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Labor Motion - Select Committee into Housing Affordability

1 May 2019

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, they are not very strong words from a minister who should be supporting every possible constructive move he can to find ways to resolve the unmitigated crisis in housing that people across Tasmania are experiencing, especially in southern Tasmania.

We will be supporting the Labor Party's motion to establish a select committee for this purpose. It is important that we use every tool we have in the box. There is so much more we need to know about practical solutions. We need to bring every possible stakeholder together in as many different fora as possible to work on solutions. Some of them are legislative, some are financial, some are structural marketplace interventions, and some are beyond our control and therefore require a response at government, community and household levels.

It should be all hands on deck because what we are hearing is that one year on from the housing summit that was held by this Government after the last election, there has been desperately little change and in fact the indicators in some areas unbelievably are getting worse.

Mr Shelton - You think you can click your fingers and end up with a whole lot of houses around the place.

Madam SPEAKER - Mr Shelton, order.

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Shelton seems to ignore that this Government promised that houses would be delivered and has failed. Let us talk about promises and failure to deliver. In this instance yes, we are expecting the Government to click its fingers and put every bit of effort and budgetary attention toward understanding the reality of people's lives.

Can I talk about the people? Can I bring us back to the issue at hand? Mr Shelton, I know you are a kind person. I know that to be the case. You are a compassionate person. I want to read some of the experiences of people who are in dire situations.

Fiona volunteers at a food charity but she has now become one of its beneficiaries. She said that she has done a degree, she is a professional in what she does, she is in her late 40s but she has to work harder than she did when she was younger. She said she had no idea she would be on the poverty line. She had no idea she would have to move twice in the past 12 months. She is paying an extra $120 a week rent.

The Hobart City Mission; let us acknowledge the people working the hardest on the front line in trying to find solutions. Let us talk about people who spend their time trying to click their fingers, as you say, every day. I am reading from a report in the ABC on 10 March 2019. They interviewed Tara and Amanda, who both work at the Hobart City Mission. Their client load has almost doubled in the past 18 months but they refuse to turn people away. Tara said -

There have been times when it's been a quarter to five and there'll be three workers on the phone finding anywhere that we possibly can.

Let us talk about clicking our fingers. People turn up and they have nowhere to go. We can piffle on about deciding what is a house, what is a home, and throw numbers around but we really have to understand that winter is coming. People are still couch surfing. Ben Bartl from the Tenant's Union has made the statement that there are thousands of people looking for accommodation. They are currently sleeping on people's couches, in people's sheds, and they are living in cars.

Hobart remains in an acute housing crisis. There is a photo of Tara in the March ABC report. I look into her eyes and I see kind eyes but I also see really tired eyes. This is an exhausted woman. She has suffered verbal abuse when dealing with people who are desperate to find a roof to put over their heads. She understands their frustration but she is up against it, trying to do everything she can to find people homes.

The Housing Tasmania waiting list in March was down from 3412 to 3249. It is good that it is going down but we still have 3249 desperate people who need a home. The wait for public housing has come down from 72 weeks but it is still 56 weeks. That is more than a year. The profile of people who need access to housing is totally different now, which is a huge shock for the community and a big shock to groups of people. One-third of people on the housing waiting list are under 25. That is an extraordinarily high percentage.

There is a story of a young woman, Hayley Oakley, who left home. She is from a large family of 10 and struggled to concentrate at school because it was a very disruptive environment. She was only 16 and her only option was to go to a women's shelter. There are so many young people who are studying and cannot find accommodation. They are couch surfing.

The situation with rental affordability is dire. The median rental household income in the greater Hobart region is only $61 300. We have the least affordable metropolitan area in Australia and we are seeing the face of that. I know, Madam Speaker, that you made a special effort to speak to people who are sleeping in tents or in terribly substandard accommodation.

Ms Standen - With cockroaches.

Dr WOODRUFF - Cockroaches, that is right. I would like to make amendments to this motion. I am speaking in my capacity of standing in for the Leader of the Greens, Cassy O'Connor, in her shadow portfolio. She is passionate about this issue, having previously been the Greens minister for housing. She knows how hard it is for people who do not have a house and how much it means to have one.

A gentleman, Michael Prestage, also makes a really important point; we have to look at each case on a case-by-case basis and include flexibility for people's needs in housing and Housing Tasmania housing. He has suffered a lot of hardship in his life and has found comfort in the company of some very close pet dogs. As Housing Tasmania has a limit of two dogs for its rental properties and Michael has three, he has not been able to access a rental property with Housing Tasmania. He suffered the death of his wife and has overcome an ice addiction. The dogs have kept him from severe depression and have stopped him from committing suicide.

There are so many stories of people in Tasmania, thousands and thousands of people couch surfing and living without accommodation. We support every opportunity to find constructive solutions. We hope that this select committee can be constructive in addressing all the matters on the terms of reference in as much detail as time allows.

I want to propose three amendments. I circulated copies of these amendments to both Ms Standen and Mr Jaensch. I will move them as a block to allow time for us to wind up.

Madam Speaker, I move -

(1) That paragraph 1(h) be amended by inserting the words 'and market developments' after the word 'growth'.

(2) That paragraph 1 be amended by inserting the following new paragraph after subparagraph (i), 'changes to Tasmania's residential tenancy laws that could improve housing affordability, security and living standards in Tasmania.'

(3) That paragraph 1(j) be amended by deleting the words 'Australian states' and inserting instead 'jurisdictions'.

Madam Speaker, the first amendment is to sub-paragraph (h), 'the impact of population growth on housing supply'. Our proposal is to add 'market developments' after 'growth'. The subparagraph would then read, 'the impact of population growth and market developments on housing supply. This has been a key driver of the housing crisis. It is not stated in here and needs to be explicitly included.

The third amendment of sub paragraph (j) adds a totally new sub paragraph -

Changes to Tasmania's Residential Tenancy Laws that could improve housing affordability, security and living standards in Tasmania.

There is nothing in the terms of reference at the moment which talks about residential tenancy laws. The case made by Ben Bartl from the Tenants' Union is that tenancy laws, insecurity of tenancy, standard of tenancy and security around tenancy are important to people's wellbeing and to giving them knowledge about how long they will be able to stay in a place. There is a huge amount of stress when it is coming up to the end of a lease and people do not have confidence in their situation. These are the matters that need to be investigated and how we can improve the situation for tenants in residential properties.

The amendment to subparagraph (j) is to remove the words 'Australian states' and replace with 'jurisdictions'. If we are looking at successful strategies to improve affordability in Tasmania, we do not want to limit ourselves to Australian states but to any jurisdictions that have successful strategies.

I will leave this now on the amendment for discussion from Ms Standen and give her time to wrap up. Ms O'Connor will look forward to participating in this select committee inquiry. The Greens will be involving itself in the most constructive way possible.