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COVID-19 Emergency Response (No. 3)

7th September 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: If it pleases the Chair, I will make some general remarks about the three amendments in their totality rather than standing up and speaking on each individually. As foreshadowed by my colleague, the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC, what these amendments are seeking to do is reinstate the provisions relating to the moratorium on rental evictions and rent increases for those who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.

By way of background, members may recall that, when I started in this place in May, this was one of the first bills that came before me and the rest of this chamber for consideration. At that time, I argued for the provisions to be extended for another 12 months, up until May 2022. The Legislative Council did not agree to that; however, the government did agree to a September extension and I certainly welcomed that.

But now, as I warned at the time, we are in the situation where these provisions have expired. Indeed, they expired on 1 September so there is nothing in place, and I am very concerned, the Greens are very concerned, about the plight of people who are experiencing financial distress at the moment, in particular people who are renting. We have had lots of queries from the community to our office about this.

We know that there is significant rental stress being experienced in the community. We know that we are in the middle of a rental affordability crisis here in South Australia because there is not enough affordable housing available. People who are renting are finding it really, really difficult to find accommodation, which means of course that it is vitally important that we do not see people being evicted in the middle of this economic crisis.

To give the chamber a bit of an insight into some of the experiences of our constituents, I have been given some information from the Anti-Poverty Network in South Australia. They have shared some testimonies with me from people who are experiencing rental stress. These are de-identified, but I will read some of the stories onto Hansard because I think it is important that members get some of this information in terms of understanding the importance of these provisions. In terms of the impact of rent increases, this is what one person reported:

Once my rent has been paid I have $50 left for a fortnight to pay…electricity, gas, food, petrol, and other costs such as medication, as I suffer from lung conditions. The amount I have left is seriously not realistic, it is not enough to live on, let alone eat. The stress of enduring this each and every day has taken a toll on my emotional and physical wellbeing.

Another has said:

I have three daughters, [one] 9 [another] 2 and [another] almost 2, it stresses me to no end wondering if I'll be able to afford to feed them after paying rent. We've had our power disconnected so many times I've lost count, just because I pay rent first. Once in particular, it was cut off at 5pm, when our youngest was still a newborn.

Another says:

My partner and I can only afford to pay rent because we are splitting costs with my two adult children, who too cannot afford to rent on their own. We, and they, are stuck co-renting even though they would like to have their own place, and my partner and I would enjoy living our lives without adult children.

Of course, we know that is becoming all too common—the scenario of ageing parents having younger adult children coming to live with them, something I am sure is not desirable for many parents as well as their children. As much as I love my mum and dad, I would not enjoy bunking up with them and I know that is the situation for many in the community. But alas, that is the situation they find themselves in because of this rental affordability crisis. Another says:

I have to meal plan all the way down to pieces of fruit to meet nutritional guidelines for my kids. I often go without so my kids can have what they need. we never go out. Every cent is spent on living costs.

Finally, another constituent has said:

I pay $350 a week for a house that's falling apart and I'm to scared to say anything in case I end up homeless with 3 kids—1 being newborn.

These are just some of the stories of people who are experiencing financial stress, people who are renting and will be hard hit if these provisions are not extended.

Just to talk very briefly about the exact nature of what I am proposing here in terms of the amendments, members will note the reference to backdating the provisions so they would take effect from 2 September, because the measures expired on 1 September. So it would apply to people from that period up until the end of December. As I stated from the outset, it is certainly my preference and that of the Greens that the provisions be extended up until May, but I recognise that there was not the support to do that and that is why I am proposing December.

These provisions are aligned with the other elements of the bill and, to the Hon. Connie Bonaros' point, I think this is a fair compromise and one that would certainly give people who are experiencing financial hardship some confidence and some security as we head into the second half of the year, recognising that we are still very much in the throes of this pandemic and the associated economic crisis.