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Workshop on the National Framework for the Design, Construction and Maintenance of Indigenous Housing, The Brassey Hotel of Canberra, Belmore Gardens and Macquarie Street, Barton ACT, 10.00 am, Wednesday 15 September, 1999: opening address.



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Senator Jocelyn Newman  

 

Minister for Family & Community Services  

 

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister  

for the Status of Women

 

10.00am, Wednesday 15 September, 1999 

Opening Address  

Workshop on the National Framework for the Design,  

Construction and Maintenance of Indigenous Housing

The Brassey Hotel of Canberra,  

Belmore Gardens and Macquarie Street  

BARTON ACT

 

Thank you Alex (Ackfun) for your introduction. I'm delighted to be here to speak at the Workshop to introduce the National Framework for the
Design, Construction and Maintenance of Indigenous Housing. 

 

First, I want to thank all the other guest speakers you will be hearing from today. In particular, the contribution made by Paul Pholeros from Healthabitat, who, with other experts, produced the National Indigenous Housing Guide a very important part of the Framework. 

 

I also want to pay special tribute to the Commonwealth State Working Group on Indigenous Housing for their dedicated work in developing the National Framework. 

 

Today's event certainly shows just what can be achieved when the Commonwealth, States and Territories work cooperatively together. That is, to get the very best results in what we all know is an extraordinarily difficult area. 

 

More than any other group in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been the most severely affected by housing problems. From the city to the bush, many Indigenous people live in appalling conditions, and it's these conditions that directly contribute to poor health, especially for children. 

 

A recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare really brought this connection home. The report said that adequate housing, clean water, and removing refuse and human waste are some of the most important things that relate directly to people's health. 

 

Without these basic services, we see a variety of infectious and parasitic diseases developing, including infections of the respiratory system, eyes, ears, skin, heart, bowel, kidneys and liver. Sadly, these infections can also lead to serious health problems like malnutrition, rheumatic heart disease, hearing loss and liver cancer. 

 

These problems exist in Indigenous communities, in part, because of poor living conditions which are a result of second-rate design and construction, and a lack of housing maintenance. In many cases, houses have been designed and built with little regard to harsh weather and conditions, or in ignorance of the social and cultural aspects of Indigenous lifestyles. 

 

The daily reality for many Indigenous Australians, especially those living in rural and remote communities, is not having access to safe drinking water or hot water for showers. And too many miss out on other basic services for healthy living, such as safe gas and electricity or functioning sewage systems. 

 

The sad fact is, many Indigenous people do not enjoy the same housing standards and essential services that the rest of us take for granted. This situation is absolutely unacceptable in modern Australian society. 

 

In recent years, though, the Commonwealth, States and Territories have made significant progress, together, in tackling these housing problems. In saying this, I am the first to admit we still have a long way to go, and there is a real imperative to build on our commitment and our efforts. 

 

One way the Commonwealth helps is to allocate 'tied' grants of $91 million to the States each year through the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. There is housing funds of around $230 million from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. And the States put in untied Commonwealth State Housing Agreement funds of around $55 million a year. All of this funding is specifically targeted to improving Indigenous housing. But, I think you would all agree, that money is not the whole answer. 

 

When I first became a Minister and took on the responsibility for housing, I was quite distressed about the state of Indigenous housing. I was determined to do something about it. So over the past three years or so, we've been working very hard with ATSIC and the States and Territories to turn the situation around. 

 

Two years ago, I met State and Territory Housing Ministers in Tasmania and we talked about ways we could help to fix Indigenous housing problems. While we were there, Paul Pholeros and Paul Torzillo explained the relationship between health and the living environment and emphasised the need to provide housing maintenance in order to improve health outcomes for Indigenous people, especially for children. 

 

So, in Tasmania we all agreed we had to change our approach and move away from the "build and abandon" approach, towards a policy of safe, healthy and sustainable housing for Indigenous people. 

 

Our first step was to set up a working group of Commonwealth, ATSIC and State and Territory officials. I've been keeping up with their work and I know they've put together a whole lot of practical recommendations and exciting ideas about how we can help improve Indigenous housing. And I look forward to discussing these in depth when the Housing Ministers next meet. 

 

Turning now to today's workshop, where you'll be talking about this new National Framework for the Design, Construction and Maintenance of Indigenous Housing.  

 

The obvious question is, why do we need a National Framework? The answer, in part, relates to history. Traditionally, we've had different State and Territory building legislation, and myriad local council regulations and building codes. However, these have failed to ensure that Indigenous housing, especially in rural and remote areas, is designed and built to safe and sustainable standards. 

 

In remote areas there have been problems with getting enough skilled tradespeople to build and maintain houses. There are problems with checking, during the construction phase, that the work is up to standard. In fact, the reason why most houses break down is not because of neglect or vandalism, but because design, construction and maintenance has not been of a high enough standard. 

 

I won't go into the details of the Framework because I know others will be doing that today. But, basically, it aims to help make improvements in all those areas I've mentioned - in design, in construction and in maintenance. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that better quality, longer lasting housing, could make that extra bit of difference to the health and well-being of Indigenous families and their children? That's a goal I'm sure we all share. 

 

The Framework includes a set of guiding principles, the States' and Territories' own standards specific to Indigenous housing in remote communities, and a practical manual - The National Indigenous Housing Guide - for improving health hardware, such as water and waste removal and electrical facilities. 

 

The Framework also includes a review process so we can measure how much we are making a difference to the quality of Indigenous housing AND so we can develop and improve the Framework, itself, in the coming years. 

 

I am very keen to get the National Framework officially endorsed by Housing Ministers. But it's also very important that the National Framework gets out into the public arena as soon as possible. We need people involved in housing to know all about it, and to take it on board. 

 

Governments alone can't make the National Framework operate as it should. Everyone who has anything to do with Indigenous housing, directly or indirectly, has a key role to play. 

 

We'll be relying on all sorts of professional people like architects, builders, developers, town planners, engineers, and the like, to help us make a difference. And, of course, Indigenous leaders and the community housing organisations will also play an important role in making the National Framework a success. 

 

I'm hoping today's workshop will accomplish at least two things. First, to promote greater understanding of the National Framework. The second, and equally important, is to get your feedback on the various parts of the Framework and on the way forward. 

 

I also hope that this can be the first of a series of workshops to be held every two years. These workshops, which bring together people with expertise on Indigenous housing - such as yourselves - will be vital if we are to build on the Framework and to keep up its national focus. 

 

Thank you for taking the time to hear me speak today. I'm sure you will all take away a better appreciation of the connection between health and housing, and what this can mean to the lives of Indigenous people. 

 

I wish you well for what I'm sure will be a stimulating and productive morning.

 

 

 

jy  1999-09-16  13:54