Asylum Seekers, Intentional Communities and Tiny Houses

Originally published by me on the PRI Forum.

On the lead up to the recent election, the asylum seeker debate turned into a race to the bottom. Julian Burnside referred to it in his piece in The Guardian today as a “spectacle … to outdo each other in their promises to be cruel to boat people”.

Burnside, a long-time asylum seeker advocate who opens his own home to refugees, proposes the Tasmania and Rural Solutions. Take a place that is in economic strife, so Tasmania and many rural towns across the country, and place asylum seekers in these communities whilst their refugee status is assessed. The money will be spent in these communities, revitalizing the local economy, and the Federal Government will save a substantial sum, even if each asylum seeker receives a Centrelink entitlement for the full assessment period.

I think Burnside’s proposal is a great one. The Rural Solution is something I have been pondering about for years. It seems to obviously win-win. But I propose we go a step further.

Intentional communities and asylum seekers aren’t spoken about in the same sentence very often. But I propose housing asylum seekers in intentional communities built in regions in decline as a more comprehensive solution to Burnside’s. The Federal Government would fund the purchase of appropriately zoned (or zonable) land within targeted regions. Permaculture and other specialists would be brought in to help design and develop the land, along with the asylum seekers themselves who would provide input and help build the communities. The contributions of the asylum seekers would be remunerated by way of Centrelink payment and / or equity in the development – which would be structured as a cooperative or similar. Housing would be well-designed tiny houses with self-contained and / or communal facilities. Once developed the communities would encourage entrepreneurism especially in the agriculture sector, with potential for further permaculture teaching opportunities and all manners of knowledge based vocation.

Once an asylum seeker has their refugee status approved they have the option to sell their share in the cooperative and settle elsewhere as they please or to stay in the community indefinitely.


Rain Water Catchment – How The Cities Have it All Wrong

We in the city should be ashamed of some of our practices. On my lunch break the other day – rather than going to a nearby cafe for something to eat – I took a walk around the suburbs surrounding the industrial area I work in. The area is fairly dense with residential houses with the odd commercial premise dotted here and there. Most – around 90% – of these premises had something in common – water catchment was piped directly out onto the street.

How this is allowed I do not know. Considering Australia has faced water restrictions in the past due to drought and low

Here is an example of the sort of drains I saw on my wander the other day. Most houses had something like this, directly from their roof.

Here is an example of the sort of drains I saw on my wander the other day. Most houses had something like this, directly from their roof.

water storage levels, it seems utterly irresponsible that we are still allowed to continue to treat clean, safe rain water as waste; something to be disposed of down the drain. Only to have it piped back in from a different source so we can turn on our taps and be guaranteed something will come out.

Kirsten, over at Milkwood, wrote a blog this morning about rooftop farming, a phenomenon that seems to be gaining traction in cities across the world. The article was about chickens still being of importance in such a system. I agree. But my mind turned to the rooftops of buildings here in Australia. Consider your local Bunnings Warehouse (Australia’s answer to Home Depot, to my American readers). Look at the size of the place. I did some crude measurements of my local store, using Google Maps, and the catchment area is a massive 7000 square metres (almost 2 acres!). According to my water catchment calculations, that would see a yield of around 3,850,000 litres per year, based on local average rainfall. That’s enough water to satisfy the average needs of 35 people! I can only imagine how much water is wasted by residential and commercial premises that just pipe it down the drain. This is a large scale problem, one that councils and government encourage.
As I said in my comment to Kirsten, this must make rural folk like her, who prey for and respect every last drop they receive, cringe.

The Disposable Society

The conversation I just had with a colleague is proof of so much that is wrong with the world.

She lives in a suburban house build in the late 80s. She is currently renovating the bathroom, ensuite, laundry and kitchen. (The funny bit is that the renovation comes to more than budgeted for my land, tiny house, caravan, shed, gardens, solar system, rainwater tanks…) I asked her what she will be doing with all the stuff she is ripping out – the kitchen cupboards, sink, stove, oven, bathtub, etc. Her response – it makes me shudder – “Well. It’s all very old and 80s styling. We’re going to take it to the tip”. What? Really? A perfectly good kitchen, bathroom, ensuite and laundry to the tip, to become landfill.All because it doesn’t fit her tastes anymore? What is with society being so free about just disposing things?

I told her about the plethora of ways she could get rid of the stuff that would be of less effort and expense to her – heck, she may even be able to make some money back. Not interested. Too much hassle she thinks. According to her nobody would want the stuff when they could just as easily walk into IKEA and buy a complete kitchen relatively cheap.

She lives on another world.