Funding for Remote Indigenous Housing Unclear 

The war of words on the funding of remote housing between the Commonwealth and WA governments continued this week in the media and at a major meeting at Yule River in the Pilbara. ‘The West’ reported that:

“Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion faced an at-times heated crowd at the Yule River bush meeting in the Pilbara yesterday, where funding for remote housing was a key talking point among traditional owners.”

To date, there is no indication that the governments are any closer to coming to an agreement on this important issue.

 

Background

In October 2017 Minister Scullion released the report of a review into remote housing that he had commissioned. It stated:

“By 2018, the Strategy will have delivered over 11,500 more liveable homes in remote Australia (around 4000 new houses and 7500 refurbishments).

This increase in supply is estimated to have led to a significant decrease in the proportion of overcrowded households in remote and very remote areas, falling from 52.1 per cent in 2008 to 41.3 per cent in 2014–15. The Panel projects this will fall further to 37.4 per cent by 2018.”

The reports two leading recommendations were:

  • A recurrent program must be funded to maintain existing houses, preserve functionality and increase the life of housing assets.
  • Investment for an additional 5,500 houses by 2028 is needed to continue efforts on Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

The funding crisis is a product of decades of Commonwealth, State and Territory dysfunction.

The case for an extension of the funding for remote housing is crystal clear. This is about a choice between short-term considerations and investing for the future. Without a renewed commitment, we will witness a slow-motion national crisis. The imbalance between the short-term benefits of reduced investment and the longer-term social, economic and health costs is leading to decisions that are not in the nation’s long-term interest.

Safe, clean and secure housing is fundamental to physical and mental health, emotional well-being and family and community safety and stability.  It is a key element of the Commonwealth Government’s priority of Closing the Gap on the significant disadvantage that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often face in terms of health, education and employment.

 

Housing as foundational for health and wellbeing

Adequate housing is a fundamental requirement for improved health, education and social wellbeing. The impact of inadequate housing in relation to health is diverse and the adverse effects may be related to the availability of housing, housing design and construction, the condition of the house and surrounds.

While threats to health as a result of poor housing are common to other disadvantaged groups, the history of colonisation and the relationship of Aboriginal people to their land add to the significance of housing conditions as a determinant of health for Aboriginal Australians.

Housing also provides general socioeconomic status and provides a conduit for family services to be delivered. The two are interrelated and the general consensus it that they should operate together, and that lack of these services are generally associated with other negative social and economic influences.

Research to date shows:

  • housing among Aboriginal peoples is worst in the country
  • Poor housing affects health of people in dwelling;
  • Good housing supports good health, educational advancement, good self-image
  • Good housing is essential
  • Recognize that good housing is essential to health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people.

Six of the key issues that consistently generate greatest concern for Aboriginal people are complex and interlinked. 

Governments, researchers, policy makers, along with Aboriginal leadership struggle with the enormity. It is impossible to isolate just one issue as being the worst.  But all seem to point to housing being foundational to good outcomes.

  • Poorer health

There have been strides made on the part of many Aboriginal communities to improve education around health issues, but despite these improvements, Aboriginal people remain at higher risk for illness and earlier death non-Aboriginal people. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are on the increase. There are definite links between income, social factors and health. There is a higher rate of respiratory problems and other infectious diseases among Aboriginal children than among non-Aboriginal children - inadequate housing and crowded living conditions are contributing factors.

  • Lower levels of education

Colonialism accounts for many bitter, demoralizing legacies, the most pervasive of which is education - the root of this particular legacy is intergenerational trauma and dislocation as a result of child removal policies and practises.

  • Inadequate housing

The inadequacy of housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been widely acknowledged.  ‘Adequacy’ of housing includes quality of basic services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; habitability; affordability; accessibility; legal security of tenure; and location and cultural adequacy.

  • Higher rates of unemployment

Aboriginal peoples have historically faced higher unemployment rates than non-Aboriginal people.

  • Higher levels of incarceration

In the twenty-six years since the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was tabled in the Parliament of Australia, the proportion of the prison population that is Indigenous has doubled. 

Indigenous Australians are dramatically over-represented in the criminal justice system, in each state and territory. While Indigenous people represent only 3 per cent of Australia’s total population, they make up more than 27 per cent of our prison population and 55 per cent of the youth detention population.

  • Higher rates of suicide

And the most tragic of all is the higher rate of suicide among both Aboriginal adults and young people.

 

Some possible policy solutions

All Governments should have policies that fund the following:

  • Building more houses

Governments to reduce the national housing backlog. This backlog needs to be reduced in metropolitan, urban and rural populations as well as remote locations.

  • Building better houses

Shelter is highly critical of the cycle that have introduced ‘new ideas’ to reduce the short-term capital cost of houses, which have then consequently reduced housing standards, increased running and maintenance costs for residents, and led to premature housing failure.

  • Keeping houses working

High quality initial construction and regular routine maintenance is required (as in any Australian home) to prevent house failure.

  • Local people employed to keep houses working

Governments should assist in building up and maintaining the capacity of Indigenous communities to manage their own housing and essential infrastructure.

  • Local organisations developed and supported to keep houses working

There has also been a lack of adequate support for those Indigenous organisations which have demonstrated the ability to deliver and maintain housing services through constantly changing government policy regimes over many years.

Shelter WA and all stakeholders in housing are hoping that the Federal and State Governments will reach a clear and positive agreement as soon as possible, to ensure Indigenous and remote communities are properly supported into the future.


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