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COVID-19 Emergency

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 4 June 2020

Tags: Housing, COVID-19, Health

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, before I address the subject of this matter of public importance, I want to take issue with a couple of things that Mr O'Byrne said. Horse racing, greyhound racing - industries which lead to the needless suffering of blameless and voiceless animals - is not everyone's cup of tea. Indeed, the industry is losing its social licence following damning exposés on both Four Corners and the 7.30 Report of the cruelty that is inflicted on the animals that provide profit for their owners until they pass their use-by date when many of them are just discarded.

The other issue I want to point out to Mr O'Byrne, pardon our cynicism, when we get frustrated because it seems to us and the Greens that you could not hold the line on COVID-19, you could not hold the line on heeding the public health advice, just as you could not hold the line on pokies when you had a position of principle there. You could not hold the line on major projects when communities around Tasmania were led to believe you might have a slightly stronger and more evidence-based position on the fundamental changes to the Tasmanian planning system, which will alienate people.

We are in a unique time in Tasmania's history. For the first time in a very long time we are effectively sealed off as an island. We have come closer than any Australian state or territory to eradicating the virus from this island and we have seen the people of Tasmania come together to keep each other safe, express their love for each other, and follow the rules and do the right thing. I am sure this Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. you will probably hear the whoops and cheers and the champagne corks popping all across the island and it is a well-deserved early mark. What Tasmanians will be doing is supporting local businesses, proudly. I really hope that it is enough to sustain those businesses until we have come through this.

I wanted to make a few brief comments about the housing announcement today. We welcome the commitment to build 2300 new homes. I have some questions about whether the $100 million allocated as it has been, can deliver the 1000 new homes that we are led to believe that it can. I do not know if that is leveraging money or how that might work. On average, to construct a new, quality social and affordable housing home it will cost you somewhere between $250 000 and $300 000. We have some questions about the rollout of that money.

The expansion of the HomeShare program, effectively a rent to buy, which is what the Greens have been advocating for since the start of the emergency period, is extremely welcome. New social and affordable housing is also extremely welcome, particularly by the 3478 Tasmanians who are currently at this moment languishing on the housing waiting list and waiting, on average, 65 weeks when they are a priority applicant to be housed.

A housing-led recovery was always the sensible path forward for public infrastructure, public stimulus spending and the question that we have asked the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council to apply every time it is looking at stimulus measures is, what delivers the maximum public benefit? It is very clear in a state where UTAS research tells us we are short about 11 000 homes that maximum public benefit through stimulus funding could be achieved by investing in affordable housing construction, which as we know, will provide that lifeline to skilled people in the building and construction industry in the months ahead as some of those other privately-funded projects come to their conclusion.

I impress upon this House the importance of acknowledging that we have been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a reset. We have been given an opportunity to tackle chronic and raging inequality in Tasmania where too many people, particularly rural and regional areas and on urban fringes, were missing out, socially and economically disadvantaged and trapped in generational disadvantage. We have a moment here and now that we have to seize to break those cycles of disadvantage and give every Tasmanian a fair crack at a really good life, no matter where they live, no matter who are their parents, no matter where they were raised.

We have an opportunity right now with public stimulus funds to invest in the people of Tasmania and restart and make sure people who have been left off the government's agenda, not just this Government, but left off government's agenda for too long, where arms have been thrown up in the air, too hard, we do not do that anymore. We accept that every Tasmanian should be given the opportunity to succeed, to have a quality education and training, to have access to quality health services and, critically, to have a secure and affordable home. We could do that right now at this moment in our history. We can make sure there are no more rough sleepers. We can do this. We can do this as an island community that cares about people and cares about each other as we demonstrated, and as we are demonstrating, over the past three months.

Today's announcement is a very good start. We are still looking at the details. I am not going to give unqualified support but it certainly is an acknowledgment that if you want to tackle multiple challenges, building and construction jobs, social inequality created by the housing shortage and the need to kickstart the economy, then you invest in affordable homes. We would like to have seen more homes go into a rent-to-buy scheme, an expanded HomeShare scheme, but we hope there is flexibility to deliver that in the future.