Health risks from Indigenous housing shortcuts

Joint statement:

Bare concrete floors in bathrooms and toilets in a Gillard Government‐refurbished Santa Teresa home fail every test of hygiene and raise serious concerns about value for money in Northern Territory communities.

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Development and Employment Senator Marise Payne and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Health Andrew Laming have criticised the Gillard Labor government for continuing to mismanage the delivery of adequate housing for remote Indigenous Australians.

During a recent visit to Santa Teresa, a Northern Territory community 80kms south of Alice Springs, Dr Laming said he was appalled to see the health related conditions in homes refurbished under the Government’s troubled Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP).

“I saw untiled showers and toilets with rough concrete floors, a total absence of tiling and electrical wires draped across beams along verandas.

“Worse still, these areas actually had floor tiles before SIHIP but now after the refurbishment, are worse than they were before contractors arrived.

“It would be impossible to keep these essential amenities dry or clean. This makes cleaning virtually impossible and raises the risk of a range of infections.

“Closing the Gap on health cannot occur until housing is provided to all remote communities without delay and finished to a decent standard for living which supports a healthy lifestyle,” Dr Laming said.

Senator Payne said the shoddy renovations are yet another concern in relation to the SIHIP, which under Labor has been plagued by budget blowouts and obscene consultancy fees.

“The health problems associated with these sub‐standard renovations will also exacerbate the problems of overcrowding in Indigenous housing,” Senator Payne said.

“It is bad enough that there is still overcrowding in houses under the SIHIP program. How are Indigenous children attending school supposed to get a decent night’s sleep or a home‐cooked meal in these conditions?

“The SIHIP program under Labor has been plagued by problems from the start, with $45 million being spent on ‘community consultation’ before a single brick was laid.

“The budget blowouts also meant that 230 houses that were to be demolished under the scheme would instead only be renovated. We can only hope the example of Santa Teresa isn’t repeated across all of these.

“Indigenous Australians deserve better than this. Until we can provide safe and clean housing in remote areas, closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage will remain a pipedream.”

Senator Payne and Dr Laming urged the Commonwealth Government to investigate the status of refurbishment in the community, value for money and where work is incomplete, ensure that rectification is carried out immediately.