Close the Gap Committee


Examining the High Court's ruling on housing in remote communities

Hon Dr Gary Johns

22 Nov 2023

3:15 min

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In this video, Close the Gap Research Chairman, Hon Dr. Gary Johns shares his analysis of the High Court's ruling, offering valuable insights into the implications for tenants and the broader landscape of housing in remote communities. The decision, while important and significant, raises questions about the practicality of enforcing housing standards across diverse Aboriginal communities.

Gary explores the complexities highlighted by this case, considering factors such as substance abuse, domestic violence, property damage and the financial constraints faced by governments in maintaining public housing in remote areas. This conversation aims to foster a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by the High Court's ruling.

Video transcript

The High Court of Australia recently made a very important decision concerning the right of a tenant of the Northern Territory Housing Authority to sue for damages. The tenant, an Aboriginal woman from the remote community of Santa Teresa, lived in a house without a back door for 68 months. Following her passing, the High Court ruled in favour of her right to sue, allowing communities to insist that authorities maintain their rental housing.

This decision sheds light on a long-standing issue in Northern Australia where governments provide housing for Aboriginal tenants but often turn a blind eye to misbehaviour and property damage. The ruling challenges the feasibility of maintaining standards across 1100 discrete remote Aboriginal communities, raising concerns about resident behaviour, including alcohol-related problems, violence, and disruptions to education.

While the decision rightly emphasises the responsibility of authorities to uphold housing standards, it also highlights broader challenges faced by remote communities. With limited financial resources, addressing these issues requires careful consideration and a commitment to meaningful change.

The ruling serves as a wake-up call, urging governments to reassess their approach to housing in remote Australia. As discussions unfold, it becomes imperative to explore sustainable solutions that address both the housing crisis and the underlying social challenges faced by residents in these remote settlements.

Other resources


Read the CtGR Adelaide Statement from the Head (PDF)


Stories from the front line: An interview with Terry Keane


Inaugural Close the Gap Committee meeting