Public Housing

About this Item
SubjectsPublic Housing; Rental Accommodation
SpeakersHale Ms Sylvia

Page: 15541

    Ms SYLVIA HALE [10.18 p.m.]: The Government's plan for public housing was announced last week. The Government claims that it is introducing the most significant changes to public housing in 50 years. The changes might also be described as the worst changes in 50 years. The Government intends to increase rents, place all tenants on short-term renewable leases and require them to pay for water usage. This is yet another unimaginative response to the real and serious problems facing public housing. Rather than expanding public housing, and ensuring healthy cross-subsidisation by encouraging a mix of tenants, with some able to pay rents approaching market value, the Government is further limiting eligibility, increasing rents for those earning a low wage, spending less on building or buying new stock, and undermining tenants' security of tenure.

    The Government is slowly but surely taking a wrecking ball to a significant piece of the State's social architecture and to Labor's formerly socially progressive policies. The Government will raise rents from 25 per cent to 30 per cent of a tenant's income where a tenant earns $28,600. After paying rent, a tenant would be left with $385 a week to pay for tax, transport, food, medical, clothing and telephone bills and everything else. This is not a huge sum and I wonder how members of this Parliament would cope on an income that is less than one-fifth of what they are paid and less than a tenth of what housing Minister Joe Tripodi collects from salary and perks. Maybe we could have a reality TV show called Public Housing Survivor and see how long members of this place could last on a government benefit income or low wage.

    The decision by the Government to bleed even more money out of tenants is reprehensible. It is another short-term response to a problem of the Government's own making. It is the short-term, economic rationalist policies of this Government, and of the previous Liberal Government, that have crippled our public housing system. A series of mistakes over the past 15 years has led to the dead end the Government now finds itself in. The Government has reduced the proportion of publicly owned housing stock to a mere 4 per cent of all housing stock. It has continually narrowed eligibility criteria. It has failed to make any productive use of its assets. It continues to demolish or part privatise public housing estates—a process of cannibalisation—just to keep the Department of Housing's head above water financially. If the Government decided, instead, to expand public housing to a sustainable level, the Minister for Housing would not now be squeezing tenants for extra dollars, because the system would pay for itself, as it used to, prior to the tightening of eligibility that occurred in the 1980s.

    The Government wants to get rid of those tenants who are working and who can afford to pay more rent. The Minister for Housing makes ludicrous references to BMW-driving public housing tenants. This is a callous, ignorant comment designed only to appeal to the tabloids and bears no relation to reality. I have not seen many BMWs around the estates, just lots of old second-hand Holdens. I have not seen many millionaires either. More than 90 per cent of public housing tenants are on very low statutory incomes. The rest earn a little extra from small amounts of casual or part-time work. Very few are full-time workers. The Minster has not provided us with any figures about how many of these supposed BMW-driving public housing tenants there are. Let us remember this rubbish about BMWs is coming from a tenant of this Parliament who the Sydney Morning Herald reports has a penchant for Saabs. Maybe the Minister is the one who should be evicted instead of public tenants on below-average wages.

    The State Government blames the Federal Government for reducing the money flowing through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. This is true, but the Commonwealth's tight-fisted policies are no excuse for this State's woeful policies that have managed to turn a self-financing, diverse, affordable form of housing into a residualised and shrinking refuge. The State Government seems intent on turning public tenants into private tenants, with higher rents, water bills, short-term leases and no security of tenure. The private rental market is clearly unable to provide secure, affordable housing for low-income Australians. Why then does the Minister seek to make public housing more like the private rental sector? Are the Minister and the Government so captive to the developers that they are totally committed to the destruction of public housing? The Government should be making public housing cheaper, not more expensive; building more housing, not less; and maintaining diversity of housing, rather than applying a concentrating policy.

    There are many examples of how public or not-for-profit housing can work: City West is one example. Housing co-ops are another, where those paying higher rents subsidise those on lower rents. Affordable housing levied from developers provides another option—in some areas of London, up to 50 per cent of all new developments must be affordable. Under this Government's policy, public housing will only be for those aged over 80 with a disability who are homeless. [Time expired.]