You don’t build houses with crude political games
In the hours before the recent long weekend, when most people’s thoughts turned to families, holidays and grand finals, Labor’s political spin machine was still running on high rotation.
And it appears that even the bipartisan goal to close the gap on indigenous disadvantage by providing clean and safe housing for indigenous Australians is not immune to Labor’s political tactics.
On Friday, 28 September, Minister Jenny Macklin wrote to Queensland Housing Minister Bruce Flegg in response to Mr Flegg’s correspondence regarding the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing; a seemingly routine matter.
However, Ms Macklin then proceeded to jawbone the Queensland Government on the front page of The Australian the following Wednesday, saying that cutbacks to Queensland’s public service risked “stalling initiatives to close the gap on indigenous housing disadvantage”.
The article suggested that this was main the purpose of Ms Macklin’s letter to Mr Flegg, but bizarrely, the letter made no reference to public service cuts affecting indigenous housing.
Undeterred, Ms Macklin kept up the attack: “I am concerned that the cuts the Queensland government is making to its housing workforce could put at risk delivering better housing for indigenous people”.
Also, it appears Ms Macklin’s staff forgot to put the letter in an express post envelope as her comments appeared in The Australian on Wednesday morning before Mr Flegg’s office had even received the letter, much less had a chance to actually respond.
It is profoundly disappointing but unfortunately hardly surprising that this government would resort to playing politics with an issue as important as indigenous housing.
However, it reflects a wider malaise within the Labor Party; that it is only interested in scoring political points and clinging to power.
With these antics, Ms Macklin has betrayed her own fine sentiments when she said during the national apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008:
“What we need is a new era of cooperation and responsibility and a new way of doing things.”
“I truly hope will be a new era of bipartisan support for Indigenous issues. This is too important to be politicised. We must all rise above politics. As the Prime Minister said, we should ‘elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide’.
How has Ms Macklin upheld those lofty ambitions by making the relationship between the Federal Government and Queensland State Government almost untenable?
This is a Minister and a government who are out of ideas, out of touch and who no longer live up to the high standards and hopes of 2008.
And importantly, this type of political game won’t deliver one extra house for indigenous Australians.
This lamentable one act play should not distract attention from the fact that not enough houses are being built under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
In Queensland, just 171 houses have been built since the partnership was launched in 2008 under the Bligh and Rudd governments, and at this rate, less than 40 per cent of the target of 1140 homes will be delivered by the deadline of 2018.
It is no secret that both sides of politics have to shoulder the responsibility for the high levels of indigenous disadvantage that still exist today, not only in housing but in health, education and employment, despite efforts to turn things around.
We all need to work together to provide hope and opportunity for our first Australians, not play blame-games and drive wedges between different levels of governments.
This is one issue that deserves better.
Senator Marise Payne is the Opposition spokesperson for Indigenous development and employment.
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