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Aboriginal housing residents in the hottest parts of NSW 'suffer it' without air conditioning

By Declan Gooch, Monday January 18, 2016 - 12:13 EDT
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Temperatures in Wilcannia soared to 45 degrees last week. - ABC

The New South Wales government is reviewing a policy of not installing air conditioning in public housing, three years after an Aboriginal leader in the state's far west warned people could "perish" in sweltering conditions.

The former chief of the Aboriginal Land Council in the town of Wilcannia, Jack Beetson, .

There are believed to be around a dozen AHO homes in Wilcannia with no cooling, despite temperatures in the town routinely climbing above 40 degrees over summer.

But the government had confirmed it was still policy not to install air conditioning in any public housing, including in the state's hottest regions.

"At present, public housing does not contain air conditioning units due to maintenance, environmental and financial considerations," a Department of Family and Community Services spokesman said.

"The [Department] is currently reviewing the policy for air conditioning units and looking at ways it can support tenants, particularly in the far west of New South Wales, to achieve greater comfort," the spokesman said.

William Bates, a Wilcannia resident and former chair of the town's Community Working Party, said elderly people were most at risk during heatwaves like the one last week.

"A lot of the older people here, it makes people sick, it's a health issue and I believe it's a human rights issue too," Mr Bates said.

"Even with the Aboriginal Housing Office, I've argued with them at meetings, and their excuse is about the maintenance and all this sort of stuff."

He said there had been no maintenance issues with air conditioning in Aboriginal Land Council-owned housing, where cooling systems had been installed for a number of years.

The temperature in Wilcannia soared to around 45 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

The government said houses were designed to reduce heat-related discomfort and cut down on electricity usage.

"These homes generally incorporate environmentally sustainable features such as natural cross-ventilation, which reduces the need for air conditioning, energy efficient lightning and appliances to reduce the amount of power consumed," the spokesperson said.

William Bates said it was often intolerably hot indoors for residents without air conditioning, driving people outside.

"Most people, they'll get outside honestly, because it's cooler outside, and you've just got to keep the hose running and it costs a fortune for excess water," he said.

"But what do you do? You've just got to suffer it.

"Governments just don't seem to care."

The Department of Family and Community Services spokesman said residents with a medical need for air conditioning may be eligible for an exemption, which was considered on a case-by-case basis.

Further information has been sought about the review process.


© ABC 2016

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