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.

What's the hold up?

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.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST.

Most commented


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    • andrew says:

      05:58am | 11/10/12

      “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.”

      No they don’t. Positive discrimination for aboriginals has existed now for decades. As with any other australian, if they take advantage of the free education provided to them, medicare funded health care, consume alcohol responsibly and avoid other drugs there is no reason they cannot live a long, healthy and succesful life.  And why should anyone, aboriginal or not be given a house they did nothing to earn?

      Yes in some cases they may actually need to move away from a remote camp in the middle of nowhere to find work. That has not, and never will be a reasonable excuse to justify a life on welfare.

      It’s time for many aboriginals to get the massive chip off their shoulder and take responsibility for their own outcomes in life. Continuing to throw resources at them will do nothing until they actually want to improve their situation.

    • centurion48 says:

      08:37am | 11/10/12

      @andrew: I agree. I would love to know the cost of each of these houses. I can guarantee it would be far greater than an equivalent house in any of the capital cities. Housing schemes for aboriginal Australians have been ongoing for the past 100 years because they rate at which they are destroyed keeps pace with the replacement rate. Nobody is ever held to account for destroying public property. Every picture I have seen of outstations and settlements shows rubbish everywhere and no attempt to maintain cleanliness, or operation, of facilities provided at taxpayer expense. Is it any wonder that this issue cannot garner public support. I would rather see the money put into providing meals at schools and providing facilities to allow students somewhere to study after school hours (or even boarding schools as occurs on some the Tiwi islands).
      Politicians will never resolve this issue because they are captives to the need to shore up their re-election prospects at any price (using our money). And, I have no hope that any aboriginal spokesperson can energise the indigenous population to start fending for themselves. Noel Pearson tried valiantly but, in the end, even he had to admit defeat. Perhaps we should provide just the raw materials for housing and tell them to build it themselves.

    • Scott Clark says:

      08:48am | 11/10/12

      I understand what you’re saying and I must admit I have a lot of sympathy for that argument however surely it must be difficult for people, regardless or their ethinicity, who are born into proverty (even if there is no good reason for that povertyu to exist) to realise there is a way out.

      One of my personal favourite sayings is “the best education you will ever have is the one you get from home”. If a child is born into a less than desirable home life, caused by drugs, abuse, alcohol or all of them)  it must be very difficult for that child to see the advantages and potential for long term personal gain that is offered by the various government programs.

    • Jay2 says:

      09:59am | 11/10/12

      Andrew, I agree with most of your post. What successive Governments (and no surprise Labor has once again crumbled on another would be policy) failed to realise, is that even if all houses were delivered, it wouldn’t stop the same existing problems from the cycle which causes unemployment, health probems and disproportionate violence within Aboriginal communities.
      BEFORE some readers perhaps respond with ‘racist’, I am in no way implying that this applies to ALL aboriginals, but those within those communities widely acknowledge the problems which a larger than average percentage have to deal with.
      I have seen new houses and infrastructure built in such communities, but the alcohol/drug problems coupled with violence has the side effect of having those new houses trashed within six months. UNLESS Aboriginality is looked holisticially nothing will be achieved but a bandaid solution, that looks temporarily ‘nice’, but does bugger all.
      This requires the will from not only Government/s but the indigenious communities themselves. Just like any other community member with an addicition or anger/violence problem, the will to change this is vital.
      The catch 22 scenario will just keep playing out and sadly new generations get caught up in the cycle, something they should not have to bear.

    • jess says:

      06:16pm | 11/10/12

      No one Aboriginal will unite all Aboriginal people. The language and cultures across the country are too diverse.

    • Craig says:

      06:16am | 11/10/12

      Having an opposition spokesperson comment adds I the politicization of this issue.

      Do the honorable member alert Roxon to allow her a right of reply?

      Too many black pots in parliament.

    • Angry God of Townsville says:

      06:42am | 11/10/12

      Nothing in the article requires clarification and the Punch publishes most articles submitted by politicians. It directly relates to her portfolio and is her responsibility to provide response.

      Are you sure that you are really offended enough to write your actual response.

    • dovif says:

      07:34am | 11/10/12

      Considering that the ALP government under Bligh and Gillard had 171/1180 houses and we are at the midway part of the process, I am not surprise that the ALP would be looking for scapegoats already in this project

      Blameshifting seems to be the target of every ALP failure, it is the Abbott, the press, the public servants, the miners, the public’s fault, the foreigners, It is never the ALP’s fault

    • Steve of QBN says:

      09:03am | 11/10/12

      Craig, why Roxon?  She’s the AG.  Macklin is the one you be wanting.  Roxon did a piece in The Punch a couple of days ago though.

    • Tom says:

      07:08am | 11/10/12

      Don’t forget that Labor State and Federal have already frittered away the money on their white elephants and from greasing the palms of indigenous spokespersons.

    • Al says:

      07:30am | 11/10/12

      Re: “We all need to work together to provide hope and opportunity for our first Australians…”
      Umm, No.
      It is not governments or any other persons responsibility to provide hope for someone. Hope is generaly a delusion anyway, the delusion that things will turn out the way the individual wants.
      As for providing opportunity for our first Australians, yes the exact same oppurtunities that are available to every Australian.

    • iansand says:

      07:49am | 11/10/12

      An article decrying (quite rightly) the politicisation of indigenous affair which then goes on to make political points.

      I despair.  You really are all as bad as each other.  Could you all take a step back from this week’s shemozzle and take stock of the damage you have done to the reputation of and respect for all politicians?  Do you think you will be proud or ashamed?

    • Stephen says:

      09:16am | 11/10/12

      AMEN!!! No truer word spoke…do we seriously believe that one politician is any better or worse than any other? They are all tarred with the same duplicitous brush. Deny any wrongdoing. Blame the other side. Employ spin that would make Shane Warne blush. Cling to power no matter the cost to the country.

      This current crop is merely displaying the culmination of decades of systemic collapse. The system throws up these power mad flunkies, categorises them as left or right, and demands they bicker and squabble to get their way, and to hell with the community they are supposed to serve.

      Our constitution must be overhauled, and NOT by politicians. That is like asking alcoholics to review licensing laws.

    • Bris Jack says:

      08:23am | 11/10/12

      They are running the country with crude political games.
      As Macklin said “political ploy”

    • Cobbler says:

      09:03am | 11/10/12

      I guess you don’t have to be able to keep a straight face when you suggest ‘Labor’s political spin machine’ exists and imply that the LNP doesn’t have the exact same machine punching out fake political pamphlets, astroturf and spin, while writing a print article….......

    • AdamC says:

      09:04am | 11/10/12

      When will politicans (and everyone else) realise you magically cure sick communities by changing the built environment?

      Sqaulor is a symptom, not a cause of poverty and idleness.

      In another thirty years, we will have another indigenous affairs minister trumpeting how they are bringing in outside contractors and bureacrats to build shiny new houses for the broken people of dysfunctional communities once the ones Macklin is building today decay away decades before they should. (Much like many indigenous Australians themselves do, sadly.)

      It is not the houses that are thr problem, it is the communities themselves.

    • AdamC says:

      09:30am | 11/10/12

      Clearly, that first sentence is missing a ‘cannot’.

    • Steve of QBN says:

      09:19am | 11/10/12

      When the Labour NSW government suspended it’s program to build new houses for Aboriginals, they said they said it was because they didn’t have enough money to complete the work.  An article in the SMH March 2009 showed that houses being built were more expensive (by $100,000 in some cases) than better built house on sale in the same area.

      Further, one has to finally consider WHERE these houses are being built.  Why build a house where there is no infrastructure, no schools, no shops and no work?  While the Greens might believe in the “noble savage” BS, most people really want to live in the 21st century, find jobs and make their way in the world.

      As a final word, Aboriginal people must be encouraged to buy their homes as ownership instills pride.  How you treat a possession is directly attributed to how much you paid for it.  You pay nothing, you don’t care how you treat it.

    • notworldlyelly says:

      09:26am | 11/10/12

      Just out of curiosity, is the Government taking away the single parent pension from Indigenous women in remote communities too and forcing them to find work or will they be an exception because a) they’re Indigenous and therefore more needy than the rest of the single mothers or b) they live in a remote community too far from where they could be expected to get work.

    • Sam says:

      09:35am | 11/10/12

      Yes , yes !! Lets build more house, that way we can see them in two years all spray painted, with holes in the walls, mattresses on the front lawn, seven dogs running in and out the broken front door.

      Im sorry but if you or I got Government housing, proceeded to destroy it, what do you think the chances of getting another would be ?? NIL, ZIP, ZILCH !!

      I am always amazed at how I hear so much about how bad off they have it, no jobs, no services, damaged houses !! Heres an idea, how about they move to somewhere that has services and facilities ! How about they sign up for Government Housing just like everyone else and if they damage the place then they dont get another, but “OH NO ,we cant do that !”, thats racist isnt it.

    • Mick In The Hills says:

      09:40am | 11/10/12

      Let’s not get sidetracked by minor issues like only having 171 houses built out of a target of 1180.

      The real crisis is - when are they due to be connected to the NBN?

    • lostinperth says:

      03:37pm | 11/10/12

      HAHA - best reply so far

    • SAm says:

      11:45am | 11/10/12

      Housing isnt just an indigenous problem, but thats another topic.
      Anyway I see it like this. Government builds a bunch of houses, the community moves in, likely feels no connection and trashes the place. Its only been happening for a hundred years or so, but we continue down that road..
      Why dont the communities be EMPOWERED to build their OWN houses, that way they can take pride in doing something worthwhile, will give them purpose, and ultimately, will likely leave the houses standing and well looked after.

    • Boz says:

      04:31pm | 11/10/12

      In our indigenous community, the community members ARE the ones that build the houses these days, but then they’re handed over to the tenant and completely trashed within weeks, covered in graffiti, hand basins fallen off walls because apparently they are toilets - not hand basins.

      Oh and don’t worry about the indigenous communities not being ready for digital television - our hard earned tax dollars are paying teams of government contractors to go through each community and make sure EACH HOUSE is fitted with the necessary technology.  Haven’t seen them knocking on my door to provide the free upgrade.

      If any of our federal political parties were actually interested in governing this nation instead of bickering like children, maybe they could look into ensuring the indigenous Australians take ownership of their lives.  Throwing great lakes of money at them clearly isn’t working.

    • Boz says:

      01:06pm | 11/10/12

      I have lived and worked in and around indigenous communities for many years.  Houses that were built in my local community 15 years ago no longer exist as they have been completely trashed and burnt down.  So new ones are constantly being built to replace them.  As most indigenous communities are in remote areas, it costs a considerable amount more to build a standard three bedroom home there then it would to build a five bedroom home in the suburbs of Brisbane.  Those in housing that is still standing do not have to take any responsibility AT ALL for damage they cause to a house while they reside there.  Tenants are not even required to change a light bulb - they report a job and a government agency sends an electrician out to replace it.  As for indigenous employment in the area - its seems that once you are ‘employed’ you are not required to actually show up for work in order to get paid.  You could rock in six months after the last time you showed up and no-one bats an eyelid.  But apparently ‘white Australia’ is not doing enough.  Responsibility needs to come from both sides and quite frankly, I think I have handed over enough of my hard earned tax dollars to supporting people who are completely unwilling to support themselves or even try.  I don’t care how many people call ‘racist’, if you do, it means you haven’t gotten out of your metro area and seen the real indigenous Australia.  I guarantee that if, as a continuously tax paying worker since I was 14, I were to lose my job, I would barely be able to feed my family on the benefits I would receive and probably be required to uproot my family and life to move to an area with higher employment in order to get anything at all.

      Build your own house with your own 3% interest loan from the bank.

    • John T says:

      01:23pm | 11/10/12

      Why can’t they get a mortgage & build their own houses?
      Why must I pay for other peoples housing-for that matter why can’t the Government build me a house for free?

    • Rouge says:

      04:30pm | 11/10/12

      No they must be fed & housed for free cause they discovered a stick 40000
      years ago.

    • bananabender56 says:

      01:31pm | 11/10/12

      I would suggest that most of the comments above are by people who have never lived or worked in remote Australia. I saw new Aboriginal housing built in WA, complete with solar hot water systems and 3 months later when I returned, the windows were broken, the solar hot water panels were smashed and the doors had been burned. We use the Western definition of ‘poor’ and apply it to people who would define it differently. Did the Aboriginal community have ‘jobs’ before we introduced the 9-5 concept? If they did then perhaps they would have invented the car or something significant. I’ve visited a number of Aboriginal communities and without exception they are shit holes - with rubbish lying everywhere. I was told the reason - everything a bush Aboriginal uses is bio degradeable and returns to the land once discarded. FFS - how long does it take to realise the beer bottle you left on the ground 3 years ago is still there?

    • Retired Soldier says:

      02:53pm | 11/10/12

      I have also spent many years working in the Australian outback and have seen dozens of Aboriginal Communities. They all have very large signs at the entrances forbidding entry to all who are not Aboriginal - they say it is due to reasons of “culture” but the reality is it is to stop the passing white man from seeing what they have done with the housing and infrastructure provided to them. The comment above refers to broken windows, doors and expensive Solar hot water systems. This is small stuff compared to the infrastructure damage and hand outs for vehicles and money for food and grog. We keep giving money and manpower to these ungrateful people and they are very happy to receive it - i have never seen an elder say thank you for giving us your money and I never will. They have an expectation that we whites will provide them with more and more and that will never change as now we encourage them to breed and pay for all medicines required to ensure they live longer. The do gooders in this forum should all get on a bus , head west and demand entry into their tax paid aboriginal resorts. Only then will the rot stop. If the Punch want to tell the truth for a change then perhaps they should spend some time in the bush exposing the myth of the poor harshly treated aboriginals and what happens to our money. Trouble is can you see anyone from the Punch wanting to tell the truth about such issues. Not a chance!

    • Rose says:

      05:45pm | 11/10/12

      The Liberal Party can not lecture anyone on Aboriginal Affairs. When presented with the “Little Children are Sacred” report they ignored the recommendations and went for the political quick fix (designed to quick fix the Libs election chances, not Aboriginal disadvantage) and introduced The Intervention. The Intervention is failed policy, the Labor Opposition of the time were stupid to vote for it and then cruel to continue and extend it. this is not the first time that politicians have ignored reform in favour of reverting back to paternalistic ‘solutions’ which have already proven to fail. You cannot help people by taking away the last remnants of autonomy that they had. You can’t help people by removing their rights as Australians.
      It’s very easy to see the problems in Aboriginal communities, but it will take a complete rethink to fix them, we can’t keep doing things such as the Intervention which only serve to increase the us versus them mentality that has existed ever since colonisation.

    • Ian Matthews says:

      06:40pm | 11/10/12

      Mackiln has shown herself to be just another empty vessel; more interested in retaining power than exercising it for good.


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