Friday, March 09, 2007

Australia's Aborigines and the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP)

The Federal Government has released the PriceWaterhouseCooper's report into the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP). You will find the full report here.

CHIP, a $A380 million per year program, is the main vehicle for the delivery of housing and infrastructure support to Australia's indigenous peoples.

The PWC report is quite scathing and recommends the Program's abolition, replacing it with a new more targeted approach. In releasing the report, the Commonwealth's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough stated: "While billions of dollars have been invested in indigenous housing, there is too little to show for it".

I have so far only skim read the report. I was struck by CHIP's complexity as new initiatives have sort of accreted to it over time, making for a complex and sometimes inconsistent mosaic.

The report draws out clearly one of the points I have been trying to make in my own analysis of Government policy towards the Aborigines, the need to take regional variation into account. One stakeholder said:

"It's too bureaucratic, too top down, there's no plans to advance the community, 9 out of 10 houses that get built are unsuitable because of a one size fits all approach - but the current approach means that it's just easier to spend the money than to set objectives and monitor outcomes." Stakeholder feed back May 2006.

People are also suffering from consultation overload, a complaint that I first heard back in 1998.

"In one Western Desert Community we had 132 consultation meetings in three months ... it's a red tape nightmare". Stakeholder interview June 2006.

The report's core recommendation as I read it is that Aboriginal housing needs in metro and regional Australia should be dealt with as part of mainstream housing policy including public and community housing, focusing Aboriginal specific spend in remote and very remote areas where alternatives do not exist. The report also recommends a number of corrective measures to overcome identified weaknesses in service delivery.

In recommending a new approach, I am not sure that that the report does not itself fall into the trap of failing to recognise regional variation. For example, it recommends that all Aboriginal housing needs in NSW be dealt with through mainstream programs. In modern policy jargon, this is called mainstreaming.

The material that I have already written points to some of the variations in Aboriginal conditions across NSW. Here I noted that the report has been forced to use, as I have, 2001 census data. There is also a fear in NSW that the effect will be to reduce available funds, thus throwing a greater load on an already over-burdened public and community housing system.

I will look at some of these issues a little later when I have had time to read the report properly. In the meantime, the report contains a lot of interesting material of relevance to anybody interested in Aboriginal conditions.


Lexcen said...

Looks like another government attempt that is doomed to failure.

Jim Belshaw said...

Nor sure on this one, Lexcen. PWC has picked up a lot of the problems. My concern is the risk that ideology - fixed views - may agin detract.

Lexcen said...

Jim, the real tragedy is that everyone involved has the best of intentions but that doesn't stop a project like this failing. Maybe it's the bureaucratic factor or maybe it's the failure to understand the aboriginal mindset or a bit of both. The example that is on my mind is the fiasco of the "stolen generation" where I'm sure the people that implemented that exercise also had the best of intentions.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that you are right, Lexcen, and its not just policy towards Australia's indigenous people.

Take some of the public housing estates.These were built with the best of motives based on what were perceived to be the best principles at the time. Only looking back can we see that they were flawed from the beginning.

Part of the reason why I have been writing so much on public policy is that I feel that we can improve the way we go about it.