Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Liveability: human well-being (continued)

Housing (continued)

Housing tenure

  • Indigenous housing
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    The shift in preferences towards medium density (attached) housing is being accompanied by a shift from home purchase towards renting. Between 1988 and 2000, outright home ownership declined from 43.0% to 39.4% nationally, while the proportion of households purchasing their homes remained relatively unchanged (29.4% in 1998; 30.42% in 2000). In contrast, the proportion of households renting in the private market increased from 17.3% to 20.4%, and those renting from state housing authorities remained stable at around 5% (Figure 50).

    Figure 50: Housing tenure, 1988-1998.

     Housing tenure, 1988-1998

    Source: ABS (1999i)

    Explanations are multi-dimensional for the small but still significant shift in tenure patterns, indicating a declining propensity for home ownership. Wulff and Yates (1999) pointed to changes in the structure of households, delays in household formation, postponement of marriage and children, and increases in single parents, people living alone, and non-family households, together with economic and labour force restructuring, as being some of the driving forces behind these changes. Other factors may include the greater demands made on given levels of income (especially for traditional families), the desire to maintain after-housing living standards, together with the change in the relative cost of owning versus renting (Yates 1999), and the greater flexibility afforded to a more mobile labour force by the private rental market.

    The shift away from home ownership has environmental as well as socio-economic implications, to the extent that concern for the operating energy efficiency of dwellings is likely to be less among landlords. (In the commercial building sector, it is common for building owners to be less sensitive to energy efficiency if they are not also the occupants.) Australia lacks legislation (e.g. operating in Denmark) which requires that all homes for sale or rent possess certificates detailing energy use.

    Indigenous housing

    Studies by Gale (1972), Gale and Wundersitz (1982) and Memmott (1991) indicate that Indigenous families prefer to live close to kin and family, whether it be in urban, rural or urban metropolitan centres. This may take several years of patiently relocating from one housing unit to another.

    Within metropolitan cities such as Brisbane there is a clear relationship between the residential location of Indigenous people and a high incidence of disadvantage as measured by the SEIFA socio-economic index (Figure 51). Hunter and Gregory (1996) showed that the extent of residential segregation for Indigenous people is higher than for immigrants. Furthermore, the level of residential segregation is the same for Indigenous people regardless of socio-economic status, contrary to the trend observed amongst immigrants. Wealthy immigrants are therefore much more likely to live in wealthy suburbs than wealthy Indigenous people. A number of factors combine to explain this: institutional barriers limit access for Indigenous people to the private rental market, and internal ties within Indigenous social networks and societies result in a propensity for Indigenous people to choose to remain close to kin (Figure 51).

    Figure 51: Distribution of Indigenous population by collector district, correlated with the SEIFA index of socio-economic disadvantage in SLAs in the Brisbane metropolitan area, 1996. [HS Indicator 3.12]

     Distribution of Indigenous population by collector district, correlated with the SEIFA index of socio-economic disadvantage in SLAs in the Brisbane metropolitan area, 1996

    Source: BS (1996a, 1996c)

    Because of the widespread poverty amongst the Indigenous population, and other cultural values concerning possessiveness and consumerism, the proportion of Indigenous people owning or buying their own house has always been considerably lower than for the mainstream population. However, between 1991 and 1996, census data indicated the proportion of Indigenous people who were home owners or buyers rose from 28 to 31%, compared to 70% of the non-Indigenous population in 1996.


    In general, Australians are well housed. There are high rates of home ownership, and generally most households are satisfied with the standard of their dwelling. Despite high rates of satisfaction, housing affordability remains a significant problem. There are large differences in affordability within capital cities, and between capital cities and regional localities. Financial disadvantage associated with housing is strongly related to low-income and particular types of households (i.e. single-person households, and households with a single female parent). The position of Indigenous people in the housing market remains marginal, especially in large cities where they often live in disadvantaged areas in low-quality housing. Government policies and programs need to address housing assistance and target it better. However, this cannot simply involve providing housing to low-income or disadvantaged groups in traditional ways. The merits of the provision of public housing versus rental support for disadvantaged households needs to be debated further.

    The backyard of a conventional rented house on an urban block in Dajarra, north-western Queensland

    The backyard of a conventional rented house on an urban block in Dajarra, north-western Queensland.

    Source: Memmott