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The Territory Government’s largest remote housing infrastructure spend in history is tackling a problem that has plagued remote Indigenous communities for decades – a significant shortage of appropriate housing.

Dwayne McInnes, General Manager Housing Program Office at the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, is excited about the breadth and ambition of the Remote Housing Investment Package, known as Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes. – – but he’s also realistic.

“This investment will make significant inroads into addressing overcrowding and will improve the living conditions in our remote communities,” he says.

“This is an ambitious program that is rewarding to be part of. To go to a community and see the smiles on the faces of the parents and kids when they get the keys to their house is very satisfying.”

The Territory Government has committed $1.1 billion over the next 10 years for house building, renovations and extensions under the Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes. Program, which is being delivered by Territory Families, Housing and Communities in partnership with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics.

An additional $432 million has been committed for civil works, such as laying water and sewage pipes, installing power lines and building roads.

In 2018, the Federal Government committed $550 million to Territory Aboriginal communities under the National Partnership for Remote Housing Northern Territory.

That brings the total joint government investment to $2.1 billion over a decade. 

Work includes building 1255 new homes and extending or upgrading a further 1086 in 73 remote communities and Boroloola, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs town camps.

We expect to deliver 5325 bedrooms and improvements to existing remote houses across the Northern Territory.

“It is a massive program,” says Mr McInnes. “Sure, there are a lot of challenges and complexities in delivering housing in remote communities including reaching an agreement on the location of houses and consideration of available essential services capacity.  Delivering Our Community. Our Future. Our Homes. will make a massive difference to the lives of remote Territorians.

Aboriginal Territorians are benefiting in many ways from the Program.

Indigenous-owned businesses, whether working on their own or in joint ventures with more established companies, have won nearly $150 million worth of contracts on the building program so far.

In addition to construction, Aboriginal business enterprises have had the opportunity to apply for property and tenancy maintenance contracts to deliver services to residents once the homes are completed, providing for ongoing employment opportunities.

This is done through a partnering agreement where Territory Families, Housing and Communities engages the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics.

“We encourage Aboriginal business enterprises to partner with other organisations with the aim of building capacity to develop local economic development opportunities and local employment,” says Mr McInnes.

The biggest contract – $51.5 million to build houses on Galiwin’ku – went to Bukmak Constructions, a highly-regarded business owned by the Arnhem Land Progress Association.

Bukmak will build 87 houses in a community where the rate of overcrowding is one of the worst in the Territory at 75 per cent.“

They won the work after a full procurement process, which looked at things such as capacity and local content” says Mr McInnes. “There was a probity auditor engaged for the procurement process.”

The Territory Government program is not only creating long-term jobs and training for Indigenous people, but also improving the capabilities of Aboriginal companies.

In 2020-21 there is a commitment to achieve at least 42 per cent of Indigenous employment as part of the program, which will increase by two percent a year for the next three years.The program has four elements:

  • HomeBuild – building new houses
  • Room to Breathe – upgrading and extending homes, which includes adding space for visitors, such as enclosed verandahs, in recognition of the importance of family obligations and acknowledging kinship in Aboriginal culture
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Expanding Government
  • Employee Housing for local Territory Government staff

Together, Territory Families, Housing and Communities and Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics staff have worked hard to overcome the many challenges of building in the bush.

For instance, there were only 70 blocks of land available throughout the Territory when the project started three years ago – there are now nearly 500.

The logistics of building in remote communities are challenging.

Planning alone, such as subdividing land, planning civil works, architectural design and community consultation, takes about 18 months.

The department has a solid quality assurance system to ensure the work is up to standard and is as transparent as possible by posting progress reports online.