The Indigenous living conditions problem: 'Need', policy construction, and potential for change

Thompson, Lester (2005). The Indigenous living conditions problem: 'Need', policy construction, and potential for change PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author Thompson, Lester
Thesis Title The Indigenous living conditions problem: 'Need', policy construction, and potential for change
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005-03-10
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor Prof Paul Memmott
Dr David Wadley
Total pages 387
Collection year 2005
Language eng
Subjects 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology
1605 Policy and Administration
379902 Aboriginal Studies
750309 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development and welfare
Formatted abstract

The living conditions of Australia's remote dwelling Indigenous people are broadly acknowledged as so problematic that they require government intervention. The intervention itself however, is periodically recognised as problematic and attention is drawn to the policy’s chronic ineffectiveness in solving the Indigenous living conditions problem, the public liability for the policy is scrutinised and the press and Indigenous activists hold the policy up for public criticism. The apparent frustration precipitated by the government approach is also manifest in periodic Ministerial statements and outbreaks of irrational contrary policy, as is evidenced in 1997 by Indigenous camp clearances in the town of Katherine. 


This Doctoral study examines the' Indigenous living conditions problem' and Commonwealth Government intervention as a strategic approach to solving this problem. It analyses official perceptions of this problem and the appropriateness of the official policy construction as a logical strategy for achieving the strategic outcomes that are expected of the policy. In doing this is builds upon the work of such theorists as Will Sanders and Ian Hughes who have previously criticised the impact of such policy on Indigenous autonomy and the right to self-determine. 


The problem in Indigenous living conditions policy is demonstrated in Chapter 1 by a case study and supplementary analysis. This analysis is progressed in Chapter 2 by an inquiry into the nature of the perceived problem in Indigenous living conditions. This introductory policy-analysis presents an uncritical, picture of the diachronic development of both the contemporary policy problem and the strategy for its solution. It examines a mainstream ontology of the problem so that Government intervention strategy can be considered as a field for epistemological investigation. Thus the discussion highlights recurring perceptions that the policy has failed, and asks, what is wrong with Commonwealth Indigenous living conditions policy. 


The material presented in Chapter 3 provides a logical examination of Indigenous living conditions policy as a methodology for intervening in the specific environmental conditions which are perceived causative of the officially constructed problem. The analysis finds that there is a disappointing lack of clarity about the specific problem, the causative variables that affect the problem, and the logical consequences of the intervention process. Rather than exposing conceptual clarity the examination suggests that the policy is focussed upon an ill-defined concept of 'housing need'. An explanatory investigation of this conceptual phenomenon indicates insufficient recognition of its existence. 

It is found that, though the policy has been subject to considerable evaluation, its review has adjusted the operational effectiveness of the intervention process but not its conceptualisation and logic. Because the problem has been ill-defined, the experimental intervention into the subject environment has been registered as effective, irrespective of demonstrable outcomes for the subject population. Indigenous clients. 


Chapter 4 examines the economic underpinnings of the policy to determine what historical expectations allowed policy to develop so that its outcomes mismatched with its intentions. Historical documentation indicates that formative policy intervention into remote Indigenous living conditions focussed on creating training facilities which encouraged residents to rapidly disperse    and integrate into the mainstream economy. The coercive nature of this formative policy was submerged beneath an ostensibly just welfare model because it appeared to assist poor Indigenous people to meet their 'needs'. This construction of a just policy regime persisted as a result of a perceived 'need' for housing assistance. 


In Chapter 5 historical material is analysed to ascertain whether humanitarian policy developments, reformed the coercive objectives which directed Indigenous policy and established Indigenous 'self-determination' as an official agenda. The historical critique indicates that Government humanitarian efforts have, since the inception of Indigenous policy, focussed on assisting Indigenous people through interventions which policy-makers perceived were needed. 

Chapter 6 examines the social construction of the concept 'need' in social policy and its application in Indigenous living conditions policy. Community perceptions of human needs are considered against psychological theory of the concept. This chapter seeks to reconstruct housing 'need' as a policy concept that accords with theory and mainstream intentions for social policy. This theoretically robust concept is then applied as an analytical tool for considering the construction of the need for intervention into Indigenous living conditions. 

The dissertation concludes that a problem in Indigenous living conditions cannot be solved without dealing with the following assumptions: 1) if a 'problem' is not significant to those who are perceived to experience it then it will be difficult to coerce their participation in solving it, 2) if a strategic intervention is not focussed on solving a problem then it will not solve it, and 3) if a    problem is not conceptualised clearly enough for its causes to be isolated then intervention is unfocussed and not likely to cause a solution. The reconstruction of the concept 'need' in policy permits a reconceptualisation of Indigenous living conditions problems, a reconsideration of the strategic conceptualisation of policy processes, and a reexamination of the causes of Indigenous dissatisfaction (unmet need). These outcomes are achieved because theoretical conceptualisation of human need permits client conceptualisations of their problems to be understood as deficits which might be incorporated into policy. 

The discussion concludes that Indigenous self-determination is an important but forgotten need which requires satisfaction after any living conditions intrusion. To solve the problem in Indigenous living conditions policy, any housing or of other intervention must permit Indigenous environmental control and those consequent perceptions of self-efficacy which facilitate the psychological and environmental health required for a non-problematic post-policy environment.

Keyword Aboriginal Australians -- Social conditions
Aboriginal Australians -- Government relations
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Wed, 07 Oct 2009, 12:18:38 EST by Ms Christine Heslehurst on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service