South Australia's State election is happening this weekend

SA politicians are you listening?

We need more Aboriginal Housing!

Cheryl Axleby

With the impact of Covid over the last 2 or so years, and now with the issues happening in Ukraine, the cost of living will further skyrocket for many South Australians. Yes, we have seen significant impacts upon small business, even some of the big ones, but let us not forget about those in our communities who are doing it tough. Many have lost employment because of covid or are unable to work because they can’t afford childcare, or are trying to survive on Centrelink benefits – such as pensioners, like my parents, who receive an income way below the poverty line. They are doing it bloody tough! I hate to think what their life would be like if they didn’t have their children around to help.

The cost of living in public housing is even taking its toll. Public housing rents are being set very close to private rental housing market rents in many suburbs across Adelaide, and even now in rural communities.

I often think about the many Elders, especially my Nanna Laura, who in the 60’s and 70’s had their homes filled with family and extended family and community members. This was because even then many of our mob could not secure their own housing and private rental, transitioning from mission life or from rural communities. Private housing for many was out of the question.   

What has been forgotten by politicians and many policy makers is the level of racism, direct and institutional, that many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders face when trying to access housing.  

Our Elders fought for our right to our own services like the Aboriginal Housing Board, which was established in South Australia many decades ago, to ensure that Aboriginal people could secure the most basic of all human rights – Shelter. We no longer have an Aboriginal Board made up of only community members to provide advice and guidance and who can share what their needs are in their communities. We need to get back to that.

The numbers of our mob on the waiting list for public housing continues to grow, and waiting lists are now the longest they have ever been. Public housing for many will never be realised.

Whilst it has been very positive to see the current SA government develop the SA Aboriginal Housing Strategy, one key challenge we continue to face is the eligibility criteria for those in our communities who are struggling with living day to day (with or without a job) that cuts them right to the core and puts their vision to gain social and community housing out of reach.  

Most who need social and affordable housing fall outside of the criteria to even be considered for housing. This is a policy issue and should be reviewed. Policy can change, but we need the will of the government of the day to commit to change.  

On the one hand governments encourage employment, but then with the other hand they take affordable living opportunities away if mob secure work and are no longer ‘eligible’. 

Many of my mob can’t afford the private rental market prices. Many are not confident in talking to real estate agents because of the number of rejections they have faced, time and time again. This happens even more so if you have a lot of kids.  

I have family members on the NDIS scheme.  One of them is paying approx. $320 per week rent out of their disability pension, that’s $640 per fortnight!  They are thinking about moving back home with relatives because although they want to live independently, they just cannot afford to!  We need not only purpose-built homes, we need them to be affordable.

I see more and more community members trying to survive on a day-to-day basis.  They don’t really look forward to any new monetary incentives offered by the Government of the day, because as  soon as there is an increase the cost of living rises too.  Any dollars thrown their way are quickly swallowed up by rent increases, because of the criteria of paying 25% or in some cases 30% of your income on rent.  

Is it any wonder that we see increases in family violence, the removal of our children and incarceration rates when one of our basic human needs – shelter – is unreachable for so many.  

Our government must accept that not everyone is able to buy their own home.  In many cases, for my mob, they cannot even access the private rental market because of the disadvantages we still face.  Yes, I said it!  I said the word DISADVANTAGE!! 

A word that has now become described as being a deficit word!  We want strength-based language they say.  Well, I would love to stop using the word, but we are just not there yet!  I am not going to stop saying it because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Not saying it only makes the issues that greatly impact upon our lives more and more invisible.

Many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander families are stuck in a cycle of trying again and again to step up, to apply for jobs that are just not there, who are then placed on the work for the dole (by the way our mob have been working for the dole for over 30 years before it was introduced to the rest of Australia), and the income management basic card and driven further into poverty. A great start would be for governments to reject this punitive approach to those in our communities who are already facing disadvantage (oops I said it again) and are living well below the poverty line. 

What we need is an immediate investment and increase in social and community and affordable housing. The ever-increasing cost pressures particularly for pensioners, like my parents, barely surviving on Centrelink benefits, is still one of the biggest issues faced by many in our communities. They live in public housing and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Public housing wasn’t supposed to be like private housing – it was supposed to be a safety net so that everyone could have a decent home.

Let’s hope that both parties in SA take this key issue on board.  

Pollies are you listening?

Cheryl Axleby

Cheryl is a proud Narungga Woman, passionate about improving the quality of life for her people. She commenced working as a 17-year-old working in the South Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and has throughout a career spanning over 40 years, gained extensive experience in working within the Aboriginal community sector, law and justice, human rights, women’s issues, Aboriginal family violence, youth justice, child and youth & family services, Closing the Gap and held the role of Alternate Deputy Chair for SA – for the then ATSIC Patpa Warra Yunti Regional Council. Cheryl held the senior management roles in the SA government in Child Protection and Youth Justice and held the role as CEO of Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement from 2012-2020 and Co-chair of National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Legal Services from 2014-2020.

Currently Cheryl is employed as the Relationship Manager for SA for Aboriginal Community Housing Limited and has held the role as the National Co-chair of Change the Record, the only Aboriginal led Justice Coalition in Australia since 2016.Cheryl enjoys working towards influencing positive change and outcomes for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples. As well as being committed as a cultural & social justice change advocate, Cheryl develops and delivers cultural competency programs to assist workers in the gov and non gov sectors to gain a better understanding of the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people in South Australia and its impact today through intergenerational trauma. Just like Martin Luther King, Cheryl too has a dream. A dream where Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Australians are treated with respect & dignity, enjoy a life without racism, enjoy a longer life expectancy, have real jobs, live a life without poverty, have stable and affordable housing, access to quality education, and are empowered to make their own decisions and are properly acknowledged and respected as the First Nations peoples of Australia.

The South Australian State election is Saturday 19 March 2022, don’t forget to vote!