A federal probe has urged all levels of government to funnel money into a northern Australia housing fund as the number of north-west projects grows.
A bipartisan federal probe has urged the three tiers of government to funnel money into a northern Australia housing fund to ease the years-long accommodation shortage crippling business growth.
The call comes as a Business News analysis of WA council-backed housing projects above the 26th parallel seeking funds reveals the total outlay would now be in excess of $200 million.
A federal parliamentary committee led by Labor MP Marion Scrymgour and Liberal-National MP Warren Entsch last week published its first report into developing northern Australia’s workforce.
While canvassing myriad issues from migration to crime, housing came in for particular focus as the “primary issue” affecting workforce development.
The committee recommended incentivising modular homes, developing a northern Australia-focused infrastructure strategy, a fund which all levels of government would tip money into, and construction training for Indigenous people.
The proposed fund would focus on local employment in social, residential, commercial and civil construction projects.
“It is essential that Northern Australian voices are listened to and not drowned out in an already loud field highlighting the need for housing reform across many parts of Australia, particularly metropolitan areas,” Ms Scrymgour said.
“Without investment to address housing shortages in Northern Australia, more and more people will leave the region and likely move to metropolitan areas, contributing to increased demand for housing in cities; and decreased development in the parts of Australia that are regional powerhouses for their contributions to the mining, agricultural and tourism sectors.
“For these reasons, the committee calls on the Australian Government to prioritise its response to the above recommendations and to urgently commence reforms to address the issues outlined in this report.”
Hands out in the north
As rents climb beyond $1000 per week and supply continues to dwindle at close to zero, the number of housing projects planned or put forward for funding by increasingly desperate north-west local governments mounts.
Council-backed housing plans in the north-west include:
- Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley seeking up to $5 million for 10 modular homes in Kununurra
- Shire of Halls Creek seeking $22m for up to 40 culturally appropriate houses at a total cost of $26m
- Shire of Broome spending $3 million to build four new homes for staff
- Shire of Broome seeking $16 million for a 91-dwelling key worker village (state has committed $7.6m, full project is $64 million for 226 units)
- Town of Port Hedland seeking funds for a 75-person key worker village
- City of Karratha seeking $92 million to build the 82-unit Walgu apartments
- Shire of Ashburton planning a 6-12 unit affordable housing pilot project in Tom Price
- Shire of Shark Bay building five staff houses in Denham (state has committed $187,000)
- 50-person Murat Road workers accommodation in the Shire of Exmouth
- Shire of Carnarvon spending $1.24m on two four-bed essential worker homes (state has committed $240,000)
The outlay required for the full suite of council-backed projects above the 26th parallel now likely exceeds $250 million.
That includes about $125 million for apartments and key worker villages in Karratha, Port Hedland and Broome, and about $5 million for government staff housing in Denham and Broome.
It does not include private developments such as Tattarang’s proposed 36-room short-stay block in Exmouth or the 490-dwelling, $51 million Azzura Square development in South Hedland.
The Federal committee heard from the Shire of Broome that housing and transport costs were a significant impost of the ability to build large numbers of homes, and that the state government was exacerbating the issue by competing in the rental market.
“We need those government workers—we're not saying they shouldn't be participating in the market—but they need to be building houses,” the Shire of Broome said.
The state government has consistently said it was doing everything it could to alleviate the housing crisis and accommodate the growing demand for its own staff.
“Ensuring regional communities have access to critical State Government workers, such as teachers and police officers, is essential for achieving strong communities,” Housing Minister John Carey said in September after being challenged by the Shire of Broome to build, not rent.
“We face significant constraints and challenges due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chain disruptions and subsequent heated construction market, in securing necessary trades to undertake a range of construction and refurbishment works and maintenance.
Postcode discrimination – where banks won’t loan money or will place onerous deposits as high as 60 per cent on certain postcodes – and childcare shortages were among other issues raised in WA.
The report is now before the federal government for a response.