House debates

Monday, 29 July 2019

Private Members' Business

Tasmania: Housing Affordability

12:58 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Franklin for bringing this motion on. It's my great pleasure to second it. To the previous speaker, Mr Pitt: you can try and put as much positive spin on this as you like, but you can't put lipstick on a pig!

Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I'd like to talk to you about Scott. Scott's in his mid-40s. He's articulate and polite. He's a good guy, and he's homeless. Scott's the new face of homelessness in Hobart. He's relatively young, employable and keen to work. Now, I note here that Tasmania's unemployment rate is now 6.9 per cent, and we lost 6,200 full-time jobs in the last 12 months. The jobs are not there.

Scott is just poor—cripplingly poor. He's one of more than two million Australians who would like to have a go but can't get a go. It's something that the Prime Minister seems blind to—that many people require assistance in order to have a go. It's easier to have a go when your parents support you, when you have a job already or when you have somewhere to live. It's not so easy to have a go when you're struggling to simply stay warm on the streets. Scott's not after a handout, just a hand up. He lives in a memorial park next to the Bridgewater Bridge near my office. Before that, he lived under the nearby Jordan River Bridge, where on some nights he was joined by up to 30 other homeless people desperate to take advantage of the modicum of shelter from the elements.

Scott is cold—bitterly cold. It has been below freezing overnight in recent weeks. He can't wash. He's isolated from the local community, and he's living with the shame, as unwarranted as it is, that comes with being homeless. Scott can't be housed by Housing Tasmania because he has a debt with the agency. It's a debt he accrued because he could not afford to balance the rent with the other growing cost-of-living demands. We all know that Newstart is impossible to live on. It's a whirlpool of poverty and despair that is all but impossible to escape. You can't get a job. You can't afford the rent, so you lose the accommodation. You can't wash or afford transport, so you can't get a job, so you can't get housing, so you get sick and you get dirty, and now you're unable to work, you lose hope and you get mentally unwell. At what point do we as a society acknowledge that we have a role to play other than providing bandaids in the form of op shops, soup kitchens and charity GP caravans? With the greatest respect for Mr Vasta, as well-intentioned as he is, blanket drives won't solve homelessness. Secure shelter short-circuits so much of the cycle.

My electorate statistically is not the worst when it comes to homelessness, but every homeless person in my electorate is a person, not a statistic. Every one of them, like Scott, needs and deserves a place to live. Who decided that a place to live was a reward for doing well in life rather than being a simple human right, a necessary and fundamental part of the compact that comes with being a member of a democratic society? Tasmania's shelters are full. Tasmania's crisis accommodation is full. Tasmania's public housing waiting lists are overflowing. Private rentals are scarce and cripplingly experience. The housing crisis is the result of many factors. No doubt we can write about the causalities: the fractured nature of increasingly insecure and low-paid work, family breakdowns, mental illness, governments' failures over decades to build enough public housing, and the suffocation of funding for charities and support agencies. They are arguments for another time. Right now, today, we have hundreds of thousands of Australians without a roof over their head, and we have in Canberra and Hobart governments with the means to do something about it.

All it takes is money and determination—money that has a cash rate of nearly zero per cent interest—and governments with the ability to borrow and to repay borrowings over decades. Those opposite may raise their eyebrows when I say, 'All it takes is money,' as if money grows on trees, as if we can throw it about willy-nilly. We need to be tough with budgets; we need to show physical discipline; we need to cut our cloth—we've heard all the cliches. But where was the fiscal discipline in handing half a billion dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation or to the bloke with the beach shack for the security on Manus or in the $180 million to open and close Christmas Island within a week? We have the money. It's how you choose to use it that is the difference. We do not need more summits; we need land. We do not need more reviews; we need materials. We do not need more press conference; we needs homes built, and we need it done now.

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