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In Parliament


Homelessness - Matters of Public Importance

   Wednesday, 14 August 2019
T SMITH (Kew) (14:32:54): It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the matter of public importance as moved by the member for Prahran. Now, the member for Prahran in a previous life was a councillor for the City of Stonnington, and I was as well. And when I was a councillor, and indeed mayor of Stonnington, one of the most important things that I learned, and indeed one of the most important aspects of public policy that we engaged in, was the public housing flats in and around Chapel Street. At the time I do recall working with the then Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing. Mr Wynne: I remember it well. Mr T SMITH: And the glow of bipartisanship is warm across the dispatch box, Speaker. Mr Wynne: I will just say, Speaker, they were our salad days. Mr T SMITH: Indeed. I have got fat; you have got balder. Members interjecting. Mr T SMITH: When I was the mayor of Stonnington, we started a program called Stonnington: Grow With Us, and what that attempted to do was provide opportunities for breakfast clubs for the kids who lived in the Horace Petty estate and indeed homework clubs in the libraries for kids who did not have a quiet place to study. That was some of the support that the then City of Stonnington gave to my then local community’s most needy people. I suppose that is the perspective I take into this new role that I have as the Shadow Minister for Housing. I have to agree with the minister that providing stable housing and indeed a roof over our most vulnerable people is the only way for them to rebuild their lives and indeed to become contributors to our economy, because you cannot make a contribution in the job market, you cannot make a contribution in society, if you do not have that stability of a permanent residence. That is why I am absolutely committed to the notion that the state has a right and indeed a role, a fundamental role, to provide that very important safety net for those in our society who have fallen through the cracks and who need that support to get back on their feet and become self-sufficient citizens making a contribution to the public good going forward. That is why—and this, frankly, is the great Liberal legacy in social policy that does not often get talked about in this place—my great predecessor as the member for Kew, Dick Hamer, made an enormous contribution to public housing in this state. The Bolte government had not been necessarily the most cognisant of those issues, but when Dick became the Premier of Victoria in 1973— Mr Pearson: 1972. Mr T SMITH: In 1972—thank you, member for Essendon. He made a massive contribution and indeed increased expenditure on public housing dramatically, like we had not seen before. That I suppose is the legacy that is important for me as the current member for Kew in this important aspect of state prerogative and policy. In recent decades I think Victoria—and I know that the minister will probably challenge me on these matters—has dropped the ball in terms of our commitment to this very important issue. I make that point broadly, and it is not a direct political criticism of this Labor government. In 1997 we had 69 688 public dwellings. As of 30 June 2018 we had 72 663. Of course that has not kept up with population growth. Of course that has not met the demand, which is now 80 000 people on the public housing waiting list. That is a challenge that we are all faced with in this place, as to how we can effectively provide housing for 80 000 people who need it but also to reflect upon that startling fact that in reality we have not increased the public housing stock much at all in over 20 years. Obviously Labor have been in power for most of the time, but this is a challenge; this is a genuine public policy challenge where obviously housing is expensive and the state has a finite pool of money. Yes, as the minister said, there are a good number of community organisations who do enormous good in this space. Brendan Nottle at the Salvation Army is a friend of mine who does a power of work. I have seen him on a number of occasions in Bourke Street. I have spoken to him at length. We had an issue in my office recently where there was an individual who could not find shelter. I called Brendan, and Brendan made it happen. He found shelter for that woman. I hope that she is now okay—I do not know what happened to her. We called the Salvation Army, and they were there within an hour. It was quite incredible. Between government and NGOs there is obviously a great desire to fix this social ill—and it is a social ill; let us call it what it is. We do need commitment from the state to improve essentially the amount of money that is spent on public housing and social housing. Victoria is lagging behind the rest of the country. There was a Productivity Commission report earlier this year that showed that Victoria spent less than half the recurrent expenditure on social housing of New South Wales and less than Queensland and Western Australia, despite both of those states having smaller populations. Indeed Victoria spent the least of any government on recurrent expenditure on social housing per person in terms of population. Under the Andrews government fewer families are finding a place in public housing. As at 30 June 2014 under the Napthine government there were 63 048 public housing households. In just four years under the Andrews government public housing has decreased by 801 households to 62 247 as at 30 June 2018. I have talked about the public housing waiting list. It has increased dramatically under this Labor government. While New South Wales has seen decreases from 30 June 2014 until 30 June 2018, including the number of greatest needs applicants on the waiting list almost halving from 10 726 as at 30 June 2014 to 5760 as at 30 June 2018, the number of people on the public housing waiting list has increased under this government. The number of new greatest needs applicants has almost doubled in Victoria since the election of the Andrews government from 9852 on 30 June 2014 to 18 859 as at 30 June 2018. These are facts, and facts are stubborn things. I am not for a moment trying to take a short and stabby political whack on these matters, but these are the facts: we are not investing as much as other states on public housing, and yet for a whole host of reasons, including population growth, we have a waiting list that is continuing to grow. Now, I note that the minister spoke about the privatisation, shall we say—one of the Greens’ allegations around privatisation—of public housing. In Bills Street in Hawthorn there is a real issue. The government is attempting to develop a site that was gifted by the then City of Hawthorn for the specific purpose of providing shelter for women. That gift was given in the 1950s. Now the government’s plan is to privatise a certain part of that development but to increase the overall amount of public housing by 10 per cent. I just wonder whether that is the right approach. I just wonder whether or not privatising public land in such a frankly expensive area as Hawthorn is worthwhile because once it is gone, it is gone forever. I make this point to you quite reasonably: I think that approach does not necessarily lend itself to the best outcomes because at some point we will need more public housing in the inner suburbs, we will need more public housing in Hawthorn and without an ability to increase the capacity at that site, which will happen once it is sold, I think long term—and locals in Hawthorn have said this to me—we will regret it a lot.