Compared to other Australians, Indigenous people have relatively low
incomes, higher rates of unemployment and lower levels of financial literacy
and, as a consequence, the housing options available to them are more limited
than for many other Australians.
In this chapter, the committee considers the housing choices that Indigenous
Australians who cannot afford home ownership must make.
The 2015 Prime Minister's report, Closing the Gap, found that 'the
disadvantage suffered by Indigenous Australians was unacceptable'.
As an example of the areas of demonstrated disadvantage, the report noted:
the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
Australians was 10.6 years for males and 9.5 years for females;
Indigenous students were estimated to be behind non-Indigenous
students by the equivalent of about two-and-half-years of schooling in the
tested area of literacy—'without adequate literacy and numeracy skills,
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people will find it
harder to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves later in life';
the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged
15–64 years who were employed fell from 53.8 per cent in 2008 to 47.5 per cent
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were more likely to
experience violence, child abuse and neglect—evidence showed that key drivers
of violence were 'alcohol and drugs, inadequate education and unemployment'.
The 2009 Henry Review noted that, in the context of Australia's housing
supply difficulties, social housing provided a valuable stock of houses and, in
some areas such as remote Indigenous communities, was the only viable source of
Indeed, statistics produced by the AIHW show that in 2013, Indigenous
households were six times as likely as other Australian households to live
in social housing (rates of 31 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively).
At 30 June 2013, almost 63,000 Indigenous households were assisted through the
provision of social housing.
Of indigenous Australians in social housing:
public housing was the largest provider of social housing to
Indigenous households, with about 30,800 Indigenous households living in such
housing at 30 June 2013—a rate of 14 per cent of Indigenous households; and
Indigenous community housing was the second largest provider—8
per cent of Indigenous households lived in such housing at 30 June 2013.
In June 2013, 9,820 households lived in state owned and managed
Indigenous housing (SOMIH), which is administered by state and territory
governments. SOMIH is targeted specifically at low- to moderate-income
households with at least one Indigenous member and includes dwellings managed
by government Indigenous housing agencies for allocation to Indigenous tenants.
Indigenous households in SOMIH are not considered special needs households, as
SOMIH is an Indigenous-targeted program. For SOMIH, special needs households
are those that have either a household member with disability or a principal tenant
aged 24 or under, or 50 or over.
In 2012–13, states and territories spent $113.3 million on SOMIH.
Trends of indigenous Australians in social housing
As noted in previous chapters, the provision of housing assistance has shifted
over time to be targeted to highly vulnerable groups, which, according to the
AIHW, include households where there was an Indigenous member.
The number of Indigenous households living in public housing increased
by 23 per cent between 2009 and 2013 (from 25,115 to 30,774 households
respectively). This rise was in contrast to a fall of 4 per cent in the number
of other households living in public housing over the same period. The AIHW
noted that 'some of the observed increase for Indigenous households may be due
to an improvement in Indigenous identification in the public housing data
collection (with missing data about Indigenous status dropping from 17 per cent
in 2009 to 14 per cent in 2013)'.
This increase in tenancy was also evident in community housing where the
number of Indigenous households living in housing provided by the mainstream community
sector rose between 2009 and 2013, from 2,680 to 4,640 households—a 73 per
cent increase. For other households, the rise was also 73 per cent.
The AIHW indicated that:
The growth over time in the contribution of the mainstream
community housing sector reflects changes in government policy that have
encouraged this sector to play a larger role in the provision of social housing.
In contrast, the number of Indigenous households living in SOMIH fell by
15 per cent between 2009 and 2013, from 11,582 to 9,820 households. The
AIHW stated that:
At least part of the reason for this change was a transfer of
dwellings between programs. In the past, all Australian states (but not
territories) had a SOMIH program but Victoria and Western Australia have not
had such a program since around 2010 when SOMIH dwellings were transferred to
other social housing programs.
Allowing for incomplete data on Indigenous housing, there can be no
doubt that the number of Indigenous households relying on social housing is
Indigenous housing in remote
Aboriginal people living in remote regions of Australia experience
additional expenses not encountered in urban areas. The Murdi Paaki Regional
Assembly drew attention not only to the limited housing options but the high
prices of groceries and proximity to shops as adding to living costs in remote
areas. It stated:
If the nearest affordable grocery shop is 200–300 kms away
the cost of fuel to get there and back (also higher than in urban areas) means
the money left over is much more limited.
The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly also noted the escalating cost of
energy in remote communities, which was increasing to a level that was 'almost
unaffordable for people'. It stated:
Solar panels or alternative energy needs to be considered as
a matter of urgency as it is also an employment generating possibility.
The Henry Review noted that housing assistance should reflect the
difficulty Indigenous Australians may face in accessing mainstream housing
markets. In addition, the particular housing needs of Indigenous Australians in
remote areas should be addressed through specific measures, such as the
provision of capital for house building.
According to the review, there was a particular need for the provision of
capital funding in some circumstances, such as Indigenous Australians in remote
areas. The review formed the view that to ensure that housing assistance was
effective, the roles and responsibilities of different levels of government in
its provision should be made clear.
The review recognised that public housing was a significant mechanism
for providing housing to disadvantaged groups. In other words, public housing
had become the primary source of housing for people who could not access
appropriate or adequate housing in the private market such as people with a
mental illness and Indigenous Australians who too often faced discrimination in
the housing market.
According to the review, rent assistance reforms and the high-need housing
payment would not replace the need for governments to provide capital funding
for social housing. In the review's assessment, the need for capital funding was
particularly strong for Indigenous housing in remote areas, where the
Australian Government had already assumed responsibility for the provision of such
funding. The review argued that as 'the social housing sector will need to
continue to provide a significant part of the stock of housing in Australia, capital
funding can also enable a more immediate increase in supply when the housing market
National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing
One of the principal aims of the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA)
is to ensure that Indigenous Australians have the same housing opportunities as
all Australians. The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous
Housing (NPARIH) is a subsidiary agreement to NAHA designed to help address
significant overcrowding, homelessness, poor housing and severe housing
shortages for Indigenous communities.
Commencing in 2008, the $5.5 billion investment over 10 years included
property and tenancy management arrangements to bring remote housing in line
with mainstream public housing standards, including reformed rents and tenancy support
programs. Secure land tenure was a pre-condition of investment to secure
government and commercial investment, and to promote economic development
opportunities and home ownership possibilities.
According to the Department of Social Services, since 2008, the program
had delivered affordable accommodation in over 300 remote Indigenous communities
in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, New
South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria.
As at 31 January 2014, 2,316 new houses had been delivered against the 2018
target of 4,200, and the refurbishment target of 4,876 by 2014 was exceeded
early with 6,339 refurbishments and rebuilds delivered.
The department also noted the Employment Related Accommodation (ERA)
programme, which was designed to break the cycle of welfare dependency that
often occurred in remote Indigenous communities. The program was geared to do
so by providing affordable accommodation in regional and urban areas to support
people from remote communities to access training, education, and employment.
As at 31 January 2014, ERA has delivered a total of 112 facilities across
Notwithstanding the efforts to improve the standard of housing for
Indigenous Australians, significant problems remain. Ms Findlater Smith,
National Council of Women of Australia, indicated that there was a shortage of
appropriate and affordable housing for Indigenous Australians. She suggested
that one only had 'to look at the money supposedly spent in the Northern
Territory on Aboriginal housing, which we know has fallen far short of any
target'. She maintained that very few houses had been built despite great
aspirations about fixing the problem of 10 years ago. She argued that: 'They
were going to build 750 houses in the Northern Territory. I doubt they
have built more than 75. Where has the money gone?' 
It should be noted that while much work remains to be done to improve
access to affordable and appropriate housing for Indigenous Australians, some
progress has been made. For example, in May 2013, the then Minister for
Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs drew attention to the fact
that the Australian Government had funded the rebuilding or refurbishment of
more than 5,300 homes in remote Indigenous communities, nearly two years ahead
of schedule. Furthermore, that the government was on track to meet its target
of delivering 4,200 new homes by 2018 with more than 1,600 houses already
Indeed, as noted above, at the end of January 2014, 2,316 new houses had been
built and the refurbishment target exceeded.
Even so, the issues paper on housing and homelessness produced as part
of the Federation White Paper process found:
Despite significant government investment over the past 40
years in both mainstream and Indigenous-specific housing and homelessness
programmes, many Indigenous Australians continue to experience difficulty
securing appropriate and affordable housing.
As noted earlier, the high proportion of Indigenous Australians living
in social housing highlights the importance of governments at all levels
ensuring that firstly their investment in housing for Indigenous people is
adequate and secondly that it is effective in increasing the supply of housing
appropriate for Indigenous households.
The department informed the committee that despite the overall
investment under the NPARIH, overcrowding remained a significant issue in many
Indigenous communities throughout Australia. Data from the 2011 Census showed
some reduction in the proportion of Indigenous households experiencing both overcrowding
and severe overcrowding (a component of homelessness) in remote Australia. Jurisdictions
also reported a reduction in severe overcrowding in communities where there had
been capital works investment under the NPARIH.
The Census indicated that the Northern Territory had the highest incidence of
overcrowding (37.5 per cent in 2011), with these rates as high as 60.4 per
cent in very remote parts of the Northern Territory.
Between 2011–12 and 2012–13, the proportion of Indigenous people living
in overcrowded households declined in remote areas in public rental housing (from 14 per
cent to 13 per cent) and very remote areas (16 per cent to 13 per cent) but
overcrowding increased in major cities (from 10 per cent to 11 per cent) and inner
regional areas (from 8 per cent to 9 per cent). Over the same period, the proportion
of Indigenous people living in overcrowded households increased in all areas in
Clearly, the persistence and obstinate problem of overcrowding requires
a concerted effort by all levels of government to reduce the high rates. Statistics
produced by AIHW indicate that Indigenous households were more likely to
experience overcrowding, with 11 per cent of SOMIH households classified as
overcrowded, as were 11 per cent of Indigenous households in public rental
housing, and 4 per cent of Indigenous households in mainstream community
Among those living in social housing, Indigenous households were twice as
likely to be overcrowded compared with all households (11 per cent and 5 per
The Institute highlighted the extent of overcrowding in remote and very remote
In 2012–13, overcrowded households in public rental housing
were more likely to be in Remote and Very remote areas. Among public rental
housing tenants, about 1 in 8 Indigenous households (both 13%) living in such
housing in Remote and Very remote areas were living in overcrowded households,
as were 11% in both Major cities and Outer regional areas and 9% in Inner
regional areas. In comparison, SOMIH households in more remote areas were more likely
to be overcrowded than those in regional areas, with the proportion ranging
from 9% in Major cities to 17% in Very remote areas.
The Productivity Commission's 2015 report on government services
similarly observed that overcrowding remained a significant issue for many
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Likewise, the issues paper on housing and homelessness drew attention to
overcrowding as 'the largest contributor to high rates of homelessness among
indigenous Australians'. It noted that Indigenous people living in severely
overcrowded accommodation in very remote areas of the Northern Territory
represent 11.2 per cent of all homeless Australians.
Culturally appropriate housing
In its submission, Shelter SA wrote about the significance of addressing
the cultural needs of Aboriginal people. It stated further that, when increasing
the supply of housing, matters such as habitability, affordability and security
needed to be recognised as the 'basis upon which Aboriginal families can achieve
safety, teach respect to their children, have control over their environment
and share language and culture'.
Shelter SA listed a number of other matters that need to be considered,
including culturally appropriate housing designed and built to accommodate
extended families, with quality materials and durable living spaces.
Standard of dwellings
Indigenous households across all social housing programs were less
likely than non-Indigenous households to rate their dwelling as being of an
acceptable standard—62 per cent of Indigenous respondents rated their dwelling
as of acceptable standard compared to 78 per cent of non-Indigenous respondents.
Figures reproduced by the Productivity Commission show that in 2014, the
National Social Housing Survey (NSHS) found that nationally:
for public housing, 65.9 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander households were living in dwellings of an acceptable standard;
for SOMIH, 70.1 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
households were living in dwellings of an acceptable standard; and
for community housing, 83.0 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander households were living in dwellings of an acceptable standard.
The Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly informed the committee that the
standard of work associated with repairs and maintenance carried out in the
Murdi Paaki region was sub-standard with work 'already crumbling or failing'.
In its view, improved standards and an increased numbers of dwellings would
decrease long-term maintenance costs. It also noted houses being built close
together without taking account of the need for privacy, which appeared to be considered
acceptable for remote communities but could create tensions within the
Also, according to the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly, changes to housing
plans occur every political cycle, which means that with this stop-start
pattern there was no opportunity to make the most of any gains. It highlighted
the need for consistency and continuity in housing policy and its
implementation for Indigenous Australians and urged governments to develop a
bi-partisan national approach that would provide certainty and stability.
This call for certainty and continuity in housing policy was not
confined to Indigenous housing but applied overall to Australia's affordable housing
and homelessness policies and their implementation.
The committee has drawn attention to the central role that safe and
secure housing has in improving the health, education and employment
opportunities of its occupants and of fostering an environment promoting the
household's overall wellbeing. If Australia is to narrow the gap on Indigenous
disadvantage, clearly access to affordable, secure and suitable housing must be
a high and immediate priority. Otherwise, efforts to lift the health and
education standards of Indigenous Australians and to improve their employment
prospects will be undermined.
The committee underlines the observations of the Henry Review that housing
assistance should reflect the difficulty Indigenous Australians may face in
accessing mainstream housing markets. In addition, the particular housing needs
of Indigenous Australians in remote areas should be addressed through specific
measures, such as the provision of capital for house building.
This observation remains starkly relevant.
The statistics presented in this chapter show that Indigenous households
were six times more likely than other Australian households to live in social
housing. Moreover, a significant number of those in social housing experience
overcrowding. For example, 13 per cent of Indigenous tenants in public housing
in remote and very remote regions were living in overcrowded dwellings and 11
per cent in major cities.
Considering the interconnection between housing and health, education
and employment—which are major concerns with the government's efforts to close
the gap on Indigenous disadvantage—the committee believes that housing should
be very much a part of the Prime Minister's closing the gap report.
The committee recommends that housing should be included in the Prime
Minister's Closing the Gap report: that access to affordable and
appropriate housing must be regarded in the same context as Indigenous
education, health and employment.
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