Over the last five years claims of housing discrimination by Aboriginal tenants have taken up major resources for the Equal Opportunity Commission. As a result the EOC set up a two year Inquiry examining less favourable outcomes for Aboriginal people.
The Inquiry found there were many areas where the policy and practice of DHW tended to provide greater difficulties for Aboriginal people who had large families, family violence, and parents and grandparents in poor health, poverty and previous Homeswest tenants. For some Aboriginal people regular periods of upheaval due to premature death, chronic disease and disability, and neighbourhood disputes about cultural issues and obligations foreign to most Australians added to this.
The challenge for DHW was and is for groups of Aboriginal people who have one or more of these needs to not be treated less favourably because of policies and procedures that were not intended to have this effect. This challenge is compounded by some in this group not knowing how to ask for things, their frustration and anger because they do not know how to get their situation across and their worry that they were or are being treated unfairly - even if this is not the case - all of which happens when you become used to not being treated fairly by others. DHW and EOC have begun to work through the difficulties and the challenges of meeting the needs of this group of people. We have begun to better understand how layer upon layer of disadvantage and cultural difference can impact on the ability of both staff and clients to communicate with each other.
This reform and review process will require an on-going learning strategy and joint effort from the next few months to two years to put in place. The measure of success will be how well DHW policy, funding, and practices can be continuously improved so they do not result in less favourable outcomes for Aboriginal people - the most disadvantaged group in Western Australia. While DHW has done some good work on this in remote Aboriginal communities, the focus of the Housing Inquiry and this statement is on mainstream provision of housing in country towns, regional centres and metropolitan Perth, where cultural needs are often unknown, overlooked, or not taken seriously.