Waste and change: a return to the 1980s?

July 7th, 2014

A recent article by Warren Mundine, senior advisor to the present Australian Government, suggests some changes in thinking about the money spent in Indigenous communities and the value that actually is left behind. He may also be suggesting a return to the past.

If we take on the housing and health issues this raises, let’s look at recent history.

The 1980s saw Indigenous housing organisations (along with health services, legal services, stores etc) managed by Indigenous people for their communities. Both sides of politics decided to change the rules in the mid 2000s and actively and aggressively implemented a public housing system, effectively removing or restricting Indigenous housing organisations. 

This was to be public housing (not social or community housing) owned and managed by the state (or territory) for 40+40 years. 

Step one was to build new houses and upgrade existing houses in remote Indigenous communities at a national cost of $5.5bn. This was to be done by the experts, the big builders, the big companies at the big end of town. Forget the small rural and remote area builders with local experience and avoid at all costs the local Indigenous people living in the communities where the housing was to be delivered maintained and managed for 80 years.

Step two was for each state and territory to ensure Indigenous tenants paid the rent and behaved for the 40+40 years.

Well the houses were not built that well and the upgraded houses were also not upgraded well. The big end of town was used to building urban supermarkets and cinemas not remote area housing. But the houses sat on the paddock as houses should, pictures of them could be taken and whether they functioned or not was not high on the agenda. Thousands of houses were handed over. Job done.

People moved into the houses and rents were collected, but the agreed maintenance by the states has been ‘occasional’ at best. Tenancy management by the states has also been poor. House function declines and 40+40 years is looking like avery long time.

The large cracks in the largest national Indigenous housing program in Australia’s history (with around $2.5bn spent and $3bn still to be spent) are appearing and the present Australian Government may be thinking about using the $3bn in more creative ways, that is, not on remote area Indigenous housing. So what is a new policy to make this happen?

Here’s an idea – lets let local Indigenous communities solve their own housing needs (and health, education etc). We should set up Indigenous housing organisations and help them to help themselves. 


“There can be a future for Ampilatwatja (a small central Australian Indigenous community) where people have real jobs and there’s a real economy. It can start with the activities already happening in the community
which are performed by outsiders.
Saying there are no locally skilled people isn’t an excuse. Instead, identify what has to happen to ensure those skills do exist in the community.
This may involve an Alyawarr controlled business hiring external staff (as the health centre and supermarket have done), targeting training towards specific skill sets and/or requiring outside suppliers to employ or partner with locals,
enabling a skills transfer.”

Sound familiar?