SIHIP is really in the news. Mostly as there appears to be a game of pin-the-blame-on-the-donkey. The donkey so far is one senior alliance executive, Jim Davidson. Given the growing media frenzy, it worth revisiting the origins of SIHIP.

SIHIP was singed into life in April 2008 and this is what I said about it at the time,

There is a new program, the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) which has a $647 m budget for the next 3 years. The plan is to build 750 new homes, demolish and replace 250 and refurbish a further 2500. …This isn’t enough funding to achieve the stated aim, so one objective of the program is to achieve significant reductions in building costs. Other than through economies of scale it doesn’t say how it will achieve this. By my reckoning, the cost savings will need to be in the region of 50%, which is highly unlikely.

Now we have the ex-head of SIHIP saying that a further $200-300 m will be required. Well, even that won’t be enough, as has been pointed out often enough, the current program will meet about 25% of housing needs. No matter which way you slice and dice it, no matter who gets sacked, or how many reviews are done on SIHIP, the funding is dwarfed by the scale of need. Without a $2-3 billion program, we will continue to see instances of people appearing in the media pointing out, quite rightly, how they haven’t had any change in their housing situation despite SIHIP.

One very unfortunate potential outcome of this is the perpetuation of a certain policy nihilism that pervades Indigenous affairs. It’s characterised by that oft-heard comment of – ‘so much money is spent on aborigines and it’s all wasted’, etc etc.

SIHIP will make a difference to many people, but at the end of it, there will still be people with quite dire housing needs. We need SIHIP every year for the next 15 years.

OK, now for some boring housing stuff. Part of the cost issue with SIHIP, is that SIHIP was tasked with simultaneously improving the standard of housing. Houses built under SIHIP are meant to be no different in quality to houses built anywhere else in Australia. This is a first for remote communities. This doesn’t mean that all previous housing was crap (but a lot was), but that relevant standards would apply. It’s basic stuff like all the appropriate certification (waterproofing, electrical certificates etc) which was always ignored before, and at the end, issuing a ‘Permit to Occupy’, certifying that the building is safe for human habitation and ensuring that the builders take responsibility for the quality of their work.

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