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Indigenous, Political

Governments must act faster and listen to Productivity Commission recommendations to Close the Gap and tackle Aboriginal homelessness.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association 3 mins read

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness crisis will continue to deteriorate should Australian governments maintain their “business-as-usual" approach to progressing the National Agreement on Closing the Gap priority reforms.

The Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Forum and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association (NATSIHA) are calling for a separate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing and Homelessness plan to address the housing emergency faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and communities.

The Productivity Commission’s Final Report on the Agreement, released February 7 2024, underscores critical themes that demand immediate attention and robust action to rectify the ongoing challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

The Close the Gap agreement, signed under the Morrison Government, necessitates continual bi-partisan support to ensure accountability in addressing enduring disparities. This commitment demands consistent policy implementation, resource allocation, and scrutiny, avoiding symbolic gestures and guaranteeing sustained efforts for tangible and lasting change.

In Victoria alone, the number of Aboriginal women accessing specialist homelessness services increased 20 per cent over the last five years, compared to a nearly 14 per cent decrease over the same period for non- Aboriginal women in the state. Addressing these devastating discrepancies will require good faith bipartisanship.

Governments must take immediate and tangible steps to strengthen accountability mechanisms for housing solutions. This requires a radical shift in behaviour and mindset within governments and institutions.

Rob Macfarlane, CEO of NATSIHA, says, “We have brought the call for a separate First Nations Housing and Homelessness Plan to the government and are in conversations about the development of a specific schedule for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, communities, and organisations. But are yet to see any real commitment.

"It is time for governments to move beyond rhetoric and embrace true power-sharing. The First Nations Housing sector, with its long-term experience and innovative approaches, holds a unique and essential power in driving sustainable solutions. Our communities have demonstrated expertise, cultural understanding, and local knowledge necessary to lead decisions impacting their lives. The gap will widen for our people if attention is not given to addressing the housing emergency faced by our people."

Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Forum Secretariat Lead and Aboriginal Housing Victoria Director of Strategy and Performance Lisa Briggs said the Report showed the need for a greater focus on housing and home ownership because safe and secure housing is central to closing the gap in all areas of Aboriginal disadvantage.

“Secure housing is the missing policy piece. It is fundamental to human safety, economic participation, psychological resilience, and physical health – all the areas in which governments are falling behind,” she said.

“The data shows us that in Victoria, by 2036, the number of Aboriginal households will more than double. To maintain existing levels of social housing in line with population growth, we will need an additional 5000 social housing units just so existing, catastrophic levels of homelessness do not escalate.”

When all Australian governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations signed the Agreement in 2020, they committed to mobilising “all avenues available to them” to overcome the entrenched inequality faced by Aboriginal people.

Of the 17 socioeconomic targets included in the Agreement, only four are on track to be met.

“They need to do better, for our children, our Elders and our communities. The Report reinforces the need for the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to include a specific schedule for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, communities and organisations,” Ms Briggs said.

“It shows us how desperately we need a specific National Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Housing and Homelessness Plan.

“Now is the right time to expand on the existing Closing the Gap housing targets to include an Aboriginal homelessness target to respond to the rapid increases in homelessness experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country.”

Rob Macfarlane, CEO of NATSIHA said a robust response is needed.

"The Productivity Commission's report is a wake-up call for all levels of government. We cannot afford to let Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness continue to rise. The governments must prioritise and implement the necessary measures to address this crisis."


Contact details:

To arrange interviews, reach out to Emma Shumack media@natsiha.org.au

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