Aboriginal Housing Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 Speech

ABORIGINAL HOUSING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2009
Second Reading
Resumed from 25 March

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [8.08 pm]: I rise to speak on the Aboriginal Housing
Legislation Amendment Bill 2009. I will try not to repeat any of the very pertinent comments Hon Sally Talbot
made and will centre my comments more directly on other information.

When we talk about the housing crisis in this country, we must acknowledge that Australia’s Indigenous
population in remote areas at present has the greatest level of housing need. In 2006, one-quarter of Australia’s
Indigenous people lived in remote areas, with an average occupancy of 8.8 people per dwelling. What is worse
than the long-term and successive governments’ neglect, which I think we all agree has happened, and the
bungling in providing housing for Aboriginal people, is that the spoils of Australia’s economic boom, which we
in Western Australia are particularly proud to have enjoyed, have not been evenly shared. Nowhere is that more
evident than in housing in the remote regions of Western Australia. The effect on Aboriginal people who live in
what we now know as mining regions is that a modest four-bedroom home now sells for more than $1 million in
Roebourne, and rents have spiralled out of control across the Pilbara to the Kimberley from $1 500 to $2 800 a
week. That is our great shame, as is the fact that the market presence of social housing stock has virtually
dwindled, especially in the Pilbara and Kimberley, and many of our questions in this house have outlined this.
The failure of local, state and federal governments to provide an adequate supply of housing and keep pace with
the increasing demand for services, as highlighted by Hon Sally Talbot, is simply shocking.

Federal funding is providing $496 million for Aboriginal housing, which will be used to build 200 new houses
and carry out 1 000 refurbishments. It is incredibly generous of the federal government and we are most grateful
for that, but it is a tiny drop in the ocean of what is needed in Western Australia. Although it is great that we are
receiving some federal funding, the state government needs to be held to account for the sale of 133 Homeswest
properties in the Pilbara and 92 in the Kimberley in the past nine years. These homes were sold under the New
Living program, which is an excellent program because it upgrades housing stock, but when we sell off housing
stock in one region—particularly a region that needs it most desperately—more investment must be made in
housing stock in that region. We have not seen an investment comparable with the loss of housing in that area.
Mining companies are buying these old Homeswest properties in Port Hedland, which is a further concern. The
wealth being generated is not evenly benefiting our Aboriginal communities.

The state government must lift its game. The provision and design of Aboriginal housing is an urgent issue that
needs urgent attention, far more than can be addressed by the Aboriginal Housing Legislation Amendment Bill
2009. However, the Greens (WA) welcome this bill as it addresses the urgency of the Aboriginal housing
situation. We also welcome the housing authority’s acknowledgement that it currently has no capacity to manage
Indigenous housing and that it has a very sorry history of a build-and-abandon approach to Aboriginal housing.
Let us relegate that to history and make a new future from this point on. We welcome the housing authority
finally taking responsibility for managing and maintaining housing for Aboriginal people, and of course we
know it will do that with cooperation and assistance that will hopefully be driven by Aboriginal communities.
The delivery of housing to three communities identified in the “Closing the Gap” initiative—Halls Creek and
surrounds, Fitzroy Crossing and the Dampier Peninsula—is welcomed. Good job! Much time has been spent by
the department in the communities. During our briefing we were told there had been 15 meetings around the
state involving 56 communities and around 200 people to whom the process of establishing these community
agreements was explained. That was a very good effort, and I thank the department very much for doing that.
That all of the recommendations contained in the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in
Custody relating to housing and infrastructure and improving the Aboriginal living environment have been
addressed by the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery is also very welcome—this is all
good stuff!

Finally, the professionalism, experience and genuine concern shown to us in briefings and in correspondence
with the Department of Housing were very welcome, as noted by Hon Sally Talbot; I thank the department very
much. However, we are critical that the implementation plan has not yet been made public, as I believe has
already been noted during debate. The Greens are keen to see the details of that implementation plan, as, I am
sure, are other members. We are wary, having heard reports from the Northern Territory that the government has
been paying three times more than necessary to refurbish homes in the remote Aboriginal community of
Woollahra. The government has been paying $75 000 to refurbish the dwellings, but local workers had
previously refurbished and done similar work for $25 000. We are hoping that will not happen in Western
Australia.

Today, we want the government to make a long-term commitment to funding the $2 billion currently needed to
fix the problems we already have. We understand that a recent audit of Aboriginal housing by the housing
authority identified this shortfall based on a walk-through of 2 400 homes in 140 of 260 communities, so the
amount of funding needed is obviously just an estimate. Perhaps that $2 billion could be funded through the
increase in the resources tax announced today.

The Greens seek a government commitment to fix the issue of providing reliable and sustainable essential
services in remote communities. The community of Jigalong spends $1 million a year on diesel fuel. We seek a
government commitment to increase the funding for advocacy and community legal services and improve the
sustainability component to ensure that new housing conforms to the nationally adopted six-star energy
efficiency rating. This will lead to cheaper, greener, and more comfortable housing for Australians living in
remote regions and harsh climates. I hope this place is aware of my disappointment at the state government’s
one-year delay in the adoption of the six-star building standard. It should be done immediately in these new
homes in Aboriginal communities. We will be doing it anyway in 12 months; we should start now with this
housing that will be built with federal money.

The Australian Greens successfully negotiated that all social housing built with the federal government stimulus
package would be built with six-star energy efficiency ratings, so I seek an assurance from the government today
that all new housing built under this agreement will be built to that minimum standard. That, of course, is in
addition to my amendments that require additional consideration of housing designs that are climate appropriate
and culturally appropriate. Let us not make the mistakes of the past. Those amendments will enable further
innovation in sustainable building materials and design.

We are all very conscious of the need to act quickly and we know that this bill has a certain time frame in which
it must be passed; however, we agreed to bypass the Uniform Legislation and Statutes Review Committee and
bring it straight to the floor and, as a house of review, it is incumbent on us to examine this legislation to see if it
meets all the criteria that we, as legislators, know must be met. That is why I have proposed a very small and
simple amendment that I believe will satisfy the criticisms made of this bill by various stakeholders. It also seeks
to address those things that have been highlighted by the royal commission into deaths in custody and make it a
little bit more certain that the housing that is constructed is appropriate and that adequate consultation is done
with these communities so that we are investing in these communities with long-term, sustainable housing. That
is what we want. We need to use this money wisely. It is not often that the federal government gives us money to
establish more housing in remote communities. We should use it wisely and not squander it.

I will make a few remarks about the amendments that I will be proposing so that members know what the Greens
(WA) are trying to achieve. First, I have moved for a concrete definition of how the housing authority will be
satisfied that local community wishes are being represented by housing corporations or other entities, such as the
Aboriginal Lands Trust, when they sign leases on their behalf. As members will see from the amendments that
have been circulated, I will move for a more prescriptive meaning of how the consultation will take place. I have
also looked for a concrete definition of what kind of housing will be provided. This relates specifically to the bill
missing any guidance towards ensuring that housing is built or refurbished to culturally and environmentally
appropriate designs. These are concepts that we have all agreed on in many different forms, and all we need to
do is make a slight amendment to hard-code them into the legislation. The Greens talked to, amongst other
stakeholders, the Aboriginal Legal Service. It most clearly articulated that these reforms should be done in
partnership and in collaboration with the Aboriginal peoples of this land and in a spirit of reconciliation. It is a
small thing for members to accept my amendments to ensure that that lofty goal is achieved. The Greens believe
that community negotiation is the best way to ensure the delivery and repair of housing and infrastructure. We
believe that the most appropriate manner to resolve housing issues is through negotiated outcomes. It is in this
spirit of participation, engagement and negotiation that we hope the housing authority, the local Aboriginal
housing corporations and the local people will determine the design of their buildings. There is much potential
for great innovation in building materials and housing designs. There is great potential for people in local
communities to be trained and employed in architectural design and sustainability. Of course, we are looking at
environmentally friendly building techniques. A green building and retrofit program in our Aboriginal
communities that is led by our Aboriginal communities is one of the most obvious and exciting opportunities that
we have. Finally, I refer to the relevant recommendations from the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In
Custody which, I understand, have been incorporated in the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service
Delivery. Members will see from the wording of my amendments that the same spirit of reconciliation and true
and genuine consultation is reflected.

That concludes what the Greens wish to say on the Aboriginal Housing Legislation Amendment Bill 2009. I
hope that members consider my amendments carefully and that they support them when it comes time to vote on
them.