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Candidates discuss ‘crisis’ in First Nations housing

22 April 2022 at 5:41 pm
Danielle Kutchel
First Nations peoples face severe overcrowding in housing and the situation will only worsen unless a serious investment is made in social housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, advocates say.

Danielle Kutchel | 22 April 2022 at 5:41 pm


Candidates discuss ‘crisis’ in First Nations housing
22 April 2022 at 5:41 pm

First Nations peoples face severe overcrowding in housing and the situation will only worsen unless a serious investment is made in social housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, advocates say.

More than 8,000 new houses are needed to urgently address the crisis in First Nations housing, a forum has heard.

Hosted by Change the Record and Everybody’s Home, the First Nations Housing Forum was held online on Tuesday 19 April in Leichhardt, Queensland. Candidates from the Liberal, Labor, Greens and Socialist Alliance parties were invited to attend and share their policies to address what’s been described as a “crisis” in First Nations housing.

The forum followed the release by the two organisations of the First Nations Housing – Election Priorities report, which outlined a number of recommendations including to further fund states and territories to retrofit current housing stock to be better suited to the worsening climate, and an immediate investment in at least 8,500 “co-designed, culturally appropriate, climate resilient” houses over four years.

Labor’s Elida Faith, Greens candidate Phillip Musumeci, and Pat O’Shane from the Socialist Alliance all attended the forum. Incumbent Liberal MP Warren Entsch was unable to attend due to prior commitments.

The candidates outlined their positions on First Nations housing and fielded questions from forum attendees.

Forum host Cheryl Axleby, chair of Change the Record, told attendees that the issue had been “challenging for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for decades”.

“We are already at a critical moment in the election cycle – we’ve just had the federal budget and are weeks away from determining who will form the next government. We’re all here because we understand that providing adequate, decent housing should be a key part of any government’s duties, but for decades, First Nations housing has been neglected,” she said.

How did we get to this point?

Speaking to Pro Bono News after the forum, Axleby, a Nharangga woman from the Yorke Peninsula, said the provision of stable housing could solve other related issues for First Nations peoples, like reducing incarceration rates and rates of family violence.

“Data shows approximately one in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are homeless,” she said, adding they faced overcrowding in their accommodation as well as a lack of affordable housing.

“Many of our mob who are living below the poverty line are really struggling to make ends meet to live independently… but also we don’t have good planning of housing to accommodate the larger families we have,” Axleby said.

She added that 8,500 new co-designed, culturally appropriate, climate resilient properties were required to immediately address the overcrowding in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Axleby cited the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence that something could be done quickly to address housing.

“During the pandemic, we had a lot of homeless people housed immediately during that time; but once the pandemic measures were lifted people were back rough-sleeping on the streets. If we can address these issues through the pandemic then there could be a stronger commitment by the government,” she said.

“I think the issue of housing is a challenge for all governments, but what we’ve seen is a decline in the investment in First Nations housing right across the country. Some of the criteria for public housing has actually made it more difficult for people who are working but not earning great incomes to have housing affordability outside the public sector. 

“What we definitely need is a Commonwealth increase in the funding commitment for housing in each state and territory.”

The candidates respond

Speaking to Pro Bono News, incumbent Leichhardt Liberal MP Warren Entsch said he could see that housing for First Nations people was a “major problem” and that “something needs to be done” to fix it.

While he stressed that social housing is the responsibility of state and territory governments, he said he has worked closely with local Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations on proposals for better, more accessible and culturally appropriate housing.

But he said he wanted to hear more from local communities about what they need to fix the problem, including specific numbers for funding and housing stock, so he can secure federal funding for the projects.

Socialist Alliance candidate Pat O’Shane, who is herself an Indigenous woman, said in a statement she supported every recommendation in the First Nations Housing – Election Priorities report.

“As an Indigenous person who grew up in a tin shed, no flooring, no electricity, having to carry water from a tank a mile away, I am totally committed to every one of those recommendations to improve the dire housing situation for our people,” she said.

“Through my long career as a teacher, advocate and magistrate, I have seen how our people are held back by poor housing, affecting our health and our kids’ futures and fueling family violence.”

She said she believed a large-scale program to build community-run, culturally and environmentally appropriate housing was needed across the country.

Labor’s Elida Faith told the forum that as a former Centrelink worker, she understood the housing issues facing First Nations communities.

“It is a basic right to have a roof over your head. It’s not acceptable that we have our First Nations people here in far north Queensland living in some of the worst housing conditions in the world,” she said on Tuesday.

Greens candidate Phillip Musumeci told the forum that the Greens approach to social housing for First Nations people would be “bottom up”.

“When it comes to First Nations housing, we would have a listen approach,” he explained.

“We know we have to be respectful of different structures in families. We need an approach that captures whatever the needs are of those involved.”


Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting.

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