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Residential Rent Increases

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Tags: Tenant Rights, Housing Crisis

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I wanted to continue some of the points I was making about the situation faced by tenants across Tasmania, many of whom have been subject to significant rent increases since 1 February when the coronavirus protections expired. I appreciate that the Attorney-General and the Government have decided to extend those protections. It is unfortunate that Ms Archer could not bring herself to acknowledge that it was a Greens amendment to the COVID-19 emergency provisions bill that made sure there were protections for tenants against rent increases and evictions during the emergency period. The legislation that we brought on today comes from our commitment as elected representatives to do the right thing by the people of Tasmania every day of the week we are in here.

We had some real misrepresentations put out there by our colleagues. Ms Standen took a break from hand-wringing and misrepresented the Tenants' Union of Tasmania's position on rent controls. The Tenants' Union principal solicitor, Ben Bartl, has written to all members imploring them to support the Greens' rent control amendment bill, but that was misrepresented by Ms Standen. We either had complete laziness or misrepresentation of the evidence from both the Liberal and Labor speakers.

The ACT model, which is a modest policy approach of rent increases being restrained to CPI plus 10 per cent of CPI, has been in place since 1997. This is tried and tested policy and in terms of the impact on tenants in the ACT, we know that in 11 years ACT rents went up by 32 per cent for your average three-bedroom home. In Tasmania over the past three years in Hobart and Launceston, rents for your average three-bedroom home have gone up by more 40 per cent. So, if you want to see evidence of well-tailored rent control provisions at work to protect tenants, you do not need to look any further than the Australian Capital Territory.

If people think this is some fancy new notion I will take them to an article written by David Bloomfield, an archivist. He wrote an article for the Tasmania Historical Research Association about their rent boards. He says:

In a time of accelerating rents in Tasmania it is interesting to consider measures taken by the Menzies government in 1939 to control excessive rental prices. Perhaps once again we are in such a time. The premier of the day, Edmund Dwyer-Gray, eloquently described why the regulations were necessary -

'Rents were merely the price of human shelters and there was no sound reason why the prices of houses should not be controlled'.

The article goes on a bit further:

At the end of World War II some naively forecast there would be less need to regulate rents but housing shortages were only growing. Rent control was not unique to Australia. In 1947 The British Economist wrote glowingly of the benefits of rent control -

'The rent tribunal is a necessary of social justice'.

At the time the press was generally supportive of rental control. The Hobart Mercury spoke positively of continued rental regulation at the close of the war, writing:

Aged people who are entirely dependent on their pensions have suffered more than the average person. Their income is strictly limited and they are, by the very high cost of room rental, denied the pitifully few luxuries their pensions permit.

So Tasmania had rent controls in place up until the year 1963. Those who argued against better protections for tenants from excessive rent increases, which we know Tasmanian tenants are facing now, are backing in the property class. They are backing in the landlords. They are forgetting why they were elected to this place. Dr Woodruff and I have not forgotten why we were elected to this place. We were put in here by the people of Franklin and Clark to improve their lives, to work for them every day of the week that we are in here, and that is what the legislation that we brought on today was all about. It was a modest proposal to put some restraint on rents which are going up by between $80 and $150 per week. It was evidence-based and tested from the ACT and other jurisdictions overseas.

Had our colleagues in this place had the guts to do the right thing it would have provided relief to Tasmanian tenants. Those tens of thousands of Tasmanians who are living in residential tenancies who are facing the end of the JobSeeker and JobKeeper supplements in six days' time could have seen the Tasmanian Parliament act in their best interests. They could have seen the Tasmanian Parliament acknowledge that we are facing a rental affordability crisis on this island. The data tells us Hobart is the least affordable capital to rent a home anywhere in the country.

We know why that happened, because for the first three years of the Hodgman Liberal government no new money went into increasing housing supply. We know that because with this lot backing the property class every step of the way there has been no regulation of short-stay accommodation that has any effect for Tasmanians wanting a home.

I wanted to lay the evidence on the table. This is good policy. We know it is good policy. We know it is supported by people who are struggling to pay their rents and feed their children. Labor paid lip service to those people when they were given a chance. We gave them a chance to do the right thing by the tens of thousands of Tasmanian tenants who are struggling now and they failed those people.