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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4887


Senator SCULLION (2:15 PM) —My question is for the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Evans. In April of 2008 the government announced a new $672 million Indigenous housing program known as the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program that was supposed to see the construction of new houses in remote communities commence in October last year. Given that it is 16 months after the announcement and construction has not started on a single house, how much money has been spent today under the SIHIP and who has received this money?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Scullion for the question. The Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program is the largest scale Indigenous housing program ever undertaken. As Minister Macklin has stated very clearly in recent weeks, the program will deliver 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds and 2,500 refurbishments of houses in remote Northern Territory communities by the end of 2013. It is a new way of delivering housing in remote communities.


Senator Scullion —Mr President, I raise a point of order on relevance. The question went specifically to the amount of money, so the answer should have a dollar sign in front of it. Can you bring the minister to order.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, on the point of order, I was asked a question by Senator Scullion about the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program. In the 32 seconds he allowed me to address the issue, I attempted to talk about that program and its implementation, which was part of the question. I would think he would do me the courtesy of allowing me to finish or at least get more than 32 seconds into the question, if he was serious about the issue.


The PRESIDENT —You have one minute and 28 seconds remaining to answer the question, Senator Evans.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you, Mr President. I think everyone in this chamber treats this issue seriously. I know Senator Scullion has taken a keen interest in these matters over the years and he knows the challenges in this area, as his government found out. I wish that we could actually get a more bipartisan approach in trying to resolve these issues.

This is a large scale housing program. The program will deliver, as well as housing, substantial employment and training outcomes for Indigenous people in remote parts of the Northern Territory, with a key target of 20 per cent of the total workforce across the life of the program.

Senator Scullion makes a claim in his question—as he did yesterday in a speech I think he gave to the Senate—that is just factually wrong. I hope it is not politically motivated, but it is factually wrong. Between April and October last year, the Northern Territory government completed a major tender process to select the alliance consortium of companies that would deliver these works. It was essential, as he knows, that the process was done properly. We have had too much failure and too much mis-spending in this area. It is a five-year program delivering over half a billion dollars worth of capital works and the government needs to ensure the best possible companies were engaged for the work. Governments are also working—


Senator Scullion —Mr President, I raise a point of order. In respect of  the minister’s response a little earlier, I did afford him the time to stop reading a policy statement and provide an answer to the simple question: ‘How much money has been spent to date under this program and who has received the money?’ I have given him a fair crack; I would ask you to bring him to order.


The PRESIDENT —It is not a time to debate, Senator Scullion. You have made your point of order. Senator Evans, you have seven seconds remaining to answer the question.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Clearly I cannot answer in seven seconds.


Senator Parry —Mr President, on a point of order, before the minister gets up and answers the following supplementary questions, could you ensure that he does address the question. Senator Scullion did afford him a great opportunity to answer. He got up very arrogantly at the end of that question and said he didn’t have the time to answer the question. That was the height of arrogance. We would like him to answer that question properly in future.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, if we are going to raise points of order in this place, we should go to what the point of order is. I take that longwinded point of order—it seemed to be, in fact, an interjection—to have been a matter either of a pre-emptive point of order or one of relevance. If it is one of relevance, I can say that in respect of Senator Evans he has been completely relevant to the question. What we now have is an interjection and a re-argument of the facts of the question. Maybe if the questions were better written we might have better responses, with respect.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Evans, you have completed your answer?


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Yes.


Senator SCULLION —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program was a joint program between the Rudd government and the Northern Territory Labor government, is it a fact that the Northern Territory government contributed $100 million to the SIHIP and have budgeted to pay themselves back at 11.4 per cent, or over $76 million, for administration and project management?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —The senator quite rightly indicates that this is a joint territory and Commonwealth program and that there are contributions from both governments. I have information available on the contribution that we will be making to the project in the Northern Territory, which is in the order of $1.7 billion. As to the Northern Territory’s contribution in financial terms, I do not have that information in front of me. I am happy to take it on notice and get back to Senator Scullion as soon as I can with the answer to that part of the question.


Senator SCULLION —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the person appointed to administer the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program provided a briefing to members of the Northern Territory parliament where he was reported as saying that up to 70 per cent of the SIHIP funding will be spent on administration, how much money is budgeted for administration and how much program funding will be spent on actual house construction?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I do not know of that statement or to whom Senator Scullion refers. In this series of questions Senator Scullion has said to me, ‘You have not moved fast enough because you have ensured proper probity and proper tendering processes’ and then he said, ‘Haven’t you gone too quickly and not provided enough surety about not spending too much on administration?’ The point is that this is the largest Indigenous housing program ever undertaken.


Senator Scullion —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I am quite sure the Hansard will reflect that that is not what I asked. I asked whether the minister could provide us with some differentiation between the amount of money spent on the administration of the scheme and how much money was actually spent on building houses.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, I submit there is no point of order. On the first point that was raised by Senator Scullion, if he was misquoted he can take that up after question time, not as a point of order. It is inappropriate to use the point of order to do that. The second point he raised was not to indicate whether there was or was not a point of order but simply to restate the question to the minister. I submit there is no point of order. There is nothing that Senator Scullion has raised which materially even looks like a point of order.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, you have 32 seconds left to answer the question.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —As I was trying to say, this is a huge program. The federal government is making a massive investment in trying to improve the standard of housing in the Northern Territory. As I indicated, they will receive $1.7 billion under the NPA, of which $572 million has been agreed for the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program in an attempt to address the appalling housing conditions that Indigenous people live in in the Northern Territory.