Draft housing changes could see rent rises for federal Indigenous agency staff

A new draft housing policy would increase rent for staff at a federal government Indigenous agency and impact its relationship with First Nations communities, a union has said.

While not required to house staff, the National Indigenous Australians Agency has 96 residential properties around the country in areas where there are limited housing options.

The CPSU is concerned the proposed changes could impact on service delivery for remote Indigenous communities.Credit:Ben Plant

But a new draft policy sent to staff last month, seen by this masthead, would require workers to pay 50 per cent of the average rental amount for the region they live in or 10 per cent of their total salary – whichever is higher.

The 50 per cent amount ranges from $250 a fortnight for a two-bedroom property in Ceduna in South Australia, to $1300 a fortnight for a four-bedroom property on Thursday Island in Queensland. The locations listed include in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.

“Under these arrangements, some members of staff have had the use of staff housing for periods outside of what is provided for under this policy, and at lower rental thresholds,” the draft reads.

Commonwealth Public Sector Union deputy secretary, Beth Vincent-Pietsch, argued the policy would unreasonably raise rent for some staff.

“They’re putting the rental costs for those tenancies up considerably, like a 253 per cent increase in some of those sites,” she said.

The draft says the NIAA would gradually move people on existing agreements to the new payment schedule over the course of 12-24 months. The agency said it would “balance fairness while ensuring the future staff housing arrangements are consistent with this policy”.

The housing arrangements of NIAA staff are managed under a nearly 12-year-old policy introduced by the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services, and Indigenous Affairs. This policy doesn’t have a schedule for minimum rental amounts per region or a fixed time frame for tenancies.

A spokesman for the NIAA said agency housing was only meant to be a transition support measure.

“It is not meant to support staff in long-term arrangements where they have decided to permanently reside in their work location,” he said. “Should staff decide to make a location their permanent home, they will be expected to join the regular housing market.”

The spokesman said any staff concerns over the policy should be raised during the ongoing consultation process.

The union also said that a limit on tenancy lengths in the draft proposal would rob remote communities of long-term dedicated public servants and damage the reputation of the agency.

“They’re now moving to three-year tenancies … every three years they’re going to change those tenancies,” Ms Vincent-Pietsch said.

CPSU deputy secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch.

“The original mission of the NIAA is to close the gap by recognising that communities are very different from each other, and they need to have government contacts from the NIAA who are part of the community and have long-term relationships.”

According to its latest annual report, the NIAA has 1215 ongoing staff with 280 of them identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

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