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Federal election blog: Housing: the first building block to better indigenous health

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Federal election blog

Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten are in northern Australia today (Darwin and Townsville respectively). Both have brought their chequebooks, but there is one pressing policy issue that impacts many people in north Queensland and the NT but has received scant attention, not only during this campaign, but for many months.

So far in this campaign, there have been many announcements on indigenous policy: promises of better funding for mental health services, hospital upgrades, a plan to address rheumatic heart disease and a range of other public health initiatives.

Bill Shorten has said that West Australian Senator and long-time Aboriginal advocate Pat Dodson would become indigenous affairs minister under a federal Labor government.

Scott Morrison, too, has zeroed in on the scourge of suicide in indigenous communities, promising millions of dollars to address mental health.

The Guardian last week published a rundown of the pronouncements of Labor, the LNP and The Greens propose on indigenous policy.

But missing from the raft of promises by both sides of politics is an acknowledgment that the simple provision of proper shelter has a powerful impact on the physical and mental health of everyone, including indigenous communities.

Overcrowding, homelessness and generally inadequate housing are among the most persistent problems indigenous communities confront. There was a program to tackle this. The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing provided billions of dollars of investment in building new homes and maintaining existing homes in these communities.

The Government’s own review of the program showed it was making progress but that more work needed to be done to achieve lasting success. 

On 30 June last year, it ceased. And neither of the major parties has gone anywhere near promising to revive it.

Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs counts shelter as among the most basic of human physiological needs. Unless this need is met, people are not motivated to achieve higher level needs, like financial and emotional security, health and well-being.

The Torres Strait Island Regional Council put it best in its statement outlining its federal election initiatives: Homelessness and housing stress can profoundly affect the mental and physical health of individuals and families, as well as impact on their education and employment opportunities, and their ability to participate fully in the community.

The latest Closing the Gap report stated that indigenous Australians are three times more likely to experience overcrowding than non-indigenous Australians. This despite the report and all sides of politics acknowledging that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to secure appropriate, affordable housing as a pathway to better lives.

Yes, the investment proposed is significant - $5.5 billion nationally over the next 10 years. But what price better health and education outcomes for indigenous communities?

Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006


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