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Urban outcasts

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 8 May 2007

In the past six months the federal and state governments have clearly demonstrated complicity in introducing discriminatory policies which have caused, and will continue to cause, anguish for members of Indigenous communities.

I speak specifically about the Queensland Alcohol Management Plans that restrict the strength and quantity of alcohol consumed by Indigenous people in discrete communities as well as the federal government plans to cease work-for-the-dole (CDEP) and community housing infrastructure programs (CHIP) for Indigenous people living in urban areas.

Nowhere else in Australia would the government be brave enough to tell non-Indigenous people what they can or can not drink because they can’t think of alternative strategies to address social problems they helped create.


Nowhere else in Australia would the government stop providing public housing in urban areas and divert the funds to rural areas because of concerns over mismanagement of tax payers’ money by local government authorities.

Despite my frequent condemnation of some Indigenous people who allow themselves to fall victim to alcohol and illicit drugs and the consequences of such excesses, I cannot support the total erosion of basic human rights for members of a community because of the errant ways of a minority sector.

In 1837 state legislation was passed which prohibited Aborigine’s access to alcohol. Despite this, alcohol was often purchased illegally and there began a trend of rapid consumption of beverages with a high alcohol content. Aboriginal people were given the right to drink alcohol in various states and territories between 1957 and 1975: a right which for many Aborigines became a symbol of equality, citizenship and status.

The right to drink, to work and have access to adequate housing is, to me, a basic human right. If on the other hand it is the unanimous decision of community representatives, after having a legitimate poll, to impose restrictions on these rights - then I will always support their right to implement the wishes of the general population - as opposed to restrictions imposed by government.

What troubles me immensely is the potential consequences of such patronising policies, especially those relating to CDEP and CHIP in urban areas.

With CDEP options no longer on the table for unemployed Indigenous people, I believe the long term effect will be more Indigenous people struggling to feed their families with the added stress of the imposition of Centrelink policies (loss of welfare due to non-compliance with job interview quotas).


In respect to CHIP, I believe more Indigenous people will be forced onto the streets to live the destitute lives of homeless people because of the inability of Indigenous housing co-operatives to build more houses to meet their needs as a result of these funding cuts.

Sadly I predict Indigenous people renting privately will also be evicted in greater numbers by unsympathetic rental agents as a result of complaints from non-Indigenous neighbours of overcrowding because the renters dared to look after their relatives in difficult times.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough relied on a damning report by Price Water House Coopers which found poor governance, inefficiency or corruption in many Indigenous Community Housing Organisations (ICHOs) as the sole reason to redirect housing funds away from urban areas and into remote communities.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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