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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 730


Mr LAMING (9:59 PM) —The third Closing the Gap report was released by the Prime Minister last week. Looking through it for the outcomes that we, of course, expect to see in these reports but getting little more than inputs made me turn my mind to exactly what is happening with the health of Indigenous Australia. In the report there was just one precious phrase, which referred to petrol sniffing and volatiles abuse as having fallen. Apart from that, it was simply, three years after we started this process as a parliament, yet another dusty speech about inputs to the problem and precious little about outcomes.

Tonight I will focus on housing. We all know that from employment and housing come the hope of better health care and education, but it starts at home—with having somewhere safe, healthy and inspiring to live. Right now, the in some ways impressive amounts of money that are being injected into Indigenous housing are going the same way as all the money before them, because one simple, essential antecedent factor is being ignored: how do we involve Aboriginal Australians in the construction of their own housing? How has this government turned Indigenous housing into a spectator sport, where Indigenous Australians simply watch the white teams roll in, build the houses as quickly as they can and get out as quickly as they arrived? As long as Indigenous housing is something that drops in and is left behind with no maintenance plan and no Indigenous crews to look after it, we will have nothing more to look forward to than more degraded housing desperately in need of upgrade—and that can happen within months.

These are not small investments: we are talking $400,000, $500,000, $600,000 or, in some remote cases, $800,000 for a very modest two-bedroom dwelling. Indigenous families are crying out for a chance not to have 10, 12 or 14 people, on average, in their dwellings. There are communities that have up to 20 people living in a house. How can children hope to sleep at night and turn up at school when they live not only in that kind of overcrowding but in squalor? The answer is simple: there are enormous working-age populations in these communities that are completely disenfranchised from the idea of being able to move from school into a reasonable paying job that has a training component to it and a hope of a future. The opportunity is right there, with this focus on Indigenous housing, but it has been completely lost, and you need look no further to see this than Wadeye in the Northern Territory, where tens of thousands of dollars are being spent per day. That money is spent not on the houses but on the multilayered consultancies that are working out what home design and home colour we want. Those consultancies are not consulting at all about the basic premise: can any of these young Indigenous blokes pick up a spanner and give it a go, work on a housing site under supervision and call that house their own? It is as though this is some novel idea that has never been thought of or trialled before.

We in mainstream Australia have created the only culture in the world that relies on another culture to build shelter for it. Show me another place in the world where it has come to this. The money is now there, but, in the guise of having to rush out the housing as fast as we can, we are not waiting for Aboriginal townships and communities to build those houses and, with it, gain the experience these young Aboriginal males and females of working age need, just to have a chance at entering that career. They are not all going to be home builders—they may well move into other areas—but they will have had an opportunity to build 20, 40 or 100 dwellings. Once the job is finished they can build accommodation for the teachers, nurses, doctors and police who work in these communities; then they can build the civic centres. We need to turn it into a revenue model and make these properties valued. The best way to do that is to write the names of the people who built the houses on them. If you tear those apart, you are tearing down the work of your own brothers and your own skin group. But, no, we do not do that.

We have learned no lessons from the past but we forge ahead on this futile scheme of transferring surpluses to large building alliances that engage one, two or three Indigenous workers shovelling cement or sweeping down the slab. Let us create genuine training opportunities that can lead to a career. Let us not do job capacity assessments for an individual; let us do them for the entire community and not stop until every single Aboriginal person of working age has had the chance, like the rest of us, to follow a career and build a passion. Something happened in 2008: the member for Gorton, as the then Minister for Employment Participation, removed that tensioning spring—that drive to get involved in community activity—in his communication with his Centrelink line staff. As we dig deeper, we will find that that act in 2008 did more damage in this area than anything in the last 10 years.