim Davidson, that no new houses would be built under a $125m package for Alice Springs town camps.

Mr Anderson last week threatened to quit the government over its management of Aboriginal housing.

Chief Minister Paul Henderson has since moved to quell Ms Anderson's concerns, blaming Mr Davidson for delivering "inaccurate" figures and assuring the public that 88 per cent of SIHIP funds would go towards new housing and upgrades on 15 Aboriginal communities.

But Mr Hampton said yesterday he was not yet satisfied the government was spending public funds earmarked for Aboriginal housing properly.

"I am yet to get another briefing," he said. "I'm working with our government to try to find out exactly what has been delivered.

"I was not happy with the information that I was given in the briefing (by Mr Davidson), along with Alison. I certainly stand with Alison in her concerns.

"I am particularly concerned about the town camps, the fact that there was not going to be any new houses built on the town camps. I was very concerned about that, and I'll be seeking a closer detailed explanation of the breakdown."

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and Mr Henderson moved late last week to appoint two senior bureaucrats to oversee and analyse spending under SIHIP. They will also scrutinise the spending of $125m offered by the federal government to acquire Alice Springs' town camps.

Ms Macklin, who has said 85per cent of SIHIP funds will go towards building and upgrading houses, said on Friday the package of funding for town camps would be for the construction of new houses, as well as the rebuilding of existing houses in poor condition.

But Mr Hampton's comments show Aboriginal MPs have not yet fully accepted the claims of the Henderson government that the figures provided by Mr Davidson during the briefing were simply "inaccurate".

Despite blaming Mr Davidson for creating a "misleading impression" of how the $672m package was being spent, Housing Minister Rob Knight defended the consultant's performance, saying he had a "great deal of credibility in the building industry".

Mr Davidson, a former Labor candidate for the federal NT seat of Solomon, is believed to be being paid close to $300,000 as head of SIHIP.

Mr Knight explained away the contents of Mr Davidson's briefing -- which suggested only 30per cent of SIHIP funding would be spent on the direct costs of housing construction -- by saying he was new in his job.

Asked to pin down exactly how much would be spent on direct costs under SIHIP, Mr Knight said the training element of the program, extensive consultation requirements and increased costs of providing labour and materials to remote locations meant providing Aboriginal housing was relatively expensive.

"In Darwin, you don't really have to consult with anybody," Mr Knight told the ABC's NT Stateline. "But on the communities you've actually got to negotiate where buildings should go, and what the type of buildings they need to be."

Labor denies aboriginal housing failure

July 24, 2009 | www.skynews.com.au
A war of words has broken out over whether federal government funding for indigenous housing is being well-spent or wasted on administrative costs.

Northern Territory government ministers have reportedly been warned the 670 million dollar program is behind schedule and off-track with 70 per cent of funds disappearing into contractor and government administration fees.

They've also been told fewer than half the 700 homes promised are likely to be delivered.

But Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says that's completely wrong and the vast majority of the money will go to building new homes and upgrading others.

The Northern Land Council isn't convinced saying the government needs to provide a detailed breakdown of the expenditure.

Minister may quit over NT housing

Natasha Robinson and Nicola Berkovic | | July 24, 2009

Article from: The Australian
NORTHERN Territory Aboriginal Affairs Minister Alison Anerson has threatened to quit the Labor party in protest over the Rudd government's "appalling" handling of a $700million remote housing package that she labelled a "big farce".

Ms Anderson, an Aboriginal Labor MP from central Australia, challenged her federal counterpart Jenny Macklin to "start keeping an eye on her money" after it was revealed as few as 300 houses may be built in the $672m Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program.

The progress of SIHIP -- the first major project in the federal government's goal of closing the indigenous gap -- is floundering as millions of dollars in public funds are wasted through inefficiency, profiteering and bureaucratic wastage, Ms Anderson has alleged.

She confirmed yesterday the details of a report in The Australian that two Aboriginal Labor ministers were warned in a top-level briefing that SIHIP may deliver as few as 300 houses.

"It was quite openly told to us that there will be 15 per cent administrative costs going to government, 40 per cent for the alliance (building) partners, and another 15 per cent for indirect costs, whatever that is," Ms Anderson told The Australian yesterday. "That leaves 30 per cent that will hit the ground.

"I was absolutely appalled. I said, 'Here we go again'. We talk about closing the gap in indigenous inequality and indigenous housing, and here we are creaming off so much money in administrative costs.

"I will not take that and I am prepared to walk on that issue."

Ms Macklin, the federal Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister, was also forced to fend off criticism from the opposition yesterday that the government's $6.4 billion social housing program had fallen behind schedule.

In the Territory, Labor last month lost its majority in the parliament when former deputy chief minister Marion Scrymgour quit the party in protest over outstations policy. If Ms Anderson also quits, it could result in a change of government, depending on whether she went independent or joined the opposition.

Ms Anderson yesterday also attacked the federal government over its plans to compulsorily acquire Alice Springs town camps. The federal government will spend $125m upgrading housing and essential services at the camps, but Ms Anderson -- who was central to negotiations to forcibly acquire the camps -- said that not one new house would be built at a town camp under the funding package.

"I'm not prepared to stand by anybody compulsorily acquiring land just for repairs and maintenance," Ms Anderson said.

Ms Macklin strongly disputed that up to 70 per cent of the $672m SIHIP package would be eaten up in contractors' and administration fees.

Ms Macklin's office said at least 85 per cent of the funding would be used for the refurbishment, upgrade and construction of new housing and related infrastructure such as power, water and sewerage.

"These costs make up the construction budget, that is, the dollars that are allocated to each package of works to build the scoped and agreed number of new and upgraded houses in each package location," Ms Macklin's spokeswoman said.

But Ms Anderson said her federal counterpart needed to do more "to make sure that the money is actually hitting the ground for the most disadvantaged people in the country".

"I just think she needs to get a reality check as well and start keeping an eye on her money, because at the end of the day, it's commonwealth money," Ms Anderson said.

Ms Anderson, who labelled the SIHIP program "a big farce", said she had raised concerns with her cabinet colleagues in Darwin following the briefing, delivered by the consultant hired to head up the program, Jim Davidson, but was met with a lacklustre response. "I certainly raised my concerns with my cabinet colleagues, but there was no urgency amongst them (in response)," she said.

The NT government disputed the details of Mr Davidson's briefing yesterday. Housing Minister Rob Knight said the NT government's administrative costs claimed under SIHIP currently stood at 11.4 per cent.

A spokesperson for the NT Department of Local Government and Housing late yesterday said the figures provided in the original briefing were incorrect.

"The figures have now been clarified. The correct figure for administration costs is 11.4 per cent," the spokesman said.

The NT government also moved late yesterday afternoon to give Ms Anderson a further briefing on the breakdown of costs for the program. But she labelled the briefing a clear attempt at "back-tracking".

The comments came as the Rudd government was forced to defend claims that only half the number of homes needed to meet its deadlines for the $6.4billion program had been started this month.

Opposition housing spokesman Scott Morrison said to meet its target of 20,000 new homes by the end of next year, the government needed to ensure 35 homes were started every day.

Mr Morrison said during the first 23 days of July about 800 homes should have been commenced. Instead, construction began on about 400 homes.

"When Kevin Rudd puts on a hard hat he needs to tell Australians the truth about the real performance of these stimulus programs, not more spin," Mr Morrison said.

However, Ms Macklin's spokeswoman said the program was on track. "It is wrong to simply divide the number of days by the number of houses to assess progress," she said.

Mr Morrison said the opposition had requested information on the progress of the rollout about a month ago and had not received a response.

He said the government needed to be accountable for the $6.4bn it was spending on public housing.

"I call on the minister to release publicly the details of all public housing projects commenced on a regular monthly basis, including their locations, the number of dwelling units and the value of funds committed," he said.

"Only then can we have any real sense of the performance of this program, instead of being hostage to the government's hard-hat spin machine."