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Liberals' Housing performance

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tags: Short Stay Accommodation, Social and Affordable Housing, Newstart, Supreme Court

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I am quite pleased to see that the Heritage Tasmania staff are no longer in the Chamber being forced to sit here and listen to this debate instead of providing advice to the minister for Heritage on the bill that was to be debated at this point but has been bumped off so the Minister for Housing can score some political points.

The first thing I want to say, having listening to the Minister for Housing, the shadow minister and the Deputy Premier is that no-one has a mandate on compassion in this place. I am certain that every person here wants to see more good homes built for Tasmanians who need them, but you do not achieve it by pulling this sort of manoeuvre on a sitting day when it is not private member's time. We are supposed to be dealing with legislation, the Historic Cultural Heritage Amendment Bill 2019 rather than this motion. When the Order of Business came through last night and I looked at Notice of Motion 144, I could not work out why it would be on the blue today. Then I reminded myself that so little legislation has been tabled by Government ministers this week that there is obviously problem with the Government's legislative agenda. There is an apparent inability to fill Government business time with debate on legislation.

It is a bit rich, point 6, 'Call on all Members to work together to put the needs of Tasmanians above political point scoring.'. Yesterday, in Government member's time, we had one of the most appalling motions that has been brought before this House, which was purely an exercise in political point scoring. You cannot have it both ways, minister. You cannot on the one hand have a motion before the House as it relates to mandatory minimum sentences for the vile human beings who abuse children, which is designed to score political points primarily at Labor's expense, and then pretend to be statesman-like on the issue of housing here today. It does not work like that.

Mr Jaensch, you are a good person. I am not taking that away from you and I know you really want to make a difference. I know you want to be a good Housing minister but you should not fall into these sorts of traps. It is not necessary. It is divisive. It does not achieve anything for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Ms Standen - It's disingenuous.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is disingenuous. We can spend our time doing far more interesting and meaningful things for people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or living in housing stress.

Ms Standen - Imagine if we used this time to sit down in a meeting room and quietly discuss some ideas?

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right, as we did with the sector not more than six weeks ago. Good on you, minister, you involved the shadow spokesperson for Housing, Ms Standen, and you asked me along and we had representatives there from Shelter Tasmania, TasCOSS, Anglicare, Colony 47, and I am sorry if I have left anyone else out. I also note Madam Speaker was at that meeting and it was quite constructive, as these things go. Around the table was a collection of people with social conscience, who wanted to work constructively to provide housing solutions. We helped the minister to decide that he was going to prepare a work plan and work with the sector on some of those initiatives that are part of the Affordable Housing Strategy but, as we know, an emergency response is demanded of government.

Ms Standen - Seven weeks later, we're still waiting for that work plan and another meeting.

Ms O'CONNOR - Has it been prepared, minister, that work plan?

Mr Jaensch - I announced it, with $5 million to deliver it, and I have announced the elements of it that are now underway.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is the work plan a public document?

Mr Jaensch - It is a media release and it was a statement in this House. The department has a work plan, which it reports to me on.

Ms Standen - You have worked in the private sector. That is a bit scary, isn't it? A work plan is a media release.

Mr Jaensch - It is public information, what we are doing has been announced.

Ms O'CONNOR - I raise a matter with the House relating to evolutions of housing policy. There has been a significant reform in Wales, which is now being trialled in Canada and that is the duty to assist law. The Welsh Parliament moved down this path because homelessness was worsening. Welsh parliamentarians recognised that, for too long, government had only acted once someone reached the point of homelessness and it could be too late. The duty to assist law recently enacted by the Welsh parliament requires governments to help homeless people to find accommodation. It has three steps to it and the first is to help to prevent. That requires local authorities to act and offer resources to people at risk of homelessness. When they went back a year later after this policy had been put in place and they looked at the data, minister, I know you like evidence, 65 per cent of the people who had presented at stage one avoided homelessness. This is because there was that first step in which local authorities - as you know, it is often local authorities who do that frontline service delivery in the United Kingdom - had intervened, 65 per cent of people who had presented avoided homelessness.

Stage two of the duty to assist law is help to secure. This means that local authorities have 56 days to help a person who has not been able to, as a result of the supports that were offered in stage one, find secure housing. This requires local authorities to help to secure housing. There is then point three, the pinch, which is the duty to secure in which, if steps one and two fail, step three places an absolute duty on local authorities to secure housing for those with priority needs and who are unintentionally homeless. When the data was examined a year after these laws came into effect, they found that 80 per cent of people secured housing and avoided homelessness.

We need to be looking at some of these innovative approaches. These approaches also recognise that as it is a community responsibility to look after each other and as government is elected from and is a reflection of the community, it is government's responsibility to ensure housing is available for people who need it, to ensure that services are there and ensure that it is taking direct and well-funded steps to tacking homelessness.

I want us to look at this policy, just as we do need to have a look at the way rents are set. I go back to something the minister said in the debate about adjusting the terms of reference to the housing select inquiry yesterday. He was having a crack at me about the way excessive rents are dealt with in the ACT. As I understand it, the difference between the ACT model and the Tasmanian model is that, in Tasmania, the only explicit measure the residential tenancy commissioner  can consider is comparable rents, whereas comparable rents are one of a number of explicit factors the ACT tribunal needs to take into account when it is working to ensure tenants are not being slapped with unreasonable, unaffordable increases in their rents.

We drafted an amendment to this motion. We are hoping the minister will see sense and not bring this on for a vote. I am not wedded to our amendments but I will read them in to make the point that there is a whole lot of fact here that is not being addressed by the minister. Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the motion be amended by deleting clauses 2 to 6, inserting instead -

(2) Acknowledges that Tasmania's housing crisis has occurred due to the Liberal government;

(a) underinvesting in public housing;

(b) doing too little, too late to regulate short-stay accommodation;

(c) pursuing aggressive population and tourism growth targets without any forward thinking or planning; and

(d) refusing to pursue meaningful housing policy reforms, including relevant taxation reforms.

(3) Calls on the Liberal Government to:

(a) significantly increase their investment in public housing,

(b) introduce regulations to prevent growth in short stay properties and tight rental markets,

(c) begin proper settlement and population planning, and

(d) examine taxation reforms to promote housing availability and affordability.

(4) Calls out the hypocrisy of the Liberal Government in calling for an end to political point scoring by wasting Government business time on a motion patting themselves on the back for a job poorly done.

(5) Agrees that instead of patting himself on the back, the minister should apologise for evicting public housing tenants into homelessness on the grounds of lease expiration.

Minister, can you indicate to the House whether you will be bringing this notice of motion on for a vote?

Mr JAENSCH - We have about half an hour left. I think we have at least one other speaker who intends to speak, and I will be speaking. I do not need to pursue a vote, though.

Ms O'CONNOR - You do not need to pursue a vote? If you do not need to pursue a vote, I do not need to pursue our amendments, but I wanted that put on the record, because there is another story to be told here. You cannot expect members of the House - whether they be from the Labor Opposition or the crossbench - just to, because you have told us

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The motion will be voted when there are no further speakers.

Ms O'CONNOR - The question is will you call a division, minister? Have a think about it.

It is unreasonable, it is political point scoring, to have a motion like this brought on for debate, which congratulates the Government and the minister for their work. There are points in this notice of motion which, of course, are true and should be supported, but the last point 6 is just layered with hypocrisy, particularly given that we have political point scoring in this place every question time. Four Dorothy Dix questions which are all about political point scoring, because the question is invariably, 'Can the minister tell us how terrific he is, and is he aware of any other alternatives?' That is just an invitation to point score.

Is the minister saying that, on the one hand it is okay to spend your entire allocated self-congratulatory period in question time to score points at the expense of other members in this place, but on this issue of housing, because it suits him not to face scrutiny and accountability, he wants to make a point about not scoring points - which of course is just another exercise in point scoring? I feel like I am in an episode of, I do not know -

Mr Jaensch - Seinfeld?

Ms O'CONNOR - Seinfeld? Black Adder? I do not know.

Ms Butler - Groundhog Day? Just the same thing time and time again. Same lines.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, it is frustrating. It is so frustrating.

We would like to hear from the minister an answer to the question that we put to him on Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday, which is, how many of the 20 tenants who were evicted by Housing Tasmania during the Gregory Parsons Supreme Court case were evicted under section 42(1)(d) of the Residential Tenancy Act, which is the clause that gives landlords the power to evict people on the basis of lease expiration only. The minister came into this place, he talked about the 'three strikes and you are out' policy, but he did not go to the question. That is frustrating and disrespectful to the people of Tasmania, and the principles of the Westminster system, which are that, if you are asked a question, answer it honestly. If you do not have the information, tell the House you will be back and provide the information at the earliest opportunity.

We still do not know how many of those 20 tenants who were evicted in that 2017-18 period were evicted simply because their leases had expired. How many were given the 'three strikes and you are out' opportunities? Housing Tasmania cannot just adhere to kind of lowest-common-denominator provisions in the Residential Tenancy Act; it has to be the best landlord in Tasmania.

It is dealing with some of our most disadvantaged, at-risk people. People who are trying to eke out an existence on Newstart, or a widow's pension, or a single parent payment, or a disability support payment - they are the Tasmanians that Housing Tasmania has a significant responsibility for, Mr Deputy Speaker. People on low incomes are overwhelmingly the cohort who make up Housing Tasmania tenants.

Housing Tasmania cannot just say, 'We are applying the act'. No, that is not the way it is meant to work. As the Supreme Court found, tenants are entitled to natural justice, they are entitled to a statement of reasons for their eviction, they are entitled to internal review. It would be great if the minister in getting up to close off this debate he ill-advisedly brought on could address that question.

In the spirit of tri-partisanship, I wish both the minister and Ms Standen well tonight at the Sleepout for the Salvos. This year I cannot attend the sleepout for the Salvos. I have, on many years, so I have made an equal contribution towards your fundraising efforts, and hope that every member of this place who is not attending the Sleepout for the Salvos chips in some money to Mr Jaensch's account and Ms Standen's account.

Ms Standen - It is all money that goes to the Salvos.

Ms O'CONNOR - Exactly. Please, other honourable members in this place, we are not left out in the cold. We have homes and comfortable beds.

Ms Standen - There is only one person in this place who could actually fund the organisation to deliver that service, in a recurrent way, but that would be political point scoring.

Ms O'CONNOR - There is that, Ms Standen. I remind everyone here that every night of the week that we are sleeping cosy in our beds, there are about 1600 Tasmanians who are sleeping on the streets, in the Rivulet, out at the Regatta Grounds, the Coleman Building up on the Domain, and in other places in Tasmania. This weekend is going to be bitterly cold. It is going to pour with rain this weekend. Everyone in this place, probably everyone in this building, will be warm this weekend. But there will be 1600 Tasmanians who are not. Honourable colleagues, get out your credit cards and please contribute towards the Sleepout for the Salvos this year.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Before the member sits down, could she please confirm whether she wants to move the amendment.

Ms O'CONNOR - What I said to the minister was that I wanted to make the point about the amendment. I am not going to move this notice of motion. I wanted to make the points that were in it, because I do not want to be accused of political point scoring.