Does the NSW Government even realise that it has no Social Housing Policy?

Answers to questions in the NSW Legislative Council this week have revealed that some Ministers appear to be unaware that their Government is operating without a social housing policy, says Greens MP and Housing spokesperson, Jan Barham.

“Despite the fact that the Auditor-General pointed out the need to deliver a Social Housing Policy last year, and that less than a fortnight ago our Parliamentary Inquiry repeated that call, Ministers in the Upper House seem to have no idea that their Government is operating without a policy,” Ms Barham said.

The August 2013 Auditor-General’s report on Making the best use of public housing recommended that the Government deliver by December 2013 a policy that aligns tenant management with emerging client need, including short-term and long-term targets.

More than a year later, the Select Committee on Social, Public and Affordable Housing noted that the policy had not been delivered and again recommended that it be delivered, this time setting a new deadline of 1 March 2015.

In question time yesterday, Minister for Fair Trading Matthew Mason-Cox answered a question about the sell-off of Millers Point public housing by stating, “This Government has a social housing policy whereas those opposite have got absolutely no idea.”

“When invited to table the policy, the Minister said he only had a draft answer to the question he was asked. It’s a shame that draft document didn’t warn him that he shouldn’t talk about a policy that doesn’t exist,” said Ms Barham, who served as Deputy Chair of the Select Committee.

“My attempt to clarify in question time whether the Government has finally delivered its policy, which I asked of Minister Ajaka who represents the Minister for Family and Community Services in the Upper House, was met with a non-answer.”

Ms Barham called on the Government to acknowledge the serious deficiency its lack of a social housing policy poses.

“The Government is selling off properties, dealing with a waiting list that has more than 50,000 people on it, yet they won’t even acknowledge that they are operating without a solid plan.

“The Auditor-General and the Select Committee both could not have been clearer – at this stage there is no clarity about what the Government sees as the role of social housing or their vision for its future. After more than three years in Government, it’s time that they confront the challenge of delivering a strategy for social housing,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Hansard, 16 September 2014 – Millers Point Property Sales:

The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: My question is addressed to the Minister for Fair Trading, representing the Minister for Finance and Services. Will the Minister update the House on the recent sales of public housing properties at Millers Point?

The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: I thank the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner for this important question. I want to outline the success of the sales process to date, despite the protestations from members of the Opposition. Let us have a look at what happened last Thursday night. I am pleased to report to the House that a five-bedroom Victorian terrace built in 1879—which was about the last time members of the Opposition reviewed their social housing policy—sold for $3.96 million. A four-bedroom property built in 1832 sold for $2.685 million. For the benefit of those opposite without a social housing policy, that adds up to $6.6 million.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Sophie Cotsis to order for the first time.

The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: The four properties that have been sold at Millers Point in the past few weeks add up to a grand total of $11.1 million. At Millers Point there are 293 properties, and four have been sold for $11.1 million. What will this Government realise through this sale process and put back into the coffers for social housing? This Government has a social housing policy whereas those opposite have got absolutely no idea. We will sell those properties and invest those hundreds of millions of dollars into new social housing properties. The sale of these properties will produce multiple other properties. At the start of this process the Government estimated producing three times as many properties as are being sold but given the success of this sale process it will be a lot more than that. A lot more people will be housed in proper housing by this Government.

We must not forget that 58,000 people are on the waiting list and because those opposite have no social housing policy they do not care about them. The Opposition has a bunch of carping ideologues on the front bench who cannot understand the economics and sense of this Government’s policy in this area. We are getting on with the job with a real plan, not getting on with the job of complaining about a process that is realising money for this important investment. We look forward to continuing this sales process. A further two properties will be sold as part of the pilot program which will then be assessed and reviewed. The Government will make another statement in relation to the realisation of these important assets, all the money from which will go into social housing at locations across this State. The bottom line is it is an investment of a very significant proportion of housing for the 58,000 people on the social housing waiting list who have been neglected for too long. It is a successful sales process. I congratulate both Ministers involved, and I look forward to reporting on the success of that process in the future.

The Hon. Amanda Fazio: Point of order: My point of order is that the Minister has referred to the Government’s social housing policy and under the standing orders I seek that he table a copy of that policy for the information of members of the House.

The Hon. Catherine Cusack: To the point of order: The Hon. Amanda Fazio has misunderstood the standing orders in relation to documents to be tabled if they have been quoted by the Minister. It does not refer to every single document to which a Minister might refer.

The PRESIDENT: Order! I presume the Hon. Amanda Fazio was seeking to have the document tabled under Standing Order 56?

The Hon. Amanda Fazio: Yes, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Did the Minister have a document?

The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: I had a piece of paper to which I barely referred.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Under the standing order I am required to ask: is the document of a confidential nature or should it be more properly obtained by order?

The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX: I have just provided to Hansard the draft answer to a question I had with me.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister has not indicated that it is either confidential or should be more properly obtained by order. Therefore, I have to put the motion.

Question—That the document be tabled—put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Motion agreed to.

Document tabled.

Hansard, 17 September 2014 – Social Housing Policy:

Ms JAN BARHAM: My question is directed to the Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for the Illawarra, representing the Minister for Family and Community Services. Noting that in answer to a question on 16 September the Minister for Fair Trading stated:
This Government has a social housing policy …
and given that the Auditor-General’s 2013 report, “Making the best use of public housing” and the report of the Select Committee into Social, Public and Affordable Housing recommended the Government develop and release a social housing policy, can the Minister confirm that this policy has been completed and advise when the policy document will be made public?

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I thank the Hon. Jan Barham for her question. The Government was facing deep and systemic challenges when it inherited the social housing system. The system was not delivering outcomes for tenants or taxpayers and had been managed in the worst possible way by Opposition members. It is clear that real reform was in the too-hard basket for the Australian Labor Party [ALP]. This Government is determined to change that and to deliver a better result. It has the courage of its convictions to make the necessary calls. Its vision is clear: deliver a more sustainable housing system for our most vulnerable. Unlike the ALP, our actions speak louder than words. We have already made progress. We have made waiting lists transparent to help people make better decisions. We have run amnesties to crack down on those rorting the system. We have introduced vacant bedroom charges so more people can access housing. We have made decisions about areas such as Millers Point, which will mean more money for new homes and maintenance.

The Hon. Steve Whan: Point of order: It is on relevance. The question was specific about Minister Mason-Cox’s comment yesterday that the Government “has a social housing policy”. I request that the Minister be asked to return to the point of the question.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister was being generally relevant.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: It is clear that social housing should be financially sustainable. It has to provide a fair safety net and ensure that those requiring housing are given an appropriate opportunity to acquire it. As has been clearly shown, the ALP had no plans or policies to make social housing more fair or sustainable. The ALP flirted with reform in Government, but the very best it could do was claim that it would reshape social housing.

The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox: There were 58,000 on the waiting list.

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: Absolutely. Labor left the public with a backlog of housing maintenance worth close to $300 million. The reality is that this Government cares and it is taking appropriate action.

Ms JAN BARHAM: I ask a supplementary question. Could the Minister elucidate when this policy will be made publicly available?

The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: Each day that this Government acts on social housing it will ensure that members opposite are well aware of it.

Auditor-General’s report

NSW Legislative Council Select Committee report