NT begs Canberra to pay for new housing in Aboriginal countries, plays catch-up of remote housing targets

The Northern Territory has asked the Australian Government to immediately fund new housing and upgrades of traditional Aboriginal homelands, where people live in “dilapidated houses for shelter, under severely overcrowded conditions”.

Chansey Paech, the territory’s minister for remote housing, said the current model for 500 NT homelands was “unsustainable” and that some communities have not received new housing or upgrades for decades.

In a letter to Federal Aboriginal Minister Ken Wyatt, Paech said he recently visited Emu Point homelands, 200 kilometers southwest of Darwin, where “most houses are deserted and residents live in tents”.

β€œA house I visited had room for 23 residents with only three bedrooms,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this is a common story for housing across many home countries in the Northern Territory.”

Paech said he had requested a meeting with Wyatt to discuss the “great need” for housing in his home country, where about 10,000 people live.

Two men speak at a press conference in front of a flag
Paech says Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt (right) may have an “uphill” course that convinces his cabinet colleagues to fund new homes in home countries.(

ABC News

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Minister says that previous home country agreement briefly changed residents

Under an agreement with the federal government in 2015, the NT government took responsibility for providing municipal and essential services to NT’s home countries in exchange for a one-time payment of $ 155 million.

But the NT government claims the deal did not cover housing, leaving requests for new housing or upgrades in limbo for years.

At the September meetings of the NT parliament, Paech said the agreement “briefly changed remote home countries” and “we need to correct the wrong”.

He said homelands were “places with a deep spiritual and cultural connection” and “have a great opportunity to be economic generators for the Aborigines and to keep the culture and identity strong”.

Paech said there was a misconception that the NT government was responsible for building new houses on home lands.

A drone photo of Mudginberri's homeland in Kakadu.  At least 12 homes can be seen from the air and the water tank is visible.
Homelands are small communities created after an Aboriginal-led movement in the 1970s to move away from larger cities and remain connected to the country.(

ABC News: Jano Gibson

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“The responsibility for new homes in the home country still lies with the Australian Government,” he said.

But a spokesman for Mr Wyatt’s office told ABC that “the NT government remains responsible for housing, including in home countries”.

The spokesman said no decision had been made on future funding for home countries, but that Wyatt would respond to Paech’s request “soon”.

The NT government is negotiating to build a timeline on housing agreement

Meanwhile, the NT government is negotiating with Canberra over its existing remote housing finance deal as it struggles to comply with the proposed construction plan.

It has previously faced criticism over its delayed rollout of its remote housing program.

In 2019, the Australian government agreed to give the NT more than half a billion dollars over five years to build nearly 2,000 new bedrooms in remote communities as part of a program called the National Partnership for Remote Housing NT.

A drone photo of rows of houses in a remote community in the northern territory
The remote community of Yarralin, west of Katherine, has received 25 new homes since 2016. (

ABC News: Hamish Harty

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The funding was in addition to the NT government’s commitment to spend $ 1.1 billion over 10 years to reduce high overcrowding in remote communities.

The agreement established a so-called “milestone” plan, where Commonwealth payments would be linked to the number of bedrooms built, but the NT has not been able to keep up with the schedule of new construction.

It has hit other targets related to rent management and aboriginal employment.

Paech attributed the delays to a lack of serviced reasons for building houses and delays in signing the original agreement due to a bureaucratic amount over its terms.

β€œIt has obviously caused the program not to deliver the amount that people had expected in the early years, but this program was always designed to scale up,” he said.

The NT government said in late August that it had built 1,144 bedrooms, which include both Australian government and NT funding.

Under the agreement, the NT government can claim costs of up to 1,950 bedrooms from the federal government if they are able to complete them before the agreement expires in June 2023.

A spokesman for the housing department said at the end of June this year that so far only 299 bedrooms had been allocated to the Australian Government’s funding stream.

Chansey Paech
Paech says the NT government last year built 675 remote bedrooms, the largest number in nine years. (

Oliver Gordon

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Paech promised that the program would accelerate, and information from the housing department suggested that the NT government projects would complete 3,700 bedrooms – including all 1,950 of the federally funded rooms – by June 2023.

“Recognize that we are working with the Commonwealth on these milestones, and I have also asked that while looking at these milestones, we could look at extending this agreement to take home countries,” Paech said.

Wyatt, who last year described NT’s rollout of the program as “slow” and “unacceptable,” was not available for an interview.

His spokesman said: “The Commonwealth is working closely with the NT Government to expedite its construction program to meet the commitments already in place under the National Partnership for Distance Housing NT.”

Separately, the Australian National Audit Office is auditing the administration of the agreement.

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