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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 13661

Senator MURRAY (2:24 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson representing Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Family and Community Services. I ask the minister whether she is aware that yesterday, with respect to Indigenous policy, the Prime Minister said:

We're forging ahead in partnerships in the areas of health.

Minister, in July I went to Daly River in the Northern Territory with a committee. The clerk of the council at Daly River told us that the average number of occupants per bedroom was 17. Obviously many people are sleeping on the wide verandas as well as in the houses. Can the minister tell the Senate what efforts the government is making to urgently increase housing in Indigenous areas to lessen overcrowding of this sort?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —Housing issues are partly Senator Vanstone's portfolio and partly Mr Ruddock's portfolio. As for the part of that portfolio I am representing today, the Commonwealth is providing $91 million annually to states and territories primarily to address Indigenous housing needs in rural and remote areas through the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program, ARHP—a tied program into the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. The government is also providing a further $75 million over four years for Indigenous housing and related infrastructure in rural and remote areas, with $40 million for housing administered by FaCS and $35 million for housing related infrastructure administered by ATSIC.

Nine million dollars was allocated over these four years for two projects: the FHBH program, Fixing Houses for Better Health, and the MHBH project, Maintaining Houses for Better Health. There was $0.5 million allocated in 2001-02, $2.5 million in 2002-03, $3 million in 2003-04 and $3 million in 2004-05. We have all had experience of going out into communities, and you do see different processes in place. Often some of the communities have engaged in developing programs within their communities. I visited one in the Northern Territory where they hired equipment together and they use the equipment to engage in maintaining houses. One other project is where people participate and work with those people who are maintaining the houses and if people do not continue to work in conjunction with them they cease working on a project until people come back. Some of the communities themselves have developed very interesting programs to ensure that there is maintenance of housing. As Minister for Health and Ageing, I am particularly interested in this area because it is very important that we have houses that are maintained as they do have health implications.

The Commonwealth-state housing agreements require states and territories to target Indigenous specific housing funds to rural and remote areas where there are no alternative housing options. A review of the Aboriginal Rental Housing Program is under way to ensure funding allocations reflect the Commonwealth's policy position regarding targeting of Indigenous specific housing funds to areas of highest need.

Senator MURRAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer. In your answer, you did not answer this question: does the minister agree that a statistic of 17 people per bedroom is shocking? Does the minister accept that, to significantly improve the quality of life, educational and health prospects for Indigenous people, a very significant increase in the provision of housing in areas such as Daly River is a prerequisite? According to ATSIC, Minister, there is an estimated $3.5 billion required to meet housing and infrastructure needs. Minister, is Indigenous housing a federal government priority?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —For me to comment on whether 17 people in a house is appropriate is not easy in that people may be choosing to have 17 people living in a house. The issue that we have to address is the provision of as much adequate housing as we possibly can, living within our means. We have a program, as I have outlined, which sees increasing funding for Aboriginal housing. It is also, as I said, a responsibility of Mr Ruddock's portfolio, and it is also a responsibility of the states and territories. Within the agreements, we have asked them to target Indigenous specific housing funds to rural and remote areas—the sorts of areas you are talking about. Yes, we are doing things and, yes, we are seeing a difference; but it is going to take a long while, as it is in health and all the other areas. I do not know whether Senator Murray is aware of the COAG programs that are running. (Time expired)