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Indigenous Housing Shame: Billions In Funding For Developing World Conditions

"We have been voting for years and what do we get? Nothing."

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Thousands of Aboriginal people in remote communities across the Northern Territory are living in developing world conditions in severely overcrowded houses. This is despite billions of dollars being pumped into housing projects by both Liberal and Labor governments over the past decade.

BuzzFeed News travelled to the remote community of Yirrkala in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and found Aboriginal people desperate for help.

"I want to show you my house because I am desperate. The election is coming up and what will I get if I vote? I want you to show the politicians how we actually live."

Yolngu elder Julie Munungurr never invites visitors into her three-bedroom house in the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem, she's too embarrassed by the state of it.

She invited BuzzFeed News out of sheer desperation, and asked us to take photos in the hope that it would lead to more housing being built in the community.

"I am a disabled woman and I live with 10 family members. We all use the same toilet and shower, I need my own house and space. We keep asking for houses from the government but we get nothing," Julie told BuzzFeed News.


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Both Liberal and Labor governments have funnelled billions of funding into policies, programs and schemes to tackle chronic overcrowding in remote Aboriginal communities over the past decade, but community members in Yirrkala have been left wondering where that money went.

Julie, who worked for years as a public servant, says she has become fed up with empty promises from both Liberal and Labor governments to build remote community houses over the past decade.

"It's all bullshit, they say they want to help us, but look at how we live. They did the intervention and then Stronger Futures and now I don't know what they have done, but I know that none of that money helped many families and people here," Munungurr said.

The Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) in 2007, commonly known as the intervention, introduced by the then liberal government, was supposed to address overcrowding.

When Labor came to power later that year, it implemented the Stronger Futures policy to improve the lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. This included the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP).

SIHIP allocated $670 million to build housing in16 Aboriginal communities identified as "high need". The program was marred by mismanagement and lengthy delays. In 2009, it had to reduce its initial target number of 750 new houses after miscalculating building costs by $50 million.

Late in 2009, the SIHIP program was subsumed into the National Partnership on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment (NPARIH), which saw the Commonwealth government commit $5.5 billion to states over 10 years to assist with Aboriginal housing.

Since 2013, the Northern Territory has received $120,914,000 of that money with a target of building 4,200 houses by 2018. As of March, 3,112 houses had been built and while the program appears to be on track to meet that target, community leaders say it won't alleviate the crisis.

A report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2011 found a staggering 85% of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory live in overcrowded houses.

"Me and my daughter have been on the waiting list for years to get housing. I am really, really desperate and worried for my daughter. She just had a kidney transplant and the doctors in Darwin want her to stay in a clean house, in her own house with her own shower and the renal doctors don’t want her to end up on dialysis again, but we are stuck here waiting," Yolngu woman Wendy Munungurr told BuzzFeed News.

Wendy lives in a four-bedroom house with 16 family members in Yirrkala next to her sister Julie's house and every night she pulls out a thin mattress and lays it out on the kitchen floor where she and her daughter sleep. "We have to roll them up during the day so people can walk through the house."

After waiting on the NT Housing list for three years, she is now terrified that her daughter will get an infection due to the amount of people living under one roof.

"Is there any way you can help us get housing for her urgently?," Wendy asked BuzzFeed News. "Because I have three people really sick in my house and we need proper homes."

Wendy's 84-year-old mother also lives in the house. She is wheelchair-bound and is confined primarily to the living room because the house is not equipped for someone with a disability.

"We need more rooms, we need a ramp for my old lady and fitting for her in the bathroom and toilet," Julie said.

If the Coalition wins the federal election on Saturday it will introduce a new scheme called the Remote Housing Strategy, which includes $350 million for housing in the Northern Territory.

Julie told BuzzFeed News that she's lived through countless housing schemes by both major parties but "none of them have helped me or my family".

"The first thing I want politicians to do after the election, whoever wins, is come and sit with us Yolngu and see exactly how we live, maybe then we could get the houses we need".

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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