Last month it was announced that under Tim Costello’s leadership World Vision Australia has developed a new scheme for the construction of houses in remote Aboriginal communities.
As outlined in The Australian, the scheme underway in the North Queensland community of Mapoon could be used as a model to deliver houses across the Northern Territory (NT). The World Vision scheme would build houses at half the cost per house of the current federal Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP).
While contentious 99-year leases are required under World Vision Australia’s plan, their success in Mapoon may serve as an example for the Federal and NT government to follow.
Good news aside, the question should be asked: why has the task been left to World Vision Australia, an international aid agency, to come up with a decent and workable alternative plan to rival the failing SIHIP?
The answer, or blame, lies with the current apathetic federal opposition.
Darwin correspondent for The Australian, Paul Toohey, told the Hub: “The opposition are more than happy to let the government flounder along on the indigenous issue.”
Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister Tony Abbot’s stated position on remote indigenous housing is in support of a ‘no job, no house’ policy. This sweeping rhetoric may appeal to his constituency but it is more a conversation filler at a Liberal Party fundraising dinner than a real solution to the current situation.
A reported $672million in taxpayer funds – intended for those indigenous people Abott should represent – is stalled in the well-publicised failing government scheme.
Lacklustre opposition performance on indigenous issues is nothing new. In 2007 when the ‘intervention’ was announced, a submissive Kevin Rudd – as leader of the opposition – politely agreed to all aspects of the ‘intervention’. He did this without, one would assume, any understanding of its long lasting implications.
To hear any opposition metal on the current housing debacle, you have to turn to MPs Scott Morrison and Nigel Scullion and Senator Marise Payne. These ministers have all in the last six months stood up in parliament and criticised Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin’s handling of her portfolio.
But one shouldn’t be bowled over by their efforts, as criticisms of the SIHIP plan are easy to make. Macklin has admitted there are flaws in SIHIP, and initiated a review of the program. It has been widely reported that a startling number of houses promised across the NT have yet to be built.
Action, of course, is harder than words.
Former indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough has sealed his place in the history books with the brash and rushed implementation of the ‘intervention’. Yet he remains the only Liberal minister in recent times to take that dinner party mantle – ‘something needs to be done for indigenous Australia’ – and then proceeded to actually do it.
At present, the rhetoric will continue to go round in circles. The opposition contribution to indigenous policy will remain one of words rather than action, until someone of the calibre of Tim Costello steps into the spotlight.
– BY EDWARD WHITE