Remote Housing Reforms in the Northern Territory

Remote Housing Reforms in the Northern Territory Report

Reports by the Ombudsman

  • Author(s): Alison Larkins
  • Published: 2012
  • Publisher: The Commonwealth Ombudsman

Abstract: The Australian and Northern Territory(NT)governments are undertaking large scale reforms to public housing in remote Indigenous communities in the NT. In addition to substantial investment in housing and related infrastructure, these changes include reforms to land tenure designed to underpin investment in housing and associated infrastructure and to provide a right of access for the purpose of property maintenance. The reforms represent a dramatic change to the way in which housing services are delivered to Indigenous people in remote communities in the NT. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is funded until June 2012to provide an independent and accessible complaint and oversight mechanism in relation to the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) and other Indigenous programs in the NT. To fulfil this role, we conduct outreach to remote Indigenous communities in the NT to inform them about what the Ombudsman does; take and investigate complaints; and obtain feedback about policy, programs and service delivery issues. Over the past two years, concerns about the implementation of the housing reforms have been a key source of complaints to our office. Through our investigations of these complaints, we have identified areas in which further work by the Australian and NT governments would improve service delivery in remote Indigenous housing. In reporting on areas for improvement, we acknowledge that the scale of the reforms and the complex nature of the environment in which they are being delivered present significant challenges for the agencies involved. This report highlights a range of service delivery problems and provides recommendations to address them. In our view, three thematic issues underlie the main problems—communication, IT systems support, and accountability and complaints processes. Our investigations indicated that improvements in these areas would enhance the housing reforms. Throughout the course of investigating complaints about Indigenous housing, we have engaged in some debate with the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs(FaHCSIA)about whether it, Territory Housing, or both agencies, should be responsible for addressing the issues raised. We have held the view that, as the Australian Government is the statutory leaseholder, FaHCSIA, as the administrator of the leases, is accountable for ensuring that its legal responsibilities, in effect as the landlord, are met. This accountability does not diminish because the Australian Government has contracted out these responsibilities to the NT Government or to other providers. FaHCSIA, in its response to our draft report, acknowledged that it holds a high level of responsibility for addressing housing complaints about the management of social housing where the Australian Government administers the community leases. However, in practice FaHCSIA noted that the NT Government had specific responsibilities through a formal housing agreement. FaHCSIA said it had limited levers at its disposal to resolve issues arising from complaints. It is our view that clear accountability mechanisms between the two agencies, mechanisms that provide an avenue for FaHCSIA to exercise its responsibilities as the administrator of the community leases, should have been put in place during the life of the leases. These mechanisms would have allowed FaHCSIA to assure itself that Territory Housing was acting in a way that was consistent with FaHCSIA’s obligations. We note that once the leases expire in August this year, FaHCSIA will no longer be accountable for dealing with the sorts of complaints referred to in this report. While this may change the extent of FaHCSIA’s Indigenous housing responsibilities in the NT, there remains significant scope for improving clarity about the governance and accountability arrangements in this area. In responding to a draft of this report, Territory Housing expressed the view that while we had ‘... noted the endeavours of both Governments and the scale of the reform across remote Indigenous housing in the NT... ’,in some parts of the report we did not ‘... reference the competing priorities and the challenging environment in which the program is being delivered... ’. We do recognise the significance of the reforms currently underway and the difficulties inherent in the environment in which they are being delivered. The observations in this report, and the complaints upon which they are based, provide a rich source of information about how Indigenous people have experienced housing services and opportunities to further improve Indigenous housing outcomes. We hope that this report will make a positive contribution to ongoing improvements in the delivery of housing services to Indigenous people in the NT.

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Suggested Citation
Alison Larkins, 2012, Remote Housing Reforms in the Northern Territory, Report, viewed 30 November 2023,

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