The 2017 Federal budget – a better way?

On 9 May, the Treasurer Scott Morrison put the 2017 budget to the Australian Parliament and said that it would “guarantee the essentials that Australians rely on” and would deliver “increased support for…closing the gap for Indigenous Australians”. Healthabitat (HH) asks how many houses will that money fund and can any amount of money guarantee that houses stop people getting sick?

The numbers

The 2017 budget includes $214.53 million for building, rebuilding and refurbishing houses in remote communities around Australia.

The next question is how many houses can you get for that much money? We can’t tell the future but we can look at the Federal Government’s record since 2008. In 2008, $5.5 billion was allocated over ten years to fund the states and the Northern Territory to build new housing and fix existing housing in remote communities (including administration). Over the last 9 years, $4.33 billion has been spent and the Federal Government reported that, as at 30 June 2016, 3,233 new houses and 7,350 refurbishments/rebuilds had been completed. If you divide $4.33 billion by the number of houses built or fixed, that is an average of $409,146 for every house.

So do these very expensive houses stop people getting sick? Despite assurances from states and FaHCSIA over the last 2 years that thorough quality assurance procedures are in place, no testing results or reports have ever been forwarded to communities when requested. As reported in HH’s article ‘A Working Shower in 2017’, houses tested by HH have failed basic safety and health function tests. New houses have been completed with no power, water or waste services connected. It seems that more money is no guarantee that the essential features of a house will work.

A better way?

Is there a better way of doing things? We think so. HH’s average budget to fix a house is $7,500 – that covers testing, checking and fixing 250 items in every house. If half of the $214.53 million budgeted this year was spent using the HH model, it would translate to 14,302 working houses in remote communities.

The link between working houses and health is undeniable. The NSW Health review of the health impact of 10 years of Housing for Health
work in NSW, released in 2010 shows a reduction of 40% in hospital separation rates. If houses are conceived as providers of health services, then the infrastructure to ensure house function becomes critical to the definition of a house.

As Paul Pholeros said in 2013 “it’s very easy to spend money, it’s very difficult to improve the function of all those parts of a house.” HH will closely monitor how the 2017 remote housing budget is spent, and continue to ask whether housing works done improve the function of those essential 250 items in each house and stop people getting sick.