Three renters from Gunbalanya and one from Laramba will attempt to overturn the NT Government’s new Remote Rent Framework in a judicial review challenge at the NT Supreme Court today.
The Remote Rent Framework, the implementation of which was extended by 5 months last week, will see rent increase for 68% renters with a flat rate of $70 per room no matter the location and condition of the home or proximity to services.
"It is unfair we have to pay so much rent, and now they are asking for more. All of the houses in all of the communities need to be fixed up. We need more houses, not more rent," said Asher Badari, the lead plaintiff in the case.
“This new case hinges on whether the new Remote Rent Framework was lawfully introduced by the NT Government and if the rent increases are valid. If the case is successful, the new framework could be thrown out forcing the NT Government back to the drawing board, and to consult with remote Aboriginal people. ,” said Dan Kelly, Solicitor for Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights (ALRAR).
The Remote Rent Framework has been roundly criticised by Aboriginal community-controlled organisations who say that the Department has not conducted meaningful consultation and that the financial pressure from the rent increase places tenants at risk of symptoms of multidimensional disadvantage including poverty, food insecurity and energy insecurity.
The Remote Rent Framework in its current form, will see one tenant take on the responsibility of ‘head tenant’ or ‘house boss’ with responsibilities for the entire household’s rent. This will place an unacceptable burden of risk on women, as women make up the higher proportion of lead tenants.
There is a high likelihood the Remote Rent Framework in its current form will see vulnerable families at greater risk of experiencing homelessness and family violence, which will drive upward pressure on an already strained service sector.
“It’s extraordinary that the NT Government has introduced this new framework that covers only remote communities and town camps. One has to ask why these new rent hikes will not affect all Territorians equally and will disproportionately impact First Nations Peoples?” said Maria Nawaz, Acting Executive Director, Grata Fund.
“If this rent determination goes ahead First Nations Peoples in remote communities in the NT will be the only public housing tenants in the country where the rent is determined by the number of rooms rather than an income test,” said Mr Kelly.
Last month, in the wake of cases led by renters from Ltyentye Apurte community (Santa Teresa) and Laramba the NT Government revealed in court that the Treasurer had issued a Determination wiping $70 million in alleged rental debts.
“While the Government has confirmed to media that close to $70 million in alleged debts has been wiped, there are questions about the reliability of that figure and whether or not the debts actually exist, particularly given past experience with the Department of Housing in the courts,” said Ms Nawaz.
In 2018 litigation brought by the Ltyentye Apurte community (Santa Teresa) saw a humiliating backdown by the NT Government who was forced to withdraw an aggressive counterclaim against the community for unpaid rental debts when they were unable to provide any credible evidence of the debt at the NT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
“Documents revealed the total debt calculated for the community was $2 million, roughly $20,000 per household. An insurmountable figure for most people, and even more shocking since these debts appear not to have existed at all,” said Mr Kelly.
“We call on the NT Government to wipe all alleged rental debt up to the February start date for the new Framework and for an independent review into the evidence and calculation method the Department used to reach the $70 million figure of the alleged debt,” said MsNawaz.
“We also call on the NT Government to return to the table and meaningfully consult on a rental framework that is fair, does not harm or disadvantage First Nations people living in remote communities and town camps in comparison to other Territorians and work towards a just handover of housing to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations,” said Ms Nawaz.
The hearing will be held in the NT Supreme Court, Darwin at 9am in Court 6 before Justice Burns. The listing is available here.
Available for interview
Dan Kelly, Solicitor for Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights
Maria Nawaz, Acting Executive Director, Grata Fund
Media contact: Belinda Lowe 0428 805 696