Overcrowding Major Problem Confronting Australian Aborigines

by Gopalan on Jul 5 2009 9:17 AM

Overcrowding could be a major problem confronting Australian aborigines.

Indigenous leader and former Labor Party national president Warren Mundine described the delays in building houses for the disadvantaged as "disgraceful and embarrassing".

Mr Mundine, who sits on the Prime Minister's commission on indigenous housing, said the federal government was putting "speed humps in the way of development" in the form of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Addressing poor and overcrowded housing is widely acknowledged to be the starting point of tackling indigenous problems, especially child abuse.

But for all the talk, the Territory and federal governments have choked on what should be a straightforward business proposition: securing land, calling for tenders and building the houses.

But lengthy consultations on land tenure, house design and location, and demands for 20 to 30per cent indigenous worker participation are stifling action.

The situation is worsened by the fact that these dry-season months in the Top End are the crucial window to get work started before roads close and rain sets in, Australian reported.

When Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin visited Tennant Creek this week to inspect progress, the only work under way appeared to be cleaning out some old houses in preparation for refurbishment.

The Howard government committed almost $700 million in new housing and housing upgrades for indigenous communities in mid-2007, under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program. The Rudd Government promised to continue it, and has put $672m on the table.

Mr Rudd this week described the Productivity Commission's report on indigenous disadvantage as "devastating" and said government efforts had to be doubled.

But Mr Mundine said the federal government had doubled its layers of bureaucracy in addressing the indigenous housing crisis.

Indigenous academic Marcia Langton said the problem was that "ossified" territory and federal departments were trying to deal with private enterprise but were incapable of conducting contemporary business practices.

"We look like we've got a government that's finally understanding what's going on, and we're trying not to lose momentum, but the old-fashioned bureaucracies can't keep up," Professor Langton said.

The Northern Territory's peak housing group too says easing overcrowding in remote communities should be governments' first priority in improving outcomes for Aboriginal people.

"Overcrowding creates conflict and family dysfunction and all those kind of problems," said NT Shelter executive officer Toni Vine-Bromley.

"It also impacts on people's health, their ability to study or get an education, or get food in the fridge and all those things that are really what you would just normally take for granted."

Ms Vine-Bromley says construction needs to start now on building the homes.

"There are no new houses on the ground as yet in any Indigenous community," she said.

"Some communities don't know how many new houses they're going to get, in some communities the upgrades are starting to happen but those new houses that are out of that Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program still haven't been delivered on the ground and nobody has moved into a new house."

The NT Government says more than 80 new homes have been built in various Aboriginal communities since the intervention was rolled out in 2007.