Australian governments fail to provide the basic human right to adequate housing, according to a scathing United Nations report. Produced by UN Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari, the report is to be released on 11 June to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

According to the report, Australia’s growing prosperity and First-World status clashes with the number of homeless people and the worsening condition of public housing. “Australia has failed to implement its international legal obligation to progressively realise the human right to adequate housing. Unless basic changes are made in policy and legislation, based on a human rights approach, a much larger part of society will be faced with critical housing problems,” the report says.

Reduced housing funding by state and federal governments are largely to blame, but the report warns against any further funding reductions, citing international law. “The Special Rapporteur reminds the (Federal) Government that retrogressive measures, such as cuts in expenditure on public housing or homelessness services, are permissible only in ‘exceptional circumstances’, which is obviously not the case in Australia.”

The report identifies several demographics with inadequate support and is especially critical of the treatment of indigenous Australians in both urban and rural areas. “Australian governments must urgently address the humanitarian tragedy of the lack of housing and basic services for the indigenous peoples of Australia,” it says. “Most disturbing is the absence of adequate and comprehensive participation processes for indigenous communities in decision-making forums.”

Earlier this month, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough’s announced that the Federal Government is withdrawing funding for urban indigenous public housing as of June 2008, and increasing funding to remote areas.

The Australian Government is expected to present a formal response to the UN report on 11 June.

Peter Fray

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