Ideology vs context in the neoliberal state’s management of remote Indigenous housing reform

Ideology vs context in the neoliberal state’s management of remote Indigenous housing reform Book Section

The Neoliberal State, Recognition and Indigenous Rights: New paternalism to new imaginings

  • Author(s): Habibis, Daphne
  • Secondary Author(s): Howard-Wagner, Deirdre, Bargh, Maria, Altamirano-Jiménez, Isabel
  • Published: 2016
  • Publisher: ANU Press

Abstract: Reforms to the delivery of housing services to remote Aboriginal communities in Australia have resulted in radical changes to housing management. Commencing in 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Aboriginal Housing (NPARIH) was a 10-year, AU$5.5-billion housing management and capital works program of new housing, and refurbishment of existing housing, in remote Indigenous communities. As well as increasing the quality and quantity of housing stock, the reforms included the transfer of housing from Indigenous Community Housing Organisations (ICHOs) to state and territory governments, with the goal of improving the standard of housing and housing maintenance by bringing tenancy management up to public housing standards (COAG 2008).Drawing on Sanders’ (2009) framework for analysing policy principles in Australian Indigenous affairs, this chapter argues that as the process of implementing NPARIH rolled out, remote housing delivery became a site in which competing policy principles of guardianship, equality and choice were played out. Equality was evident in NPARIH’s goal of normalising remote Aboriginal communities so that housing standards are comparable to those that apply in other regions of Australia. There were also elements of adaptation that resulted in some principles of choice and recognition. But these tendencies were accompanied by coercive measures that reflect policy principles of guardianship: first, in their requirement for Aboriginal people to give up some of their land rights by agreeing to government leases over their land; and second, in the emphasis on individual behavioural change and self-responsibility in meeting the same tenancy obligations as apply in mainstream public housing. The analysis concludes that, despite evidence that an adaptive approach that recognises Aboriginal life worlds works best in Aboriginal service delivery, the normalising imperatives of the neoliberal state overwhelmingly support the continuation of the colonising project and the transformation of remote Aboriginal Australia along white ‘settler’ lines. As argued by others in this volume (Eatock, Chapter 3, Sanders, Chapter 6, Howard-Wagner, Chapter 12), this shows that although neoliberal governance may allow some lacunas of difference, it is fundamentally aligned with the overarching, enduring and continuing project of colonisation.

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Suggested Citation
Habibis, Daphne, 2016, Ideology vs context in the neoliberal state’s management of remote Indigenous housing reform, Book Section, viewed 05 December 2023,

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