General

media-releases

Australian Government must stop supporting Indonesian “torture” unit

04 Nov 2010

The Australian Greens have called on the Federal Government to stop funding and training an Indonesian "counter-terrorism" unit linked to a series of human rights abuses.
"On the day the Government lodged our National Report for the United Nations Human Rights Council's review, we should be taking a strong stand for human rights in our region by refusing to support an agency that is using torture," said Senator Scott Ludlam. "Special Detachment 88 has been linked to grievous human rights abuses for three years - and operates with funding and support from the Australian Government."
At a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Senate Estimates session last month Senator Ludlam grilled department officials on the Detachment's reported arbitrary arrest and torture of people in Ambon, Maluku, for peaceful protests. He was told there has been no formal or informal inquiry into the allegations.
"How much money and resources do we commit to training this outfit?" Senator Ludlam asked the hearing. "This is a unit that we fund and assist in training which is being accused of some quite horrific activities... surely we are interested in what is occurring there."
"These are not terrorist activities that these police are investigating. The demonstrators arrested in Ambon unveiled their independence flag at an event at which the Indonesian president was present... They have subsequently been jailed and many of them tortured and hospitalised," Senator Ludlam said. "70 political activists in Maluku have been imprisoned since 2007."
Detachment 88's major facility at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation was established in 2004 with almost $40 million of Australian funding. According to its website, most of the counter-terrorism seminars at the Centre are run by the Australian Federal Police, and it is a major beneficiary of $16 million in annual funding allocated to the AFP to combat terrorism in south-east Asia.
"The United States introduced a ban on training or assisting Detachment 88 members in Maluku in 2008 after the allegations of torture first emerged in 2007, but our Government continues to actively support this unit," said Senator Ludlam.
 http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/transcript/detachment-88

The Australian Greens have called on the Federal Government to stop funding and training an Indonesian "counter-terrorism" unit linked to a series of human rights abuses.


"On the day the Government lodged our National Report for the United Nations Human Rights Council's review, we should be taking a strong stand for human rights in our region by refusing to support an agency that is using torture," said Senator Scott Ludlam. "Special Detachment 88 has been linked to grievous human rights abuses for three years - and operates with funding and support from the Australian Government."


At a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Senate Estimates session last month Senator Ludlam grilled department officials on the Detachment's reported arbitrary arrest and torture of people in Ambon, Maluku, for peaceful protests. He was told there has been no formal or informal inquiry into the allegations.


"How much money and resources do we commit to training this outfit?" Senator Ludlam asked the hearing. "This is a unit that we fund and assist in training which is being accused of some quite horrific activities... surely we are interested in what is occurring there."


"These are not terrorist activities that these police are investigating. The demonstrators arrested in Ambon unveiled their independence flag at an event at which the Indonesian president was present... They have subsequently been jailed and many of them tortured and hospitalised," Senator Ludlam said. "70 political activists in Maluku have been imprisoned since 2007."


Detachment 88's major facility at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation was established in 2004 with almost $40 million of Australian funding. According to its website, most of the counter-terrorism seminars at the Centre are run by the Australian Federal Police, and it is a major beneficiary of $16 million in annual funding allocated to the AFP to combat terrorism in south-east Asia.


"The United States introduced a ban on training or assisting Detachment 88 members in Maluku in 2008 after the allegations of torture first emerged in 2007, but our Government continues to actively support this unit," said Senator Ludlam.


 http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/transcript/detachment-88

media-releases

Lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq: Only Parliament Should Have The Power To Declare War

27 Oct 2010

The Australian Greens used the Afghanistan war debate today to strengthen their call for Parliament to be given the power to declare war.
The Greens believe the power to send Australian forces to war should rest in the hands of Parliament," Senator Scott Ludlam told the Senate today. "The former Government's reckless and indefinite commitment to an unwinnable war in Afghanistan is a stark reminder of the need for Parliament, as the body in which the will of the people is invested, to decide upon the deployment of the nation's defence forces."
The Greens' legal affairs spokesperson used comments from the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to support The Greens' push for more democratic decision making on war.
"The Prime Minister said she believes this debate is ‘an important one for our people and our Parliament' and that ‘our highest duty is to make wise decisions about war'," he said. "The Leader of the Opposition said ‘something as grave as a serious military campaign should be justified to the Parliament'. This justification should take place before the campaign begins, rather than nine years after the fact."
Senator Ludlam said the decision to support the invasion of Iraq was, to the best of his knowledge, made by only 17 people - a situation that must not be repeated.
"There was no debate, no discussion and certainly no vote," he said. "Never again should the executive be able to unilaterally commit this country to war."
The Senator said the United Kingdom was on the brink of adopting similar changes and the US Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. He added that a large number of other democratic countries around the world require parliamentary approval for declarations of war.
Senator Ludlam said non-military aid would do more to assist the Afghan people than an ongoing military intervention. He was critical of the high civilian death toll and the Karzai Government's alleged corruption and vote rigging.
"The ongoing presence of foreign armed forces in Afghanistan acts as a provocation for recruitment to insurgent forces... Only a legitimate Afghan government - which draws its legitimacy from the mandate of its people - could successfully put an end to the fighting in Afghanistan."

The Australian Greens used the Afghanistan war debate today to strengthen their call for Parliament to be given the power to declare war.

The Greens believe the power to send Australian forces to war should rest in the hands of Parliament," Senator Scott Ludlam told the Senate today. "The former Government's reckless and indefinite commitment to an unwinnable war in Afghanistan is a stark reminder of the need for Parliament, as the body in which the will of the people is invested, to decide upon the deployment of the nation's defence forces."

The Greens' legal affairs spokesperson used comments from the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to support The Greens' push for more democratic decision making on war.

"The Prime Minister said she believes this debate is ‘an important one for our people and our Parliament' and that ‘our highest duty is to make wise decisions about war'," he said. "The Leader of the Opposition said ‘something as grave as a serious military campaign should be justified to the Parliament'. This justification should take place before the campaign begins, rather than nine years after the fact."

Senator Ludlam said the decision to support the invasion of Iraq was, to the best of his knowledge, made by only 17 people - a situation that must not be repeated.

"There was no debate, no discussion and certainly no vote," he said. "Never again should the executive be able to unilaterally commit this country to war."

The Senator said the United Kingdom was on the brink of adopting similar changes and the US Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. He added that a large number of other democratic countries around the world require parliamentary approval for declarations of war.

Senator Ludlam said non-military aid would do more to assist the Afghan people than an ongoing military intervention. He was critical of the high civilian death toll and the Karzai Government's alleged corruption and vote rigging.

"The ongoing presence of foreign armed forces in Afghanistan acts as a provocation for recruitment to insurgent forces... Only a legitimate Afghan government - which draws its legitimacy from the mandate of its people - could successfully put an end to the fighting in Afghanistan."

estimates

Transparency and Performance Audit of Infrastructure Australia

27 Oct 2010

Rural Affairs and Transport CommitteeInfrastructure Australia 21 October 2010CHAIR-Questions for Infrastructure Australia?Senator LUDLAM-I have some broad questions about the operations of IA with particular regard to the ANAO's recent performance audit. I will just do a quick trip around the country and fill in some of the issues that Senator Macdonald raised around different parts of the country. I will go first to the recommendations of the audit report. IA has agreed to 1 and 2. With regard to recommendation 1, which just says that there be greater transparency over the development of the priority lists, IA has agreed to that, which is good. Can you tell us what that is going to look like in future funding rounds? What can we expect to be different?

Rural Affairs and Transport Committee
Infrastructure Australia
21 October 2010

CHAIR-Questions for Infrastructure Australia?

Senator LUDLAM-I have some broad questions about the operations of IA with particular regard to the ANAO's recent performance audit. I will just do a quick trip around the country and fill in some of the issues that Senator Macdonald raised around different parts of the country. I will go first to the recommendations of the audit report. IA has agreed to 1 and 2. With regard to recommendation 1, which just says that there be greater transparency over the development of the priority lists, IA has agreed to that, which is good. Can you tell us what that is going to look like in future funding rounds? What can we expect to be different?

estimates

Public housing in WA boom towns - Port Hedland and Roebourne (Dampier and Karratha)

13 Oct 2010

Senator Ludlam asked:Do you have figures for either Port Hedland - Port and South (either together or disaggregated), and for Karratha and Dampier?

Senator Ludlam asked:
Do you have figures for either Port Hedland - Port and South (either together or disaggregated), and for Karratha and Dampier?

media-releases

Australian Greens, Labor commit to agreement for stable Government

01 Sep 2010

The Australian Greens and the Labor Party have signed an agreement to ensure stability for Labor in Government. The Greens will ensure supply and oppose any motion of no confidence in the Government from other parties or MPs.Labor will work with the Greens to deliver improved transparency and integrity to Parliament and pursue policies that promote the national interest and address climate change.As part of the agreement there will be regular meetings between the Prime Minister and Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown and newly-elected Lower House MP Adam Bandt."There will be a Climate Change Committee resourced as a Cabinet Committee, an investment in dental health care in the next budget and completion of a $20 million study into High Speed Rail by July 2011," said Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown.

media-releases

Warren H Williams launches his NT Greens Senate campaign

15 Jul 2010

Respected Central Australian Aboriginal musician Warren H. Williams will today officially launch his campaign as the Greens Senate candidate for the Northern Territory. Warren H was born at the remote community of Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs, and is a proud Arrente man who wants to make a difference to his community. Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam will help launch the campaign at an event at CAAMA studios, where Warren presents a popular national music program. "Warren is a great candidate offering Territorians a real alternative," said Senator Ludlam.

Respected Central Australian Aboriginal musician Warren H. Williams will today officially launch his campaign as the Greens Senate candidate for the Northern Territory.

Warren H was born at the remote community of Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs, and is a proud Arrente man who wants to make a difference to his community.

Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam will help launch the campaign at an event at CAAMA studios, where Warren presents a popular national music program.

"Warren is a great candidate offering Territorians a real alternative," said Senator Ludlam.

speeches-in-parliament

Freedom of Information Bill

14 May 2010

The Australian Greens welcome the Australian Information Commissioner Bill 2010 and the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2010 and congratulate the government on having taken these important steps towards greater openness in government. I would like to add my remarks to those of Senator Brandis on the issue of onus of proof. He put it probably more eloquently and at greater length than I was going to, but those concerns were certainly shared by the Australian Greens. I suppose in this instance the government is to be commended for at least acknowledging, under the weight of overwhelming evidence, that it was wrong rather than, as we see so many times in this place, simply just pushing ahead. As a result this legislation, while very significant, is now being debated as noncontroversial.

The Australian Greens welcome the Australian Information Commissioner Bill 2010 and the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2010 and congratulate the government on having taken these important steps towards greater openness in government. I would like to add my remarks to those of Senator Brandis on the issue of onus of proof. He put it probably more eloquently and at greater length than I was going to, but those concerns were certainly shared by the Australian Greens. I suppose in this instance the government is to be commended for at least acknowledging, under the weight of overwhelming evidence, that it was wrong rather than, as we see so many times in this place, simply just pushing ahead. As a result this legislation, while very significant, is now being debated as noncontroversial.

news-stories

Senate Estimates - holding the Government to account

10 Feb 2010

Three times a year, usually in February, May and November, Senate Estimates take place.This is where Senators directly question ministers and public officials about the details of proposed expenditure of government departments and authorities, as well as the objectives, operations and efficiency of the programs for which they are responsible.Senator Ludlam and his fellow Greens Senators use estimates to hold ministers and departments to account and raise concerns about programs or departmental activities.During this week's estimates hearings, Senator Ludlam has revealed the withholding of information on the National Broadband Network, more news on the proposed mandatory internet filter and ACMA blacklist, and cases of ASIO intimidating activists. And we're only half way through the week!Read more about estimates here.See news coverage on estimates issues here.

Three times a year, usually in February, May and November, Senate Estimates take place.

This is where Senators directly question ministers and public officials about the details of proposed expenditure of government departments and authorities, as well as the objectives, operations and efficiency of the programs for which they are responsible.

Senator Ludlam and his fellow Greens Senators use estimates to hold ministers and departments to account and raise concerns about programs or departmental activities.

During this week's estimates hearings, Senator Ludlam has revealed the withholding of information on the National Broadband Network, more news on the proposed mandatory internet filter and ACMA blacklist, and cases of ASIO intimidating activists. And we're only half way through the week!

Read more about estimates here.

See news coverage on estimates issues here.

estimates

Housing in WA’s regional boom towns

22 Oct 2009

Senator LUDLAM-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.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.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.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. 

Senator LUDLAM-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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Syndicate content