The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing (NPARIH) was a COAG reform strategy that aimed to address overcrowding, homelessness, poor housing conditions and severe housing shortages in remote Indigenous communities within a 10 year time frame (to June 2018). It was designed to provide a new direction for remote Aboriginal housing with $5.5 billion in funding.
The WA government in submissions to the Commonwealth Grants Commission has noted there is no agreement beyond the life of NPARIH (2018).
Compounding the inherent pressures of overcrowding, homelessness, poor housing conditions and severe housing shortages in remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia was the WA Premier’s November 2014 announcement of the WA government’s intention to cease funding services to between 100 and 150 remote communities. This followed a Federal announcement that ongoing federal funding was to be removed from remote communities in WA.
Subsequently, there was a groundswell of protest around the proposed closures announcement locally in WA, interstate and internationally. The protests led to a re-evaluation of the comments and various announcements by the WA Government. However, it must be noted that the WA government has not articulated how the funding removed by the Abbott government will be replaced.
While the Premier's 2014 statement may not lead to the 'closure of communities' as initially announced, it has led to a deep scepticism in communities around the Government’s commitments around housing and homelessness in remote communities.
In June 2015, the WA Government announced the establishment of a long term regional services reform plan, the ‘Reform Unit’ which is being led by the former Director General of Housing, Grahame Searle. This reform process is far broader than housing and homelessness.
Last year in the Northern Territory an Aboriginal Housing Body (AHB) was established to tackle the Aboriginal housing crisis in the NT. Twelve months ago the AHB held a forum where stories from participants painted a vivid picture of a housing system which is failing. It is expensive, ineffective and wasteful, disengaged from communities and tenants, and working against local employment and local capacity building. While NT specific there are many parallels with the situation in Western Australia; similar issues around overcrowding, homelessness, poor housing conditions and severe housing shortages are being faced in WA.
Australia needs a COAG commitment that goes beyond 2018. This will require a vision that is specific to housing and homelessness; one that is adaptable to the cultural and geographical demands of remote communities. Given the high cost of construction and maintenance of housing in remote we need to identify low cost building alternatives and develop new finance models that do not rely solely on government funding.
Shelter WA is currently seeking EOI for a NPARIH working group that will assist to ensure that the agreement, which is particularly crucial for Aboriginal people in remote areas continues and provides the best housing outcomes for those already quite disadvantaged in WA.