NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #SocialDeterminants “Poor housing is not an issue of indigeneity; it is an issue of poverty” – Dr Paul Torzillo

Aboriginal health, more specifically, is often characterised as wicked.

But when it comes to the link between housing and Indigenous health at least, Dr Paul Torzillo says emphatically,

“This is not some issue about cultural dissonance. This is not a wicked problem.”

Dr Paul Torzillo is a founding director of Healthabitat. A non-profit company that has been working for more than three decades to identify a quantifiable link between housing and health in remote Aboriginal communities, and to offer solutions to clearly articulated, fixable problems.

Drawing above showing Healthabitat’s nine Healthy Living Practice

This article by Habititat and Tracey Clement

“It’s going to get too hard for ngurraritja to live in the desert soon. I might shift somewhere when the desert dries up – up north, down south.”

Without action to stop climate change, people may be forced to leave their country,”

Climate change is a clear and present threat to the survival of our people and their culture,”

Living in “unbearable concrete hot boxes” doesn’t help.

People resort to sleeping outside, or cramming everybody into the coolest room, with all the well-known consequences for the spread of diseases.

It’s also common for people to sleep in shifts, with young people roaming the streets at night where they get into trouble, and sleeping during the day when they should beat school.

You can sometimes see people in communities hosing the outside of their Besser brick walls with garden hoses to keep cool despite the water shortages – that’s how desperate they are.”

” Too hot for our mob ” From Central Land Council’s Head of Policy, Josie Douglas

Download Land Rights News 


Read all NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Housing Articles HERE

Read all NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Social Determinant Articles HERE

Drawing above showing Healthabitat’s nine Healthy Living Practice

The company applies a scientific approach to what some have seen as a social and cultural problem.

Some problems are so complex we label them ‘wicked.’ As the Australian Public Service Commission (APS) explains, “The term ‘wicked’ in this context is used, not in the sense of evil, but rather as an issue highly resistant to resolution.”

In a document titled, ‘Tackling wicked problems: A public policy perspective,’ the APS, a policy unit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, cites climate change, obesity, land degradation and Indigenous disadvantage as examples.

In 1985, Torzillo was working as a medical officer for the Nganampa Health Council at the Pukatja (Ernabella) health clinic in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. There he met architect Paul Pholeros (1953–2016) and anthropologist Stephan Rainow.

They began working together at the invitation of elder Yami Lester, who could see that people in the community were still getting sick, despite improved health services. In 1987, the trio released a report known as the Uwankara Palyanku Kanyintjaku (UPK) – a plan to “stop people getting sick”, in the local Pitjantjatjara language.

In the UPK, Torzillo, Pholeros and Rainow – who would become the founding directors of Healthabitat – identified a clear link between deficiencies in the built environment and the poor health of community members.

The report outlined nine Healthy Living Practices: washing people, washing clothes and bedding, removing wastewater safely, improving nutrition through the ability to store prepare and cook food, reducing the negative impact of over-crowding; reducing the negative effects of animals, insects and vermin; reducing the impact of dust; controlling temperature in the living environment; and reducing hazards that cause physical trauma.

These practices are still at the core of what Healthabitat does today.

Healthabitat primarily works on projects that focus on improving health by fixing what Dr Fred Hollows (1929–1993) called “health hardware,” in this case the physical infrastructure in a home that enables occupants to undertake the nine Healthy Living Practices. Since 1985, licensed contractors overseen by Healthabitat have completed some 287,919 repair jobs, mostly in remote Indigenous communities. But recently they also conducted projects in densely populated urban areas in both Australia and the USA. “And those projects have provided data to support the important thesis that poor housing is not an issue of indigeneity,” Torzillo says, “it is an issue of poverty.”

While a common misconception persists that occupants in remote Aboriginal communities have destroyed their own homes, Healthabitat’s extensive collection of data has demonstrated that vandalism (or even unsuccessful repair work) accounts for only seven percent of damaged health hardware.

Overwhelmingly, poor design, poor material choices, shoddy or incomplete initial construction (19%), and lack of routine maintenance (74%) are the factors that lead to substandard infrastructure in the homes that they have worked on.

As Torzillo puts it, “We have found that you can improve health hardware in these communities for an affordable cost. And we have also shown that the key reasons that these houses aren’t performing are not reasons which are philosophical, or race related, or even occupant dependent. They are issues that are fixable.”

Small teams of local people undertake Survey-Fix work as part of Healthabitat’s “yellow caps” house repair program.

This all seems fairly straightforward. After all, the link between sanitation and health has been widely accepted since at least the Victorian era. A functioning toilet, kitchen and shower should be standard in all homes, and yet the problem of healthy housing in Indigenous communities is ongoing.

Which is not to say that Healthabitat has not had some success. “I think what we have done is we have unequivocally changed the language and the rhetoric around housing in Australia. So at every housing conference somebody talks about the nine Healthy Living Practices, and at every conference people talk about housing for health, and most bureaucratic statements include language that would suggest that they are adopting the principles,” Torzillo explains. “The difficulty is in the implementation.”

Despite clearly defined solutions and quantifiable evidence that its projects work, Healthabitat’s methodology has yet to be meaningfully translated into Federal and State government policy within Australia. When asked why, Torzillo admits that there is no easy answer. For him, “the hard question”, as he puts it, is why do those in authority insist on labelling the problem as ‘wicked’?

Tackling this question is one of the reasons Healthabitat became an industry partner on a Housing for Health Incubator, led by Professor Tess Lea and facilitated by the Henry Halloran Trust. Beyond the big, complex ‘why’ questions, Lea and her team are also examining the interactions between politics and bureaucracy and probing the ‘how.’

They are asking questions, Torzillo says, such as: “How is it that we are still building houses that don’t perform? How is it that we are losing housing stock because we don’t have sustainable maintenance systems? How does that happen?” Their research, which will conclude later this year, also addresses another apparently wicked problem: climate change.

As Torzillo explains, “Our work started with me thinking predominantly about child health, predominantly about infectious disease and the impact of washing and waste disposal in the 1980s. Most of that still stands, but now there is a whole other set of issues.” Climate change is perhaps the issue of our times, and it is already hitting hard in the communities Healthabitat works with. “Lots of remote communities now have temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s centigrade. And they are not going to have the money to afford the energy to control temperature. So communities are going to be threatened by that,” Torzillo says. “This is a big issue right now. So we want to bring that into the centre of what we’re doing.”

With this in mind, the Henry Halloran Trust Incubator is looking at updating, modernising, and refocusing Healthabitat’s work with an emphasis on the impact of the climate crisis on housing for poor people.

As Torzillo points out. “It’s not a future issue, it’s a here-and-now issue.”

Tracey Clement is an artist and writer based in Sydney, Australia.

NACCHO Aboriginal #Environmental Health ClosingtheGap #HaveYourSay : Our CEO Pat Turner’s speech to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Health Conference in Perth this week

” In mainstream settings, there is no battle for recognition or resources for environmental health from finance departments. There is nothing more to prove and a fully resourced framework is in place. 

But Aboriginal environmental health is something else again.

Aboriginal environmental health combines deep cultural knowledge of how things work in Aboriginal communities with these hard scientific facts about disease.

Aboriginal environmental health must forge high-trust partnerships with community. 

Aboriginal environmental health is a community asset.

And Aboriginal environmental health is needed now more than ever.   Why is this so?

Public housing and public utilities have largely been taken out of Aboriginal control. In some locations, funding for the Aboriginal Environmental Health workforce has evaporated.\

Sometimes, the power to make the simplest decision on the ground has been ripped away from local communities. 

Instead, this power is with someone far away who doesn’t even know us.

This is nowhere more manifest than in Aboriginal housing. 

Effective Aboriginal environmental health programs must be in Aboriginal hands. 

Community controlled organisations must drive the necessary knowledge exchange between those who hold technical expertise and those who have been denied it.

The very nature of this work means that Aboriginal communities must retain the reins – and retain the knowledge

Selected extracts NACCHO CEO Pat Turner addressing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Health Conference in Perth this week

As an Aboriginal woman of Gudanji-Arrernte heritage, I wish to acknowledge the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation as traditional owners of the land where we meet today.

I also acknowledge our continuing and vibrant First Nations cultures.  I am grateful for the contributions of our past, present and emerging leaders.

Our cultures, our leaders and our country give us collective strength and resilience as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Just a note for about language conventions in Western Australia. I tend to use the term Aboriginal in recognition that Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants here. This is not out of any disrespect to Torres Strait Islander colleagues and communities.

I have discovered that the first NATSIEH conference was held in 1998. Every second year or so since, the aim of these national conferences is to increase the understanding and awareness of environmental health issues in our communities.

This year, your theme is ONE GOAL: MANY PATHS.  There must be a huge diversity of backgrounds, professions and experiences in the room.   I am delighted to be here.  I hope I have something for everyone in my address to you today.

I will begin with recent CHANGES in the way governments must now work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Then I’ll cover some CHALLENGES that we can no longer ignore.

And finally, I’ll explain how Aboriginal LEADERSHIP will show the right path that we must take together.

How has our political landscape changed?

Please cast your minds back to 2008 when the original Closing the Gap policy was agreed by the Council of Australian Governments – known as COAG.

There was never full ownership of Closing the Gap from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. CLOSING the Gap was always considered to be an initiative of Governments.  Frankly, it was governments talking to other governments ABOUT us.  WITHOUT us.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak bodies supported Closing the Gap in good faith, particularly with new funding given to specific issues including housing, health and education.

But was Closing the Gap ever going to work with its genesis in the bureaucratic backrooms of Canberra?

Our people were always going to be configured as ‘the problem’.  Not as allies, not as experts, not as partners, not as equals.  It was not surprising to Aboriginal people to see that progress was patchy.

As Prof Marcia Langton, a leading Aboriginal academic of Yiman and Bidjara heritage, said in February this year at the Australian and New Zealand School of Government Indigenous conference:

“You can’t have administration of very complex matters from the Canberra bubble. It’s not working and lives are being lost. 

… We must push for policies that give formal powers to the Indigenous sector and remove incompetent, bureaucratic bungling.”

Marcia made a specific request of those who were listening:

“Please do not feel personally offended by what I have to say to you” she said.

I also ask this of you today.  And as Marcia continued to say:

‘… we must all take responsibility and be courageous enough to take action, to put an end to the policies and programs that disempower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, not just causing a decline in their living standards, but accelerating them into permanent poverty.

Especially the vulnerable. The children and youth are victims of a failed view of the Indigenous world and Indigenous people. This is a dystopian nightmare. We must imagine a future in which Indigenous people thrive and we must do whatever it takes to reach that future. This is urgent.”

It is not surprising then, that after 10 years, not much progress against the Closing the Gap targets had been made.

As the Closing the Gap targets were expiring, COAG announced a “Refresh” of Closing the Gap.  This “refresh” kicked in during 2017.  As various conversations took place however, it became clear that governments were still not listening properly or engaging in a genuine way, and they only wanted to talk about new targets.

Many Aboriginal Peak bodies wanted more time to test the options being put before us in these conversations. Most importantly, Peak bodies needed to be sure that THEIR voices were truly being heard. There was a real concern – AGAIN – that governments had already decided what they wanted to do. That governments were now negotiating behind closed doors to decide new priorities and targets without our input.

As Aboriginal peak bodies, we had to call this out before the country made another momentous mistake. We were very insistent.  We formed a Coalition.  The Prime Minister and his COAG colleagues had to adopt a better way of working.  Without a radical change in approach, the next ten years would be more of the same lack luster approach.

To his credit, Prime Minister Morrison listened.

He opened the door to a new way of working, giving his personal authority to change.

An historic Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap was signed this year in March between COAG and the Coalition of Peaks.  This means that now, for the first time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through their peak body representatives, will share decision making with governments on Closing the Gap.

How is this to be done?

This Partnership Agreement has created a high-level COAG Joint Council.  This Joint Council is made up of 22 members.  That means a Minister from the Commonwealth Government, a Minister from each State and Territory Governments, and a representative for local government. This makes up ten members.

But significant success was realized when the Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Bodies ensured TWELVE Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander representatives were on the Joint Council.  Chosen by us, in the majority, working for our mobs.

The Joint Council is co-chaired by the current Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Australians and a representative of the Coalition of Peaks chosen by the Peaks. Currently, that representative is me.

The Partnership Agreement embodies the belief of all signatories that:

  • When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are included and have a real say in the design and delivery of services that impact on them, the outcomes are far better;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to be at the centre of Closing the Gap policy: the gap won’t close without our full involvement; and
  • COAG cannot expect us to take responsibility and work constructively with them to improve outcomes if we are excluded from the decision making.

So to those public servants in the audience, whether you work in Commonwealth, state, territory or local government institutions, I say this.

If the Director-General, Secretary or CEO of your department or agency is not enabling you to do your work differently and act in accordance with the Partnership Agreement, Principles, then you need to join the movement and shake the tree.

I encourage you to:

  • Initiate co-design that looks entirely different to the way your department worked two years ago.
  • Give power of veto to communities on priorities. Listen to what THEY say.
  • Double the number of Indigenous people on your committees.
  • Forget ‘one size fits all’ … because it doesn’t.
  • Immerse yourself in this unprecedented opportunity for true equity in our country.

Trust me, your change of practice will be noticed, commended and supported.

Within the Joint Council, we will continue to lead the structural reform that will make your change of practice easier.  At our recent meeting in Adelaide, the Joint Council significantly agreed to develop a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap centred on three reform priorities.

The reform priorities seek to change the way Australian Governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations, and accelerate life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, these are:

  1. Establishing shared formal decision making between Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the State/Territory, regional and local level to embed ownership, responsibility and expertise on Closing the Gap.
  2. Building and strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to deliver services and programs in priority areas.
  3. Ensuring all mainstream government agencies and institutions undertake systemic and structural transformation to contribute to Closing the Gap.

The Joint Council also agreed to the Coalition of Peaks leading engagements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the next two months to ensure others can have a say on the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The Coalition of Peaks want to hear views from across the country on what is needed to make the reform priorities a success.


I encourage you all to contribute and have your say.

You can find out more on the NACCHO website. Step up and join in!

I know these priorities, especially the first two, are critical to our success as Aboriginal  people. And I know this from a lifetime of advocacy and service for my people, including my current role as CEO of NACCHO.

NACCHO is the living embodiment of the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and our struggle for self-determination.  NACCHO is the national peak body representing 143 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services or “ACCHOs” across the country.   NACCHO has a history stretching back to a meeting in Albury in 1974 in country New South Wales.

For those who don’t know, an “ACCHO” is a primary health care service initiated and operated by the local Aboriginal community to deliver holistic, comprehensive, and culturally appropriate health care to the community which controls it, through a locally elected Board of Management.

As a sector, we are especially proud that ACCHOs are the largest employer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the country.  Not even the mining sector compares. We also have evidence that ACCHOs are demonstrably better than mainstream in providing culturally responsive, clinically effective primary health care.

At this year’s AMSANT conference, Donna Ah Chee, a Bundgalung woman from NSW and CEO of Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, said precisely what community control means in this context.

Read full speech HERE

It means:

  • The right to set the agenda and determine what the issues are
  • The right to determine which programs or approaches are best suited to tackle the problems in the community
  • The right to determine how a program is run, its size and resources
  • The right to determine when a program operates, its pace and timing
  • The right to say where a program will operate, its geographic coverage and its target groups
  • The right to determine who will deliver the program its staff and advisers.

This commitment to equal partnership through COAG has brought us to the table.  There’s no going back.

I’d now like to cover some CHALLENGES in environmental health. 

Environmental health is a science-based, technical practice.  Environmental health takes scientific knowledge to people. It focuses on disease risk and finds the way to limit disease in modern society. Environmental Health Practitioners draw the connection between environmental factors and health outcomes.

Environmental health practitioners take this science and fix environmental hazards to prevent risk. They nip outbreaks in the bud.

They influence and draft legislation, and monitor compliance with public health laws and the regulations to protect people’s health.

Of course, in mainstream Australia, hardly anyone recognizes the role that environmental health plays.  For the majority of the population, environmental health is silently present. Water, sanitation, rubbish, housing standards, food safety, everything … it is all taken for granted.

In mainstream settings, there is no battle for recognition or resources for environmental health from finance departments. There is nothing more to prove and a fully resourced framework is in place.

But ABORIGINAL environmental health is something else again.

Aboriginal environmental health combines deep cultural knowledge of how things work in Aboriginal communities with these hard scientific facts about disease. Aboriginal environmental health must forge high-trust partnerships with community.

Aboriginal environmental health is a community asset.

And Aboriginal environmental health is needed now more than ever.   Why is this so?

Public housing and public utilities have largely been taken out of Aboriginal control. In some locations, funding for the Aboriginal Environmental Health workforce has evaporated. Sometimes, the power to make the simplest decision on the ground has been ripped away from local communities.  Instead, this power is with someone far away who doesn’t even know us.

This is nowhere more manifest than in Aboriginal housing.

First, the evidence.  A recent systematic review of the scientific literature has summarized the known causal links between the home environment and health.  Here are some examples:

  • Skin-related diseases are associated with crowding
  • Viral conditions such as influenza are also associated with crowding.
  • Ear infections are associated with crowding, lack of functioning facilities for washing people, bedding and sewerage outflow.
  • Gastro infections are associated with poorly maintained housing and the state of food preparation and storage.

These are not hypothetical claims yet to be proved.  These have academic weight and the verdict is in.

In mainstream Australia, these causal links between the housing and health have been actioned.  In mainstream Australia, sustained progress in the social and environmental determinants of health has permanently reduced the rates of preventable infectious diseases.  One look at the disease burden tells us that.

BUT … because of the state of OUR environmental conditions, Aboriginal people are denied the health outcomes that non-Indigenous people now enjoy.

The challenge is huge.

  • Let’s consider clinic presentations for Aboriginal children for their first year of life. Did you know that research has found that the median number of clinic presentations per child in the first year of life was 21.  Twenty-one! Per child!   Children in this NT study would typically have six clinic presentations for diarrhea in any one year!  SIX! An infectious ear disease known as Otitis Media and skin infections were also high on the list of most frequent reasons for Aboriginal children coming to the clinic in their first year of life. These infectious diseases are NOT caused by bad parents.  They are caused by poor living conditions, overcrowding and poverty imposed on our people.
  • In the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberley here in Western Australia, 70% of Aboriginal children have been admitted to hospital at least once before they turn seven years of age. A closer look at the reasons why is shocking.  The researchers concluded that most of these admissions would not have happened at all if household disadvantage, poor quality housing and access to primary health care had been addressed.
  • Another example comes from the Western Desert region here in Western Australia. This looked at clinic presentations of all children aged 0 to 5 years of age.  These children had on average more than 30 clinic visits each per year to their clinic. ………  Think about what that means to the morale of the parents, the attitudes of the clinicians, the health budget bottom line. Infectious diseases explained half of these presentations:
    • Ear infections were 15%
    • Upper respiratory tract infections, 13%
    • Skin sores were 12% of the total.
    • And 25% needed treatment for scabies.
  • These statistics aren’t just confined to remote communities. Aboriginal children in Western Sydney in homes with 3 or more housing problems were two and a half times more likely than others to have recurrent gastro-enteritis. For every additional housing problem, the odds of infectious disease significantly increased.

But is this all NEWS?  What about the year of your first NATSIEH conference in 1998?

1998 was the year a study was published showing that admissions to hospital for skin disease of Aboriginal children under five years of age was ten times higher than that of their non-Indigenous counterparts.

It was also the year that deaths among Aboriginal men from infectious diseases were calculated to be some 15 times higher than deaths among non-Indigenous men.

1998 was also the year a study measured the precise “wear and tear” on washing machines installed in seven remote communities.

1998 was a year AFTER a study had already been published showing that over one-third of Aboriginal remote communities had water supply or sanitation problems. Seventy percent had housing problems.  In the words of the researchers, overcrowding and substandard housing were “commonplace”.

So there we have it.   Even this brief snapshot shows we have a disconnect between data and decisions.

From your first conference in 1998 to this one in 2019 …

….  Aboriginal people, their children and now their children’s children have NOT been afforded their DUE HUMAN RIGHTS in response to these “repeat plays” of research data.

Should we have mobilised a more strategic response at the time these research studies were published?

Perhaps data sovereignty is another challenge we need to face.

I regret thinking of the number of children growing up since 1998 who should have been safe from preventable infections IF THERE HAD BEEN ACTION.  I think of how many children need not have gone to hospital.  Who should NOT have ended up with permanent damage for life from rheumatic heart disease or deafness …

… and would NOT have ended up with these conditions if their houses had been safe, healthy and affordable.

I have been told even mental health problems – including suicide – get worse in overcrowded houses not fit for social purpose.

And please don’t tell me we can’t find the money.  My colleagues in the Kimberley estimate that one third of the entire cost of hospital admissions of Aboriginal children is DIRECTLY due to the environmental conditions in which these children live.  Let me repeat that. One third of the entire cost.

In one year alone, $16.9 million is the estimated cost for hospitalisations of Aboriginal people directly due to the environment. And that was just the Kimberley.

Maybe all those departments of housing really don’t have the money BUT their colleagues in health departments are spending it hand over fist.

The Australian Indigenous Governance Institute affirms that Aboriginal people have the right to:

  • Exercise control of the data “ecosystem” including creation, development, stewardship, analysis, dissemination and infrastructure.

We also have the right to:

  • Data structures that are accountable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their governance structures.

And the right to

  • Data that is protective and respects our individual and collective interests.


  • Data that is relevant and empowers sustainable self-determination and effective self-governance.

In my view, Aboriginal people must more clearly set the agenda for the health data story.

As Aboriginal people, WE are vested in the outcomes.  WE are accountable to each other, our families and communities.  These research studies represent OUR families, OUR loved ones, OUR LOST ones.

I believe the character and foresight of Aboriginal leadership will show the right path. 

Should you need convincing, I can think of no better example in environmental health than Yami Lester and the Nganampa Health Council in the APY lands.

Decades ago, these leaders knew that health improvement required medical services AND a healthy living environment.  In 1986, they initiated a collaborative project between local Anangu people and technical experts to ‘stop people getting sick’. Some of you may recognise this as the UKP project.

These Aboriginal leaders engaged Paul Pholeros and Dr Paul Torzillo to work together to develop a codified schedule for home assessments and repairs.  When assessments were finished, simple repairs to health hardware that could be fixed, WERE fixed.  Immediately, over 75% of these assessment and repair teams were local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people trained and assisted by skilled managers and team leaders.

Any requirements for major repairs that were the responsibility of the landlord were submitted, logged and monitored. As this program expanded, data from different locations showed that the reasons for poor housing conditions were shoddy building materials in the first place (22%); inadequate maintenance schedules by the landlord (70%) and less than 8% was due to damage by occupants.

As relevant today, Yami Lester and his Council knew the importance of sharing with their people knowledge about disease transmission and supporting households to adopt new habits to sustain health in circumstances none of us would find easy.

And they succeeded.

Their legacy is the framework of nine Healthy Living Practices about washing, clothes, wastewater, nutrition, crowding, animals, dust, temperature and safety against injury.

Today, housing audits and home hardware assessments conceived by Aboriginal leaders in this UKP project MUST be permanently funded everywhere and combined with culturally responsive support directed by communities to re-build THEIR knowledge about disease transmission.

Every home is different.  Every environmental risk assessment is unique.  In one, there might be an issue with food-borne diseases. In another, passive smoking that affects the children’s ears, lungs and eyes.  In another, it could be …

– a blocked toilet,

– a shower dislodged from a poorly laid wet floor, or

– a washing machine that has collapsed under the pressure from multiple loads and hard water every single day.

Resources enable Aboriginal environmental health workers and families to work together over time to build the household’s confidence and knowledge.  The shared goal is self-management in healthy habits ….. AND an assertiveness as tenants to report poor quality building materials, housing problems and urgent repairs to the respective housing landlord.

Effective Aboriginal environmental health programs must be in Aboriginal hands.  Community controlled organisations must drive the necessary knowledge exchange between those who hold technical expertise and those who have been denied it. The very nature of this work means that Aboriginal communities must retain the reins – and retain the knowledge.

What Yami Lester envisaged is our unrealized obligation.

Housing programmes will have limited impact UNLESS they are controlled in their design and delivery by Aboriginal organisations with sustained visibility, authority and relationships in the community.  Communities have ideas on how to manage overcrowding, maintain housing stock and build new housing through local entrepreneurship. It is time once again for Aboriginal leaders to be heard.

You may know about extensive consultations conducted across the country in 2017 known as “My Life My Lead”.

The purpose of these consultations was to provide an opportunity to shape the next update of the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan released originally in 2013.

At these consultations, Aboriginal people spoke up about the fundamental significance of social, economic and environmental determinants affecting their health and wellbeing.

Environmental health was identified as one of seven top priorities for the next Implementation Plan.

I quote:

Addressing the underlying environmental health conditions that contribute to poor health outcomes in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities will lead to long-term improved health, education and employment outcomes. 

This is why I hope my message to you today is clear. We will get better health by improving housing and environmental health programs. Regaining control over decisions about housing will also lead to better health.  Returning authority for decision-making to communities about resources and program design reinvigorates empowerment, autonomy and more equitable power arrangements.  Self-determination promotes health.

With a decent investment in Aboriginal housing alongside genuine shifts in who makes decisions about resource allocation, I am prepared to guarantee to you today that the impact on Aboriginal health outcomes will be large, positive and permanent.

If those estimates of the costs from hospital admissions hold true nationally, I am also prepared to guarantee a significant reduction in healthcare budgets.

Our Prime Minister is inclined to miracles … so I think this would be the next miracle he’d very much like to see!

If we believe in public health and preventing the preventable …

If we believe in equity and social justice …

If we believe in community control …

… then we have everything we need to turn this around.

To governments I say let Aboriginal leaders sit down with you and – together in partnership – analyse the current state of environmental health and housing in your jurisdictions.

Let’s establish the level of investment that will reduce the cost of hospitalisations of Aboriginal children, adults and elders due to poor housing and living conditions.

Let’s develop national standards for a safe house. Let’s agree to strict criteria for urgent and priority housing repairs.  Let’s audit repair performance.  Let’s publish the data.

Let’s get more accountability from public housing for proactive home maintenance schedules and repairs.

Let’s invest in environmental and building programs that will cut the demand in primary health care clinics by a quarter and let these busy staff focus on other priorities.

Let’s grow knowledge in our communities as experts in healthy living.

Let’s train, credential and employ young Aboriginal people as environmental health workers, plumbers, electricians and carpenters to keep houses safe, healthy and ready for climate change ahead.

Let’s ensure a sustainable on-the-ground workforce for effective environmental health employed by Aboriginal organisations.

Here at this conference, let’s create the cross-sectoral approach involving communities, environmental health, primary health care and governments IN PARTNERSHIP to get this moving.

In closing, I’d like to quote Senator Patrick Dodson, a Yawuru man from Broome who, in February this year, asked a very important question:

“Who actually closes the gap?”

He answered this by saying:

“It’s the people working at the grassroots, led by First Nations peoples, with a deep understanding and lived experience of the needs of their communities.”

It is in that spirit that I thank each and every Aboriginal Environmental Health Practitioner at this conference whether it is your 1st or your 12th.

I know you work hard. I know you care deeply about your communities.  I know you lead by example.

I respect your hard-earned skills and your expertise to provide a huge scope of professional services ranging from dog control to vector management.

I admire your precise and up-to-date knowledge of disease transmission routes, hazardous chemicals, sanitation and practical engineering.

I am sincerely impressed by the care you take to work with families whose circumstances are complex … and that you find THEIR strengths and work with their capacities.

You respect cultural protocols.  You deliver with few resources, a lot of ingenuity and teamwork.

It is enabling YOU to do an even better job for YOUR communities that motivates me to do mine.  And I will keep on working just as hard as you do.

It’s been a pleasure sharing my reflections with you all.

Thank you for this opportunity to kick off the second day of your 12th NATSIEH conference here in Perth.


NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #Housing #SocialDeterminants @2019wihc News : @AIHW report Our #housing situation of #IndigenousAustralians has improved – with rises in #homeownership and housing provided through the private rental market, and falling levels of #homelessness.

 ” Stable and secure housing is fundamentally important to health and well-being.

Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced much higher rates of homelessness and have been overrepresented among clients seeking homelessness and social housing services than non-Indigenous Australians.

These higher rates of unstable housing relate to complex and interrelated factors including the lasting impacts of colonisation on Indigenous Australians, exposure to family violence, substance disorders, unemployment, low education levels and poor health—which are both contributors to, and outcomes of, insecure housing circumstances (Flatau et al. 2005; Keys Young 1998; Silburn et al. 2018).

Even though there is still much progress to be made, the findings in this report covering the last 15 years demonstrate the housing situation of Indigenous Australians has improved—with rises in home ownership and housing provided through the private rental market, and falling levels of homelessness. “

From AIHW Report March 2019 see Part 1 Below and Download the Report

aihw-housing Report

“The Territory Labor Government has fought long and hard for the housing funding that was promised to us 9 months ago. We’ve now won that fight.

“When you invest in housing and address indigenous disadvantage, you are investing in generational change – and saving money in the long term.

“Since coming to Government the Territory Labor Government has built and upgraded more than 1350 homes. The Federal Government’s contribution to our Government’s trail-blazing remote housing program will allow us to continue to make tangible and sustainable differences to the lives of Territorians.

Local Decision Making is at the core of our work in remote communities where we are building new homes, improving living conditions and creating jobs and generational change.

“People from the bush have told us that having jobs and better homes gives them a sense of pride and dignity. We know our remote housing program is working. It is changing the housing landscape and improving social outcomes in communities across the Territory.”

The Territory Labor Government has secured a $550 million investment from the Federal Government to continue to deliver remote housing in the NT. The deal comes nine months after the funding was first committed by the Commonwealth. 

The NT Government will work with the Federal Government and Land Councils to continue the delivery of remote housing.

The deal will see the Federal Government add $550 million to the NT Government’s investment of $1.1 billion for remote housing. In return, the NT Government will accept responsibility for remote housing leases until 2023

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner

Download Full Press Release 

Territory Govt Housing Win

20 -24 May 2019 World Indigenous Housing Conference. Gold Coast

Thank you for your interest in the 2019 World Indigenous Housing Conference.

The 2019 World Indigenous Housing Conference will bring together Indigenous leaders, government, industry and academia representing Housing, health, and education from around the world including:

  • National and International Indigenous Organisation leadership
  • Senior housing, health, and education government officials Industry CEOs, executives and senior managers from public and private sectors
  • Housing, Healthcare, and Education professionals and regulators
  • Consumer associations
  • Academics in Housing, Healthcare, and Education.

The 2019 World Indigenous Housing Conference #2019WIHC is the principal conference to provide a platform for leaders in housing, health, education and related services from around the world to come together. Up to 2000 delegates will share experiences, explore opportunities and innovative solutions, work to improve access to adequate housing and related services for the world’s Indigenous people.

Key event details as follows:
Venue: Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
Address: 2684-2690 Gold Coast Hwy, Broadbeach QLD 4218
Dates: Monday 20th – Thursday 23rd May, 2019 (24th May)

PLEASE NOTE: The Trade Exhibition is open Tuesday 21st May – Thursday 23rd May 2019

Please visit for further information on transport and accommodation options, conference, exhibition and speaker updates.

Part 1

Read full AIHW Report Online HERE

More Indigenous households own their home or rent privately

Across the 4 most recent Censuses, there has been a steady rise in Indigenous home ownership, with 38% of Indigenous households (or around 100,000) owning a home (with or without a mortgage) in 2016, compared with 32% in 2001. The opposite trend was observed for other Australian households (69% home ownership in 2001, 66% in 2016).

For both Indigenous and other Australians, there was a steady fall in the proportion of households in social housing between 2001 and 2016, offset by a rise in the proportion of private renters. Indigenous households were consistently more likely than other households to be renting in private housing (32% compared with 25% in 2016) over the period. The largest difference between Indigenous and other households remains the proportion of households renting in social housing (21% compared with 4% in 2016), however, this gap has been narrowing over time.

Fewer households in mortgage stress, more in rental stress

Increasing home ownership levels are a positive sign, particularly when considered in combination with data about households in mortgage stress. The proportion of Indigenous households with a mortgage considered to be in mortgage stress has dropped from a peak of 30% in 2011 to 21% in 2016. In 2016, 68,000 Indigenous home owners had a mortgage (26% of Indigenous households).

In contrast, of those Indigenous households renting, the proportion considered to be in rental stress increased from 22% in 2001 to 39% in 2016. In private rental housing, rental stress for Indigenous households increased similarly in both urban and rural areas over this period (from 34% to 43% in urban areas and 29% to 38% in rural areas in 2016).

Indigenous households in public housing

While the proportion of the Indigenous household population living in social housing has decreased, the number of households has increased. There are three main types of social housing available to eligible Australians. In 2016–17, of the 66,700 Indigenous households in social housing:

  1. Half (50%, or 33,300) were in public housing, with this number rising by one-third (8,200 households) since 2008–09.
  2. The number of Indigenous households in community housing more than doubled from 2,700 households in 2008–09 to 5,800 in 2016–17.
  3. In contrast, the numbers of households in Indigenous-specific housing programs remained relatively stable over the period (around 10,000 for state owned and managed housing (SOMIH) and 18,000 for Indigenous community housing).

Fall in wait times for social housing

Waiting times for Indigenous Australians are generally shorter compared with other applicants. For both public housing and SOMIH housing programs there were improvements from 2013–14 to 2016–17. A larger proportion of clients waited less than 3 months (35% in 2013–14 and 42% in 2016–17 for public housing and 38% and 48% for SOMIH), and a smaller proportion waited more than 2 years to be housed. However, up to 1 in 6 (17%) Indigenous households waited more than 2 years for public housing.

Conditions in social housing have also improved over the 6 years to 2018. Data show a fall in overcrowding among Indigenous households, and a rise in the proportion of Indigenous tenants who rated their dwellings at an ‘acceptable’ standard.

1 in 28 Indigenous people are homeless

One in 28 Indigenous people (23,000) were homeless on Census night in 2016—representing more than 1 in 5 (22%) homeless Australians. More than half of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness lived in Very remote areas.

The rate of Indigenous homelessness decreased from 571 per 10,000 population in 2006 to 361 in 2016. The decline in Indigenous homelessness since 2006 is due predominantly to the decrease in Indigenous people living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (75% in 2006 to 70% in 2016). However, the 2016 Indigenous homelessness rate is 10 times that of non-Indigenous Australians. The differences in the rates of homelessness for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians were higher in Remote and Very remote areas than in Major cities.

The main type of homelessness experienced by Indigenous Australians was living in ‘severely crowded’ dwellings; that is, dwellings that need 4 or more extra bedrooms. Of those homeless on Census night 2016, Indigenous Australians (70%) were much more likely than non-Indigenous Australians (42%) to be living in severely crowded dwellings, yet the gap has narrowed over the past decade. Indigenous Australians were 68 times more likely to live in severely crowded dwellings in 2006; decreasing to 16 times more likely in 2016.

1 in 4 specialist homelessness services clients are Indigenous

Indigenous clients made up a quarter (25%) of all clients assisted by specialist homelessness services (SHS) in 2017–18; a rate 9 times that of non-Indigenous clients (803 per 10,000 population compared with 86). Most Indigenous people using these services were at risk of homelessness (53%), with the remainder homeless (47%), when they sought assistance.

Since 2011–12, SHS have assisted more Indigenous clients (43,600 in 2011–12; 65,200 in 2017–18). Of the Indigenous SHS clients in 2017–18:

  • 1 in 8 (13% or 8,500) were aged under 5, reflecting that families often seek assistance
  • 4 in 10 had experienced domestic and family violence (domestic and family violence was a reason they sought help and/or they required domestic or family violence assistance).

Homelessness services help clients keep tenancies and find homes

In 2017–18, more than half of Indigenous SHS clients (53% or 32,400 people) sought help when they were in unstable housing situations (at risk of homelessness)—more than 1 in 2 (16,400 clients) were living in social housing (either renting or rent free) when they sought assistance, while another third (12,100 clients) were in private or other housing (renting, rent free or owning). Most clients at risk of homelessness (89%) maintained their tenancies with SHS support.

Of the 20,700 Indigenous clients who were homeless when they sought help from SHS and had ended support in 2017–18, 38% (or 7,200 clients) were assisted into stable housing; an increase from 29% in 2012–13. In 2017–18 most Indigenous homeless clients who were assisted into housing ended support in social housing (around 3,800) with a further 3,100 clients in private rentals.