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“If we built housing to suit the community’s needs, we might end up with more children at school and more people in work”

The news that Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion plans to link priority for social housing in remote areas to school attendance and employment is ringing alarm bells for Paul Dutton, a ‘wiimpitja’ of the Barkindji nation in western NSW.

Paul Dutton writes:

The Minister’s plan looks like putting the cart before the horse.

You can’t address school attendance and employment without ensuring people have access to appropriate housing.

Children need a stable home environment if they are to get to school.

The same argument can be made regarding employment – without a fixed address, it’s difficult to find or keep a job.

It’s also reported that Minister Scullion is seeking bilateral agreements with State & Territory governments to manage remote Indigenous housing in accordance with metropolitan public housing programs.

Access to social housing would reportedly be linked to enforcing rental agreements and rental payments of a property and the liability for damage to that property.

Again my instant reaction to this statement is that for years we have known the housing that is provided by the Commonwealth has almost always been inferior quality to other housing stock.

This is not so surprising when you consider that tenders for buildings in remote locations are overseen by Commonwealth public servants, making decisions from Canberra with very little or no experience or understanding of the environments or conditions to which these homes are to be built.

Decisions tend to be made upon price rather than upon which proposal is best suited to the conditions and needs of the housings’ occupants or the particular environmental conditions.

Do they even consider or regulate as mandatory set minimum standards regarding appropriate remote housing?

In my experience, witnessing the situation at Wilcannia in NSW, they do not.

But my biggest question for the Minister and his department is whether they have actually asked remote communities what their ideal house would look like?

Is it four closed walls with small windows that are also closed?

Maybe the community would prefer homes with an open design, with large open areas well covered for outside living and contact.

Or maybe they would prefer some other design altogether – perhaps something innovative that delivers great housing, social interaction, personal and family wellbeing?

Wouldn’t that be clever – a housing design that also works for health and social and emotional wellbeing.

Which direction do community want their homes to face? Do community want kitchens or open access outdoor fire places?

I cannot sleep in my house without the window being open, without feeling the breeze, without hearing the birds or whatever other wildlife is present calling out.

I often go outside at night, look at the stars, feel the night on my skin, I attune myself to Earth and specifically where I am.

That connects me, that’s what Aboriginal people want. We do not switch off from our culture and our environment because we walk inside a building. Without that connection to the living, breathing world, culture can be affected.

The saying goes, “the home is where the heart is”.

Well it’s about time every single State and Territory Government and especially the Federal Government start asking Aboriginal people and communities, what does that look like for them?

If Aboriginal people had the home of their dreams like every other Australian citizen, even in a community housing sense, why wouldn’t Aboriginal tenants want to then purchase a home they designed?

Billions of dollars have been poured into housing for Aboriginal people that is based upon Anglo designs and expectations.

If we built housing to suit the community’s needs and wants, we might end up with more children at school and more people in work.

• This is an edited version of an article first published by Paul Dutton at his blog.

Paul Dutton: a brief bio

I am a ‘wiimpitja’ of the Barkindji nation born in Broken Hill, far western NSW. ‘Barka’ referring to the river, the Darling River.

I was part of the stolen generation, adopted into a non-indigenous family whilst two other siblings were also removed and placed in separate foster care placements. We were all placed over 1400 kilometres away from family.

I grew up in Liverpool, NSW and met my birth family when I returned to Wilcannia in 1988. I am now a traditional owner and board member of Mutawtinji National Park, which is located between Wilcannia and Broken Hill. The four family groups of the park have 2 representatives each who oversee the management for it. I have been a family representative on the Board since 2001.

I have previously worked for Department of Immigration, NSW Department of Housing, NSW Link-Up (Aboriginal Corporation), NSW Family & Community Services and am now employed with AbSec working on a pilot program, Family Group Conferencing delivering culturally appropriate service to support Early Intervention for our families.

My partner Michelle and I have 6 children, Merinda studied Law at UNSW, Manduway attends Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA) in Brisbane & is a part of a group formed by the students who perform regularly, Keeden studies Physical Education at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Alinta is studying Environmental Forensics at UTS in Sydney whilst Talara and Jara’na are still in school.

I hold a personal interest in government policies and programs for Aboriginal communities in a holistic sense and believe that’s the most appropriate, efficient and effective direction policy should be directed.

I also have a strong interest in environmental protection & human causation for climate change and how best to develop strategies which will guide economic development for our nation as well as alleviate personal cost blowouts through increased natural disasters.

Mother Earth & my spiritual elders current and past help direct me in my personal life, provide me with the strength required for these fights for our rights and for wellbeing of our children’s children and for my future direction as a Barkindji man.

• Follow Paul Dutton on Twitter.

 

Comments 1

  1. Georgia Boyles says:

    The NPARIH was brought about to aim to address the areas of homelessness, significant overcrowding, the severe shortage of housing for Indigenous Australians poor housing conditions (Australian Government Department of Social Services, 2013a). Despite some headway with these areas, there has been significant evidence that states all parties have not in fact reached any of said targets. One of the main downfalls of the policy is the lack of input or opinion from the Indigenous Australians on housing structure, location and so forth (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2013). We can no longer ‘throw’ money at the Indigenous community in order to give them what we, as Westernized civilization, perceive is better. Yes everyone should have the right to housing, and adequate housing at that, but culturally and socially Indigenous Australians want things that different to the people implementing the policy (AIHW, 2013). How about we actually listen to them and give their community what they want? If they want smaller houses, build smaller houses. If they want a house with one large room in the middle, then build a house with one large room in the middle. It seems so simple, and yet here we are still discussing the fact that the policy has not reached its targets. Do we really need to keep asking why? The government has made it very clear how much money they have put into this policy- $5.5 billion over ten years- and whilst the funding itself is helpful, the job has not been implemented correctly (AGDSS, 2013, p.15b). You could have all the money in the world for a plan or policy, but if it is not performed appropriately, then what is the point? I strongly believe that a) the policy is good and b) the money is good, but in reality the execution of the most policy aspects is downright terrible (AIHW, 2013).
    In light of the recent Budget also, must debate has taken place surrounding whether the NPARIH will in fact continue (Scullion, 2014). The policy itself has some great aspects, which are key to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians (REF). If the policy is therefore cut completely or loses funding, then all hope for the Indigenous community may be lost in terms of finding adequate housing. However, if the policy does still stay in tact, in whatever way the Liberal government decides to go with, a new direction needs to occur in order for the policy to in fact work.
    In 2010 the Coalition took it upon themselves to state that Labor was “all talk and no action”, and had failed the Indigenous community (The Coalition, 2010, p.3) and this view was still upheld by the Coalition three years later. However, even now that the Liberal party finally has a chance to implement all the ‘great ideas’ they so easily reported whilst slandering the Labor party, they are already going down the wrong track. Instead of worrying about other political parties, one would suggest the best thing to do would be to actually effectively execute the policy, which both parties are still yet to do. Collaboratively working with the Indigenous community will achieve the most effective outcome (AIHW, 2013). After all, this is a policy for the Indigenous Australians and yet they remain the ones with little to no say at all, and we still wonder why the policy has not been effective.

    References:

    Australian Government Department of Social Services. (2013a). National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing. Retrieved online from
    http://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/indigenous-australians/programs- services/housing/national-partnership-agreement-on-remote-indigenous- housing

    Australian Government Department of Social Services. (2013b). National partnership on remote Indigenous housing – Progress review (2008-2013). Retrieved from: http://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/indigenous/NPARIH%20Report %20Version%207%2028%20May_Web%20accessible%20FINAL_2%20%28 2%29.pdf

    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2013). Closing the Gap Clearing House. What works? A review of actions addressing the social and economic determinants of Indigenous health (7). Retrieved online from
    http://www.aihw.gov.au/uploadedFiles/ClosingTheGap/Content/Publications/ 2013/ctgc-ip07.pdf

    The Coalition. (2010). The Coalition’s plan for real action for
    Indigenous Australians. Retrieved online from http://www.alc.org.au/media/49211/coalitions%20plan.pdf

    Scullion, N. (2014a). Media Release. Delivering our commitments for Indigenous Australians. Retrieved online from
    https://www.nesa.com.au/media/65450/nigel%20scullion%20budget%20 media%20release.pdf

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