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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Public Housing

9 April 2019

 

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I am a bit surprised to see that the Minister for Housing is not in a rush to get up and defend his record, but I am very happy to step in. I thank the member for Franklin, Ms Standen, for bringing on this matter of public importance debate because it is one of the most significant issues confronting Tasmania today.

It is particularly galling to sit in question time and listen to the Treasurer crow about his budget management and again allude to these golden times when we know there are people sleeping in tents and cars, or on couches of friends' and family's places because Tasmania is experiencing a housing and homelessness crisis. Not only is there not enough supply of affordable, energy-efficient and secure housing, but tenants in both the public and the private rental market are being let down by deficiencies in the Residential Tenancy Act that failed to protect them.

They are particularly vulnerable in times of housing crisis when rents are soaring and pressure for private and public rentals is so high that tenants in the private rental system are potentially being squeezed by landlords, threatened with eviction and facing soaring rents. I have spoken to constituents who have seen their rents go up by $100 and $150 per week with no warning at all.

We need to ensure that that Residential Tenancy Act has a set of minimum standards in it for a start. It needs to be placed on the record in this place that in 2013 under a Labor-Greens government, we passed amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act that put in place some basic minimum standards and protections for tenants. There was a delay embedded in the legislation and they were due to come into effect in October 2014, but one of the first things the Liberals did in government was to roll over to the property class, to the Real Estate Institute, and abandon the minimum standards.

We do not have a set of minimum standards in the Residential Tenancy Act and there is no protection for tenants from landlords exploiting them. We need to have a capacity to make sure that rent increases, like they are in the ACT, are capped to some extent. In the ACT they are capped at CPI. We have gouging of some of our most disadvantaged people by landlords who are exploiting the housing crisis. We have a government that for more than four years starved the Housing budget of funding. The Greens came in raised it over and over again under the previous minister. Every time you looked at those budget papers, there was no extra money in there for affordable housing. This is at a time when the federal Coalition government had walked away from the National Rental Affordability Scheme and had bled dry money that should have been going into housing and homelessness action.

When you look at the federal budget papers from last Tuesday night you see that culture of disdain for renters, for people who are in housing stress, because across the forward Estimates, in the federal budget there is a $1 billion cut in real terms to housing: $200 million is coming out of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, a cut in real terms, and the national partnership agreement on affordable housing sees an $800 million cut in real terms over the forward Estimates.

When Mr Jaensch gets up shortly and talks about a record state spend, which so far has delivered far too few homes, in part, they are squeezed into this because their federal colleagues could not care less about increasing the supply of affordable housing. It is structurally imbedded in our economy that we shaft the poor, that we favour the property class, through negative gearing and capital gains. What does that say to our young people who are already dealing with climate stress? It says the government in Canberra does not care about them. It favours the wealthy over them and their future.

It was laced through the entire federal Budget. Young people today can only dream of owning their own home; it is becoming increasingly impossible for them to find one to rent. That is the situation we are in. The Treasurer and the Premier should find some humility instead of coming in here and talking about the money, talking about the economy, talking about the roads, lying about the golden age. We are sick of it.

We come into direct contact with people who are so stressed - single people, young people, older women facing rent increases that soak up some three quarters of their income. Often that is a Commonwealth support payment. We know from the national Rental Affordability Index that came out late last year that Hobart is the least affordable capital city in the country. While we are not seeing people sleeping on the lawns of parliament, it does not mean they are not homeless. The showground is no longer available to people who need temporary emergency accommodation. We have not heard anything yet from this minister about what he and his department will do to provide that emergency response, let alone increasing supply.

I will end on a more affirming note. I believe that Mr Jaensch wants to get this right. I believe Mr Jaensch is more capable of driving an increase in the supply of affordable housing than his predecessor was. In part, that is because there has been four years of underfunding and the Government knows Mr Jaensch needs to be given a break because it is as a direct result of the policies of state and federal Liberal Governments that we are facing a housing and homelessness crisis in Tasmania.