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Adjournment speech : Housing

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 15 Feb 2017

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:01): Last week Flo Seckold, who has lived in Millers Point all her life, left her home for the last time. Like many, she had been turfed out as the New South Wales Liberal-National government begins their public housing sell-off in Millers Point. Flo worked at the Bushells factory. Her husband, Teddy, was a wharfie. Teddy was one of the first arrested during the green bans action to save the area from the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority demolitions, back in the sixties and seventies. They were together for 62 years until Teddy died three years ago. The day after Teddy's funeral, Flo was sent a letter to tell her that her home was to be sold off. In 2014 the New South Wales government announced the sell-off of public housing in the Millers Point area, and since then people have been forced to move out. Flo has been a central part of community campaigns against the public housing sell-offs in Millers Point, and I want to congratulate her and say that I am deeply for sorry for what has happened.

Flo's story, sadly, is a common one. People across the country are being shifted from one property to the next if they live in public housing. Australia has weak protection not just for public housing tenants but for tenants in the private sector as well. Callous state governments are flogging off public housing for a quick buck. There is little recognition that houses are more than just bricks and mortar, that houses are homes for people. Much of the discussion in the media around the housing crisis has focused on young people. While young people are being locked out of the housing market, older people are also increasingly suffering housing stress. Late last year I met with representatives of the Older Women's Network, Zonta International and Equal Rights Alliance. They highlighted the situation of tens of thousands of older women who are in severe housing stress, right on edge of being evicted. A hostile housing market, climbing rents and a lack of rental security, a lack of appropriate public housing, public housing sell-offs, the closure of women's refuges and a lack of homelessness services all leave older people—in particular, older women—increasingly vulnerable to housing stress and homelessness.

Many older women will come into retirement on small pensions and with not enough superannuation after a lifetime of unpaid family labour, unequal pay and structural disadvantage. A lack of affordable, accessible and secure housing makes that situation so much worse. Between the 2006 census and the census in 2011 there was a 19 per cent increase in the number of older homeless people. Roughly 17 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Australia are older than 55. The latest Rental Affordability Snapshot report from Anglicare characterises the dire housing situation for single older Australians living on the pension. Less than 0.1 per cent of private rental properties in the Greater Sydney and Illawarra region are appropriate and affordable for a single person getting by on the age pension. On the North Coast that figure is 1.1 per cent. In the ACT, with the exception of one granny flat, the only rental properties that were affordable for an older individual living on the pension were share houses.

But the Turnbull government has no plan for affordable housing on the table. There is no ministerial portfolio for housing; there is no federal housing and homelessness strategy. There are no policies at the federal level to address housing affordability, and after the May budget, if the government follows through with its threat, there will be no federal funding for homelessness services. What does the Turnbull government do? They announce that they will scrap the National Affordable Housing Agreement and take an axe to the only federal funding stream in existence for homelessness and public services. This agreement delivers about two-thirds of the total funding allocated to specialist homelessness services. But without any plans in place, without consulting the sector and at the height of a national crisis, the Turnbull government announced via the pages of The Australian last Friday that it is going to scrap it. In the words of National Shelter, this 'would be an unmitigated disaster' for the sector.

The Greens believe it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all Australians have access to secure and affordable housing, and we believe that homes for all should be a priority of every government. The government should be renegotiating and improving the National Affordable Housing Agreement, not scrapping it in the upcoming May budget. If they are looking for savings, they can start by scrapping the handouts to property investors and speculators.

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