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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4559


Senator SCULLION (10:08 PM) —I stand this evening to throw some light on what I consider to be one of the greatest offences that has been perpetrated against our First Australians, certainly throughout the time that I have been in this place. The Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program, SIHIP—how it operates and how it has been rolled out—seriously exposes the way that the Rudd Labor government operates. We have read much in the media and much has been written about the Kevin Rudd 24/7 style of government, and of course 24/7 does not mean how many days you work and how many hours in the day. This is the spin cycle of spin over substance. This is an absolute demonstration of how not to do it. We have had months and months of announcement and coloured road signs in Tennant Creek, but we have not had a single thing actually happen in Tennant Creek. A couple of refurbishments were started but, before those, the spin had to come up. We had to have the advertising along the major highways to make sure the impression was given to Australians that things were happening.

I read with interest part of the ANAO report into the OzCar program that contained some observations. I refer to Mr McPhee’s comments on page 17:

… the importance of effective implementation to achieving policy goals. Amongst other things, implementation requires effective governance, risk management, procurement and contract management, the right type and quantum of resources, and oversight and review.

He went on to say:

… strength in policy development needs to be matched by strength in program delivery …

Of course, all of those wonderful values—risk management, procurement and contract management and the right sort of resources—really do no good at all when you do not have the outcome at the end of the day in your heart. That is not part of your vision. If your vision is all about just impressing Australians, just running out the spin and substance, you may have achieved that, but you have been caught. The Rudd government has been caught because there are some clear deliverables and, for the benefit of those on the other side, it is called a house. The game is up because houses are not hard to count. As I travelled around the Northern Territory I was appalled by the fact that not a single house has been built; it has been 18 months.

The program is so badly managed that neither the federal minister nor the Northern Territory government minister have the faintest idea of where the program is at. For some time now I have been asking, through the estimates process and through direct letters to the minister, about where we are up to, where the money has gone and when the houses will be built. In effect, Australians have been provided with absolutely nothing. I suspect the government itself does not even know.

We have now had the implosion of the Northern Territory Labor government. I would like to take this opportunity to commend Alison Anderson, not as a member of the Labor Party or in politics or as a member of parliament in the Northern Territory but as a fair dinkum Territorian who is prepared to go through a fair bit of angst and get her nose bloodied at every opportunity in order to ensure that these matters are brought to our attention. If she had not been in the Labor Party they would not have come to our attention, I can promise you that. They tried shutting her up as they do with everybody, but she was brave enough and courageous enough to stand out.

When did this start? In April 2008 the government announced a new housing scheme—a landmark joint housing program between the Australian government and the Northern Territory government. It was landmark; it would deliver vital construction and houses! What a wonderful media statement that was. It was absolutely fantastic. There would be jobs in the 73 Territory Indigenous communities and some in urban areas. The media release stated that work was planned to begin in October 2008, with the Northern Territory government delivering the program. There would be 750 new houses, 230 new houses to replace houses that were going to be demolished, 2,500 housing upgrades, essential infrastructure to support new houses and improvements to living conditions in the town camps. They were the promises, and the people who are living in the most appalling conditions in the world, let alone Australia, listened carefully and told me that they had hope. I think that hope was pretty poorly founded.

Instead of bricks and mortar, by the end of October no work had actually started—but it is okay because we have had another media release! More spin! We had a media release on 28 October saying that there were more houses for Tennant Creek. An additional $6.5 million, and we are not sure where that came from, because it is hard to identify, was going to be provided for new housing—I repeat: new housing—in Tennant Creek for Indigenous people. These funds were in fact in addition to the $30 million that the previous government had been providing through the intervention process. Nothing happened, of course, through the Christmas period. I wandered around the Territory and there was not a house—not a skerrick—just denial. We were all heartened when on 25 February there were some other announcements in terms of the SIHIP program, but at around the same time a Northern Territory news story revealed that in fact construction had still not commenced on a single house.

Paul Henderson, the Chief Minister in the Northern Territory, is quoted as saying that the program was taking a tad longer, but instead of doing something about it he has done the predictable thing and said ‘Let’s announce the first annual report card of the Closing the Gap initiative.’ He detailed how much money had been spent and the recruiting achievements of the government but he did not address a single benchmark in health, education or employment. The Chief Minister was, no doubt, hoping to dazzle people with an announcement of how much had been spent and what had been achieved. But it is difficult even now to put your finger on exactly how much would have been spent. This goes to the core of the Labor government’s failures. We are expected to believe that spending large sums of money is almost equivalent to action. If you chuck in a few media releases and a few signs on the side of the road, it is seen by them—and by Australians—as action indeed.

But Indigenous Australians need houses. They need access to health and education. We all want our children to have opportunities in life. Houses are as important to education and health in an Indigenous context as anything else. You cannot get a good night’s sleep with 21 people living in the same house. It is very hard to avoid ear, nose and throat infections that are going to prevent you from hearing your lessons at school if your shower does not work and you are up to your ankles in crap. That is a very unhygienic place to be and that is why these people are not going ahead. Tragically, those circumstances in the Northern Territory remain completely unchanged.

Indigenous Australians now understand that they cannot live under a promise and they cannot eat a spending announcement. We will slip forward a little bit—we will fast-forward to May 2009, and we are all heartened by yet a further announcement on the construction of houses. There is a bit of admission on the delay of the construction of the houses, but we are told that work is scheduled to start on the Tiwi Islands in May this year—a full seven months from the start date. Unfortunately, history shows that May was yet a further announcement designed to give the illusion of activity and it was destined to be broken. Someone sent me a photo yesterday of the total sum of the construction of the Tiwi Islands—it is a bloody 50-millimetre peg in the ground—


The PRESIDENT —Order! That language is not tolerated; withdraw the word you used.


Senator SCULLION —I withdraw that word, Mr President. The minister responsible for this complete mess, Mr Rob Knight, has come out to destroy the action and has said that the government has met every deadline for the project. This beggars belief. We again sneak forward and we know that, in April 2008, 750 houses will be built. But by June 2009 in Tennant Creek we have the promise of new houses become no houses. On the Tiwi Islands we saw that the promise of 90 new houses and a 62-lot subdivision has been revised to 25 houses and no subdivision. Do you know what the excuse is? The excuse is that somebody forgot to calculate the old GST—terribly sorry about that! We will just sneak an article into the Tiwi Times and say sorry about that! None of it adds up. None of it makes sense and something genuinely needs to be done.

So here we are after two years of Kevin Rudd’s Labor, after the apology statement that I thought at the time was such an important tribute. To be frank, I thought the apology would have to be made by those on that side. It was one of those symbolic things, and the time was right with the people on the Labor side. From the coalition—and I think they tried it on several occasions—it just would not have gone down as well. I believed what the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said: that he would close the gap. He promised to do that. Health and education are very hard to measure. It is hard to know without looking intergenerationally how education and health are going. But it is not hard to measure how many houses have been built. The Prime Minister has promised 750 houses. He has promised relief for our first Australians, the most vulnerable of Australians, and he has delivered absolutely nothing. (Time expired)