18 April 2014

Macklin's plan for individual home ownership a delusion

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In June, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin released a government discussion paper, Indigenous Home Ownership Issues. The paper offers no strategy to adequately house the thousands of Aboriginal people currently homeless, or living in overcrowded, third-world dwellings.

Instead it outlines a neo-liberal fantasy to drive the further destruction of the Aboriginal community housing. It advocates the imposition of harsh market mechanisms to ‘encourage a culture of personal responsibility’ and forcibly assimilate Aboriginal people.

Forty-year leases over Aboriginal land, the cornerstone of Macklin’s housing policy, are referred to as the ‘open door’ that will lead into even longer-term leases – breaking Aboriginal control forever.

Tellingly, the government is only pushing for leases over 28 major remote communities that it plans to turn into ‘ordinary remote towns’. Hundreds of surrounding communities and homelands will be left to rot.

The leases are a mechanism to allow the government to get control of Aboriginal social housing so they can then break communities and push to establish private home ownership and a “private housing market”.

Aboriginal people have a right to government-funded housing, although they have always had to fight government neglect to get the resources to build them. The Aboriginal-controlled Tangentyere Council that used to service the 18 Alice Springs town camps outperformed mainstream housing organisations in 9 out of 10 maintenance indicators, like working bathrooms and kitchens. But using draconian Intervention powers to threaten compulsory acquisition, the government forced Tangentyere to sign a 40 year lease and transfer management of all housing to NT Housing.

The government’s paper refers to the takeover of the Alice Springs town camps as ‘laying the groundwork for residents to aspire to home ownership as their surrounds begin to approximate the suburbs of Alice Springs’.

Don’t expect that any time soon. In three years and a budget of $672 million SIHIP has managed to build only 13 new houses.

Macklin’s paper insists on rent increases for communities whose housing has been taken over – not to improve housing – but to develop “the personal responsibility and individual financial resilience and discipline that is also required to purchase and pay off a home.”

In May, the Home Ownership on Indigenous Land program collapsed,  returning $56 million that was set aside for Indigenous home-loans. Yet, the central theme of the paper is the drive towards “individual home ownership”.

Government compensation for the compulsory five year leases of the 64 communities prescribed under the NT Intervention, is estimated to be around $3.4 million – ie less than $30,000 per community, per annum – not enough even for a deposit for mortgage finance of even one house!

Labor’s “home ownership” policy is more ideological clap-trap designed to blame Aboriginal people for the crippling poverty of their communities and pretend private enterprise has a solution.

Yuendumu, in Central Australian, remains determined not to sign a 40-year lease. Senior Elder Harry Jakamarra Nelson said, “Before the Intervention we already owned our own homes on our own land.”  It is this spirit of collective Aboriginal home ownership that the government is trying to break.

To access the discussion paper: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/indigenous/pubs/housing/indig_home_ownership/Pages/default.aspx

Lauren Mellor

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