Friday, January 07, 2011

Remote area housing is standing empty

We see an arguably racist refusal by the bureaucracy to accept the customary Aboriginal lifestyle. Aborigines are very social people and usually live in large groups. A smaller number of large, semi-open houses is what was needed. The small houses actually built are just not wanted by those for whom they were allegedly built. Building a suburban Melbourne house for Aboriginal communities in the tropics is mind-bogglingly stupid. Consultation must have been totally absent

MORE than 40 houses built under the Labor government's indigenous housing program are standing empty in Northern Territory communities. The government has confirmed that only 132 houses have been handed over to tenants, leaving 42 empty.

The news follows The Australian's report that 64 of the 174 new houses now built have two bedrooms - a planning decision condemned as a disgrace by Northern Territory independent indigenous MP Alison Anderson.

A Territory Housing spokeswoman defended the program, saying all 174 houses were connected to services and ready for tenants. "Territory Housing is currently working with tenants to hand over the remaining 42 properties over the coming weeks as tenancy agreements are finalised," she said. "Territory Housing staff work with each tenant to ensure they understand the tenancy agreement before they sign it, and their rights and responsibilities as the tenant."

Ms Anderson said the situation was a disgrace. "Nothing is being done properly and this money is being wasted. The Territory government and the federal government should be absolutely ashamed of themselves," she said.

"If this was happening in Sydney or Adelaide, there would be a royal commission. (The houses are) just too small and you are going to end up having 14 people living in them. A two-bedroom house is not a design for Aboriginal people.

"They are not consulting properly with people. It's their expectations of how Aboriginal people should live. "If you have a look at a two-bedroom house that now houses 14 to 20 people living in it, within a couple of months you will have a problem with the sewerage and bathroom facilities in them.

The 174 new dwellings - a mix of stand-alone and duplex houses - include 106 three-bedroom houses and four of four bedrooms. The new houses have been built at Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands, Maningrida, Alice Springs town camps, Wadeye, Angurugu, Uumbakumba, Milyakburra, Gunbalanya and Galiwinku.

The average cost of a new house under the scheme is $450,000; the average cost of rebuilding is $200,000; and the average cost of a refurbishment is $75,000.

Last night, the government denied opposition claims the program was running over budget, arguing that it was on track and would meet its targets of 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds and 2500 refurbishments within the $672 million budget. An independent assessment of the scheme early last year found the program was on track to achieve its targets.

The government said refurbishments, also criticised by the opposition for failing to substantially fix homes, focused on the parts of a house that had the greatest impact on tenants: safety faults, bathrooms, kitchens and laundries.

Coalition indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel Scullion said a house could not be defined as completed until it was handed over and tenanted, and the government's numbers had been deceptive.

"SIHIP (the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project) was implemented to address chronic overcrowding and poor housing standards in Aboriginal communities. It is now being manipulated in an attempt to meet minister (Jenny) Macklin's promises. Some of the houses would be as small as one bedroom to ensure the target was met."


Tony Abbott's dam solution for flooded rivers

TONY Abbott will develop a plan to build a series of dams around the nation, as part of the Coalition's policy platform for the next election. The policy is aimed at reducing the impact of floods and boosting food security.

The Opposition Leader yesterday told The Australian he would announce a taskforce of senior Coalition frontbenchers charged with preparing a dam plan within 12 months. The plan would include potential locations for new dams and would build on the $500 million the Coalition promised at the last election to make water more available. "I just think it's a bit odd in a country with as many water issues that we've got that there have been virtually no dams built in the last two decades," Mr Abbott said yesterday.

His foray into water policy came as the feud over the future of the Murray-Darling deepened, with Julia Gillard yesterday rejecting calls from farmers for more time to be taken over the basin's controversial rescue plan in the wake of the recent floods.

The worst of the flooding in eastern Queensland may not be over, as heavy rainfall and thunderstorms yesterday returned to the region, hindering clean-up efforts. The rain is predicted to continue for two days. However, the floodwaters heading inland down the Balonne River, which are expected to peak in St George on Sunday or Monday, may be slightly lower than predicted, giving the town a reprieve.

On Wednesday, National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie said six months of strong flows into the river system "buys the government time to sit back and make sure they can get this right".

The Prime Minister said yesterday: "I think we've got to keep on time and we've got to deal with the water reforms we need for the Murray-Darling." Ms Gillard said that, although there were floods around the country now, the nation also regularly experienced drought. "So rather than just wait till the next drought hits the Murray-Darling, now is the time to get it right for the future, so we will continue in 2011 to pursue our reforms through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority," she said.

Mr Abbott said the NFF was "absolutely right" to call for a pause and signalled the Coalition would block any Murray-Darling rescue it considered poor policy. "Our general policy is that we support good policy, we oppose bad policy - and the current plan is not a good plan," he said.

Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu disagreed with Mr Abbott, saying the floods were no reason to delay the Murray-Darling process. He said there was still a way to go in the COAG process on the issue but the floods should not get in the way. "I don't think we should be diverted in a sense, by obviously what's a disaster in Queensland," Mr Baillieu said. "We shouldn't be diverted from getting the right solution. I am not going to let the floods get in the way of that."

Mr Abbott said he wanted to put dams back on the agenda and his taskforce would engage experts and take advice from communities as required.

No major new dams have been completed in Australia in recent years, with proposals often sunk by opposition from affected residents or environmental concerns. Instead, NSW, Western Australia and Queensland have built expensive desalination plants for their capital cities, Victoria and South Australia are following suit, and ACT authorities are increasing the capacity of an existing dam.

Mr Abbott's comments came as his water spokesman, Barnaby Joyce, urged the state and federal governments to consider building three dams on the Fitzroy River at Rookwood, Nathan and Eden Bann, near the waterlogged city of Rockhampton. To mitigate floods around his home town of St George, he suggested a new dam be built on the Balonne River at Barrackdale, south of Surat.

Mr Abbott said dams offered more than just water storage. "They're flood-mitigation devices; they're a potential source of emissions-free baseload electricity; they're an important adjunct to food security; they're a source of environmental flows in dry times," Mr Abbott said. "Dams are a lot of important benefits to our community and for the last two decades, largely thanks to the Greens, we've had this dam phobia. It's time we shook it off and I think the floods are an illustration of the sorts of issues that we can use dams to help."

Mr Abbott said the Wivenhoe dam north of Brisbane was built partially as a flood-mitigation measure, "and it's been largely effective in that". "It was prompted by the disastrous 1974 floods," he said. "These floods ought, likewise, get us thinking about how dams are important in flood mitigation as well as all the others areas."

Asked how the Coalition would cope with local community opposition to proposed dams, Mr Abbott said: "I think a lot of people in Rockhampton might actually like a dam in their backyard, because it might help prevent the kind of problem that they are just going through."

He said fresh water three times the volume of Sydney Harbour was flowing past Rockhampton every day. "Now there are lots of good uses to which that water could be put," he said.

Senator Joyce said it was not necessary for dams to stop all of the water flowing downstream, "just enough to shave off a few centimetres". "If you can keep the water level down by just a few centimetres, that's millions of dollars worth of difference," said Senator Joyce. He said conservationists would have to support the dams, if they supported the towns' rights to exist.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor warned it was shortsighted to link the shortage of dams to the scale of the Queensland disaster. "There's no information I've received that would suggest this disaster could be mitigated or avoided by constructing new dams," Mr O'Connor said.

Queensland Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, who criticised Senator Joyce for opposing the Traveston Dam, which was blocked by the Rudd government, said the Labor government would consider building more dams when the flooding emergency was over.


Floods undermine Greenie panic

Warren Truss

AS I sit surrounded by flooding, I wonder what difference the present weather will make to Australia's water policy.

During the years of drought, climate change zealots have been declaring every hot day proof of global warming and a catastrophic future. These extreme statements were always nonsense; just as it would be foolish to claim that recent cooler temperatures and widespread flooding is proof the climate is not changing.

Nature has delivered in a few days what a thousand years of international climate change conferences, carbon pollution reduction schemes, carbon taxes and Murray-Darling water plans will never achieve.

What December's record rainfall through much of inland eastern Australia and now Queensland's widespread flooding shows beyond doubt is that the Murray-Darling Basin food bowl is not going to become an ecological disaster area anytime soon. With imaginative management and wise use of the available water, the Murray-Darling Basin can indefinitely maintain its rich biodiversity while continuing to support productive agriculture and vibrant communities.

There is a better way than spending billions of dollars buying water licences and laying waste to richly productive irrigation farms. There is no need to close the food processing industry and to depopulate basin towns.

There will be more droughts and they will be followed by more flood events, just as has happened though the centuries. The past few weeks prove there is enough water; we just need to use it better.

The recent flood events strengthen the arguments of those who say more water storage can relieve the pressures of the next dry phase. The strategy of harvesting water only in flood times, such as at Cubbie Station, looks increasingly credible. On the other hand, the routine watering of wetlands in drought is seen to be futile.

The science underpinning the Murray-Darling Basin draft plan is left looking despairingly threadbare. The scientific base for the plan resembled the Greens' doomsday view that the basin would never see flooding again on the scale we see today, and that base was peer-reviewed by students of the same school.

Radical conservationists and the Greens will always demand more. The Regional Forest Agreements were supposed to settle for all time the areas of native forests that could be sustainably logged and those that were to be preserved in their present state. But before the ink was dry on the new RFAs, the Greens were demanding more and more. Today most of the native timber industry is gone and Australia is importing from countries where conservation practices are not so demanding.

The same is true of our fishing industry as key fishing areas are progressively closed, often as a result of Labor-Greens preference deals.

The environmental flow requirements of the Murray-Darling Basin are next in line. I was chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council when the Living Murray initiative was agreed. The Living Murray initiative showed that with proper management of water for the environment, big environmental benefits could be delivered without the need to buy water from irrigators.

At that time the scientists told us that 1500 gigalitres was required to water the basin's key environmental sites. The draft Murray-Darling Basin plan now says the required figure is at least 3000GL. The Australian Conservation Council and the Greens support an upper end figure of 7600GL, three-quarters of all the water used for irrigation. No wonder farmers say the Greens will never be satisfied while there is one person left producing food in the Murray-Darling Basin.

But the present rains must give everyone of goodwill confidence that a permanent and genuine solution to water sharing in the basin is within grasp. The former Coalition government left Labor a $5.8 billion program to re-plumb and re-engineer the basin, which included new efficient water management, reducing seepage and evaporation. This delivers the ultimate win-win, with farmers retaining water otherwise lost and the rivers prospering with increased flows. The Environment Minister has been asked twice in parliament how much of this money has been spent, but he has been unable to answer. But the budget papers say the figure is only $320 million, which is appallingly slow progress.

Better management of environmental flows alone can probably save the entire 3000GL required in the Murray-Darling Basin draft plan. One project identified by the National Irrigators Council and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment showed how spending just $43m could save 1100GL of water at the Lindsay Island wetlands downstream from Mildura. Better management of the Menindee Lakes and the Narran Lakes will also generate huge water savings and avoid the need for wasteful buybacks.

The granting in 1887 of inalienable rights to water to the Chaffey brothers around Mildura was an early decision that helped build the Riverland and the nation. Irrigators know times have changed and they have borne considerable pain in recent years as their allocations have been wound back.

But, sadly, the Gillard government has lost control of this issue, extinguishing much of the goodwill that had been excruciatingly built up through many years of often tortuous consultation.

Labor should have known all along that the entire scope of the basin's needs had to be taken into account when the Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan was released on October 8 last year. It initially dismissed regional concerns and resorted to political posturing and baseless attacks on the Coalition. At last the Gillard government has acknowledged that there is something wrong; but it seems unwilling to set to and fix the problem.

The rain and flooding give us the time to get the process back on track, and hopefully in a less emotionally charged atmosphere. We can and must get the balance right.


Piggyback rides banned in Catholic schools

This seems excessive

Catholic clergy have been banned from giving children piggyback rides under child protection policies introduced by an outer Melbourne parish. The new policies, aimed at preventing abuse, include bans on inappropriate embracing, or contacting children through Facebook or SMS. They are being introduced at parishes in Lilydale and Healesville this year.

Guidelines will apply to all priests, parish workers, staff and volunteers representing the church, including those at associated schools St Patrick's and St Brigid's Catholic primary schools. The policies, believed to be the first in Melbourne, were put into place after two allegedly abusive priests served in the district.

Conduct deemed acceptable includes "high fives", pats on the shoulder or back, holding hands with small children, handshakes, and verbal praise.

The rules say any emails sent to minors should have parents or guardians copied in, and any phone calls should be made to the family home. Social networking is not considered an appropriate way for an adult to socialise with a child.

Inappropriate embraces, kisses on the lips, wrestling, holding minors over four on the lap, giving or receiving any type of massage, and tickling minors are all on the banned list.

Father Julian Langridge, who led the formation of the policies, based them on Catholic protocols followed Australia-wide, said Bishop Les Tomlinson, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. "It is taking an ultra-cautious approach, but it is partly about rebuilding confidence by making clear exactly what boundaries in which the clergy will function," Bishop Tomlinson said.

He said Fr Langridge decided the guidelines would be a positive thing for his parish. "And I agree with that," he said.



Paul said...

The Aboriginal/Islander lifestyle is not very compatible with the White/Western urban lifestyle as evidenced by the number of problems we have here in the Tropical 'Burbs with the three day parties in the unkempt Commission homes when the whole Island comes to town. There is really very little consideration of the concept of working among the indigenous, so it doesn't occur to them that their neighbours want to sleep at night because they work during the day (ultimately to fund indigenous parties at night in Commission Homes). The Housing Commission has rules but they are not enforced unless issues end up in Court, where the Commission usually defends their tennants.

Paul said...

Can't recall the last time a Priest took me for a piggyback. I'm sure there's a Footprints in the Sand gag in there somewhere too, but its too early on a sunny, lazy tropical saturday to think of it yet.