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The two incoming housing ministers tasked with fixing the Northern Territory’s housing and homelessness crisis “have their work cut out for them”, says the Territory’s peak body for affordable housing and homelessness.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner unveiled his government’s new Cabinet this week, appointing Kate Worden as Minister for Territory Families and Urban Housing and Chansey Paech as the new Minister for Remote Housing and Town Camps.
That means there is now two housing ministers.
NT Shelter chief executive Peter McMillan says the task ahead will be fraught with challenges.
“They’ll be handed a housing strategy from the Department of Housing which says there is a shortfall of 8,000 to 12,000 homes over the next five years,” Mr McMillan said.
“Ministers Paech and Worden will certainly have their work cut out for them and will face significant challenges in their portfolios.”
Despite making headlines for criticising his own government over its spin around economic and budget mismanagement in a leaked messenger group, Mr Paech was handed a large list of portfolios on Monday including, Minister for Remote Housing and Town Camps, Minister for Indigenous Essential Services, Minister for Central Australia Economic Reconstruction and Minister for Arts and Culture.
Kate Worden has joined Cabinet as Minister for Territory Families, Minister for Urban Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Sport and Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
“Housing is a key portfolio in government and its role cannot be overstated,” Mr McMillan said.
“It is impossible to get effective cut-through in early childhood development, education, health, employment and the justice system if people are living in overcrowded, poorly functioning houses or if they don’t have a home at all.”
Mr McMillan said a key priority for the Ministers should be landing a fairer deal for the Territory on homelessness funding.
“Receiving 1.3 per cent of total Commonwealth funding when we have 12 times the problem is a terrible arrangement which must urgently be fixed,” he said.
“Ministers Worden and Paech will need to be strong advocates for the Territory in Canberra and effective negotiators to secure a fairer housing deal for the NT.”
With more people homeless or living in over-crowded houses than anywhere else in Australia, Mr McMillan said he is looking for the two incoming ministers to build influence in Cabinet to ensure housing and homelessness services and initiatives are adequately resourced as a whole of Territory Government priority.
Remote Housing pledge not even close to being met three years later
In 2017, Mr Gunner launched a $1.1 billion 10-year remote housing program, to repair existing houses in a state of disrepair, increase living space and build new homes.
But according to the government’s program progress report, as of May 31, a total of $167.3 million has been spent.
Holding the seat of Barkly for more than a decade, former housing minister Gerry McCarthy announced his retirement in May ahead of the election.
Mr McMillan says he welcomes the portfolio reshuffle and is hoping the new Ministers will “challenge the status quo”.
“If we keep doing what we’ve been doing on housing we will get the same results, and that includes public housing waitlists of six to eight years and a net increase in housing stock of just 159 houses over three years,” he said.
“We’re now looking for Ministers Worden and Paech, and the Gunner Government more broadly, to challenge the status quo and embrace new ideas to break down the barriers that are preventing investment in social housing in the NT.”
Last month, the Commonwealth and NSW governments struck a deal expected to fast-track the construction of more than 780 new social and affordable homes in Sydney, a move Mr McMillan said should be replicated here.
“With a rate of homelessness that is twelve times bigger than other states and territories, the NT Government needs to be at the forefront of deals like this so that we too can get funds flowing to build more housing in the Territory,” he said.
Ms Worden and Mr Paech were contacted for comment.
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