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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1520

Senator STERLE (6:01 PM) —I too wish to make a contribution to this matter of public importance. As we all know, the Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program is part of a much larger program, the National Partnership Agreement On Remote Indigenous Housing, which is a $5.5 billion project over the next 10 years to deliver housing to remote Aboriginal communities. I am a massive supporter of the government’s initiative to finally deliver at least some effort to build housing in Aboriginal communities. You, as a proud Western Australian, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, are quite aware from touring many Western Australian Aboriginal communities of the great disadvantage faced by those communities, and no doubt that is accentuated in the top end of Australia as it is in South Australia and the like. But I think it is rather disingenuous for that lot on the other side to carry on as they do—they really have a cheek. They had 12 years in government, and what did they do? All of a sudden they are the experts and, quite frankly, I am sick of it because, Mr Acting Deputy President, given the disadvantage that you and I have seen through Western Australia, those on that side have no right to start lecturing us on what we are at least trying to achieve.

I think Senator Crossin’s was the only intelligent contribution—it was really informative—and I would like to add to it. As we have heard, the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program is a $672 million investment to construct 750 new houses and 230 rebuilds and 2,500 refurbishments of existing houses in the Territory by the end of 2013. I have some information on that which I will share with the Senate. Work is under way in 25 communities and 11 town camps across the Territory. For example, in the Tiwi Islands 22 new houses are tenanted and complete in Nguiu. I am happy to say also that work is under way on the construction of another 21 houses. Rebuild works are complete at Milikapiti, where 30 houses have been substantially rebuilt. In the Nguiu and Pirlangimpi areas, 63 houses have been rebuilt and refurbished, and work is continuing there on a further 17 refurbishments and rebuilds. At Nguiu, 90 new houses will ultimately be constructed over the life of the program, with 23 houses constructed in the first stage.

Let us go further down the Stuart Highway to Tennant Creek, where a total of 78 houses will be substantially rebuilt under SIHIP. I am told that rebuild works are complete at a number of communities around that area, with 39 houses having been substantially rebuilt. Across the remaining town camps, 23 houses have now been rebuilt, and the building of a further six is underway. I am also told that, in the Tennant Creek area, major infrastructure works are complete in a number of communities and that the Australian and Northern Territory government officers continue to work closely with the Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation down there to ensure that transitional housing is available when required. We have already heard from Senator Crossin about the Alice Springs town camps.

It is important that we get the message across. Mr Acting Deputy President, you share with me a passion for closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Western Australia, and lines on maps should not make any difference at all. I spend a lot of time in remote Aboriginal communities in the west, and it is really rewarding—as the Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Senator Arbib, said in question time today—to hear that there are 323 Indigenous employees of SIHIP, who therefore make up over 30 per cent of the program’s workforce. This is absolutely fantastic news, and it should not be clouded by the disgraceful antics of those on the other side. Any program that delivers employment to Aboriginal communities should be applauded, because so far no-one has got it right. Those opposite can sit there and flap on about how wonderful they are, but they were not wonderful. It is only fair to say that at least the Rudd government initiated this program and it is being carried through by the Gillard government, and for that the government should be applauded. In question time today, Minister Arbib was asked by Senator Siewert whether Indigenous workers are on CDP, doing work experience or receiving income support. The rewarding answer that came out of question time was that these Aboriginal workers are being paid real wages at the award rate or higher. My goodness, wouldn’t the people in the communities in Western Australia that I travel through—as you do, Mr Acting Deputy President—love to receive a real wage.

Senator Adams —A lot of them do.

Senator STERLE —Real jobs, Senator Adams. Just in case you have not been into any Aboriginal communities I will help you out. I would love to help you out, actually, because you should be standing shoulder to shoulder with me and applauding what is going on in Western Australia. Are you saying no, Senator Adams, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President?

Senator Adams —I beg your pardon.

Senator STERLE —Okay, let me talk about Western Australia. Senator Macdonald has given me the opportunity by digressing into Queensland. I should pass a map over to that side so that they understand. Let’s talk about the Dampier Peninsula, Senator Adams; I do not know if you have been there—

Senator Adams —I have worked there, actually.

Senator STERLE —If you have, you would have seen the fantastic effort being made by Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation up in Beagle Bay. You have been there—have you seen the fantastic work, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President? Then you would agree with me on the work that Nirrumbuk do up there. It is a fantastic Aboriginal corporation under the guidance of two of the most professional representatives of the Aboriginal community in Marty Sibosado and Ray Christophers. They have done fantastic work.

Nirrumbuk is also an RTO and has trained some 300 Aboriginal workers in that region. They carry out real training for real employment. They also employ through their building company. They are in partnership with, I think, Broad Construction. For you, Senator Adams, five houses are being refurbished in Beagle Bay. Are you aware of Beagle Bay? I actually went up there and visited—

Senator Humphries —Is this relevant to this debate?

Senator STERLE —You are not aware? Okay, I will help you out; I will send you a map so you can stand with me and congratulate Nirrumbuk on the work they are doing with their Aboriginal employees.

I will give you some more information, Senator Adams, because you are a Western Australian and you are passionate about Aboriginal employment like I am. I do not want to insult you—I know that you probably know anyway—but this is what is going on in the program up in—

Senator Humphries —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I realise that Senator Sterle is more familiar with Western Australia, but this is a motion about the SIHIP, which operates in the Northern Territory. That is the subject matter of this debate. I suggest he might like to return to what this debate is all about, which is a program operating in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Senator Feeney —Mr Acting Deputy President, on the point of order, I would just make the point that there has been some leeway demonstrated in this debate by all sides and Senator Humphries is seeking to apply a standard that was noticeably absent with earlier speakers.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mark Bishop)—There is no point of order.

Senator STERLE —I listened intently. Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and thank you, Senator Feeney. Let me just finish on this. The program up in Beagle Bay is part of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, which SIHIP is part of. For you, Senator Adams, I think I was up to the number of Indigenous employees in that community in Beagle Bay. Out of 18 employees, 13 are Indigenous. The number of Indigenous employees by percentage is 72.22—remarkable. Imagine if all the mining companies could do that as well—wouldn’t that be fantastic? The number of worked hours by Indigenous employees by percentage is 82.07. If I can, I will give you the job descriptions of our Aboriginal employees up there working on this wonderful housing program. There are nine builders labourers, two carpenters, one wall and ceiling fixer and one plumber. Remarkable, fantastic work, Nirrumbuk—keep up the great stuff.

Senator Humphries interjecting—

Senator STERLE —As I was saying, I still have some more information for the Senate on what is going on in the Territory under SIHIP, Senator Humphries. Let’s talk about the Wadeye region, shall we? I would like to share some information with you, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, and those on that side who do not have their fingers in their ears. Thirty-five new houses have been completed at Wadeye, work is underway on the construction of a further 27 and a total of no fewer than 105 new houses are being built at Wadeye.

Senator Humphries interjecting—

Senator STERLE —Oh, did I pronounce ‘Wadeye’ wrongly? I apologise. I will go through it again just in case you were too fixated on my pronunciation: 35 new houses completed, 27 further houses under construction, and a total of 105 houses altogether. Fifty two refurbishments have been completed there as well, and work is continuing on another 14. Then we go to Groote, where six new houses have been completed, construction is continuing on a further 13, and a total of no fewer than 80 new houses will ultimately be constructed. How the other side can condemn a wonderful initiative that employs Indigenous workers I do not know. You stand condemned.