Listen to David’s appearance on AM World Today – warning of the dangers of public housing in Wilcannia in far west NSW being built without air conditioning.
Transcript of interview here. See it in its original context here.
The World Today – AM
Aboriginal leader warns people could ‘perish’ in public housing
Margaret Paul reported this story on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 12:46:00
ELEANOR HALL: An Aboriginal leader in far west New South Wales is warning that people could die of overheating in public housing in Wilcannia, because the houses are not fitted with air conditioning.
Six new homes were built in Wilcannia over the last two years. But this summer, some residents abandoned their new homes to stay with relatives, as Margaret Paul reports.
MARGARET PAUL: The Bureau of Meteorology says the hottest it got in Wilcannia this summer was 47.5 degrees.
The president of the Wilcannia Local Aboriginal Land Council, Jack Beetson, says that’s conservative.
JACK BEETSON: During that heatwave, you know, the temperatures were up at 51 degrees in the shade out here. While that may not have been recorded officially, I witnessed that in two or three separate places.
MARGARET PAUL: Jack Beetson says under those conditions, it’s shocking that six new public houses in the outback town don’t come with air conditioning.
JACK BEETSON: Somewhere along the line somebody’s got to buy into this and say look, you know, people are going to perish out there in summer if they stay inside these homes, particularly people that have got young babies, and there was quite a few of the people that moved into the new homes had young children and in fact in some cases babies.
MARGARET PAUL: You said there people could perish – do you mean that? I mean that’s quite a serious forecast.
JACK BEETSON: Absolutely, yeah, can you imagine you know having a baby out here in 51 degree heat in the shade, and that was for about two weeks on end out here.
MARGARET PAUL: The Aboriginal Housing Office built the homes between 2011 and 2012, at a cost of nearly $500,000 each. They’re built with cross ventilation and ceiling fans instead of air conditioning.
But Jack Beetson says some residents couldn’t live in their new houses this summer, and moved in with friends or relatives who had air conditioning.
JACK BEETSON: That just leads to other problems like overcrowding and all sorts of things, and we know the by-products of overcrowding, that can sometimes end up in family violence and all sorts of stressful situations.
MARGARET PAUL: The Aboriginal Housing Office says clients who present with documented medical requirements for air conditioning will be considered for exemption on a case-by-case basis. There are currently no plans to change the air conditioning policy.
Jack Beetson says that isn’t good enough.
JACK BEETSON: You know, usually in low socio-economic conditions or situations, you’ll find that people find it very, very difficult to fill out forms without assistance. So you know, a lot of people if they can’t fill it out won’t even go and ask for assistance to do so, because of the embarrassment.
So it just puts up a whole lot of barriers.
MARGARET PAUL: New South Wales Greens MP David Shoebridge agrees.
DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: When new nursing accommodation or police or teacher accommodation is built in Wilcannia, it is guaranteed that there will be air conditioning in it, but public housing tenants seem to be treated as second class citizens and have to go through enormous amounts of paperwork and applications to get air conditioning. Now they’re exactly the wrong cohort to insist on being pushed through those kind of hoops.
MARGARET PAUL: David Shoebridge says any new public housing places are welcome. But he says it’s bad policy for houses in places like Wilcannia to be built without air conditioning.
DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Well it’s an absolute certainty that Wilcannia will have extraordinarily hot and, with climate change, increasingly hot summers, and the thought that residents have to explain that to public housing in order to get an upgrade is kind of remarkable and backwards.
That will almost certainly be more expensive than building the air conditioning into the building when they first produce it.
MARGARET PAUL: The Minister for Community Services, Pru Goward, wasn’t available for an interview.
ELEANOR HALL: Margaret Paul reporting.