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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11886

Mr HALE (3:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the Australian government’s commitment to closing the gap?

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the member for Solomon for his question and for his very real commitment to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Australia has taken a very important step in the national effort to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Council of Australian Governments has now signed up to a $4.6 billion program of Indigenous reforms over the next 10 years. This is a landmark agreement and a major step forward for Indigenous Australians. Indigenous housing is fundamental to these reforms. The Australian government is now going to provide $1.94 billion in new funding for major Indigenous housing reforms.

In some remote communities, we have more than a dozen people living in a single home. Conditions are worse than basic: kitchens where you cannot cook a meal; bathrooms where you cannot bathe a child. Decent housing is critical to give Indigenous children a fair start in life. The reforms that were agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments on Saturday will mean that 4,200 new homes can be built and that there will be 4,800 major upgrades to homes. Some 9,000 Indigenous families will benefit. Australian governments have agreed to clear, new responsibilities to drive this change. The states and territories will take responsibility for tenancy management and repairs and maintenance. The Commonwealth funds will see new houses built, major upgrades done and housing assets made good.

The reforms will also see the rebuilding of positive community values and behaviour. There will be proper tenancy management arrangements put in place. Tenants will be expected to pay their rent and pay it on time. They will be expected to cover the cost of any damage and be good neighbours. The reforms will also boost economic development as we see construction contractors required to employee Indigenous people.

The Council of Australian Governments also agreed to other important closing the gap measures. As the minister for health has already indicated, there will be $1.6 billion over four years to reduce chronic disease, $291 million over six years to improve the delivery of remote services, and $228 million over five years for jobs and economic development. All of these commitments made on Saturday build on the $564 million that was agreed in October for Indigenous early childhood development.

As well, the Council of Australian Governments reached social housing and homelessness agreements that the Minister for Housing has worked very hard on. These will help Indigenous people in urban and regional Australia meet their housing needs. The Prime Minister’s national apology created a new climate of hope and commitment in this country for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. COAG’s $4.6 billion investment reflects this and is a very important step forward in closing the gap.