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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1820


Senator CALVERT —My question is to the Minister for Social Security. Is public housing threatened, as claimed in a letter to the editor in the Australian today by Stephen Nash from the Inner Urban Regional Housing Council of Victoria? Will the government's plans for housing reform devastate our community, and will the changes mean a decrease in public housing funding in real terms? Does the minister agree with Mr Nash that if low income households are banished from inner urban public housing, they will remain in a poverty trap?


Senator NEWMAN —Yes, my attention was drawn to the article. I find it quite strange how close some members in this chamber are to the views that Mr Nash was propounding. But it is really rather sad, because Mr Nash's group has not been one of the many groups with whom I have consulted over the government's proposed changes to housing.

As you would remember, Mr President, there were not too many members of the opposition who wanted to listen to the long list of women's organisations with whom I had consulted on women's issues. Perhaps they might be interested to know that I have met with ACOSS, the National Shelter, the Community Housing Federation of Australia, the National Community Housing Forum, the Housing Industry Association, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, perhaps due to my newness in the portfolio, I was not aware of Mr Nash, but I would be very happy to see him if he would like to make an appointment.

The interesting thing is that housing and community groups did not express concerns about these proposals when they were announced last year by the previous government. Their response to our proposals this year has been positive as well, because they are very positive for tenants whether they are in the private sector or the public sector. It is going to mean flexibility for people as to where they live. It is going to mean a reduction in the waiting lists of people in public housing, because the 200,000 people who are currently waiting for a home will be given a higher level of financial subsidy. If they want to rent in the private sector, then they are able to at the moment. They have an opportunity to live near where they can find work or where they have family support, et cetera.

There is a huge discrepancy at the present time in the assistance that goes to renters in the private sector and the renters in the public sector. For example, at the moment the average Commonwealth rent assistance for those in private accommodation is around $1,500 a year. But, if you live in public housing, you receive an average annual subsidy of $4,000 a year from the state housing authorities.

People renting from the private sector are the people who are paying high rents. They are the most disadvantaged members in our community. It is important and imperative that we give them more equity and justice. Far from being caught in poverty traps, as they are now, these people are going to be able to exercise real choice because the money will be in their hands for them to be make a choice between public and private. They are not going to be banished to the outer rim of the city. They are going to be able to make a choice to live where their support network or their job opportunities are. They will do that because they have a higher level of rent assistance if they choose to rent privately.

Mr Nash also claims that rental subsidies are the most expensive form of housing assistance. I say to him that maintenance of ageing housing stock is the most expensive form of housing assistance you can give. For the state housing authorities, which have been slipping further and further behind in many states in the maintenance of their housing stock, housing assistance will give them an opportunity to get better rents for their housing. That will mean they are going to be able to keep those houses in a better state of repair. Also, the private rental market will get a boost and so will the construction industry. It seems to me, whether you are in the private or the public sector, whether you are a state or in private enterprise in the building industry, there is a win-win for all. (Time expired)


Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .