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Manufacturing Indigenous homes

By Don Allan - posted Thursday, 17 September 2009

After reading various reports about the Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) in the Northern Territory, the project designed to build 750 houses for Aboriginal people and refurbish older housing stock, I concluded the program was retreating rather than advancing.

So much in retreat was it, that Ms Alison Anderson, Labor MP and Minster for Aboriginal Affairs in the Northern Territory resigned from the Ministry and the Labor Party when she found that of the $672 million allocated by the Federal Government for the program, not one house had been built, and $45 million had been spent on administration.

The Federal Minster for Aboriginal Affairs Jenny Macklin accepted that the program was in disarray and Jim Davidson, the SIHIP’s Project Manager, was sacked. Mr Davidson defended the $45 million spent on administration saying it cost a lot to bring bricks and mortar to isolated areas, while the now Independent Ms Anderson said spending $45 million on administration without a house being built was ludicrous.


A débacle best describes the SIHIP program. Indeed the whole monstrous army of incompetents managing it - the politicians, bureaucrats, architects, and consultants alike - deserve the same treatment as Mr Davidson. Alternatively, they should be given tents and sent to live for at least three months in an isolated Aboriginal community that needed houses and given the task of providing a solution as to how best to provide them.

While they could call for help they would not be allowed to call on it from architects, builders, bureaucrats, consultants or politicians. I feel certain that if they had any common sense, they would realise that those best equipped to help them would be the Aborigines in the communities. No doubt they would hope that the community had a Noel Pearson.

Without in any way wishing to diminish the seriousness of the Aboriginal housing situation in the Northern Territory, the same problem exists in every other State and Territory, not only for Aborigines but also for other homeless Australian citizens.

Not holding out any great hope that the incompetents would ever find the answer to the housing problem let me put them out of their misery and tell them the solution has been around for a long time.

I live in a twenty-year-old, comfortable but not luxurious, 12.5-square manufactured home. It was designed and produced in six weeks, transported 100km to the home site and assembled in two days. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, study, lounge, kitchen, laundry. The cost of this home was half that of an equivalent size brick veneer home.

There are another 87 manufactured homes owned and occupied by doctors, schoolteachers and other professional people, as well as tradespeople, labourers and retired people from the lowest socio economic class in my area. A former Senator lived there, as did an eminent Australian military historian who died there.


As for myself I once ran three businesses, held a number of official posts and started a political party (the party secretary of an ANU Academic who taught economics) that stood five candidates at the 1992 ACT election. One of these candidates, now a well-known lawyer, has been awarded an Australian honour for her work with refugees.

Despite my background, I had to pay cash for the house because on trying to obtain a mortgage, banks and other financial organisations refused me on the basis that people who live in what they snobbishly call “mobile homes” are not reliable financial risks.

In the 20 years since buying my home, manufactured homes are now being made of new materials developed to withstand fire, which makes them the ideal housing unit in some areas of Australia. That said what seems silly to me is that anyone one would want to build brick veneer houses in these areas when manufactured, or prefabricated homes, which would be safe and sit lightly on the environment, are available.

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About the Author

Don Allan, politically unaligned, is a teenager in the youth of old age but young in spirit and mind. A disabled age pensioner, he writes a weekly column for The Chronicle, a free community newspaper in Canberra. Don blogs at:

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