I presented this paper at the Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, November 17-19, 2010. It is submitted in response to the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy Draft for Consultation and Action Plan 2010-2012. It covers many of the issues of concern raised with the Draft at the consultation workshop I attended in Adelaide on Monday 29 November 2010. Nothing Changes: the positioning of Indigenous Australians in remote areas as commodities within the “Aboriginal Industry” John Lawler PhD Candidate Built Environment & Engineering, Queensland University of Technology Australian Housing & Urban Research Institute Scholar [personal contact details removed] John Lawler holds a Master of Architecture by research, and is currently completing his PhD which involves working with the local Aboriginal community of Palm Island in northern Queensland. John has a strong interest in providing affordable and sustainable housing to remote indigenous communities. While undertaking his Masters degree, he worked for the Anangu people in the APY Lands of South Australia as the Housing/Building Coordinator. He has also worked for the Aboriginal Advisory Service with the Commonwealth Department of Housing and Construction in Darwin, and as a Research Fellow in Indigenous housing and health with the Aboriginal Research Institute, University of South Australia. He has more than forty years experience in commercial and domestic architecture. Keywords: Aboriginal; Indigenous; Housing; Architecture; Palm Island; Queensland; Australia. [page break] [Image removed from RTF version: landscape photograph of Palm Island, Queensland, 2007] The debilitating effects of inadequate housing on the physical, mental and cultural well being of Indigenous Australians have been extensively documented over the last forty years. However, despite the efforts of researchers, politicians, public servants, Indigenous leaders and communities, there has been no significant decrease in the housing disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians overall. Indigenous Australians ask to be included in decisions affecting them and to be given opportunities to find their own solutions. But nothing really changes. In this article, I draw on my PhD research on Palm Island, Queensland (2007-2009) to canvass some possible reasons for this situation. My research has led me to three key areas of understanding in relation to the housing disadvantage faced by Australia’s indigenous people. • Firstly, discourses claim indigenous cultures are at odds with the beneficial occupation of a fixed sited dwelling and these discourses need to be challenged. • Secondly, a significant devolution of power from government to community is required to allow the establishment of a process whereby Aboriginal people can develop their own responses to their housing needs. • Thirdly, services specifically targeted to Indigenous Australians are now a major industry, which keeps Indigenous Australians in a position of dependency, where they provide a reason for the “Aboriginal Industry” to continue. To start, I will provide an overview in relation to the first and second areas mentioned above. Thirdly, I will discuss my research on Palm Island and present some conclusions about the final outcome of the project involved. My research was an empirical study engaging a number of qualitative methodologies. In particular, it was located in the paradigm of “housing-as-process” which locates the design and delivery of housing ‘within the broader framework of an Aboriginal community’s planning goals and cultural practices, as well as its socio-economic structure and development (Memmott & Go- Sam, 2003 p. 14). I employed multiple methods for gathering research material (data) (Yin, 2003 pp. 91-101), which included participant observation, document and artefact analysis, interviews, and reflective practice. Participant observation, which involved living and working with the community, was the primary means of collecting research material. Challenging the discourses [image removed from RTF version: photograph of a small house with wide verandah, in a desert landscape. The caption reads “Nomad House, APY Lands, South Australia – a generic design (1995)”] The first point I want to discuss, very briefly, is that the research findings, and the knowledge generated, regarding Indigenous Australians and their living environments are not neutral statements of fact. They are ideological discourses which have arisen within specific historical and social contexts and have been shaped by a range of political and cultural viewpoints . Raising questions as to where and why these discourses have arisen reveals the power relations involved and provides better understanding of the assumptions which may underpin the claims being made (Foucault 166/70 in Denzin, 1992 p. 33). Many researchers have written extensively about the impact of European style housing on Indigenous Australians and the need to provide culturally appropriate housing to Indigenous communities, particularly those in remote areas (Reser, 1976,;Heppell, 1979a; Ross, 1987; Memmott, 1988; RCIADIC, 1991; Jones, 1994; HREOC, 1996; Lawler, 1998; Long Memmott & Selig, 2007). The discourses produced claim that understanding how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people organise their living arrangements within their cultural orders is the key to successfully meeting the housing need of Indigenous Australians. Further, they claim that policies which attempt to meet the housing needs of Indigenous Australians using generic designs are destined to fail because communities and individuals vary greatly in their needs and aspirations. Finally, it is claimed that excluding Indigenous Australians from determining their own housing outcomes, causes them to suffer a loss of control which produces adverse physical, mental and social effects. These points of view were put forward by Heppell almost thirty years ago (1979 and remain a major part of the ongoing debate (for recent examples see Long et al, 2007; Broffman, 2008; Go-Sam, 2008; Memmott, 2008). The Aboriginal housing “problem” The issues considered to be of importance can be very broadly grouped within discourses of black fella concerns and white fella priorities. The main assertion underpinning much of the literature is that Indigenous Australians, particularly those living in remote areas have lifestyles distinctively different to European-Australians and require specific houses to accommodate these differences. Therefore, it is not feasible to assume housing which may suit for European-Australians is suitable for Indigenous Australians, or even that housing appropriate for one Indigenous group (whether a whole community or a single family) will suit another, because all communities are different. Broadly. the aspects of Indigenous cultures which are believed to be of concern are socio-spatial relationships, communication behaviours, domestic practices, family obligations, and spiritual beliefs. The issues which have assumed priority for Australia’s Federal and State governments relate to funding, social welfare policy, governance, and land tenure (Long et. al., 2007; Memmott, 2008). Overall, with these black fella concerns and white fella priorities in mind, the literature suggests the solution to the Aboriginal housing “problem” can be found in systems of housing delivery that will provide living facilities flexible enough to meet the cultural aspirations and the physical needs of Indigenous Australians in remote communities, while remaining economically and environmentally sustainable. Consultation between housing providers and communities or individuals is considered to be an important factor in achieving this solution. However, for the most part, the transfer of European housing to Indigenous communities has engaged a “top down” approach (Walker, 1994; pp. 17-18; Miles, et. al., 1986, section 1.6 pp. 1-2). The need for consultation on a equal relationship between housing providers and communities (as advocated by the “bottom up” approach) was called for as early as 1975 by the Aboriginal Housing Panel (AHP), a collaboration between the Council for Aboriginal Affairs and the Royal Institute of Architects, (Heppell, 1979b p. 233), and has been reiterated ever since. The need for consultation is incorporated in many policy documents and program directives but there is often little, if any, qualification of what is meant, the processes involved, or the methods to be engaged (Lawler 1998). It is often little more than a secondary consideration in the delivery process and frequently involved merely obtaining assent to a previously decided outcome (Ross, 1987 p. 153). [Image removed from RTF version: newspaper cutting photograph of an Aboriginal woman in a desert setting, standing in front of two tents with her hands on her hips. The newspaper headline reads “HOMELESS”. The caption reads “Inadequate housing continues (The Weekend Australian 2009d p. 17).”] So, despite strong support for the position that effective consultation holds the key to rectifying the “problem”, many Indigenous Australians are still confronted by the disadvantage, discomfort and detrimental outcomes posed by inadequate housing (Memmott, 2008; Shelter NSW, 2010). This suggests the need to look elsewhere for reasons as to why this state of affairs continued. The “Aboriginal Housing” problem Jacobs, Kemeny and Manzi argue, it is important to scrutinise the processes by which particular housing issues become constructed as problems and in turn subject to the application of specific policy interventions (Jacobs et. al, 2003 p. 429) and they identify three conditions which need to be met for a housing “problem” to be taken as such and acted upon. These three conditions can be observed in the dominant discourses in relation to housing for Aboriginal people. Firstly, the convincing narrative: Aboriginal housing is a “problem”, that is, Indigenous cultures are at odds with western housing, but the architect/academic can provide answers. Secondly, the coalition of support is a plethora of policy makers, researchers, academics, practitioners. Thirdly, policy responses are guaranteed because these people have the ear of government policy makers (Jacobs et. al., 2003 p. 430). The governments make the decisions and use the work of researchers, academics and practitioners to justify those decisions. Therefore, there is a need to think about the problem of what is meant by the term “Aboriginal housing”, rather than what may constitute the “problem” of Aboriginal housing. Also, consideration needs to be given to how particular forms of knowledge become culturally privileged and who stands to benefit from a specific world view being held up as correct (Denzin, 1992 pp. 164-165). For example, the aesthetic values of western (white) architecture dominate the built environment, and operate as a hegemony wherein its ideologies present as the interests and views of the society as a whole (Gramsci 1971 in Hall, 1980 p. 35). This is especially so in the intersection between western (white) architecture and indigenous (black) cultures because the presence of “whiteness”, that is, the culture of white people (Dyer, 1997) remains unacknowledged. Thus, it becomes questionable to speak of “Aboriginal housing” or “Indigenous housing” when what is actually under consideration is white fella housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So, instead of focussing on Indigenous Australians, who are limited in their capacity to influence public debate and government policy, researchers need to turn their attention to the governments and their agents, whose social and political power is paramount in delivering social policy and programs. Therefore, when considering the discourses of housing for Indigenous Australians provided by architects and academics there is a need to challenge these discourses which reiterate the ideologies that indigenous cultures are at odds with the beneficial occupation of a fixed sited dwelling. There is also a need to question discourses which position architects or academics as experts who will find solutions to the “problem” and to consider that Indigenous Australians need to be in a position to do this for themselves. More importantly, there is a need to challenge the selective take up of these discourses by those who ultimately make the decisions, the government policy makers. Therefore, instead of focussing on those who are marginalised (Indigenous Australians), researchers may produce more useful and beneficial analyses by turning their attention to those who are doing the marginalising (governments and their agents). Bottom Up not Top Down The second area I want to discuss is the argument that improving the delivery of housing to Indigenous communities requires a devolution of power from government to community via the engagement of a “bottom up” approach. This involves much more than “end user” consultation. It is a process whereby Indigenous Australians are empowered to develop their own responses to their housing requirements, thus generating a vernacular architectural response to their specific geographic, climatic and cultural needs (Lawler, 1998). Engaging the “bottom up” approach of involving a community in all aspects of delivery is held to result in greater self-reliance and self-respect and as such is considered by researchers and practitioners to increase the success of housing programs. It is also believed to be essential to the development and implementation of culturally appropriate housing, and considerable work has been undertaken in this regard. (Homeswest, 1996a; Meney, 1994; Heppell, 1979; Ross, 1987; Memmott, 1988 & 1989; Walker, 1994; Memmott, 2003a). A “bottom up” approach would transfer control to Indigenous Australians and give them ‘the time, space, and knowledge to develop their own housing solutions’ which would be appropriate to their own cultural contexts (Lawler, 2000 p.25; see also Smith, 2008 pp. 81-82; kalkadoon.org, 2006 pp. 5-6). But the shift required to achieve this transfer of control needs widespread change within the relevant service agencies that deliver the housing, requiring new procedures, new skills, new frameworks of delivery and assessment, and new attitudes, fundamentally different to those currently in place (Lawler, 2000 p. 25; see also Agarwal, 1986 pp. 174-175). [Image removed from RTF version: Google map of north Queensland coastline from Townsville to Hinchinbrook Island, with Palm Island in the centre. The caption reads “Location of Palm Island”] My desire to conduct a project that might engender a situation where a “bottom-up” approach could be initiated took me to the community of Palm Island, where I lived and worked while undertaking my research from 2007 to 2009. When I arrived on Palm Island there were 350 houses for an estimated population of 3500 people, a ratio of 10 people per house (Moyle, 2007). However 15-20 people may have been living in any one house at some time. Building costs of $400,000 per house and available State Government funding allowed the Council to build approximately 1 to 2 houses per year. But with 500 people on the waiting list for housing (Moyle, 2007) and the basis of say 5 occupants per house, this translates to a need for at least 100 extra houses. To meet this need, funding of $40m is required, and would take 50 years to meet without allowing for population growth and escalation of costs. [image removed from RTF version: a plain demountable house with enclosed verandah on stilts. The caption reads “This new transportable house cost approximately $400,000 (2007)”. The community on Palm Island is highly urbanised, and many people told me they were quite happy living in the houses provided, although those provided thus far may not be the individual’s ideal. There appeared to be minimal levels of damage to buildings resulting from anything other than lack of maintenance and common vandalism. Also, for the most part, it seemed the people on Palm Island wanted “normal”, that is, white fella houses. [image removed from RTF version: a close-up of a basic demountable building. The doors to the building are open and show graffiti on the inside of each door. A couch and material or clothing and a bed head sit outside the building. The caption reads “Substandard living conditions on Palm Island (2007)” Many of the people I spoke with simply wanted somewhere to live and they told me the greatest problem with housing on Palm Island was the shortage of available accommodation. The lack of accommodation had resulted in overcrowding and the continued use of dwellings which needed repair or, quite simply, were substandard. For example, some people paid rent to live in dilapidated caravans or ATCO units with no kitchen or bathroom facilities. The shortage of accommodation has lead to a substantial number of self-built houses being erected. Overcrowded and substandard dwellings exacerbate health problems in children and adults through poor hygiene, increased infection risks and so on. Common ailments arising include skin diseases, scabies, nephritis, TB, influenza, gastro, worms etc. Overcrowding also impacts on mental health, education, employment and family relationships. The Research Project The aim of my research was to explore the following questions: • Is it beneficial for Aboriginal people to be the primary agents in the design and delivery of their housing? • What benefits might this have for Aboriginal people in the social, cultural, economic areas of their lives? • Will flexible modularised designs for housing deliver better outcomes than one off individual designs, or standardised mass produced designs? During the course of the research a further question arose, which significantly impacted the three original research questions, and my findings. That is: What effects do Government policies have on the capacity of Indigenous Australians to become the primary agents in the design and delivery of their housing? [Image removed from RTF version: a floor plan of a two bedroom building, with a combined living and eating area, separate kitchen and bathroom, and two verandah areas. The caption reads “Plan of proposed 2 bedroom house”] [Image removed from RTF version: sketches of the same house design as pictured from the front and side, labelled “FRONT ELEVATION” and “SIDE ELEVATION”. A labelled “EXTERNAL CLADDING DETAIL” shows how a modular wall might include ridging to insulate beneath the structural ply wood outer layer. The caption reads “Elevation of proposed 2 bedroom house”]. The plan was to construct a building that was low-cost and easy to build, and one that offered flexible layouts and relocation if necessary. I also wanted to use high levels of local community input in its implementation and final configuration. The final design, building, delivery processes and costs could then be assessed for effectiveness, appropriateness, and responsiveness to the community needs and aspirations. In addition to providing additional accommodation for the community, there was the potential to establish an enterprise producing the buildings for sale to external markets. This would bring employment, skills and money into the community and provide an economic and skills base from which the community could develop and provide its own housing. The building was to be based on a modular system I had developed, and further adapted in response to the community’s needs. Using an existing design may appear contra to my desire to engage a “bottom up” approach. However, the intention was not to suggest my design was the final solution, but to explore the possibility it may be beneficial in addressing short term needs while increasing the community’s capacity to design, project manage and build their own housing. Thus they would be empowered to generate their own vernacular response to their housing need, and to become their own ethno-architects (Memmott & Go-Sam, n.d. p. 8). Consequently, the costs of providing housing could be reduced through more direct service delivery and, more importantly, any cultural “issues” would be addressed by Indigenous people themselves. Empowering this local response would constitute the bottom up approach. However, as well as a shortage of houses, Palm Island had a lack of serviced building blocks on which a building could be erected. Also, the major area of need seemed to be for additional bedrooms, not necessarily more houses. Therefore, the design for the project was further developed to include “plug-in” modules, consisting of self-contained units which could be located adjacent to existing houses, thereby increasing available accommodation without requiring additional infrastructure development. [image removed from RTF version: floor plan of a one bedroom building including large verandah area, combined bedroom and kitchen, and separate bathroom. The caption reads “Plan of proposed self contained “plug-in” unit”] [Image removed from RTF version: sketches of the same house design as pictured from the front. The caption reads “Elevation of proposed self contained “plug-in” unit”] Considering the small amount of resources available to the Council, it was suggested to me it would be within the Council’s means, and more beneficial to them, to build three self contained units at the motel. The Council would be able to rent these units to government employees and other workers coming to the Island. This would provide additional accommodation overall and generate extra Council revenue. It was estimated the Council would have been able to recoup their capital investment within 18 months. The building program began late 2008 and continued until March 2009. I prepared documentation, obtained approvals, ordered materials and arranged for the structural steelwork to be produced, for shipment by barge to Palm Island. During this time the design was further developed to include disabled access. The final plan for the motel development was to build one disabled unit and two standard units. [Image removed from RTF version: photograph of white steel frames lying on wooden pallets. The caption reads “Some of the steel work delivered to Palm Island after the project stalled (2009)”] In March 2009 the project was left without funds when monies allocated to the building program were used elsewhere. I was caught in an untenable situation of needing to order materials but with no funds available to pay suppliers. I attempted to keep the project on track and negotiate with the Council to find a way through this situation, which was described to me as a “cashflow” crisis, but to no avail. My experiences on Palm Island forced my research to change direction. I needed to consider why the project was not able to proceed and what were the impediments to its completion? I also needed to consider what enabled it to proceed as far as it did. It was the stalling of the motel project, which gave rise to the additional research question: What effects do Government policies have on the capacity of Indigenous Australians to become the primary agents in the design and delivery of their housing? Despite the lengthy process involved in obtaining a hearing for my proposals, and then the delays in procuring an undertaking from the Council to proceed, the project was able to proceed as far as it did because it was supported to varying degrees by key players within the Council. There was tentative support for the proposal from the CEO and some Councillors but it was the strongsupport from the Council’s Financial Manager that enabled to project to commence. He believed my proposal offered the community benefits and he agreed with the philosophy of the communitydoing something for itself, that is, taking a bottom up approach. However, I have concluded that the project was eventually stalled by the “Aboriginal Industry”, a now infamous phrase used by former Prime Minister John Howard in 1996, to refer to the institutional structures, departmental systems and bureaucratic attitudes that govern, and benefit financially from, the provision of services provided specifically for Indigenous Australians and their communities (Kuhn 2007, p. 56). I observed the situation to which Howard was referring while undertaking my Master’s research on the APY Lands in South Australia in 1995 and the diagram below illustrates the “industry” as it was then. [Image removed from RTF version: a complex diagram shows the many parties involved in the provision of housing and essential services to the APY Lands. Fourteen separate parties are listed with connections to housing coordination and/or essesntial services coordination, and from there, to houses. The caption reads “Services involved in providing housing to APY Lands, South Australia in 1996 (Lawler 1998, p. 124)” The “Aboriginal Industry” In light of these experiences from Palm Island, the third and most important area I want to discuss is the existence of the “Aboriginal Industry”, as mentioned above, and its lack of success in redressing the housing disadvantage suffered by many Indigenous Australians. I suggest this situation exists because the “Aboriginal industry” engages a “top down” approach of doing things “for” Indigenous people, and in doing so engenders a culture of dependency, keeping Indigenous Australians in a position where they provide a reason for the industry to continue. The provision of services specifically targeted to Indigenous Australians has expanded exponentially over the last 40 years and is now a major industry directly employing many workers and indirectly supporting large numbers of smaller enterprises. A significant sector of this industry is the provision of housing for Indigenous Australians with State, Territory and Federal governments, regularly making announcements about the levels of funding being directed toward Indigenous housing programs. However, it can be argued, much of the money allocated to Indigenous housing programs remains in the hands of governments, and private (white) interests. There are few if any Indigenous people involved in earning a living from the provision of housing to Indigenous communities and minimal amounts of the funds allocated result in houses on the ground. It could be argued that if the “services” the Aboriginal Industry provides were no longer needed (that is, Indigenous Australian’s disadvantage was eliminated) a whole section of the bureaucracy would collapse. The situation could be compared to that which exists in the US where poor, underpaid, exploited Latino workers underpin significant sections of the US economy. The “Industry” in the NT [image removed from RTF version: a newspaper cutting of a political cartoon. The cartoon is set in an outdoors or jungle-like landscape. On the left are four Aboriginal people who appear dissatisfied, with cross faces and crossed arms and legs. Behind them is a sign which reads “This housing development brought to you by SIHIP”. On the right of the picture, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stands behind a lecturn. He has a pointed hand raised, and is saying “This time we really are sorry...” Next to him stands the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. The cartoon is labelled “The apologists”. The caption reads “Federal Government’s SIHIP Program fails to deliver (The Weekend Australian, August 15-16, 2009, p. 16”). An exemplar case of the Aboriginal Industry at work is the Federal Government’s Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) for the Northern Territory. In 2008 the Federal government allocated $672 million to provide 750 new houses, together with major upgrades and refurbishments to existing houses, in Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory. However, in July 2009, some 15 months after the program had started, no construction work had begun. Also, the program consultant in charge of SIHIP was reported to have said as few as 300 houses would be delivered and 70 percent of the fund would be spent on indirect costs (The Weekend Australian, 2009a p. 8). Critics claimed the program was foundering because ‘white consultants … [were] … filling their own pockets’ and ‘skimming’ 15-25 percent of the funding (Elliot McAdam in The Weekend Australian, 2009b p. 9) and that ‘consultants and bureaucrats [were] still busy with the fly-in, fly-out visits to the bush that have been occurring for more than two years’ (Galarrwuy Yunupingu in The Weekend Australian, 2009b p. 9). In response, the Minister, Jenny Macklin, claimed administration costs were budgeted for 15 percent of overall funding and they had only reached 11 percent (The Weekend Australian, 2009b p. 9). A review commissioned by the Minister later found ‘that the $672m program was three months behind schedule, too costly and hampered by multiple levels of bureaucratic management’(The Australian, 2009 p. 6). In August 2009, The Weekend Australian reported that $127million of the $672million SIHIP budget had already been spent but minimal construction work had been started and no individual projects had been completed (The Weekend Australian, 2009c p. 17). The program is fraught with misunderstandings and disappointments. For example: claims the SIHIP plan was to build new houses in Tenant Creek are met with statements that there was never any intention to provide new houses, only upgrades (The Weekend Australian, 2009c p. 17); and the work offered to local businesses on Bathurst Island has not been forthcoming (The Weekend Australian, 2009d p. 9). There is also evidence of funds being wasted. For example, the company originally responsible for Groote Eylandt was sacked because of cost overruns and poor quality control and the project workers there stayed at the luxury Dugong Beach Resort and ran up a $10,000 tab at the local bakery (The Weekend Australian, 2010a p. 5). The Northern Territory Government was also put on notice by the Federal Government who advised they would assume control of the program if the Territory’s delivery process did not improve (The Australian, 2009 p. 6). By November 2009, the scope of the proposed upgrade work had been scaled back by 80 percent. An average of more than 50 refurbishments per house had been identified but only 10 were to be undertaken. It was claimed this was because the program managers had identified there were insufficient funds to carry out all the necessary works, and the lack of funds was a result of cost blow- outs and management costs. The reduced scope of works then raised questions as to whether the “upgraded” houses would actually meet the Northern Territory’s standards for government rental properties (The Australian, 2009 p. 1). As recently as May 2010, only 11 houses had been built during the program’s 2 ½ year existence. This is no more than would have been delivered under existing arrangements, without the input of SIHIP. However, the minister still maintained SIHIP was on track to deliver its overall targets of 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds and 2500 refurbishments by 2013 (The Weekend Australian, 2010b p. 1). Delivering the remaining 739 houses in less than four years means building 184 houses per year, and then there is still the upgrades and refurbishments to complete. In addition to the concerns regarding excessive overhead costs and failure to deliver, a further four key issues arise. Firstly, how far will 750 houses go toward reducing overcrowding and homelessness for the Territory’s Indigenous communities? Secondly, the costs of living in the new homes is 23% of income toward rental, capped at $120 per week, according to Territory Housing co-ordinator John Maher (The Weekend Australian, 2010c p. 13) which creates greater stress for a family. Thirdly, what strategies have been put in place to provide ongoing maintenance to the buildings, a recurring issue which is rarely mentioned and often never addressed in schemes such as SIHIP? Finally, many community leaders have been saying they simply want houses, and asking why lengthy consultation processes are engaged, even though there are designs already available which people in the communities are happy with? These concerns about lengthy delays and statements that people simply want somewhere to live go against the now widely accepted belief, which I have already referred to, that extensive consultation is required. Indeed, it speaks to a shift in my own position, which is that the need is not so much about “consulting” with the end user about the end product, but about also involving them in the delivery process in some way, either as individuals or as a community, with a priority of increasing the accommodation as quickly as possible. The “Industry” on Palm Island [image removed from RTF version: photograph of a man (former Minister, Mal Brough) and a woman (former Mayor Delena Foster), seated at a table, each signing a document. The caption reads “Former Minister Mal Brough and former Mayor Delena Foster sign the Palm Island Agreement (2007)” On Palm Island, I observed considerable amounts of government rhetoric in developing housing policies, but people in the community told me that nothing was really changing for them. They asked for their voices to be heard, to be included in decisions that affected them, to be given opportunities to work out their own solutions. But it seemed no-one was really listening. In fact, I was told that the Council had a policy of not consulting with the community, and the governments dealt only with the Council (Webster, 2007). The frustration experienced by the community is evident in comments made by some of the Elders of Palm Island regarding their housing needs: …. “inadequate and inappropriate housing is a major factor in all the social problems here. Fixing housing is central to solving our problems,” “too many in the house - you’ve got to get away sometimes” and “The government wont listen to us . They just do what they do “. “meetings, meetings, meetings! And nothing happens” “the govt workers don’t socialise with us, they don’t mix in the community. They fly in and they fly out and they haven’t got a clue what is important here, (kalkadoon.org, 2006 pp.3 & 5). There is evidence the “Aboriginal Industry” is present on Palm Island, but covertly so. The community has facilities similar to other small country towns and it has retail, government, health, educational, legal, and recreational services. However, many of the jobs available with these enterprises are held by non-indigenous, or non-local workers. In addition, up to 200 people (mainly government employees) from the mainland travel to Palm Island for business during any one week. These people mainly use the scheduled daily flights to and from Townsville, or the additional services offered by charter operators, all of which can total up to 15 flights per day. [image removed from RTF version: a photograph of a propeller plane on a landing strip. The caption reads “Plane arriving at the airport, up to 15 flights a day (2007)”] So, although there is significant investment in services on Palm Island there is little opportunity for members of the community to participate in the economic benefits. For example, the cleaner for the Centrelink office flies in from Townsville once a week to do the vacuuming even though there is 96% unemployment in the community . The presence of the “Aboriginal Industry” on Palm Island is most clearly evident in the systems involved in the provision of housing. The Council receives funding from Queensland Department of Housing, but this is contingent on certain delivery mechanisms being undertaken by other government agencies. Also, the Council does not have the capacity to carry out new constructions or major refurbishments. The funds are handed over to Project Services, an arm of the Queensland State Government. Project Services engages an external project manager, QBuild, another arm of the Queensland State Government, which then engages private sub-contractors to undertake the necessary work. The Council building team, of four workers, undertakes some minor repair work on houses, as a sub- contractor to QBuild, but the majority of repair work is currently undertaken by QBuild and other off- island subcontractors. This practice of the Council engaging the services of other QLD government agencies to build the housing funded by the Department of Housing is simply the government giving funding to the community with one hand, and then taking it back with the other. The flow of money, from the Queensland Government to the Palm Island Council, then back to the Queensland Government is illustrated in the diagram below. [Image removed from RTF version: a flowchart depicting how funds are distributed from the Queensland Government, via the Department of housing. One branch of funding then goes on to project services and Q Build (both State government organisations) and thence to private subcontractors and suppliers before 40% remains for building a house, some of the funds for which then go on to Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council. The second branch of funding goes directly to Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council. The caption reads “The flow of money 60% of allocated funding absorbed by consultants, and government departments”] Another example of this flow of money was the project to deliver “innovative” housing to the Community. Although the brief allowed for engagement of a consultant to work with the community to design and develop a targeted response, this project eventually resulted in Project Services procuring, on behalf of the Council, three 2 bedroom transportable houses (of an existing design, steel framed and FRC clad), delivered from Brisbane at a cost of approximately $1.2m. These buildings were erected on a site in the main township but required the demolition of an existing building, considered by some people to be of considerable significance to the community, being one of, if not the oldest remaining house on the island. This building was repairable by local labour. The exploitation engendered by the “Aboriginal Industry” serving Palm Island most grossly manifests in a phenomenon I have come to call the Palm Island Discount. This is the practice engaged by private suppliers and contractors to charge exorbitant costs for the provision of materials or services to the community. One of my own experiences of this was when I was obtaining quotes for the supply of windows to the motel project. I was given costings at $21,611 and $18,680 from two different suppliers before obtaining one from a third supplier of $8,859. As discussed, I wanted to explore the means by which Aboriginal people could be empowered to determine their own housing outcomes and to build a “true” Aboriginal industry. I was aiming to establish a context in which a transfer of control from government to community could occur. This would shift the current flow of money to a scenario where the Council could engage their own Project Manager to contract or employ local workers to build houses. Thus the Council would be using the funds allocated to deliver housing via a more direct and locally driven process. The flow of money in this process is illustrated in the diagram below. [removed from RTF version: flowchart depicting how funds could be distributed from the Queensland Government, via the Department of Housing and Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council in full to the Council’s Project Manager and then in part to a local building team (for employment and community capacity building) and private suppliers (of materials only) for many houses, funds from which would then flow back to the Council. The caption reads “The proposed flow of money used to provide employment and housing for community”] In government policies and inter-departmental arrangements, such as those between Queensland Housing, Project Services, QBuild, and the Palm Island Council, there is evidence of an industry, based around the provision of services to Indigenous people. The activities of this industry perpetuate a culture of dependency and helplessness. Specifically in relation to Palm Island, some people I spoke to articulated high levels of dependency when they made comments along the lines of waiting for Council to give them a house, while others frequently expressed feelings of helplessness arising from Council “not allowing” them to do things such as buy or build their own houses. Many of the people of Palm Island reiterated the belief that their ability to access adequate housing was subject to the Council acting on and meeting its responsibilities. The Council, too, was trapped in relationship of dependency with the industry. As well as relying on Queensland Department of Housing for funding, the Council’s business in relation to housing was highly regulated in other areas also. For example, the Department of Housing’s ATSI Housing Guide requires that dwellings constructed on Palm Island adhere to quite specific design and specification guidelines. This has the potential to increase the costs of building, through over designing and. therefore, over engineering, and to limit the number of contractors who can meet these requirements. In addition, in relation to my original Pilot House proposal I was told it would be unlikely the Council could build a house for an Indigenous person or family if the design did not meet the ATSI Housing Guidelines. Therefore, through its ATSI Housing Guide the Queensland Government precludes the possibility of any different forms of design or construction being undertaken on Palm Island. These are examples from Palm Island show the government using a “top down” approach, whereby the government does things “for” Indigenous people. The government and its agents, the “Aboriginal industry” is there to “take care of things”, and it is better if Indigenous people do not try to do anything for themselves. Thus, the people are cast as not “capable” and not “able” to do things for themselves. By maintaining this “top down” control and disempowering Indigenous people, Australia’s governments and their agencies, position Indigenous people as dependent, and engender a belief system that they “should not have to” do things for themselves. Taken to its extreme, this position manifests in the politics of victim hood which sees Indigenous Australians denying any responsibility for their personal actions and claiming that , that it is solely the governments’ responsibility to improve their standing in life. The politics of victim hood is what Noel Pearson is referring to when he tells his people to stop waiting around for a “hand out” and to seek out a “hand up” instead (Cape York Institute, 2007) Dismantling the Industry [image removed from RTF version: newspaper clipping of an article written by Noel Pearson. The headline reads “Fattest hand is first in the till” the subheading reads “What Aboriginal communities need most is bureaucracy to get out of the way” the main text is illegible due to size. A photograph shows an Indigenous woman and two young children in an outdoor setting. The caption reads “The “dragons” have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (The Weekend Australian, January 23-24, 2010, p. 12)”] The Aboriginal industry is governed by the ‘dragon-principal’ a phenomena in European institutional life, which sees the emergence a class of people, who ‘preside over the secrets of knowledge and power’ and who are motivated by self-interest to not divulge those secrets (Willmot in Bonner, 1988 p. 22). Everyone involved in providing services, researching, commenting on, or raising concerns about Indigenous people not only participates in and perpetuates the Aboriginal industry, they also benefit\ in some way from the disadvantage Indigenous Australians face throughout their lives. As Bonner notes, those who depend on the resources of the system, in one form or another, are usually the strongest defenders of it. More importantly, he writes: The financial and psychological interests of this group are vested in the maintenance of the existing system to a point where objective analysis of results is a virtual impossibility (1988, p. ii). Positioned as victims, impacted negatively by living conditions, low education, poor economic standing, and high levels of ill health, Indigenous Australians are subjected to a form of social violence, which Erykah Kyle, former Mayor of Palm Island described as “horizontal”. “A form of violence similar to a hand on your head, pushing you down and keeping you down”. This horizontal violence further impacts on physical, mental and cultural well-being, ensuring they are pushed even further down. Thus, the people are kept in a position where they continue to provide a reason for the Aboriginal industry to exist. By recognising the Aboriginal industry for what it is, it can be seen that Indigenous Australians have become commodities within a bureaucratic market place. However, it is not their demands which are being met but the demands of the bureaucratic machinery which serves only itself and these self- serving interests are the reason why nothing changes. Within the Aboriginal Industry, the needs of Indigenous Australians are important only in so far as they provide a reason for a service to exist. Their needs function as the base element that is traded between the various service providers, thus Indigenous Australians and their needs have become commodities in the market place of the Aboriginal Industry. As I noted at the start of this article, the debilitating effects of inadequate and unsuitable housing on the physical, mental and cultural well being of indigenous Australians have been researched extensively and well documented over the last forty years. However, when the issues are scrutinised and thought about carefully it becomes apparent the disadvantages many Indigenous Australians struggle with are the result of poverty and a lack of education. Their disadvantage does not arise from their culture. The problems they face have everything to do with being poor and uneducated. So, by thinking about the issues in these terms there is much Governments can do to eliminate poverty and improve education, if they have the will. But this is an enormously costly issue and this is why they have run away from it. The differences between the “top-down” approach of the Aboriginal industry and a “bottom-up” approach which would empower Indigenous Australians to start taking control of their own lives is set out in the diagram below. [Image removed from RTF version: Two flowcharts are juxtaposed against each other with the statement “vs” in between. On the left, a blue flow chart labelled “Top Down” shows an arrow pointing downwards from “Federal Government/State Government”, to “Appointed Program Manager for each State & Territory e.g. Ove Arup” to “Delivery Infrastructure” to “Appointed Project Managers to different areas of need by program area” to “No people on the ground in the communities” to “Project Managers send in sub-contractors who fly in and fly out”. On the right, a pink flow chart labelled “Bottom Up” shows arrows pointing upwards from “Good people on the ground in each community” to “Appointed Project Managers to different areas of need by Aboriginal Housing Panel” to “Delivery Infrastructure” to “Aboriginal Housing Panel” to “Federal Government/State Government”.] In this approach I suggest the real work would be done by capable people on the ground, in the communities, who feed information about what each community needs concerning housing back to a single body that acts as a central point of coordination, a repository of knowledge and a source of technical information to assist the communities to achieve their goals. I envisage this coordinating body would be similar to the former Aboriginal Housing Panel (founded in 1972 but disbanded due to lack of funding in 1978), which was formed to work with Indigenous communities in a research, consulting, and advisory capacity, and to liaise with governments on their behalf. A single body such as this could effectively oversee and guide the process in response to each community’s needs. Contrast this suggestion with the existing arrangements that involve a plethora of government departments who dictate how and where assistance is to be provided. However, nothing will change until the Aboriginal industry is dismantled. But it seems the only people who may have the will to do this are the Indigenous Australians who do not benefit from its continuation. But to do this they need to be empowered, and empowerment for an economically, socially and politically disadvantaged group requires a “bottom up” approach. But as I have noted, the “dragons” will not voluntarily relinquish their power. [Image removed from RTF version: a photograph of a basic demountable building which appears to be in disrepair. Outside stands a worn couch and refrigerator. The doors of the building are either open or missing. The building is has graffiti on it and the corrugated iron roof is tilted. The caption reads “Substandard living conditions on Palm Island continue (2007)”] More times than I can remember, the people I have spoken to who were in real need have said they would simply like a house, and that any house would do. How many more times do they have to say it before governments start to listen? Or do they really want to listen? References and Select Bibliography Agarwal, B. (1986) Cold Hearths and Barren Slopes - The Woodfuel Crisis in the Third World,Zed Books Ltd, London. Bonner, N. (1988) ‘Always Anangu. - A review of the Pitjantjatjara and YankunytjatjaraAboriginal Communities of Central Australia’. The Commonwealth Department of AboriginalAffairs, Canberra. Broffman, A. (2008). ‘An Architecture of Listening’, Architecture Australia, Sep/Oct, Vol 97 No. 5, pp. 90-95. 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(2007) Project Officer, Department of Housing, Queensland Government. Personal interviews, July 2007-March 2009. Yin, R.K. (2003) Case Study Research: Design and Methods Sage Publications Inc., Thousand Oaks, London, New Deli.
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