As one remote housing target is met, the NT government turns its attention to Aboriginal homelands

As one remote housing target is met, the NT government turns its attention to Aboriginal homelands
  • PublishedDecember 8, 2023

Harry Rranytjing Wunungmurra said he feels “overwhelmed” and relieved. 

His extended family have moved into a solid house made of concrete and steel that will easily withstand the cyclone season.

“We’ve lived in a previous house, a really old house,” he said.

“It’s great to have a house like this, at this time of the year.”

Air conditioners, shelves and a small Christmas tree are hauled into the house down the street.

Harry Rranytjing Wunungmurra stands outside his home in front of orange bricks.
Harry Rranytjing Wunungmurra said his old house would have struggled in a cyclone.(ABC News: James Elton)

For families that have been living in extremely crowded homes, with people sleeping on balconies in the peak of the territory’s hottest weather, the relief has come just in time for the holiday season.

Target met late, but not as late as feared

The Northern Territory government said these 10 homes represent the crossing of an important threshold.

A five-year funding deal of $1.1 billion, split in half by the NT and Commonwealth governments, was supposed to deliver 1,950 additional bedrooms in remote Indigenous communities and Alice Springs town camps by June this year.

That target was missed, with the NT government citing a delay in the flow of federal funds as well as disruptions to construction from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A person holds and signs the top page in a pile of documents as another person also holds the documents.
Documents were signed to formally hand over the homes.(ABC News: James Elton)

Earlier this year the territory’s remote housing minister Selena Uibo warned her federal counterpart on the deal, Linda Burney, that the target may not be met until early 2024.

But with the keys to 10 houses being handed over to families in Gapuwiyak, the NT government said the commitment has now been met.

“Of course we’ve got more construction underway across our 73 Aboriginal communities, but it’s a good day for that milestone,” Ms Uibo said.

NT minister for remote housing and homelands, Selena Uibo, looks out over remote communities in Arnhem Land.
Remote housing minister Selena Uibo travelled to Gapuwiyak for the opening of the new homes.(ABC News: James Elton)

The government was able to catch up to its target thanks to a surge in construction in the final stretch, Ms Uibo said, after communities restricted entry during the pandemic.

“Just last month in October we hit the milestone of 100 homes in 100 days in the Northern Territory, so our local construction industry is absolutely booming under this program.”

Malarndirri McCarthy, federal Labor senator for the NT, said it was “great to see the government’s investment making a difference on the ground”.

The NT opposition’s shadow minister for housing, Gerard Maley, said families in Gapuwiyak and across the territory “deserved better than this slow, inefficient and evidently mismanaged effort”.

“One wonders if this is a housing initiative or a bottomless pit for taxpayer money.”

‘I need one too’

Local Indigenous builders Wilson and Ritchie watched on as the families moved into the homes they’ve spent the past several years constructing.

A child carries a bag into a house in Gapuwiyak.
Families have moved their belongings into their new, colourful homes.(ABC News: James Elton)

“We’re proud,” Ritchie said.

Many of the people moving in are his relatives.

“First house, green house? My family. Other side? My nephew.”

The NT government said there was a lot more work to do to address overcrowding in remote communities like Gapuwiyak.

Underscoring this, Ritchie and Wilson said they too were on the waiting list for upgraded public housing.

“I need one too,” Ritchie said.

“Maybe next contract, I’m gonna get a new house,” Wilson said.

Homelands on the agenda

The two governments are in the process of negotiating the next long-term deal on remote housing.

The territory wants this one to include, for the first time, public housing in homelands: communities where people live on country, outside towns on Aboriginal land.

These communities have historically not been part of the NT’s remote public housing system because they are normally on land owned by Aboriginal Land Trusts, or within national parks.

Selena Uibo smiles and gives the thumbs up while standing with a child also giving the thumbs up. Both are wearing santa hats.
The NT government said the target of 1,950 additional bedrooms has been delivered just in time for Christmas.(ABC News: James Elton)

Ms Uibo said the territory was working with land councils to find a way through, by making it “not as complex” for the federal government to invest.

“The cultural diversity across the territory is really highlighted when we look at homelands,” Ms Uibo said.

She said a housing policy for homelands could also be linked with expanding access for the NDIS in those communities, many of which are ageing.

Aboriginal Housing NT chief executive Skye Thompson said the approximately 400 homelands across the territory have not seen new housing for “almost a decade”, and urged the two governments to work together on building some.

“This measure alone would significantly reduce overcrowding and homelessness in the NT.”


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