Politics and activism


So how are you? Sitting comfortably? Good, ‘cos there’s plenty in this country who aren’t.

Reading this made me squirm in my seat:

Consider this scenario: you live in a remote desert community, in a house owned by the Commonwealth. Fifteen people share the house, including six school-aged children. Water pipes to the house are broken and the toilet is blocked. The closest working tap is 100 metres away.

There are not enough beds and so family members sleep four to a bed, or on the floor. You have no washing machine; your clothes are washed in a bucket.

Electricity supply is by means of a generator, which sometimes breaks down. When this happens, any fresh food in the refrigerator is spoiled. In any case, fresh produce has to be air-freighted in, for sale at the community store, and is prohibitively expensive for those on low incomes and benefits.

The family tends to eat bread and canned food, as these are affordable and will keep without refrigeration. Some of the adults, especially the older ones, don’t enjoy good health. The lack of fruit and vegetables in their diet contributes to chronic illness.

You want the house’s plumbing fixed and the broken windows replaced. You ask your landlord, the Commonwealth, to fulfil its responsibilities for household repair and maintenance. But the Commonwealth refuses to help. It won’t help because your community has signed up to one of the new “Shared Responsibility Agreements” (SRAs) saying that, unless the kids go to school 80 per cent of the time and are bathed every day, there will be no maintenance for the house.

It’s Catch-22.

(Read the rest)

Okay, obviously this is just a theoretical scenario, and the author is an opposition politician having a go at government policy. But I suspect it’s not a million miles from the truth. The events on Palm Island and elsewhere recently seem to point to endemic problems in parts of the indigenous community.

There’s no easy answers to these issues, but it’s obvious that as a nation we’re not doing very well in dealing with them.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

7 replies on “Problems”

Absolutely disgusting, but it doesn’t surprise me one iota.
I had no idea that we had so much of our population living in almost third world conditions until a friend of mine – an indigenous performer – was employed to spend time out in Bourke working with indigenous youth just before christmas last year. When she came back she didn’t want to celebrate christmas in the usual elaborate way because she had a greater appreciation for the simple things such as having clean water..
I suspect there are going to be as many changes made in as little time as possible in all areas in the next three years.

Why are the water pipes broken and the toilet blocked? Bad tennants? I know plumbers who attend these ‘remote communities’ and generally its the tennants who have damaged the properties. If this the case why should the tax payer continue to fund repairs to damage done without consequences for those causing the problems.
Send the kids to school, it will stop them getting bored and up to mischief (kids will be kids). This SRA sounds pretty good to me. Makes communities take some responsibility for improving their lifestyle. I’m sure its not perfect by a long shot, but we’ve got to try something different as the current ‘solutions’ just dont seem to be working.

Hmmm. But you can’t play the blame game in this. You have to identify what is a sustainable, lasting solution. To take the example given, why should the kids in this situation suffer? Isn’t it perpetuating it for the next generation? If facilities are being damaged by the tenants, why is that, and how can it be stopped?

Have the SRAs been trialled yet? Do they actually work in the real world? Their success or failure has to be measured in how living conditions improve, not by whether or not the government can wash its hands of responsibility.

The blame game is also a vicious circle/catch 22. More consultation with the community and Government need to happen for effective solutions to be implemented, though this has never been this government’s first priority.

It’s a travesty that this issue isn’t highlighted more – if most “normal” Australians saw the squalor in which some communities live in you’d swear that you are looking at third world footage.

I too read this article and it did make me think. After reading other peoples comments, my mind drifts back to what I wondered years ago. That is whether our concept of a house, kitchen, living, bathroom, bedrooms is the best model. Bad tennants is something easy for us to understand. Appropriate housing is a bit harder.

In Canada the way we deal with this (and although it is said to be better than australia we still get shit on for it) is our natives live on reserves, where they receive free houseing, free electricity, free just about everything, with enough money coming in every month to feed and close them and each child gets an allowance of $100 a month for spending money.

This is in a reserve where the chief is not corrupt. Sometimes their people live in tar shacks while the chief keeps all the money to himself and the council and does not distribute it to the people. When election time comes around he will give each one of them $200 to shut them up for another term.

We are now looking at self governing, so that they have to take care of the money they are given and sort their own problems out.

The problem isn’t in the government or the funding it’s in delivering the resources where they are needed and this is what the SRA’s are trying to address. There can be no paternalistic “white government” solution to a black problem, it is the communities that have to improve things for themselves with help (financial, legislative & infrastructal) from these governments. What we have done in the past hasn’t worked, the description of the living conditions at the start of this discussion tells us that. We need to do something different and the SRA’s are a step down a new path, one that will hopefully help deliver some genuine improvements. Time will, as always, tell.

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