The federal opposition says taxpayers in Australia are being ripped off, with a large number of refurbishments completed under an indigenous housing program in the Northern Territory having mismatched tiles and “paint jobs a six-year-old would not be proud of.”
In a Senate budget estimates hearing in Canberra on Friday, Country Liberal senator and opposition spokesman on indigenous affairs Nigel Scullion said much of the work he has seen with regard to the NT Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) program has been substandard.
“There are holes in walls that have been painted over,” Scullion told the committee, adding that in other cases, tilers had mismatched coloured tiles and decided that grouting was not needed.
“We have been completely and utterly ripped off,” he said. “This is grand theft housing.”
While officials from the Department of Families Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs told the committee that between $20,000 and $100,000 was being spent on each refurbishment, Scullion says he has not been able to find a single one where more than $20,000 had been spent despite having inspected hundreds of houses.
Scullion’s claims have been rebuffed by Kate Gumley, Group Manager of the Office of Remote Indigenous Housing within the indigenous affairs department, who says the Commonwealth has a robust quality assurance program. Gumley said refurbishments have to measure up to the residential tenancies standard, adding that an Australian National Audit Office report suggests the program is delivering good value.
Gumley says that while colour-matched tiles are obviously ideal, oddly matched ones are better than nothing and the houses in which the mismatched tiles were laid may have been constructed some time ago.
Scullion’s complaints are merely the latest drama associated with the SIHIP program, in which $672 million is being spent to deliver 750 new houses, rebuild 230 existing homes and refurbish a further 2,500 houses in 73 remote indigenous communities by 2013.
In July, up to 70 workers in Alice Springs threatened to walk away from the program because their wages had not been paid, and in February it was revealed that more than three quarters of the homes built under the program in Alice Springs town camps needed to be repaired after defects were discovered in some building materials.