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This significant WA Government remote housing commitment has flown under the radar

Zak Kirkup -

How would you feel if you were one of 17 people living in a three bedroom home?

Well for Aboriginal people in Australia, overcrowded housing like that isn't rare, it's the norm.

Between 18-23 per cent of Indigenous people live in a home crammed full of people, while it's less than five per cent of those who are non-Indigenous.

It's a difficult problem to solve and one that government's have struggled with, effectively since colonisation.

In Western Australia, it was in the South West where the Noongar mobs suffered greatly as agricultural and commercial interests pushed them off their own land and into either reserves or town housing.

It was a difficult adjustment then, and for those in remote communities it's a problem still to this day as more transient mobs cycle in and out of towns or communities packing into the homes of families who are lucky enough to live in social housing or rarer still, own their own home.

Whilst we all know how important stable housing is for a good and healthy life, it's bizarre that for so long we've had commonwealth and state government's who have been unwilling or unable to do much about it.

It culminated in 2015 when then Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked why one of the wealthiest countries in the world wouldn't help provide funds for remote housing of our most vulnerable, demonised and at risk populations and he had an incredible response:

"It's not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise lifestyle choices," he said.

Effectively in 2015, the PM was saying it was a lifestyle choice to live traditionally on the land Aboriginal people never ceded and if you wanted to not only get access to housing, but basic utilities like water and power, give up and move to the city.

Thus effectively ending the last unfettered links to the land which Indigenous Australians have been custodians of for tens of thousands of years.

The Federal Government ended up withdrawing funding in 2018 leaving the states to scramble to stop these communities from collapsing.

Four years later and one of the most significant commitments in the 2022 WA State Budget has been delivered via the Housing Minister John Carey.

In a move that isn't designed to secure votes in marginal seats and didn't rate much of a media mention, Mr Carey and the WA Government set aside $350 million to invest in housing, water and power for remote Aboriginal communities.

The decision reflects, I believe, a deep and abiding respect that we're seeing across Parliament and community for the role Indigenous people have in our country.

No longer are Aboriginal Australians being asked to change and being shoe-horned into the way of life of those who colonised them.

Instead, we're seeing government's continually commit to giving them a greater voice, more opportunity, and a celebrated contribution to our nation.

John Carey and the WA Government didn't have to invest over a third of a billion dollars in remote communities.

It may not have got much attention, but it does show the mark of the government who didn't gain much, but decided to treat Aboriginal people not as those pursuing a lifestyle choice but with the respect so deeply deserved and overdue.

Zak Kirkup is of Yamatji heritage and is the former leader of the Liberal Party in Western Australia


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