Thursday, March 15, 2007

Land carve up won't deliver Aboriginal home ownership

MARCH 15, 2007: Land carve up won't deliver Aboriginal home ownership

"Mal Brough's plan to overturn Aboriginal community ownership of their land is not about private home ownership on remote communities. It is just a foot in the door strategy to overturn community land tenure," said Senator Rachel Siewert today.

"This is not the way to tackle the Aboriginal housing crisis."
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough is intensifying pressure on the West Australian and Queensland governments to reform land management to force indigenous people to buy their own homes - despite widespread poverty in their communities. The Federal Government argues that promoting private ownership can break the poverty cycle, and predicts families may one day be able to buy homes.

Mr Brough said he was tired of waiting for the Territory Government to create a system under which indigenous communities could sell their land. Mr Brough said said he wanted states to change their laws to fast-track home ownership across the country.

But Senator Racheal Siewart disagrees: "For a government that promotes itself on its economic credentials, this plan is an embarrassment. The Minister has failed home economics 101. Private home ownership is not the economic panacea, nor is it realistic," said Senator Siewert. "Any Australian family wanting to buy its own home does the maths to see what mortgage they can afford."

"Aboriginal families on these remote communities have the lowest disposable incomes in the country, and houses in remote communities are the most expensive to build," she said. "Which bank would loan a family $400 000 to build a house, knowing that they couldn't meet the payments and the resale value of the asset is so poor?"

"The government is not putting on the table the $2-3 billion needed to address the Aboriginal housing crisis," said Senator Siewert. "How is it that overturning community tenure suddenly fixes this problem? Research clearly shows that land tenure is not the major obstacle to Aboriginal home ownership," said Senator Siewert.

"In the absence of a major investment to back it up, it is clear that the push for private ownership of community lands is purely ideological and will not deliver an end to the housing crisis," she concluded.

Under the existing arrangements, home ownership is only legally possible on collectively owned indigenous land in the Northern Territory. But it cannot be delivered without a body to manage buying and selling 99-year leases which confer title over housing blocks to individuals.

The Federal Government can effectively seize control of the Top End process because it is a territory, but it cannot enforce changes in other states, which would have to introduce their own legislation.

Tangentyere Council day patrol worker Creed Joseph yesterday was sceptical about whether indigenous Australians should be encouraged to buy their own houses. "It's hard enough for Aboriginal people to get jobs," he said. "And those that do work can't afford a loan, so how can people be expected to pay for it?"

Senator Rachel Siewert
NT land seize plan - The Sunday Times

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