Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Issues
23 Feb 2010
The Federal Government has finally announced it will repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act. But it has left Muckaty Station outside Tenant Creek in the NT as the most likely target for the national radioactive waste dump.
The repeal legislation is, if anything, more coercive than the bill it replaces.
Section 11 of the bill explicitly overrides any state or territory laws that would hinder site selection. Section 12 then eliminates Aboriginal interests (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984) and green interests (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) from the process of choosing a site. Section 13 eliminates the property rights of any individual unlucky enough to be in the path of the dump or its access corridors.
The remaining provisions in the bill vest total discretion in the hands of the Minister to pursue the sole current nomination at Muckaty Station.
The Greens will use all means at our disposal in the Parliament and the community to make sure that the radioactive waste management debate moves past these dismal arguments over which disadvantaged Aboriginal community should be targeted for cash payments in exchange for eternally toxic radioactive waste.
We will stand with the people who have put up a spirited defence of their country since this unwelcome proposal first saw the light of day.
This bill will be subjected to the scrutiny of a Senate inquiry. This could be the first step toward getting an honest process in place after 20 years of coercive false starts. Submissions are due by 15 March to find out more about how to have your say click here.
For more information:
• Make a submission to the Inquiry.
• Read Scott's media statements on the issue (23 February and 24 February 2010)
• National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010
• Watch or read Scott's Question in Senate question time
• Brief senate speech on the waste dump
• The 2008 senate inquiry into radioactive waste legislation
• The Beyond Nuclear Initiative
• ACF No waste campaign
• Inhabited Exhibition
23 Feb 2010
Senator Ludlam's question without notice on the proposed nuclear waste dump at Mukaty Station in the Northern Territory.
12 Feb 2010
Greens Senator WA Scott Ludlam will tell a rally in Perth tomorrow (SAT 13 Feb) that the Greens will continue opposing Northern Territory Intervention measures introduced by former prime minister John Howard and since extended across the nation under Kevin Rudd.
The rally, organised by the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, is calling for an end to the Intervention and the restoration of the Racial Discrimination Act, suspended by the Federal Government to enable it to conduct actions that constitute racial discrimination.
18 Dec 2009
Senator Ludlam asked:
- Why has the Minister not formally responded to the recommendations of the 2008 Senate Inquiry into the repeal of the CRMWA? When can we expect to see this response?
- Can you confirm if the Minister has received correspondence from members of the Muckaty Land Trust dated 8 May 2009 expressing deep concerns over any federal moves for a radioactive waste facility at this site and seeking an on country meeting with the Minister?
- Has the Minister responded to this letter? If not, why not - surely this is an important matter and these are key stakeholders: why the delay?
- Has the Minister/Department sought any internal or external advice in relation to the issues raised in this correspondence?
18 Dec 2009
Senator Ludlam asked:
Senator LUDLAM-This question takes us back a little way to the signing of a contract between the federal government, the Northern Land Council and the Muckaty Land Trust involving an initial payment of $200,000 to a small group of traditional owners in the territory-this relates to the fourth nomination that you spoke of before-to be administered by the Northern Land Council. Previous requests to view that contract have been denied, with commercial-in-confidence cited as the reason. Given that that contract is for an amount exceeding the Murray motion Senate requirement of 2001, can you clarify the reasons for that document being considered commercial-in-confidence?
26 Oct 2009
ESTIMATES TRANSCRIPT - OCT 22 2009
NRAS, HOUSING AFFORDABILITY FUND, HOMELESSNESS, and SOCIAL HOUSING
NRAS & TAX STATUS OF HOUSING PROVIDERS
Senator LUDLAM-It does sound very much like an interim solution if you are advising the providers to go and seek a ruling from the ATO based on their circumstances. Does that set the matter at rest as far as you are concerned or would you seek to actually have it concluded so that all these individual organisations-some of them quite stretched-are not having to go and seek advice which can take quite some time to come back?
Ms Winzar-Bear in mind we had legislation which gave that interim protection during the establishment phase of NRAS, but there were still a number of cases where the complexity of the organisations' business arrangements were such that they felt the need themselves to seek a private ruling from the tax office about how they would stand. It is not simply a question about amending the tax law to provide an exemption or an extension of some sort of the existing provision because clearly that has not quite worked in all cases anyway.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you still in dialogue and negotiations with Treasury or the ATO to try to bring this situation to a more satisfactory conclusion?
Ms Winzar-Yes, as recently as the day before yesterday we were still in discussions with the tax office on this.
Senator LUDLAM-So, as far as you are concerned, it has not been set at rest yet?
Ms Winzar-We would like more clarity around it; we would certainly like to be able to prosecute a public policy position which is as certain as we can make it for NRAS applicants and potential applicants.
Senator LUDLAM-Thank you.
Senator LUDLAM-I will pick up where Senator Payne has left off on NRAS. The last time we were here,in May or June, we spoke about the regional split where NRAS properties were being constructed or purchased. I am wondering what you can tell us at the moment-do not read through a long list; table what you have-about postcode, suburb, region and characteristics. As you will no doubt be familiar, I am interested in inner city, middle ring, outer metro and regional allocation of NRAS properties.
Ms Finnigan-This is rounds 1 and 2, for incentives that have either been accepted or, from round 2, were under offer?
Ms Winzar-Of the 10,540 incentives offered at the moment, it is just over 40 per cent in inner metropolitan. It is about 29 per cent in outer metropolitan. It comes to roughly 12.5 per cent in provincial, which is outside the major regional centres. In rural it is about 21 per cent.
Senator LUDLAM-We are going to test you a bit and ask about some very specific places. You will hear a fair bit from me about this this afternoon. Having just visited the Pilbara, with some of the most stressed housing markets in the country, as you are no doubt aware, can you tell us about the areas of Karratha, Port and South Hedland, Broome and Newman-those five. I know it might take a while to fish this out, but I thought I would put it to you now. Can you give us a sense of how many incentives, if any, are allocated in those townships?
Ms Finnigan-There have been 24 incentives offered in the Broome area out of those locations listed in the Pilbara.
Senator LUDLAM-Broome is the only one that you know of. In terms of applications, is there anything in the pipeline for those areas?
Ms Finnigan-I would have to follow that up.
Senator LUDLAM-If you could. My understanding is that round 3, as we have already discussed, is more targeted at institutional investors for large-scale-1,000 or larger-developments. What is going to happen in these regional towns that I do not think would be suitable for developments of that scale? Can we draw the conclusion that this scheme is not targeted at them or is not being taken up in those very stressed housing markets?
Ms Winzar-No. The institutional investment is just one focus of this longer, more open round 3. The other couple of dimensions that Ms Finnigan mentioned included, for example, redevelopment or development of government owned land or any projects that could effectively partner with the Social Housing Initiative Stimulus Package. Those are the three main areas of concentration.
Senator LUDLAM-It is not true to say that time is running out for those places. Do you have any views on why they are not being taken up? Housing Affordability is a key measure for the Commonwealth government and it does not seem to be hitting the ground in the most stressed housing markets in the country.
NRAS & MINING REGIONS
Ms Winzar-The maths almost works against a scheme such as NRAS in some of those areas. If, for example, in Port Hedland an average house rents for $1,000 a week, our requirement is that the house rents for 20 per cent or more below market rent and so the investor is going to forgo a $200 a week take on the rent. That is about $10,000 a year. In exchange, we will give them an incentive of $8,672.
Senator LUDLAM-That is proportionately a much larger hit on people.
Ms Winzar-That is right. It is not going to be the answer for those places where rents are astronomical.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you give us any ideas what the answer might be? A couple of years ago the Senate housing affordability committee reported on this quite extensively. The situation is worse now. This is your keystone rental affordability policy. What else is there? What can we offer people in those places?
Ms Winzar-You no doubt have some better data than I around this, but in Port Hedland particularly the cost of an average house was something in the order of $700,000 to purchase, and even the construction costs were well above the $450,000 mark. You would hope that the power of the market would see that if it costs $450,000 to build a house and you can get a lot more if you sell it, there might be a market response in an area like that that sees developers going in and building houses, and even building houses at somewhat of a lower price point. That has not happened. I do know that the Port Hedland council is intending to roll out 600 or 700 extra building blocks over the course of this year and next year, which might help. From the Commonwealth government's perspective, we did not receive a proposal under the Housing Affordability Fund for funding from that source to offset some of the infrastructure costs from any of the places that you listed.
Senator LUDLAM-You did not?
Ms Winzar-No, I do not believe we did.
Senator LUDLAM-You are not wandering around spruiking that. It is incumbent on them to come to you with a proposal?
Ms Winzar-We do spruik a little. We wrote to all councils, regional and metropolitan, alerting them to that. We have had good coverage in some of the industry magazines about the program, but for whatever reason they have not picked it up in that first round.
Dr Harmer-There are other programs, such as the Nation Building Stimulus Plan for social housing.
Senator LUDLAM-Just before you go on, my understanding of the way we were going to proceed was to stay with the NRAS bracket for the moment.
Dr Harmer-You asked about any other initiatives and there is certainly significant funding out of that that will go to that area. I just thought I would make that point, but we can come back to it.
Senator LUDLAM-I certainly intend to. For the moment we can agree that in really stretched housing markets-and I am sure the Pilbara in WA is not alone; very similar issues occur in South East Queensland, for example-that particular sort of market mechanism is not going to hit the ground?
Ms Winzar-My personal view is that I do not think the maths stacks up for an investor.
Senator LUDLAM-That is fairly clear.
Mr Tongue-It does not stack up for an investor now but may in future once, say, Port Hedland land release occurs. I think native title issues are being resolved around Broome and so on. A large part of the problem in that part of the world has been lack of land supply, which looks like it is starting to be resolved. I am cautious, though, because it seems to take an incredibly long time.
Senator LUDLAM-There have been some very peculiar issues going on.
Dr Harmer-What Mr Tongue is saying is that we would be reluctant to say that the NRAS model is not appropriate for those locations. It is a matter of time, market conditions, land supply-a whole range of things.
Senator LUDLAM-Is there anything that you are able to do to make the NRAS scheme, in particular, more viable and attractive in places like this, or are you not looking at tuning or tweaking the settings or the numbers?
Ms Winzar-We do not have any work in scope at the moment to amend NRAS in any way. Obviously the main problem would be that it would cost us a lot to increase the level of the incentive to make it pay a dividend to investors in the same way in places such as Karratha, Port Hedland or South Hedland. I do not think we would be inclined to do that. There are some other options, as Mr Tongue has mentioned, including the land release issue and the Housing Affordability Fund. There are other options that can be used to lower the price of housing in those areas.
Senator LUDLAM-We will get to those. I will come back to the Pilbara shortly. Can I confirm that you have accepted my request to take on notice the postcode, suburb and so on of NRAS incentives allocated to date? You have given me a very broad regional split.
Ms Winzar-Yes. I did not realise that you wanted it by postcode. We can certainly do that. The only caveat I would say is that it will be a point in time picture.
Senator LUDLAM-That is understood.
Ms Winzar-If applicants need to substitute dwellings then it may involve moving to another postcode.
Senator LUDLAM-Yes. That is okay. You did this for us last time so we will gradually build up a picture.
Ms Finnigan-For round 2 the postcode information would be for offers only, because most people have not yet responded to the offer. There could be some changes to the information that we provide you.
NRAS & SUSTAINBILITY
Senator LUDLAM-I will keep that caveat in mind. We will move on, because there is quite a bit here. During the last round of estimates you indicated that there is an extensive checklist-I think those were the words used-of sustainability and accessibility criteria on NRAS applications. Do you have a copy of that checklist with you today?
Senator LUDLAM-While you are finding that, can someone give us an idea of how applications for round 1 and 2 have performed against the sustainability components of that checklist?
Ms Winzar-I am not sure that we are really in a position to give you hard data on the second. I think last time we were here at estimates we indicated that we would be asking the successful round 1 and round 2 applicants to complete the checklist and return it to us. I am fairly certain that we have not collated the final results of that yet.
Senator LUDLAM-When you say ‘successful applicants', are you giving up the incentives and then waiting for them to come back?
Ms Winzar-That is correct.
Senator LUDLAM-Is that before the money is handed over or while they are busy building places?
Ms Winzar-I suppose there are two processes. Their performance against sustainability objectives is tested in the application process, but that is not a drop dead test.
Senator LUDLAM-I understand.
Ms Winzar-It is a ranking issue. It is just one of the weightings in the criteria. We will then make an offer.In rounds 1 and 2 we did not require detailed information to be provided at the time the offer was accepted, so we are going back to applicants to get that information.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you in a position to table the checklist that you were just looking up?
Senator LUDLAM-We may already have that on record. I do not know whether that has changed.
Ms Winzar-No, we have not made any changes since you saw the last version.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you table the data that is connected on the NRAS properties and their compliance with the sustainability standards to whatever form that you have it collated currently? What we will need to know is exactly what variables or conditions you are tracking.
NRAS & INSTUTUTIONAL INVESTORS
I am aware that we are targeting the large institutional investors for round 3. I just have two questions. Firstly, how is that going? Have you put into place the panel of advisers that Professor Disney was promoting? Last time we asked about this you said you were considering the merits of that idea. Has that concept moved along?
Ms Winzar-A panel of advisers?
Senator LUDLAM-Yes. It is something that Professor Disney and a few others have been promoting for some time, which is an independent three to five expert person panel to act as the interface between the department and the large institutional investors and advise the Commonwealth. I put that to you last time and you said you were considering the merits. I am wondering whether that has been done.
Ms Winzar-My understanding is that we have engaged some external expertise to undertake that role and to liaise with large institutional investors on our behalf.
Senator LUDLAM-That is great. How do we refer to those folk? Do they have any formal standing?
Ms Winzar-No. Effectively they are a contracted service to the department.
Senator LUDLAM-What details can you provide on who they are, what you are paying them and so on?
Dr Harmer-We probably would not provide who they are, but we can provide you with numbers and locations.
Senator LUDLAM-Is it a particular consultancy or have you targeted a few key people?
Ms Winzar-We have not selected some of those who might necessarily put themselves forward for that role. We have chosen people we believe have the expertise to do that liaison for us and have some experience with the industry.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you undertake to provide for us as much detail as you are able-or whether they have requested their participation be confidential-to tell us about who is doing that? We were supportive of that recommendation, so I am not taking a shot that you have done it.
Dr Harmer-The only reason I was cautious about it was that if we were to provide names we would have to get their approval for it, which is just another part of the exercise in providing you with the information. That just takes some time for us.
Senator LUDLAM-If that consent is offered that would be helpful.
NRAS & NET GROWTH
One of the key things that I want to pursue this afternoon in NRAS and in the social housing spending is the target in the states and territories for net growth-properties the Commonwealth is funding, minus what the states and territories might be taking away. I have an example that I will put to you in a moment about what is occurring in the Pilbara. Do you have net growth targets across all categories of affordable housing within the Commonwealth Housing portfolio?
Ms Winzar-No, we do not.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you tell us why that would be? I will give you some specific examples when we get to the social housing spend in the Pilbara. If state Affordable Housing Authorities are busy selling down housing stock at the same time as the Commonwealth is putting up funding to increase supply, you will meet your performance indicators and yet the net gain will not be as much as is being reported. Is that clear?
Ms Winzar-Yes, that is clear.
Senator LUDLAM-Is there a reason why there are not net growth targets, because surely that is what this is really about?
Ms Winzar-I can approach that question from this angle. The National Affordable Housing Agreement with the states and territories sets some affordability benchmarks, population level indicators, and so over time we are aiming to improve the housing affordability outcomes of the whole population. We would certainly be looking at a number of contributors to that, both public housing and community housing funded by government; NRAS plays into that space as well, as do the additional dwellings under the Social Housing Initiative. That is where we will measure our progress. I suppose you could ask: why do we not set net targets? One of the reasons that we will not is that it is important to take the whole of the housing market in scope when thinking about the affordability outcomes. That is both the private rental end as well as the government funded public or community housing end, or the NRAS end.
Dr Harmer-In addition, we would sometimes be in danger of locking in public housing stock in locations that either might not be suitable or where the state has a principle to diversify and spread public housing dwellings within the city or area. Also, to reconfigure their needs according to the demand for different sized dwellings. There is a whole range of reasons why it would not be a good idea to lock in the existing stock on top of that. We are reasonably flexible. As Ms Winzar said, the Commonwealth has an objective at the moment to add to the stock particularly of lower cost housing, thereby improving affordability.
Senator LUDLAM-What if the state housing authorities are selling down affordable housing as fast as you are building new ones? I am not trying to be evasive. I will give you the example that I have to hand. It is not hypothetical at all. This came out in estimates hearings in Western Australia in July. Homeswest has sold down 187 properties in Western Australia.
What is occurring in Port Hedland, which as I said before is one of the most stressed housing markets in the country, is that they are selling affordable housing properties in Port Hedland, which is way over the average in terms of the public housing proportion of the total housing stock, because traditionally it has been a mining town and a lot of it has been provided at low cost. They are selling it down to try to head back to the national average or the state average, which I think is nine per cent. Affordable housing is being renovated, the tenants are being moved on, and it is being sold at market prices-half a million dollars and upwards. The proportion of affordable housing in Hedland as a result of those policies is diminishing because the state can provide more housing in outer metro Perth. You could build three for the price of one that you are selling in Port Hedland. The net result is that in that particular market there is less affordable housing at the end of that economically rational process than there was at the start. That is pretty fine grained. That is one regional town. Are you following that sort of behaviour and is there anything you are able to do about it?
Ms Winzar-We do not monitor down to submarket level-down to district or region. We look at the state figures in toto. As Dr Harmer has indicated, there is always a process of sale and repurchase or construction in public housing. Nationally over any 12-month period there would be something like 3,000 to 3,500 extra public housing dwellings built. There is a continual replacement of stock and in some cases that is sold to tenants. In others it is sold into the private market at market prices to fund other developments. We would see that as a positive thing, but I take your point about the impact that it would have in an area such as Port Hedland in terms of overall housing affordability.
Senator LUDLAM-As long as the Commonwealth is only tracking indicators spread over the state as a whole it will be masked to you if within particular markets, including these really stressed ones, the rational position of the state housing authorities is to sell down public housing in expensive markets and build it on the fringes of Perth, which has issues all of its own. You are saying that you are not interested in intervening at that level?
Dr Harmer-We do not have any levers or any authority to intervene at that level.
Senator LUDLAM-I would say that you do have all the levers.
Dr Harmer-There is also a debate you could have about the West Australian government or the department must be making a decision that, if they have a lot of people on the waiting list in outer metropolitan Perth that they can house with the funds they make, it may be that you are then trading off a tenant who is forced into a situation where they are paying slightly more rent or whatever in Port Hedland versus housing two or three homeless families in outer Perth. They are difficult trade-offs. They are decisions that are very difficult to make from Canberra.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you see why I am coming to you with a question about net gain and loss?
Senator LUDLAM-Your figures at the end of the year will look great. We will have increased the supply of affordable housing in Western Australia as a whole and we will have further stretched the most stressed housing markets in the country. We are taking this up with the state housing authorities. I am not trying to say that it is all your fault, but you do have all the levers that you want, because you are providing a huge tranche of funding to the state authorities.
Dr Harmer-We are increasing the supply of affordable housing in Western Australia.
Senator LUDLAM-You are able to put all manner of conditions on the regional distribution of the housing. I would not have thought there was anything that said you cannot have that.
Dr Harmer-As far as I am aware, no Australian Commonwealth government in the past has, through any sort of agreement, forced state or territory governments to build in particular areas.
Senator LUDLAM-No, but I am proposing a pretty sound reason for you to do so.
Mr Tongue-I also note that in Western Australia the state government has also been very active in the home purchase market at the affordable end. They have some quite interesting schemes that they have been operating. You would need to look at the whole housing system, as I am sure they are doing in terms of stock management, to make a judgement about affordability. So it is not just the things we might do under NRAS; it is also what the state government might do in terms of its affordable product and how the first home boost works in that market, and it also links up with supply-
Senator LUDLAM-There are Aboriginal families in regional mining towns living 14 or 15 people to smaller homes who are being moved on so that those homes can be put onto the housing market and sold into the private market so that affordable housing can be provided in the outskirts of Perth. That is actually a dynamic that is occurring at the moment.
Senator PAYNE-And it has been some time since that report.
Senator LUDLAM-That is right. It is nearly two years since that report. The government has just issued a response to that. I questioned the minister on this when we were passing the stimulus package, so this is again in the context of the social housing spend. What will you do if the states and territories are not meeting their benchmarks? The minister was pretty clear-I will fish the quote out later-and said: ‘We will withhold the funds. That is the lever.'
Ms Winzar-That is absolutely true-we will-but those benchmarks are not set at any level below state or territory aggregate.
Senator LUDLAM-I propose to you now that it would be an urgent priority that that does begin to occur. It is not just a Western Australian thing. I am familiar with that market, but housing affordability is not smooth across the entire community, as you well know. I did not intend to go into quite so much detail, but I ask whether you will take it on board-and I will put this to the minister as well-that we do start taking a very serious look at putting conditions on regional and, if necessary, subregional housing markets.
Dr Harmer-It is always open for you to put a submission to government about a change of policy.
Senator LUDLAM-I have just done so, but I will pursue that with the minister.
HOUSING AFFORDABILITY FUND (HAF)
Senator LUDLAM-If I put a couple of questions to you about the Housing Affordability Fund, are the right people here? The Housing Affordability Fund is a $512 million fund over five years, 2008-13, and I think that is about infrastructure and enabling fast-tracking of development or infrastructure approvals and that kind of thing. We are only a year into that funding, but can you give us an example of how much has been expended so far, how that fund is tracking along and how happy or otherwise you are about the applications you are getting for that fund?
Ms Winzar-Just by way of overview, we have run only one competitive round of the Housing Affordability Fund so far. As I indicated before, we have got about 25 projects funded out of that round. In this financial year to 30 September we have paid out $39.81 million. In terms of how many dwellings that will benefit, the 25 projects concerned cover a proposed 5,157 dwellings as part of the developments or redevelopments through the scope. They range in size from a project which is about 1,200 dwellings in the town of Gawler in South Australia through to some quite small ones in I think Salisbury, again in South Australia-it is a redevelopment project of around about 11 dwellings-which HAF is supporting.
The range of projects that are covered vary quite a lot. You might just be interested to know that in terms of their geographic distribution-and I will include here the three urban renewal projects around the broad-acre housing estates as well-we are talking about 28 projects in toto. Across the states, we had one in ACT, seven in New South Wales, one project in the Northern Territory, five in Queensland, five in South Australia, four in Tasmania, two in Victoria and three in Western Australia. In terms of their metropolitan/regional split for example, there were nine inner metropolitan projects, there were 10 outer metro projects, one in provincial areas and eight in rural areas. Of the three in Western Australia, one was rural and two were outer metropolitan.
Senator LUDLAM-There are two parts to this question. First of all, have you been swamped with applications? There is a pot of money there. Are you overwhelmed with people seeking that funding? And what are you looking for in applicants?
Ms Winzar-The purpose of the fund essentially is to try to reduce housing costs for new home buyers. That is its primary objective there. There are a couple of ways that can happen. We can either use the HAF money to offset some of the infrastructure that supports the development or the redevelopment. Things like sewerage or pipelines, or perhaps roads et cetera. The other thing that it can be used for is reform projects which aim to tighten up the development, planning and approval process. That is where a number of those electronic development application proposals go to that particular objective.
Senator LUDLAM-It is not policy advice? That is funding for systems that would lead to applications-
Ms Winzar-That is right. So it is pretty open. As to infill or greenfield sites, we are pretty neutral. We have a preference for projects that target the affordable end of the housing market but broadly speaking it is about increasing housing supply and offsetting those purchase costs for the buyer.
Senator LUDLAM-What proportion of applications is being found to be successful?
Ms Winzar-The process was that we had over 90-odd expressions of interest in HAF round 1. We shortlisted those down to 33 and we finally approved 25 of those and rejected eight.
Senator LUDLAM-It does not sound like there has been a huge demand then, or am I reading that wrong?
Ms Winzar-No. I think our expressions of interest were reasonably up there. I think 90-odd was a good start for the first round of the program. Our key promotion of the program was direct mail and contact with councils and city administrations and we did get a bit of exposure in industry magazines as well.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you targeting particular markets or particular areas?
Ms Winzar-We did not in round 1. We were open to any good proposal that came our way.
Senator LUDLAM-Do you have any sustainability or locational criteria attached as you do to different degrees with NRAS or the social housing spending such as access to public transport, water-sensitive urban design, energy-anything at all?
HAF and SUSTAINBILITY CRITERIA
Ms Winzar-Yes, we did have a set of criteria around round 1 that did look at proximity to transport and did take into account sustainability dimensions. I would have to chase up exactly what they were for you. I can probably do that later on today.
Senator LUDLAM-I would appreciate that. Presuming they are not confidential documents, could you just table for us what you were looking for in regard to energy, water, accessibility, public transport and so on? Are you able to table the successful applicants for round 1 by name of developer, project and location?
Ms Winzar-Yes, I believe I can.
Senator LUDLAM-Are they in the public domain already or is that information that normally you would not be providing?
Ms Winzar-I am advised they have all been announced publicly, so it would be on the public record somewhere.
Senator LUDLAM-Even if you could just point to the ‘somewhere' we can chase that. What we are looking for, I suppose, is the way that you assessed those against the criteria, which may not be in the public domain. You picked that one because of the water aspects, that one for energy, and so on, so how they performed against the benchmarks that you set.
Ms Winzar-Just let me check that I have got that right? As well as the successful applicants, you want to know how they ranked against each of the criteria; is that correct?
Senator LUDLAM-Effectively, yes, to the limits of what you are able to produce as to why those particular ones found their way to the top of the list.
Ms Winzar-I am not sure I can give you that level of detail about the individual assessments of each project, but I can give you a brief description of the key features of the project such as the purpose of it, the cost of it and who the proponent was.
Senator LUDLAM-Okay, we will start with that. We will see what degree of information that provides. I think you have already given us some information on the number of dwellings delivered or benefited. I think that was right at the outset.
Ms Winzar-Yes. I am advised that details of the successful applicants are all available listed on the FaHCSIA website.
Senator LUDLAM-Is there information available on the median sales price for properties being sold in developments assisted by the HAF as compared with median sales price for the suburb that they are in? What that would tell us, if that information is available, is whether we are funding, as you are hoping, low-cost, more affordable places, or not?
Ms Winzar-That information would have been sought at various levels of granularity through the application process. I can tell you that the average savings per dwelling across all of the 5,000 projects is around about $18,000 on the purchase price of a house, which is certainly within the scope that we were expecting to begin with.
Senator LUDLAM-Is that passed on in full? Is that completely passed on to the buyer or is that being-
Ms Winzar-Yes, that is the saving that we expect to be passed on to the buyer, and that is essentially the purpose of the HAF.
Senator LUDLAM-Are you then able to provide for us on notice, or table for us, the price differential between the developments that were funded relative to the surrounding environment or surrounding suburbs. I would appreciate that. How many projects selected provided dwellings targeting Indigenous households, which I think was your third criterion?
Ms Winzar-In HAF itself I do not believe there were any projects that we would regard as targeting Indigenous buyers because they are development proposals in a suburb or a part of a suburb.
Senator LUDLAM-Having just visited a couple of Aboriginal communities in the north-west-some of these places are extremely housing stressed-did you get any applications for infrastructure through the fund?
Ms Winzar-No, we did not. We did have in mind particularly the need to communicate the availability of the Housing Affordability Fund to shires that had large concentrations of Indigenous residents and to, for example, deeds of grant in trust communities in states where that was the Indigenous community government that was in place.
Senator LUDLAM-To your knowledge, though, you are not aware of any requests for funding through the HAF from Aboriginal communities per se?
Ms Winzar-We did not receive any.
Senator LUDLAM-But they would be eligible?
Ms Winzar-They would be eligible. There is no reason why not.
Proceedings suspended from 3.29 pm to 3.48 pm
CHAIR-We will continue our questions now in Outcome 2: Housing. Senator Ludlam.
HAF - CONCERNS WITH INFRASTRUCTURE & MAJOR DEVELOPERS
Senator LUDLAM-I have got a couple more on the HAF, so maybe we will stay there. Then I am going to dodge back into a couple of other things, including homelessness. This might seem like a bit of a basic question. If you were cynical, you could say that this funding is going to developers to provide infrastructure that they should already be providing. How are you sure that the value is actually being passed on in terms of the affordability of the properties as they are sold?
Ms Winzar-We do require the developers or the proponent-because it is not always the developers that we are funding, in a number of cases we are funding the city council or the shire council-to essentially acquit the grant, because there are some sizable amounts of funding being provided, and to demonstrate to us that the savings have been passed on to the home purchasers. They would do that by giving us an indication of the sort of data that you sought before, which is prices for houses in those developments versus prices in the surrounding areas.
Senator LUDLAM-I think they will really tell the story. There is one example I am aware of where $4.7 million was provided to Delfin Lend Lease to upgrade a road. I do find it a bit difficult to get my head around how housing affordability funding could be spent on a road; I am presuming there are other examples like that.
Ms Winzar-The range of proposals included, as I indicated, sewerage infrastructure. Road infrastructure would also be in scope. We had an application for a bridge which was, in part, to open up a new housing estate which would deliver a couple of thousand extra dwellings. If it is something which would facilitate a substantial increase in supply then we would look at it. Obviously, the scale of funding is commensurate with the number of dwellings that we expect to be delivered and the quantum of savings to be passed on to home purchasers.
Mr Lamont-Development contributions are often major impediments, obviously, to bring forward supply. The issue of what is contained within development contributions varies significantly across local government jurisdictions and across state governments. Part of the objective of HAF was to reduce development contributions where they were unfairly levied on new development or to discount development contributions to provide more affordable housing. The example that Ms Winzar has provided in terms of the road which may have serviced surrounding amenity would be debated in some sectors about whether the cost of that upgrade should have fallen exclusively on that new development or whether it should have been falling more broadly across the community. Increasingly, new estates or infill development are being forced to carry, if you like, the cost of major road upgrades which service a broader area of the community; that was one of the intentions behind the Housing Affordability Fund.
Senator LUDLAM-I do not have the figures in front of me but the Commonwealth and states collectively spend billions of dollars a year on road funding. Does it seem a little perverse that housing affordability funding is going to top up those budgets in order to bring certain kinds of development online?
Mr Lamont-Where you can demonstrate that development contributions that would ordinarily flow straight through to the purchaser of a new estate can be reduced through the Housing Affordability Fund, I think there is certainly merit.
Senator LUDLAM-We are going to pick on that particular example-it sounds as though you know the one I mean-and ask you to provide on notice for us some more detail about the merits of that particular tranche of funding.
Ms Winzar-Perhaps if I tell you that the funding of $4.27 million to Delfin Lend Lease was for a project in St Mary's western precinct which was stage 1 of a larger development. The extension of the northern road was to enable the subdivision of 825 dwellings to be built and, of those, 250 dwellings are going to be pitched at the affordable end of the housing market. The average saving for each of those home purchasers will be $22,600.
Senator LUDLAM-Great. That is exactly what I assume the policy was designed for. Did anybody talk to the local government authority or to the state government in that area about providing road funding for that development so that it did not have to come out of affordable housing funding?
Ms Winzar-HAF proposals require the concurrence of both the state government and the local council before they proceed.
Senator LUDLAM-That is not quite what I asked; the concurrence is one thing but did anybody propose to the state government that they take some of the funding out of their road funding budget, which I presume would be substantial, rather than it coming out of the Housing Affordability Fund?
Ms Winzar-That was not a consideration of the Housing Affordability Fund. Given that we have a clear remit for the fund, which is to offset infrastructure costs to increase housing supply, and that we are not required to-and we would not-test whether there were other sources of funding from state funding buckets available to do that, we would simply assess the proposal on its merits and in this particular case our view was that $4.27 million to deliver savings of over $22,000 to 250 home purchasers was a good outcome for the Commonwealth investment.
Senator LUDLAM-With regard to the Rockbank project near Caroline Springs in Victoria, which is a $4 billion, 7,500 home suburb being developed by Mirvac and Jayaland, did they apply for, or receive, funding under the Housing Affordability Fund?
Ms Winzar-Can I get back to you on that one?
Senator LUDLAM-If I change the subject and talk about homelessness briefly, will it be the same officers at the table or do you need to turn over?
Mr Tongue-We have got the right officers here.
Senator LUDLAM-The original discussion paper that preceded the homelessness white paper acknowledged that domestic violence is the largest single cause of homelessness. Do you have any ideas of the current shortfalls in terms of shelters for women and children escaping domestic violence? Does that come within this portfolio or would you refer me elsewhere?
Ms Gumley-That comes under the remit of the National Affordable Housing Agreement so therefore would be WA government responsibility.
Senator LUDLAM-Sorry, WA government?
Ms Gumley-State governments are now responsible for the delivery of the old Supported Accommodation and Assistance Program under the National Affordable Housing Agreement.
Senator LUDLAM-I do not think it was a WA-specific question but I take your point. That is interesting; you have got carriage of the homelessness portfolio and quite substantial funding rolling out now. The largest single cause of homelessness has been acknowledged as domestic violence and you cannot tell us what the shortfall is in terms of shelters for women and children escaping DV. Is that because that is the role of state governments to provide that?
Ms Gumley-It is the role of state governments. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare maintains a national database on SAAP services and so there is some information that is provided and recorded to AIHW each year on the turn-away rate and on the numbers for each state and territory.
Senator LUDLAM-That was where I was heading next. Can you provide us with the current figures on turn-away rates in crisis accommodation accessed specifically by women escaping domestic violence situations?
Ms Gumley-I do not have that information with me. I will have to take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM-If you could undertake to provide that on notice, that would be great. How do turnaway rates compare with emergency accommodation in general; that is, is there a gender bias in the figures for turn-away rates for emergency accommodation?
Ms Gumley-Is there a gender split?
Senator LUDLAM-Is there a gender bias? I am presuming it is not fifty-fifty; do you know what it is?
Ms Gumley-In terms of the numbers of women and men, because the biggest issue for women is domestic violence, I expect that there would be a bigger turn-away rate for women in that regard, but I have not got that information to that level of detail with me.
Senator LUDLAM-Could you add that to my request. There might be a couple here because I am aware that I am asking for some fairly detailed material. Is there a ballpark figure, or detailed figures, available of what Australia's current undersupply of emergency accommodation is in terms of the actual numbers of shelters on the ground?
Ms Winzar-It would not be possible for us to give you a firm response to that question and it would not be really relevant for us to benchmark on a per population basis with overseas examples. The reason I say that is that we would really be comparing apples with oranges here. The need for emergency accommodation is just one dimension of the suite of service responses required for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Now, it may well be that if your preventative investment is absolutely top-notch and well above other countries you will have much less crisis accommodation and you will need much less crisis accommodation; so, it is hard for us to make that sort of comparison.
HOMELESSNESS - UNDERSUPPLY OF EMERGENCY ACCOMMODATION
Senator LUDLAM-I beg your pardon. I am not asking for a comparison; I am asking what the actual undersupply in Australia is-not relative to anywhere else but what the figures are for Australia.
Ms Winzar-I do not believe we could give you a firm answer to that question. Many people escaping domestic violence will front up at a crisis service; equally many will stay with a friend or a relative and not go anywhere near the formal service system. We can talk about the express demand which, as you have suggested, can be captured with those that are accommodated and those that are in that situation and are turned away from our existing crisis services, but that will not necessarily tell us about the full demand for those services were there to be lots more available.
Dr Harmer-It is very much like trying to estimate the demand for public or social housing. The interesting irony is that when funding is greater for public housing and there is more being built, the list goes up. It is a lot more about the expectation of being able to access it, and I expect that when there are sufficient, or many, emergency accommodation places then people who might otherwise try and find something else would use it. Trying to estimate the demand would be impossible. No methodology that I can think of has ever been advanced that people would agree to for that.
Senator LUDLAM-So how do we calibrate the amount of emergency accommodation that exists? Do we just pick a number and hope for the best? I do acknowledge what you are saying-that it is intangible and elastic and changes with the supply-but how have we arrived at the amount of emergency accommodation that we have if it is not possible to estimate the demand?
Dr Harmer-Over many years public housing authorities and state welfare authorities make assumptions about people coming through and I guess there is always in these areas a balance between the available funds and the need. It is a matter of when the pressure gets to the point where there is clearly not enough and there is crisis; then often governments respond with additional money.
Senator LUDLAM-Is that occurring in this case? That is what I am trying to get to: is there an acknowledged undersupply? We have seen the degree of the turn-away figures, but is there an acknowledged undersupply at the moment?
Dr Harmer-Certainly the new government coming in acknowledged that this was an area where there was a need for significant additional resources to reduce the pressure and they have delivered on that. I think you would have to say yes, at the moment there is a feeling the current government believe that it is a priority area for expenditure and they see the need to increase the supply-not just the supply of housing but the supply of a range of other interventions such as early intervention and various other measures that Ms Winzar is talking about.
Senator LUDLAM-I certainly respect that, but maybe I am not putting the question to you in the right way because I still feel like we do not have much of an idea of funding allocations or increased funding allocations for emergency accommodation specifically, irrespective of the other forms of intervention we might take.
Dr Harmer-There is no formula driven allocation for emergency housing; it is not a demand driven program such as the pension. It is, like most of the housing assistance and many other programs in the social welfare area, a year-by-year or periodic allocation; it is not demand driven as our income support pensions are.
Senator LUDLAM-Could we be provided with figures for the two budgets of the Rudd government compared with the final budget of the Howard government? Could you break down for us Commonwealth spending on emergency accommodation for the last three financial years? Are those figures available?
Ms Winzar-Our arrangement under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, which was a specific purpose payment to the state and territory governments, means that we only provided a portion of the funding. We can certainly provide you with the amount that we directed to states and territories for crisis services and other supports through the SAAP program, but states and territories themselves were required to provide some contribution as well. It is probably worth noting that under the new National Affordable Housing Agreement a lot of the direction and input controls that existed before have been lifted, so the states are now able to use funds much more flexibly than they could in the past. Should they choose to direct some of those funds to providing extra crisis accommodation then they would be within their rights to do so.
Senator LUDLAM-Does the Commonwealth track and aggregate state and territory spending down to that fine-grain level? Are you aware of what the state and territory contributions are?
Ms Winzar-We were until the beginning of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, but there is now no requirement on the states to provide us with confirmation of the exact amounts of money that they spend.
Senator LUDLAM-That is something for my colleagues to follow up at a state and territory level. Is that a consequence of when we went from 100 different buckets of funding agreements down to five or six? We lost the ability to track or determine where the states and territories were spending the money?
Ms Winzar-It is a consequence of us reducing the number of specific purpose payment agreements with the states down to some larger ones to give the states and territories the greater flexibility to meet the presenting need as they saw it.
Dr Harmer-In a sense it is pretty difficult to judge. It may well be a major positive that we do not do that
because the states now have much more flexibility and instead of having to build long-term public housing
they can use funds for social housing to build more emergency accommodation. They are better placed than we are to make judgments on the ground about the need. They run the key departments that interface with the most needy in the big cities anyway. It is a lot more difficult for us to do that.
HOMELESSNESS - NATIONAL HOMELESSNESS RESEARCH STRATEGY
Senator LUDLAM-That will probably be worth some future work. Just moving on with homelessness, can you tell us when the department anticipates finalising the details of the National Homelessness Research Strategy?
Ms Gumley-The research strategy is currently being considered and we are expecting to put something out to the market to respond to in November.
Senator LUDLAM-When you say ‘out to the market', do you mean some kind of public consultation paper?
Ms Gumley-No, it would be to procure specific research projects. The priorities for that at the moment are still being considered by government.
Senator LUDLAM-Will a statement of your list of priorities be in the public domain or will you just move to procurement directly?
Ms Gumley-No, there would be a statement out there in the public domain about what the strategy overall was to be.
Senator LUDLAM-Sometime in November we will be advised of that and you will move directly to procurement. So there is no consultation period or anything; you will just get on with it?
Ms Gumley-That is my understanding.
Senator LUDLAM-There is quite a bit of expertise within the homelessness sector that could be tapped into when you are looking at your design and your research priorities. Are you involving suitably qualified personnel within the sector-government and non-government-in the design of the research projects that you are planning on undertaking?
Ms Winzar-We have conducted a number of roundtable discussions with various parts of the sector and I got some really good feedback on directions of the research strategy, methodological gaps and areas of focus that were not well-covered by current research effort. Those discussions started about the middle of last year- maybe August or September-and we have continued to seek advice on the best way to do things and what we need to invest in.
HOMELESSNESS - WA HOMELESSNESS IMPLEMENTATION PLAN
Senator LUDLAM-This is a WA-specific question; you might tell me to go to Perth and ask them there. Under the WA implementation plan, a Western Australian Council on Homelessness is being established. Are you aware and can you inform us as to the members, how they were chosen, the terms of reference and how it is going?
Ms Gumley-Did you say a reference group for the homelessness implementation plan?
Senator LUDLAM-They are calling it the WA Council on Homelessness.
Ms Gumley-My understanding is that that committee is being drawn from the previous SAAP consultative arrangements that they had in place in WA and that it will be supplemented to take into account the more mainstream focus.
Senator LUDLAM-Does it have terms of reference? I do not know whether I am unfairly targeting these questions at you, but what level of detail would you expect to have as to the inner workings of that group and their reporting schedule?
Ms Gumley-That is really a matter for the WA government. I do not have the level of detail about their terms of reference.
Dr Harmer-We would not normally need to be advised, or be advised, about consultative mechanisms being set up by the state unless it was part of the requirement under our arrangements, and as far as I am aware it is not.
Senator LUDLAM-If problems arose, presumably you do have the ability to call that council in and seek further information if problems arose. Is that the case?
Ms Gumley-It is an advisory body to the WA government.
Senator LUDLAM-That is fine. Has this been replicated around the country in various forms?
Ms Winzar-And we will have our own engagement with the community services sector and homeless specialist services to get feedback from them about what is happening at state level and also what is happening from their perspective at the national level.
Dr Harmer-Many of those players, if they are interested and passionate about homelessness in Western Australia while they are on the Western Australian advisory committee, are likely to want to have or do have an avenue to us at points in time.
Senator LUDLAM-Other hats?
HOMELESSNESS - FOYER MODEL
Senator LUDLAM-Can you tell us how many Foyer model developments have been approved or constructed across Australia with the homeless IP funding-I do not want to get too technical-or social housing or stimulus funding from wherever?
Ms Gumley-Three. Is that Foyers for young people to earn or learn while they are accommodated?
Senator LUDLAM-Everything that I have heard about that model has been positive. It is a model that serves people quite well. Can you give us some detail on those three? Are there more in the pipeline? Do you concur that it is a working model?
Ms Gumley-It is certainly a model that has been picked up well by states and territories. There are also some developments which are Foyer-like that are going to be put into place where there may well be a development around a block of flats, which might also provide an onsite supervisor/mentor or provide access to some coaching or mentoring. I will give you the detail of where they are. I am afraid that I have only three written down on my list and which states they are in. There is one in South Australia and I think there is one in the ACT.
Senator LUDLAM-Rather than reading that in, could you table whatever details you are able to provide on those three?
Senator LUDLAM-I am interested to know whether others are in the pipeline. Is it a model that has been taken up more broadly? That would be helpful.
I will just switch back to the last few questions that I want to ask about social housing spending under the stimulus package. I know it is very easy for us to come in here and sound like we are critiquing everything, but it is great to see some activity that is funded in this sector at long last.
I would like to start with the most obvious place, which is the proposed social housing spending under the stimulus package which was cut back quite sharply. There was some reporting on that earlier this year. Can you tell us what that has done to your forward planning and how many affordable accommodation places that means will not be built? We can start there.
Mr Lamont-The decision to recalibrate the funding was made in August. That was prior to our completing the approval phase for stage 2. The Social Housing Initiative was on track to overachieve, to exceed the 20,000 dwellings that were originally proposed. We are still on track to achieve over 19,300 individual dwellings. That has been achieved on account of a couple of things. One is a lower per average cost per dwelling than the $300,000 contained in the Social Housing Initiative guidelines and program. The second issue would be the contributions of state and territory governments in terms of land at concessional or no cost, and the equity provided by the not-for-profit community sector in a number of developments. We are talking about an average cost in the order of $274,000 per dwelling.
Senator LUDLAM-That was less than you expected. How much has that offset the reduction in funding?
Mr Lamont-I would need to take that on notice, but it would be in the order of 1,000 homes.
Senator LUDLAM-It did not make up for it, but it was a start.
Mr Lamont-It was a good start.
Senator LUDLAM-This might sound a bit politically sensitive and I hope that it is not. There is a lot of debate occurring at the moment about winding back the stimulus package. Are you advising the government or have you been given any indication that the social housing spending may need to be wound back any further?
Dr Harmer-We cannot answer a question like that. It is speculation about advice we might give to government.
Senator LUDLAM-No, that really was not what I asked. Have you been asked by government to provide them with advice about winding back social housing?
Dr Harmer-We cannot answer that.
Senator LUDLAM-Why is that?
Dr Harmer-We cannot talk about advice that we are giving government or advice that we have been asked for.
Senator LUDLAM-I will put that question to the minister. Is the Commonwealth contemplating further drawing down of the proposed social housing spending?
Senator Arbib-Not that I am aware of.
Senator LUDLAM-Can you take that on notice for us?
Senator LUDLAM-I am not trying to take a shot. This is one sector of spending that was universally acclaimed. That is possibly too strong a word, but it was certainly appreciated as it is an area that was long neglected. It has already taken a pretty substantial hit and I am wondering whether there is thinking, at a cabinet level or anywhere else, about drawing funding down for it further?
Senator Arbib-I am happy to try to find that information for you. I am not in the cabinet so I would not be aware of any of those deliberations. As you have pointed out, this has been an extremely successful program, particularly in terms of the large number of renovations and repairs to social housing units that have well exceeded expectations. The state governments that have been involved in rolling out those repairs and also those new housing developments have done extremely well. I think you have hit the nail on the head that this is a program that is achieving good results in the community and certainly is well above its targets.
Senator LUDLAM-Thank you for undertaking to take that question back. If you are able, can you provide us with a commitment from government that the social housing component of the stimulus funding will be quarantined from any further reductions? You may not be able to give that undertaking, but I am asking whether you could seek it?
Senator Arbib-It is not something I can seek. As I said, I am happy to take your question on notice.
Senator LUDLAM-The question is: will the government quarantine the social housing component of the stimulus package from any further cutbacks? That is what I am seeking to have you ask.
Senator Arbib-Firstly, the government has not made any decisions to cut back on the stimulus. It is hard to answer a question that really is hypothetical.
Senator LUDLAM-I am asking for you to make it not hypothetical. I am not trying to play games. Can the government provide for us an undertaking that there will not be any further cutbacks to the social housing commitments that were made? They might come back and say, ‘No. We won't make that commitment', and we will just have to deal with that.
Senator Arbib-I am happy to take that on notice.
SOCIAL HOUSNIG AND SUSTAINBILITY
Senator LUDLAM-Each time that we have spoken about the social housing spending I have asked about a breakdown of how the applications that you are receiving and then the projects that you are funding are meeting the environmental, planning and accessibility guidelines that you have put up. Could you table for us the current state of play in that regard?
Mr Lamont-I can.
In respect to stage 2, states and territories have advised that we are achieving 95 per cent in respect to compliance with six-star energy requirements. In terms of the highest level of accessibility, we are achieving 35 per cent, which is above the 20 per cent target initially contained in the Social Housing Initiative guidelines. There are a range of other measures as well regarding the use of water tanks for the projects that we have received to date and at the appropriate time we are happy to table those for you.
Senator LUDLAM-That would be greatly appreciated.
Ninety-five per cent are six star. Can you break down for us how the Western Australian proposals are performing in that regard? I have heard somewhat different results coming back from estimates committee hearings in the Western Australian parliament. How are they performing?
Mr Lamont-Of the stage 2 dwellings approved in WA, it is 1,755 in total for stage 2 and 1,516 of those we are advised will meet the six-star energy requirements.
Senator LUDLAM-What is the percentage there?
Mr Lamont-My rough calculation is in excess of 90 per cent.
Senator LUDLAM-We will match that against what is being said in Western Australia.
SOCIAL HOUSING - LOCATION
I do not know whether you were in the room before. We were talking about whether NRAS funding is hitting the ground in the most stretched housing markets in WA, which are in the north-west. Can you break down for us, by postcode, where social housing spending is going? You do not need to read out a list of postcodes.
Mr Lamont-I could not do that today. I can tell you that for stage 1 in WA in remote and very remote areas we are looking at an investment of $21.8 million. For stage 2 it is an investment of over $20.9 million. I can take your question on notice in respect to the specific areas.
Senator LUDLAM-I would greatly appreciate that. I said I would return to the Pilbara sooner or later, so I am going to do that now.
Mr Lamont-You mentioned Karratha earlier today?
Senator LUDLAM-I did.
Mr Lamont-I can also add that we have got two 3-bedroom townhouses, to give you an example of what we are doing in remote areas, that are specifically targeted out of stage 1. There is another four-bedroom dwelling and another 38 three-bedroom houses targeted in that region as well. That is the information that I have got here. There will be more, but you specifically raised Karratha before as a destination or location.
Senator LUDLAM-I did.
Dr Harmer-Just before we move on, I need to check with Mr Lamont that we actually have it by postcode. One of the things that I am conscious of as secretary of the department is running a very big and busy place. If we have not got the information by postcode and it is a significant task, I would not be prepared to allocate additional resources to do that. I am absolutely happy to provide it if we have got the information, if we collect it naturally; but I just want to make sure that I do not overpromise. If we have got to do a special collection then we will not be able to do that.
Senator LUDLAM-I am not trying to tie up someone for six months. I will take the data in whatever form you are collecting it. I presume you know where the spending is going.
Mr Lamont-We have provided it by postcode previously, and we can do it in the future.
SOCIAL HOUSING - BOOM TOWNS
Senator LUDLAM-That is what I thought. In terms of the townships that I mentioned before, some of the most stretched housing markets in the country are in Port Hedland, South Hedland, Karratha, Broome and Newman. Those are five of the towns that probably have had their housing markets distorted most by the mining boom, and there are some similar places on the eastern seaboard as well. What is your understanding of how the social housing spending is making its way into those markets, if at all?
Mr Lamont-I know we have got dwellings in Port Hedland. I would need to take on notice the specific numbers in those three locations.
Senator LUDLAM-We had an extended discussion before in the NRAS portfolio about whether you are able to assess the net gain or loss of affordable housing and it turns out that is not the case, that you are tracking figures in the NRAS side of the portfolio across the whole state. I am not sure whether I need to repeat the line of thinking or not, but Homeswest in WA, for example, are drawing down affordable housing in Port Hedland, probably faster than you are able to provide it. Are you aware of the net gain or loss in individual housing markets? Do you have access to that kind of data?
Mr Lamont-I personally do not. I do not know whether the department has that information.
Senator LUDLAM-It is not necessarily something that you would have been aware of, but I am really concerned that, as I keep saying, in some of the most stressed housing markets-the booming towns-the supply of affordable housing as a result of the interaction of state and federal spending increases is going to fall. I hope you would agree that is a big problem?
Dr Harmer-It may well be, but it is very much an issue for the Western Australian government and the Western Australian housing department, not-
Senator LUDLAM-I would have thought not where Commonwealth taxes are involved.
Mr Tongue-I would also add in those markets are Commonwealth, state and mining company efforts to provide the overall housing stock.
Senator LUDLAM-I am aware of that.
Mr Tongue-I would not want to let the mining companies get off scot-free in terms of the provision of housing for their workers. I suspect that in the rest of the market we are talking about people who are ancillary, so people working in shops or fast food.
Senator LUDLAM-Exactly. The mining industry does not intend to build houses, although I know there are some moves in that regard. They do, however, heavily subsidise the rents of their workforce so that they can afford to live in these towns, which then pushes key workers and service industry workers into cars and, in some proposals, shipping containers and so on. I will put it to you again. If you have not been tracking the regional breakdown and the net gain and loss, is that something that you will undertake to do? I am putting to you now that it is a really significant issue in those regions.
Senator Arbib-That is a matter for government. It is a policy issue.
Senator LUDLAM-I realise that. I am not expecting these officers to turn around on the spot.
Senator Arbib-In terms of housing-which is obviously outside this department's remit-the government has set up the National Resource Sector Employment Taskforce. Minister Ferguson and I have been tasked with leading the taskforce and Gary Gray is the chair. One of the issues that will be considered by the taskforce is the issue of housing, especially in those Western Australian communities. As you have quite rightly pointed out, it is a very big issue. It has a huge social impact on those communities and families who are moving into those areas and also, obviously, in terms of inflation. It will be an area that we will be looking at, and it is certainly an area that the government is concerned about. That is one of the issues that the taskforce will have on its terms of reference.
SOCIAL HOUSING - NET INCREASES OR DECREASES
Senator LUDLAM-I would like to move to the last few things because I realise we are just about out of time. I am putting this to the officers at the table or to the minister. I am asking for the Commonwealth to start collecting net increase or net decrease data for subregional housing markets, without which this policy is headed for a bit of a disaster, because through probably perfectly rational housing policies in the states and territories-and I do not know whether this is happening elsewhere, but I suspect it is-we are drawing down affordable housing in some areas so that we can build more affordable housing in places which are nowhere near as overheated. What I would put to you, and I hope that we can have a different conversation at the next estimates session, is whether you can at the very least start collecting that data; whether or not you have the policy levers to influence the decisions that are made with it is probably a different question. I think we need to at least start collecting that material so that we know.
Dr Harmer-We will take that as a suggestion.
Ms Winzar-One of the things that the National Housing Supply Council has been grappling with over the last 12 months is to try to look at the overall net supply of housing, both for purchase and as a subset of that at the affordable end. It is a really hard thing to do, even in aggregate, let alone at a local level. Those discussions have involved a data subgroup that is set up with all state and territory governments to try to capture not only the construction but also the demolition information that you need in order to get a good picture of that. It has often lagged. It is collected in different ways at different points in the process across different jurisdictions. It is very difficult to get a clear view of what is going on. Certainly, getting a better handle on that, at least to some level below state or territory aggregation, is one of the things that the supply council is considering how best to tackle at the moment.
I think it will be some time before they crack it down to the level of say Karratha, Port Hedland or Newman.
Senator LUDLAM-Forgive my ignorance, are we able to call the council to future estimates hearings, or do they lie outside our reach?
Ms Winzar-My sense is that they will be outside.
Dr Harmer-They are outside. They are an advisory council to government. They are not part of the
formal government structure. What Ms Winzar has just said is actually a good start along the track of what you would like to see us do.
SOCIAL HOUSING - REMOTE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES
Senator LUDLAM-That would be helpful. My last couple of questions relate further inland into the
Pilbara to a couple of remote Aboriginal communities that I visited last week. It may well be that you refer me to the sessions that we will have tomorrow across the portfolio. The communities that we visited were Jigalong and Punmu, on the edge of the Western Desert in the central Pilbara. They are both dry communities as of the last little while. Their nearest regional centre is Newman. There are still quite significant issues around alcohol and so on in Newman. People are now starting to move back into those two remote communities and they are experiencing quite serious housing shortages, but they are actually welcoming the fact that people are coming back and want to live in those places.
It was put to us that Jigalong will need probably 20 new houses and some urgent maintenance work on what is there, and in Punmu they will need another 10 houses. They have been waiting for a long time, and I am just wondering whether anybody here can enlighten us as to who they should be talking to and how we get some of the Commonwealth housing funding into places like that where we have families living 15 or 16 people in a three-bedroom house?
Mr Tongue-In the first instance the answer is the state government. If you like, I will endeavour to get you that information tomorrow to see if the state government has allocated places under the Remote Indigenous Housing NP to those locations. I can come back to you tomorrow.
Senator LUDLAM-That would be a great start. I will not be here, but my colleague, Senator Siewert, will be and she is well aware of these issues as well. The reason for putting this to you now is to find out. They are pretty used to neglect out there. They have had very long experience of it in those communities. They were surprised to hear that there was a substantial Commonwealth increase in affordable housing and that the Commonwealth government was taking an active role in housing policy for the first time in a while. They wanted to know how that Commonwealth funding was going to make its way into their communities where they are really stretched. They are not actually asking for much. Is there likely to be any direct engagement with Commonwealth agencies such as yourselves, or do they have to continue working through state agencies?
Mr Tongue-The principal engagement is through state agencies. However, I would make the point that in remote communities, in particular, we are active in our efforts through Indigenous coordination centres and government business managers where they are in communities and so on, and we are able to work with state government around the allocation of resources under the various NPs and particularly the Remote Indigenous Housing NP.
Dr Harmer-As a Commonwealth department, we have an increasing presence in remote northern Australia as part of the government's initiatives on remote service delivery and Indigenous housing. Whilst it is still primarily in the province of the state and territory governments-the supply, administration and the implementation-we are increasingly involving ourselves in making sure that it is delivered in those areas.
Senator LUDLAM-The reason that I am raising it is that places like that, as you would be well aware, are where housing policy intersects very strongly with some of the worst poverty in the country. There has been a lot of attention around Alice Springs and much less in some of the Western Australian communities in the north. It is something that I plan to take up, so I look forward to picking this up again tomorrow. Thank you for your time.
24 Sep 2009
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts
Senator Ludlam asked:
NITV is already provided to the Mildura TV market via:
a. free-to-air Aurora satellite for those who decide to buy a separate satellite reception facility just for NITV; and
b. via the basic tier of Neighbourhood Cable's cable system and Austar's satellite platform.
Given its current penetration into the Mildura market, if there is room on the transponder used to provide the new satellite services to Mildura would the Government consider providing the NITV service to those homes in Mildura who will need to avail themselves of these new satellite services?
24 Sep 2009
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts
Senator Ludlam asked:
When the Government determines the digital conversion for Capital City Community TV stations in the metropolitan markets and Lismore will it provide separate digital spectrum on that frequency to NITV as well?
If not, and assuming a standard definition version of the Community TV services would take at most only 25% of the capacity of that frequency, who would use the remaining transmission capacity and when would that use be allocated and how?
24 Sep 2009
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts
Senator Ludlam asked:
What is the future for the digital TV trial run by Broadcast Australia in Sydney which carries at no charge the NITV service? What would happen to these NITV transmissions were the new owners of Broadcast Australia to close the trial down?
Given this could happen as early as August 2009, how would the Government go about continuing to provide free to air terrestrial access to NITV for the biggest single indigenous population (Sydney) if the trial did close?
24 Sep 2009
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts
Senator Ludlam asked:
The Government has appropriated $795m for just ABC and SBS digital and analog distribution and transmission operational expenses for the next three years.
When is it going to provide digital TV spectrum and relevant funding to NITV and Capital City Community TV for digital TV distribution and transmission?
The Government is aware of the community television sector's need to convert to digital and is considering its approach to this digital conversion.
The community television sector receives significant support through continued access to free spectrum, which is a valuable public resource.
The government has met with the Australian Community Television Alliance (ACTA) and several of the individual stations a number of times, and continue to consult them on the options available for their transition to digital.
The National Indigenous Television Service is the responsibility of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Portfolio.