Indigenous housing:

Professor Jon Altman, of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU, writes: Re. “Macklin on ‘Fantasy Avenue’ over Aboriginal housing” (yesterday, item 11). Like Chris Graham I was stunned by The Australian’s uncritical reporting of Minister Macklin’s self-congratulatory self-assessment that Australia has “turned a corner” on indigenous housing.

Easy enough to do, perhaps, at a World Indigenous Housing Conference in Canada, but I wonder if the minister informed the audience that the Australian government compulsorily acquired leases to Aboriginal freehold land and as yet has not paid any just terms compensation counter to the view of the High Court in Wurridjal versus the Commonwealth in 2009 ; and if she did I wonder what (unreported) reception she got?

Chris is perhaps the only journalist in Australia that seriously critiques government spin in indigenous affairs as he yet again demonstrates here. I agree with all he says but wanted to add a couple of points mainly because as I read The Australian piece and its supporting laudatory editorial “A reward for quiet persistence: Ms Macklin has persevered with remote indigenous housing” (not so quiet on this occasion) I had just completed the recently published Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Remote Housing Reforms in the Northern Territory (June 2012) that provides a damning critique of housing reforms in the Northern Territory, so damning that Macklin’s own department FaHCSIA sought to be removed as a responsible agency for the debacle. So much for accountability and a national partnership between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory on remote indigenous housing; the Commonwealth Ombudsman wouldn’t have a bar of it.

The range of complaints the Ombudsman received are too numerous to outline here; I encourage all with an interest in this area to read the report. Two stood out for me. First is just how deeply entrenched institutional problems remain. The Ombudsman notes that tenancy agreements for public housing do not even comply with the NT Residential Tenancies Act.

So agreements stipulate that there should be no more than three persons per bedroom in new houses. The trouble is that the goal of 9.3 persons per house cannot be met with such a requirement given that most newly constructed houses have less than three bedrooms!

Second, in some situations people were being charged rent when living in “improvised dwellings”. And even when this was acknowledged, as it is counter to the policy that no rent or charges should apply to such housing, getting a rent refund was a drawn out administrative nightmare.

Similar problems were identified by the Australian National Audit Office in its performance audit Implementation of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing in the Northern Territory (November 2011).

Additionally it noted that the Northern Territory government has up to $500 million available to support property and tenancy management reform. Yes, $500 million mainly for managing $1.7 billion worth of new housing. And it suggested that the occupancy target of 9.3 per house will be a challenge especially if the impact of population growth on overcrowding is taken into account.

The Little Children Are Sacred Report estimated 4000 new houses were required. But with less than 1000 likely to be delivered by the end of 2013 it seems to me that the “corner” is a long way off and may yet prove to be a mirage.

I endorse Chris’ overarching conclusion: Macklin may be winning the discourse war, with considerable help from a lazy mainstream media, but the problem of overcrowding after five years of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response seems little better than in 2007.

Readers’ editors:

Alan Corbett writes: Re. “Media briefs: readers’ ed watch .. EPL’s 5b deal … ABC misunderstood …” (yesterday, item 16). I refer to the story about readers’ editors in yesterday’s Crikey and the reference to The West Australian‘s reader’s editor Jenni Garrigan.

If there is any information available about her role as reader’s editor, it’s not easy to find or access. I have tried.

First, following the April 4 decision by the newspaper to leave the Press Council and establish its own self-regulation body known as the Independent Media Council (IMC,)  I wrote to Garrigan on April 23  and asked her if she would be willing to contribute an “article” to my site, journalistcomplaints.com, outlining her role as and why The West Australian had deemed it necessary to leave the APC ?

As there was no response, I followed that email with another on  May 3. I am still waiting. I don’t have an issue if there is a polite “no thanks” from people in her position but it really annoys me when I am ignored.

Second and to the best of my ability I cannot find any reference on the websites of The West Australian  and Pacific Magazines as to how a reader can complain to the readers’ editor nor is there any reference to the codes of practice that the Independent Media Council will operate under.  Both these were promised by Seven West Media at the time it left the Australian Press Council.

Hug a climate-change debate:

Paul Pollard writes: Tamas Calderwood (Wednesday, comments) claims the world has only warmed minimally since 1998, despite all the CO2 poured into the atmosphere by humans since then. Funny he chose 1998 — why not choose 1997 or 1999? If you choose one of these the increase has been in line with the trend of recent decades. Of course, the reason he chose 1998 is because of its record el Niño briefly heating the global surface, so it was an utterly untypical year.

Calderwood must know this, but ideological dot-point propaganda is clearly more important than statistical validity to him. It would be just as dishonest if climate scientists took the unusually coldest year of the 1990s and exaggerated the temperature increase since then, but  they don’t do this because they are scientists.

The way to deal with temporary ups and downs in a time series, to find the underlying trend, is to use say three- or five-year running averages, or use changes by blocks of years, like three, five or a decade. All these show a steady increase over recent decades, right up till now.

In fact, 1998 is further evidence of underlying global warming, because we are now slightly warmer than then, with its record el Niño, when we should be much cooler now, because of the cooling la Ninas of late, if there were no global warming going on.

Charlie McColl writes: Tamas Calderwood construes an interesting outcome from some ordinary figures. Tamas’ figures for global warming (which I am not contesting) are 0.75 degrees in 162 years (1850-2012) which averages at 0.0046/year and 0.06 degrees in 14 years (1998-2012), which averages at 0.0043/year. Thus global temperature increase is described as in a “slowdown” and I’m not contesting either the semantics or the science of that.

Tamas says there has been “basically zero warming” when in fact, by his own figures, the warming of the past 14 years has been easily measureable, very close to the long-term trend and likely to meet the trend again soon as the El Nino cycle returns.

I suggest Tamas sticks to the facts (the data) and leaves the interpretation to someone who knows what they are talking about.

Adam Rope writes: Tamas Calderwood asked others not to shoot the climate sceptic messenger, apparently because they also claim to “believe the data”. However, the difference is that sceptics such as Tamas just cherry-pick bits of that data in order to deliberately distort and mislead when presenting their “case”.

Tamas, if you cannot move beyond cheap shots like using 1998 as a base reference, or misrepresenting “hide the decline”, then I’m sorry, but you do not deserve a hug.

Peter Fray

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