Ms Macklin has just written a much published piece where she claims much changed for the better under her watch as the Minister for “Indigenous Affairs”. But report after report argues otherwise – when the statistics are analysed we find much did not improve under her watch and indeed much deteriorated. Ms Macklin claimed much has changed positively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples especially with housing and for children with education. But the recent Council of Australian Governments (COAG) report finds that little has changed in especially education, and less than 2,000 second-rate houses were built during her watch.
On October 14, Ms Macklin wrote, “In 2008, when I first visited Alice Springs as the new minister for Indigenous affairs, I saw Aboriginal communities ravaged by violence and alcohol abuse.”
“Children weren’t going to school and adults weren’t going to work. Homes were falling down faster than they were being built. Those still standing were overcrowded and in disrepair. Old women slept outside on dirty mattresses. Children grew up without proper bedding, heating or sanitation.”
“At the same time, the relationship between Indigenous Australians and Government was at a historic low – following the heavy-handed approach taken in the early days of the Northern Territory Intervention, and a refusal to acknowledge the long history of hurt experienced by Aboriginal people.”
“I am proud of the progress we have made over the past six years,” wrote Ms Macklin. But in the past six years suicides have dramatically increased, incarceration rates have increased, education performance indicators have not been met, homelessness and overcrowded housing has increased.
Like every Government before Ms Macklin’s shot as a minister she has decided to see her time through rose-coloured glasses, “Today, communities are tackling alcohol abuse, more adults have jobs and children are getting a better start in life. Aboriginal people are taking control of their lives and examining new ways of working with Government to build stronger communities.”
If we standalone statistics demographically or if we distinguish the bottom third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – that is the poorest – we will find that the statistics are as bad as they have ever been, and some of these statistics are worse than what most Australians are being told.
Ms Macklin was part of a Government that claimed right till it was voted out that it would halve all homelessness by 2020, but instead homelessness numbers increased each year. Despite former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd creating a Prime Minister’s Council for Homelessness, the number of homeless people increased by 8 per cent in the five years to 2011. The Australian Bureau of Statistics report 49 homeless Australians for every 10,000 Australians, but Aboriginal homelessness is at nearly 200 per 10,000.
But Ms Macklin wrote, “Make no mistake… there has been progress… in housing, education and community safety.”
“We set very ambitious targets to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, and we started making the unprecedented investments that were needed to reverse years of underinvestment. For the first time in our nation’s history, we have a comprehensive plan to tackle Indigenous disadvantage.”
Ms Macklin claims that in housing “a huge difference” has been made because of the promise of $5.5 billion over 10 years, but with more than half of this pocketed by contractors and administrators. But Ms Macklin’s record on homelessness – in six years – is less than 2,000 ‘new’ houses, and less than 6,000 ‘refurbishments’ in remote communities. In visiting many of the communities where these houses have been built you quickly see the truth; second-rate cheap houses, very few are brick, all are relatively small, and in townships with very little infrastructure. So poor has been the investment that these are dustbowl townships. And with the refurbishments let us not even go there – many of them are just repairs and minor ‘upgrades’ that are now terminologically fancied up as ‘refurbishments’.
It only takes six months to develop a first time outer suburb to any metropolis in Australia – with most new suburbs anything between 4,000 to 22,000 new houses. It doesn’t matter that the site was once a swamp, sandpit or bush, the magic is quickly weaved – but not for Aboriginal communities, they remain dustbowls; this is racism. Yet in three years, the best a Federal Government can do for Aboriginal peoples is on average 300 second-rate dwellings per year.
Ms Macklin claimed that the building of the new houses created jobs for Aboriginal peoples – “We insisted on a minimum 20 per cent Indigenous labour in the construction of houses.”
“Aboriginal people got a new home, a new trade and a good job,” claimed Ms Macklin.
“We did what we said we would do – reduced overcrowding, increasing housing supply, improved living conditions and introduced proper tenancy management.”
Ms Macklin should have consulted a little more with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). According to the ABS, the number of people living in abjectly acute crowded housing has skyrocketed by 31 per cent according to the most recent analyses of the Census data. The ABS data reveals that 21,000 of the 41,370 people living in severely crowded homes are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – and the majority, 71 per cent, live in the remote regions of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. 57 per cent of them live in the Northern Territory, 18 per cent in Queensland and 14 per cent in Western Australia.
The average number of Aboriginal peoples living in a dwelling is 12. This is either Ms Macklin’s progress or her rose-coloured glasses. According to the ABS there are at least 26,744 homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and this is a rise of 3 per cent, but obviously there are many more. In the Kimberley, 7 per cent of its population is homeless, with 90 per cent of the homeless being Aboriginal peoples.
More than half the supposed $5.5 billion Indigenous housing budget has been spent – but for less than 2,000 homes and less than 6,000 refurbishments? Are they kidding us? More than $2 billion for two thousand houses? Where are these Hollywood mansions? Where has the money gone, if it has been spent?
There is no point to taking Ms Macklin to task, she is not the first or the last to fail Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But the suicide rate in the Northern Territory has doubled on Ms Macklin’s watch, a damning indictment that should not be let slide. More than one third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are dead before 45 years of age. The life expectancy of a Northern Territory male is 52 years of age – these are statistics that the third-world are now bettering.
“Today, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is closing,” wrote Ms Macklin.
“We’ve made strong progress towards halving the gap for Year 12 attainment.” No, you did not.
“We’ve come a long way. But a great distance still remains.” That may be the only statement of Ms Macklin’s of any substance. What she should have stated is the truth, that not enough effort has been expended nor the funding, and that she failed in her role, failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – as was expected (sadly).