The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA) provided a submission to the WA Department of Health’s (DOH) Discussion Paper on Managing Housing Health Risks in WA.
This submission outlines its support for the DOH’s proposal while providing additional background to housing and environmental health issues relating to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people and their communities.
The health disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people is largely influenced by the social determinants of health which need to be addressed in order to see positive health outcomes for Aboriginal people. Access to secure, clean and well-maintained housing is one of these key social determinants of health, and the daily conditions in which Aboriginal people live have significant impacts on their health equit.
Aboriginal people experience significantly higher rates of unstable housing than non-Aboriginal Australians and are, historically and currently, over-represented in the social housing sector (Australian Institute of Welfare [AIHW] 2019). More action is required by state and local governments to ensure safe, stable and secure housing is available for all Aboriginal people, particularly those in rural and remote communities, to improve their health and social and emotional wellbeing outcomes.
- While AHCWA supports the provisions of Proposal 1 (6.3.1 Proposal 1), if housing or land in or on which an Aboriginal family is living is declared unfit and needs to be amended, removed, cleansed, or repaired, culturally appropriate support and assistance is essential for the family’s relocation. This is particularly important for Aboriginal people living in rural and remote communities where alternative housing arrangements are often limited. In these circumstances, members of the community may offer to take in families requiring alternate accommodation which can often place increased burden on the community, compounding issues of overcrowding. Aboriginal people seeking alternative housing arrangements must not be forced off country or to leave their community in order to seek habitable accommodation.
- While AHCWA supports the provisions for Proposal 2 (6.3.2 Proposal 2), consideration needs to be taken in regards to planning and constructing culturally appropriate housing for Aboriginal family and kinship systems. This includes the need for a thorough understanding of the way multiple generations and extended family members live together in Aboriginal communities, so that housing is fit for purpose to prevent overcrowding.
- While access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has increased for remote Aboriginal communities in recent years, these communities continue to experience inadequate housing quality and unacceptable delays to housing maintenance. As a result, these communities are forced to live in substandard conditions and are often exposed to significant health hazards. As Proposal 3 outlines the key priorities for the maintenance of habitable buildings to be included in the legislation, the State Government must be held to account for delivering these basic services for Aboriginal people and their families. As it currently stands, Aboriginal people in social housing are not provided the same standards of health that all Western Australians are entitled to as a result of the poor condition and inadequate maintenance of state-owned dwellings.
- AHCWA recommends that authorised officers receive appropriate cultural training to work with Aboriginal people and their communities. An understanding of Aboriginal cultural beliefs and values is important in identifying the most appropriate ways in which to enforce regulations and achieve positive compliance and resolution. AHCWA also strongly supports the role of Environmental Health Workers in managing housing health risks and encouraging healthy living conditions in WA.