Is Mal Brough off his medication again? How else to explain the front page headline in today’s Australian, ‘No more bush homes for Aborigines.’
The story reveals that an ‘independent’ review of the Community Housing Infrastructure Program (CHIP, Australia’s largest Aboriginal housing program) has recommended the federal government only build houses for Aboriginal people in built-up areas. In other words, remote housing on Aboriginal outstations is off the Commonwealth list of largesse.
Mal Brough, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, has supported the review. A good thing too considering Brough commissioned it with about three quarters of a million dollars, had it delivered to him in November last year, found he wasn’t happy with it, so had it rewritten by his department. So much for the ‘independence’.
But spin aside, you don’t have to catch Brough cooking the books to realise we’re all witness to a game of smoke and mirrors.
This is the same Mal Brough who, in July last year, took the Nine’s Sunday program on a tour of Northern Australia, including a stopover in the troubled NT community of Wadeye. You remember Wadeye? That’s the sixth-largest town in the Northern Territory that has no road access five months of the year and an average of 17 people living in a single dwelling.
There, Brough was filmed embracing the move of Wadeye town-folk tenfold out to their remote outstations. He even went to visit a few, including one clan group who was promised the world by Brough, and is now apparently enthusiastically awaiting delivery of their new atlas.
“You need a bore, you need drop toilets, you need a cleaning area, you need a kitchen area, you need housing. Alright. We’re happy to look at these things but people have got to do things in response. Alright? See all of this rubbish around here, this sort of stuff? All of it gone around your five houses, spotless, no rubbish,” said Brough.
Let’s hope that poor old family from Wadeye got Brough’s John Hancock on a piece of paper before he disappeared back to Canberra. And from Brough’s point of view, let’s hope the media forget his foray on Sunday.
The problem with this ideology is not just Brough’s apparent schizophrenia, it’s that the overwhelming evidence shows the federal government is moving in precisely the opposite direction to where it should be going.
International and Australian research over decades (particularly by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University) shows irrefutably that Aboriginal people are healthier and happier living ‘on country’ in other words, at their remote outstations.
There’s a cost, of course, but what is it? The Australian reports that $30 million a year is spent on remote housing. Actually, it’s more like $200 million, but even so it’s still way short of the estimated $2.3 billion gap in Indigenous housing, a shortfall which was identified in 1999 by ATSIC, and then promptly ignored by the Howard government.
Which part of “spending $30 million (or even $200 million) a year to bridge a $3.2 billion gap is not going to work” are we not getting? It’s like spending $30 million a year on defence, and then wondering why New Zealand invaded.
The sad reality is you don’t win government in Australia by meeting the basic needs of Aboriginal people. That’s how you lose government. And bearing that in mind, we’re now just two months out from a federal budget that will no doubt deliver a few more billion dollars in surpluses and maybe a tax cut or two, but nine parts of bugger all to reduce the massive disadvantage in Aboriginal Australia.
Nero fiddles while Rome burns.