Local enterprise, local people, local answers
3 separate news stories, detailing aspects of the housing crisis in various remote Indigenous communities, were published on SMH.com.au on 19th March 2009. Collectively these articles paint a picture of the unacceptable plight of these communities and some obvious solutions.
Doors shut to remote houses pitch tells the story of Alf Arnold. An Aboriginal man, structural engineer and builder of 40 years’ experience who has developed a system that can build flexible but extremely resilient kit homes for remote Indigenous and mining communities for less than half the price governments are paying now.
His intent is that they would be built at a TAFE-supported factory employing Indigenous workers, and constructed from a fire-proof and termite-resistant material whose manufacturing process absorbs more carbon than it emits. They would also comply with Australian design rules and engineering specifications, as well as those of Aboriginal housing organisations.
But no-one in Government will meet with him.
In the article Menindee ‘millionaire’ sucked into welfare system by lack of support, Trevor Johnstone understands Alf’s plight. “All I ever wanted was to be an Aboriginal builder, using Aboriginal workers, building Aboriginal houses,” Trevor says.
Mr Johnstone built the town’s three newest houses for $310,000 each – not cheap by Sydney prices but $20,000 less than the average in nearby Wilcannia, built by a non-indigenous Sydney company. But almost three years without work have left him depressed, anxious and eyeing off a disability pension.
Because Aboriginal employment is encouraged but not required in government tenders, there is no reward for employers who use Aboriginal workers. Additionally, most remote jobs do not go to licensed, local builders.
Millions ‘wasted’ on Aboriginal housing contrasts the success of local businesses and people building local houses with the relative failure of a city-based company that doesn’t employ local people.
Des Jones, an Aboriginal builder and the chairman of Murdi Paaki Housing, which manages Aboriginal housing in western NSW, said the Aboriginal Communities Development Program had given Indigenous people no reason to look forward to future housing projects.
It all seems so glaringly obvious.
Local enterprise, local people and local answers equals success.
The alternative is to continue on the current path of awarding projects to city-based, ‘white’ building companies who are not obliged to employ local people.
Why are governments not insisting on investment in local people, which in turns builds economic and social capacity and ownership of, and respect for, the houses they live in?