Aboriginal kids as young as six participating in the Child Health Checks under the National Emergency response into Aboriginal communities are being asked to give environmental health assessments of their houses—and their interrogators are not housing experts, but the doctors and nurses carrying out the medical checks. Some of these question sessions have been occurring without the presence of adults.

A document given to Crikey (see below – click on the image for a full size version), titled “Housing Condition Referral List” has been used in central Australian Aboriginal communities over the past 12 weeks and starkly reveals the appalling living conditions experienced in the region, with four houses accommodating 39 people – including 14 children.


However, the sample “Referral List” is completely useless as a survey instrument, let alone a planning tool. Data fields on the sample page have been answered inconsistently or incorrectly—and certainly have not been checked in situ against actual housing stock.

The state of so-called housing “health hardware” has been a major focus in Aboriginal housing since the late 1980s and the release of the Uwankara Palyanyku Kanyintjaku (UPK) Report in 1987. In essence, the UPK Report found direct links between Aboriginal health and “health hardware”, that is, access to clean water and washing facilities; access to functional toilets and waste disposal; access to cooking and refrigeration facilities and the like. This might sound intuitively obvious, but has had a dramatic impact since that time on housing – and more importantly long term housing maintenance and general environmental health issues.

The UPK Report led to the setting of standards, as well, in training of Environmental Health Officers – the majority of whom are Aboriginal employees these days – in carrying out housing and “health hardware” surveys.

It was the basis of the latest Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey (CHINS), finalised late last year. It is carried out across the Territory, involves exhaustive physical checks of housing, and augments local environmental health programs. The Australian Government already knows what the needs are through the biennial CHINS program … instead it now seems to want to rely on untrained and unskilled medicos quizzing children about housing conditions.

It would be laughable if it were not so serious. These “Housing Condition Referral” lists will do nothing to lift Aboriginal housing standards – and nothing to save the kids over who this whole exercise is supposed to be about.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey