Pages tagged "Housing and Urban Development"
7 July 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Regional Development on the topic of renting in the regions and the Cost of Living Concession.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: This morning, Premier Malinauskas and Minister Cook held a press conference announcing the state government's commitment to bring forward the Cost of Living Concession payments to August this year. Previously, some recipients were due to receive their payment in March 2023. In August, home owner-occupiers who are eligible to receive the Cost of Living Concession will receive $449 to assist with their cost-of-living expenses while eligible renters will receive just half of that, $224.60.
We know that more South Australians than ever before are experiencing rental stress. This is particularly acute in regional areas, where prices have surged by almost 70 per cent over the last two years. My question to the minister is: is the minister concerned that renters in regional areas are being short-changed by the Cost of Living Concession, and will she be advocating for renters to receive the same payment as home owners as part of the government's review of these concessions?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his question. I was also delighted to be able to hear the announcement today that effectively the Cost of Living Concession will be doubled as we go forward in this period of time. Certainly, I think there is an important need to be constantly looking at the concessions that we have in our state. They are a very important part of supporting those who need that assistance at various times throughout their lives. I will be happy to refer the substance of his question to the Minister for Human Services in the other place.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: will the minister be advocating for renters in the regions to get the same concession as home owners, given the crisis gripping regional South Australia?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I am constantly in discussions with the Minister for Human Services, as are most members, I am sure, on this side of the chamber, about how we can best address the cost-of-living concerns and issues being faced by people across our state.
6 July 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Human Services on the topic of rental affordability.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: This morning, multiple news outlets reported on the latest data from CoreLogic that showed that it is now more affordable to rent in Melbourne than it is in Adelaide. Over the last quarter, the price of renting an Adelaide unit has increased by 3.9 per cent while renting a house has increased by 4.4 per cent, and a typical Adelaide rental now costs $492 per week. Furthermore, the report shows that Adelaide rentals have increased by 10 per cent since this time last year.
Looking back over the last 10 years, Adelaide house rentals have increased by 36.5 per cent. Coupled with a vacancy rate of 0.3 per cent, Adelaide renters are struggling to find a house that they can afford. My question to the minister therefore is: is the minister disturbed by the CoreLogic report, and what action has the Malinauskas government taken to address rental affordability in our state?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question. I will make sure it is referred to a minister in another place and, through the minister who represents the minister in another place in this place, have a reply brought back for the member in this place.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary.
The PRESIDENT: I will certainly listen to it but, the Hon. Mr Simms, good luck.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Given the crisis that South Australians are facing, when exactly can I expect a reply to these questions? I have asked numerous questions on this, and I am still waiting for an answer. We have people sleeping in tents and in their cars.
The PRESIDENT: It is with serious intent that you ask your supplementary. I invite the minister to provide an answer.
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member, and I will make sure his desire for a speedy reply is well known.
6 July 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS:
I rise to speak on the Residential Tenancies (Rent Control) Amendment Bill. This bill seeks to limit rent in line with CPI to protect renters from unreasonable rent hikes. For far too long, high rental prices have put pressure on our most vulnerable South Australians, and it is time for us as a parliament to step in. As we know, the cost of living across our state, and indeed our nation, is skyrocketing. People are struggling with increased fuel costs, increased grocery costs and high housing costs.
Nearly 30 per cent of South Australians rent their home. According to a SACOSS report, data shows that, on average, renter households had lower incomes than homeowner households and spent proportionately more of their income on housing. Furthermore, that report showed that 39,556 renters in December 2021 were experiencing housing stress. With rising costs across the board, too many people are struggling to pay the rent and make ends meet.
According to the SA Housing Authority, the cost of renting has increased by 20 per cent over the last two years, far outstripping the rate of CPI, which currently sits at 5.1 per cent. In some locations, such as Murray Bridge, we have seen an increase in rent prices of almost 70 per cent—70 per cent. This is simply unsustainable and untenable.
Just this morning it was reported in multiple news outlets that Adelaide has overtaken Melbourne in average rental rates, with Adelaide seeing a 4.3 per cent increase in rates over the last quarter. On average, rent has increased from $350 per week to $490 per week over the last two years. So it is now cheaper to live in Melbourne than it is to live in Adelaide. Something must be done.
Data from CoreLogic has shown that rental rates are rising at a faster rate than housing values. The rapid increase of rent added to existing cost-of-living pressures is forcing people into poverty and homelessness. My office regularly hears stories about the increase of rent and the impact that this is having. The Anti-Poverty Network, which does really important work in this space, has shared stories from tenants who have been adversely impacted by rent increases, and I want to share some of those with you, for the benefit of Hansard. One has said:
Our rent went up a few months back to $250 from $190. We can't afford anywhere else and given we are two pensioners, we would never be accepted for another property. I know because we've been trying to move since before the pandemic.
My rent just increased by $500 a month yesterday. Fortunately, it was from a low baseline and I do have a part time job, but it's still a lot of money. It's going to be rough for many of us.
Mine is just about to go up...from $360 a week to now $500 a week for a very standard, nothing special, small three bedroom home. The stress is absolutely overwhelming…
My entire JobSeeker Payment is spent on my rent. This is the cheapest rent anywhere I could find.
Even having a job where I work 20-30 hours per week, which is the most I can manage with my disability, I struggle to cover all expenses.
And here is a story from one renter:
I've moved house about 2 months ago to a new rental. This rental had an asking price of $410 per fortnight. We offered $420 after months of rejections without even having our application opened taught us that we have to play the price fixing game. Agent calls a few days later stating that another applicant had offered $450 and asking if we would match it. What option did we have? Stay at my parents' house for another 3 months waiting for a golden goose? What was wrong with the other applicant? Did they ever exist? So here we are paying $40 above asking price for a rental with rats living in the walls due to a huge hole in the exterior wall. Raised this with the agent and was told to buy bait.
The story is dire for people who are trying to live on the minimum wage. Anglicare's Rental Affordability Snapshot of 2022 highlighted that a single person working full time on the minimum wage could afford only two rentals in greater Adelaide or no properties in regional and rural South Australia. Nothing at all was affordable in regional South Australia. Compare this with ten years ago. In 2012, 30 per cent of properties were affordable to people on the minimum wage.
People living with a disability or on the aged pension are being left behind. As we know, the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which gave private owners and community housing organisations a subsidy to provide affordable housing, is being wound up in 2026. This is outrageous. There are fears that those owners and organisations will simply increase rents back up to the market value when the scheme ends. We are already seeing right now that the market is simply not addressing the housing crisis. We need to do something. We need to find alternative measures.
Rent control has been used to protect renters in jurisdictions right around the world but also in Australia. It really is not that radical a concept. During the Great Depression, rent control was used by the Menzies government to ease pressure on families and to keep a roof over their head. Menzies was hardly considered a Marxist, but he embraced rent control as a need to respond to this crisis. It was then continued by the states, with rent control used in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
In Victoria, rent control continued alongside public housing until the mid-1950s when policy decisions were made to instead favour home ownership. The COVID-19 pandemic is reminiscent of the postwar world. It has been the biggest global shift since the Second World War, and it has resulted in similar difficulties—people being forced into homelessness, rising costs of living and people struggling to stay afloat.
This bill limits rent increases to stay in line with inflation—the CPI. Currently in South Australia, landlords can increase their rent once every twelve months without any legislated control. That has created an uneven balance of power between landlords and tenants. This bill seeks to restore the balance. It ensures there is protection for renters. By increasing rent only in line with CPI once every 24 months, renters can be sure that they will not be pushed into housing stress through an unexpected price hike.
Ireland uses general rent control to match general inflation. Introduced back in 2017, it was used as a lever to stabilise rent in areas that were identified as being under housing pressure. In that jurisdiction, rent increases are now moderate in designated rent pressure zones. New York implemented rent control in 1994. While this has been successful in terms of regulating rent, there were some flaws with their particular rent control program and my bill addresses some of those.
The bill addresses some of those shortfalls in terms of looking at what has happened overseas in places like New York and Ireland. Ensuring that rent control is in place regardless of the tenant or the landlord means that landlords are unable to use such a mechanism as an excuse to raise the rent or to evict tenants. In the ACT and in Victoria, limits have been put on the ability to increase rents. In those places, they are also banning no-cause evictions. These are reforms that the Greens have been advocating for for some time and that we hope to see in South Australia.
We have heard from landlords that they want to be able to increase the rent when improvements are made to the property. This bill ensures that they can do just that. They can increase the rent beyond CPI if the amenity or standard of the property is improved or if they are offering additional services, facilities or goods. It also allows the landlord to apply to the tribunal to increase the rent beyond CPI in certain circumstances.
Housing is a fundamental human right. It should be the right of each and every South Australian to have a roof over their head and a place to call home. We need to think of rental properties not as commodities but as homes for our citizens. Having a secure roof over your head is one of our most basic needs. As members of parliament, it is our duty to ensure that people's housing needs are met. The Greens believe that tenants in private rental, public and community housing must be supported by legislative safeguards, and this bill would ensure that renters are not forced into homelessness or housing stress as a result of soaring rental prices.
As stated by Liam Davies of the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT, regulating rents would have a lasting positive impact on Australia. It certainly would here in South Australia. In considering this bill, I would urge members of this place to consider the plight of the people we seek to represent, those South Australians who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves during this housing crisis forced out onto the street. We see them when we spend time in our city, people literally living on the street in the middle of this cold winter, people who are forced to live in their cars, people who are being forced to live in tents, people who are being forced to live for prolonged periods in caravan parks.
Surely we can do better than that in a country like Australia? Surely we can do better than that in a state like South Australia? If members of parliament are not supportive of this bill, then I ask them to consider what they are going to do to help these people who desperately need our help, because we cannot simply say, 'Let the market decide.' We have seen what happens. This has not happened by accident.
We have seen both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party fail to do anything to deal with social housing over the last 10, 20, 30 years. As a result, the chickens have come home to roost and we are seeing the impacts being felt by vulnerable South Australians. I urge members of this parliament to act, to step up and to do something to help these desperate people, because we cannot continue to do nothing. We cannot continue collectively to sit on our hands whilst so many South Australians are in trouble. We have to help them.
5 July 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Human Services on the topic of vacant properties.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The latest census data shows that 83,821 privately owned units, apartments and houses were unoccupied in August last year. While these properties sit vacant, over 17,000 South Australians are on the waiting list for social housing and 3,000 of those are listed as category 1. If only a quarter of these currently vacant houses were released into the housing market, either as rentals or for sale, it would add 20,000 homes to the supply.
The government has committed to building just 400 new social homes, but it will take time for them to be built. My question to the minister therefore is: given the immediacy of the housing crisis gripping the state and the huge number of currently vacant properties, what does the government plan to do to entice private property owners to release these properties back into the housing market?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his very important question. I will refer that to the relevant minister in another place and bring back a reply.
31 May 2022
he Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Regional Development.
The Hon. C.M. Scriven: About?
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: About the topic of housing affordability. Don't worry, minister, it's not the budget. As reported in The Advertiser on Saturday, the quarterly HOOD.ai tenant report has identified areas where rent costs are skyrocketing. The report showed that rural and regional areas are some of those that have seen the steepest rent increases over the last years in areas such as Kapunda, Mount Gambier and McLaren Flat.
Last week, the Mount Gambier Messenger reported that in Mount Gambier the cost of renting a house has increased by 7 per cent since January, while renting a unit has increased by 4.7 per cent. For some renters, that is an extra $30 a week that they are having to pay to keep a roof over their head.
With vacancy rates in Mount Gambier at 0.25 per cent, rising rental properties added to low vacancy rates are pushing people towards homelessness. In recent weeks, my office has received calls from constituents who are struggling to find rental accommodation. One constituent told us of the McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park, where a number of people are now living after being displaced from rental accommodation. These people have jobs, but they are unable to find a place to rent.
My question to the minister therefore is: is the government aware of these reports and what strategies are being adopted to address these?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his question about an incredibly important issue which is faced not only here in Adelaide but throughout our regional areas. This is something that I have been hearing about firsthand on my various visits to regional areas and of course the honourable member referred to Mount Gambier, which is my home area.
I, too, am hearing these stories, these incredibly difficult stories to hear, of incredibly difficult circumstances. As the honourable member mentioned, or perhaps alluded to without saying so in so many words, I think often people think of homelessness as those who are in desperate financial circumstances, people who don't have work and don't have other social supports, but as he has rightly pointed out, in many cases because of the huge increases in rentals over the last couple of years in particular, there are people who have full-time jobs who still can't afford to rent.
I have heard of people turning up to an open inspection for a rental in Mount Gambier and there being 50 other applicants. I was speaking a few weeks ago at an event and afterwards one gentleman who came up to speak to me said that he had moved to Mount Gambier—again, in this case Mount Gambier—last year. He was working in mental health, which is an area of very high need and regional areas find it very difficult to attract health professionals and retain them. He was loving Mount Gambier. He wanted to stay, and yet for six months he had been without his own house or unit. He was unable to acquire a rental, despite the fact he was a quite well paid health professional.
Similarly, I have heard of two teachers who were working in the local high school, who were very happy to be there. Again, they loved Mount Gambier, because of course Mount Gambier is one of the best places in the state. However, they spent two terms living in a caravan in a caravan park, and that is not something that they wanted to continue to do, which is entirely understandable. Unfortunately, my region has now lost those two teachers, who have returned to, I think it was, Melbourne.
In terms of the Malinauskas Labor government's commitments in regional housing, of course we have made commitments to 150 new homes in regional areas, the building of those, and this is on top of bringing homes back up to the standard that is needed. Some of these homes have spent months or even years vacant. Unfortunately, those issues weren't addressed sufficiently by the former government.
This is in addition to our maintenance blitz on 3,000 homes across the state. Those particular initiatives that I have mentioned are all being funded with new money. That is a part of our commitment, and of course the Minister for Human Services in the other place is working very hard and very diligently on social housing, and across the term, because housing touches many portfolios, we are looking at ways to increase the housing stock both for purchasers and for renters.
The regional development associations across the state have also done a lot of work over the last couple of years in trying to address this issue, and so with my regional development hat on I will continue to work with them and my other parliamentary colleagues to continue to try to address this very important issue.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary question: does the minister concede that building just 150 new homes in the regions is insufficient? Will she be advocating for her colleagues at a state level to build more housing in the regions, and will she be advocating for the Albanese Labor government to invest more money in public housing in South Australia?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): Thank you for the supplementary question. I think we need to take all the steps that we possibly can to address this issue. As has been mentioned, it is rental housing, it is affordable housing to buy. It is all sorts, all types of housing. It is executive level housing in regional areas as well. All of those are facing a lack of supply, and so we need to use all the mechanisms we possibly can to address these issues.
Certainly, that will include liaising with the new federal government, the Albanese federal government. I don't think the announcement about who is getting what portfolio federally has come out yet, unless it has been today and I haven't had a chance to catch up with the latest news, but I will certainly be working with my state parliamentary colleagues and federal ministers to try to address this issue.
18 May 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Human Services.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Last week, the University of South Australia, and I believe Housing Australia, released a report, Beyond the Housing Crisis: A Home for All, regarding South Australia's housing crisis. The report found that rental availability and affordability are at an all-time low across the country, with more than 6,000 people experiencing homelessness each night in South Australia and more than 30,000 people now on the state's housing wait list.
This is a dramatic increase from last year, when it was reported that 16,000 people were waiting for a home. I note that the Labor Party, when in opposition at that time, were very critical of the then Liberal state government's handling of the matter. Those numbers have doubled in a year. With vacancy rates low, finding suitable rental properties is very difficult. To quote Professor Beer from the University of South Australia:
Rental availability is at its worst in South Australia where vacancy rates hit 0.2 per cent in March 2022.
Having a roof over your head is a basic human right, but here in South Australia our system is not coping. Survey data from the report shows that South Australians feel impacted by the housing crisis and do not think the government is doing enough. My question to the minister is:
- What is the Malinauskas government doing to address the housing crisis, particularly for people who are unable to find basic rental properties?
- Will the government commit to building more housing?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his very important question. I would expect that everyone in this chamber should be aware of the housing crisis that South Australia is facing, and elsewhere around the country as well. Certainly, in many regional areas in particular, in which I have a particular interest, I have been speaking with many people about the issues around housing and the increase in homelessness.
It is important to note that that homelessness is not simply confined to people who are sleeping rough on the streets, but many people who perhaps have a roof over their head tonight but it might not be available tomorrow—it might be a different one tomorrow. There are those terrible social impacts on individuals and on families, but there are also the impacts on the economy. We are finding, particularly in regional areas, that a lack of housing is preventing people taking up jobs in regional areas, which of course then becomes a vicious cycle.
Certainly, in terms of further detail I refer to my colleague in the other place the Minister for Human Services, but of course there were a number of announcements prior to the election in terms of what the Malinauskas Labor government will be doing in terms of housing, and I'm happy to bring back further information and detail to this place.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary question: given the inadequacy of the government's housing plan, will the minister be advocating for more investment in housing for the regions?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I am assuming that the member is referring to the inadequacy of the former government's plans, which I think everyone would agree were—
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Point of order: I was actually referring to the Malinauskas government's inadequate plan to build 400 public homes—totally insufficient.
The PRESIDENT: It's not a point of order; it's not how we deal with it. Minister, you answer your question and then, if you have a further supplementary, the Hon. Mr Simms will do that.
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I think, even if that wasn't the intent of this member's question, the feedback I have had about the former government was certainly that their plans were entirely inadequate and their plans for regional areas were—most people weren't even aware of any.
Of course, it's always important to be advocating for an appropriate level of housing and that includes social housing and all other levels of housing. It's important from, as I mentioned, a social point of view, from a rights point of view, as the member correctly pointed out, and also from an economic point of view.
4 May 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:
That this council-
- Recognises that:
- (a) inflation in Australia is at its highest level in more than 20 years putting enormous pressure on South Australians, particularly those on low incomes; and
- (b) the cost of living is soaring with South Australians facing price hikes on food, fuel, housing and other essentials.
- Notes the release of the Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot 2022 which found:
- (a) only two of 1,125 homes on the market in Greater Adelaide were affordable for single people living on the minimum wage;
- (b) none of the homes on the market were affordable for single people living on pensions or income support; and
- (c) none of the homes in regional and rural South Australia were affordable for a single person without dependents living on income support.
- Calls on the Malinauskas government to take steps to relieve the cost-of-living pressures faced by South Australians in its first budget by:
- (a) making public transport free;
- (b) introducing rent caps and rent subsidies;
- (c) increasing the wages of public sector workers;
- (d) abolishing materials and services charges and subject fees for public school students; and
- (e) significantly increasing the investment in public housing.
The motion I am moving today recognises that cost-of-living pressures in South Australia are continuing to soar. Inflation in Australia is at its highest level in more than 20 years and that puts huge pressure on South Australians, particularly those on low incomes. We have the cost of living soaring, with South Australians facing price hikes on food, fuel, housing and other essentials.
This comes at a time when interest rates have been increased for the first time in 11 years and when the Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot 2022 study found that there are only two out of 1,125 homes on the market in Greater Adelaide that are affordable for people living on the minimum wage. None of the homes on the market were affordable for single people living on pensions or income support—not one—and none of the homes in regional and rural South Australia were affordable for single people living without dependents trying to live on income support.
This is the backdrop against which the Malinauskas government will hand down its first budget. We in the Greens are calling for the new government to take action to reduce cost-of-living pressures on South Australian families. I recognise that this is not the sole responsibility of the federal government. We know our Prime Minister does not hold a hose. He has taken no action in relation to spiralling inflation and has taken no action to ensure that we see wage growth in our country or to improve the conditions facing working Australians.
It is very interesting for me to note that whilst the Liberal Party claim that they are the superior economic managers, they have been in government on both occasions over the last 12 years when interest rates have increased. It is also curious to note that they are running advertising at the moment claiming to be able to control interest rates, yet they deny any responsibility for the increase in interest rates that is occurring.
We know that interest rates are set by the Reserve Bank, and that is an independent process, but it is incumbent on governments to provide cost-of-living relief to families. It is in that spirit that the Greens are making these suggestions.
There are some really clear things that the South Australian government could do to help people who are struggling at the moment. They could make public transport free. They could introduce rent caps and rent subsidies to help people who are struggling to pay their rent. They could increase the wages of public sector workers. They could scrap public school fees because at the moment we know that parents are slugged extensive materials and services charges and subject fees. They could also increase the investment in public housing beyond the mere 400 houses that they have pledged to build in their first budget.
You may ask, Mr President, it is all very well for the Greens to put these ideas on the table but how on earth would a new government pay for them? Well, one of the things that we did in the recent election campaign is announce a suite of potential revenue measures for the new government to consider, whether that be Labor or Liberal, and we are certainly going to put those ideas back on the table in this parliament.
What we found was that we could potentially generate $7 billion of revenue by ensuring that developers pay their fair share of tax and by ensuring that they pay a tax on the benefits that flow from rezoning, as occurs in other jurisdictions like the ACT and as has been proposed in Victoria. We could generate a new revenue by finally increasing mining royalties. They have not had an increase in the last 15 years and it is high time they made more of a contribution. We could also generate more money through a levy being imposed on the big banks, banks that we know are going to be raking in record profits particularly as interest rates continue to rise.
That is not a new idea. It is an idea that the Labor Party put on the table when they were last in government and that they then abandoned following a campaign from vested interests. We hope that the new Malinauskas Labor government does have the moral strength to stand up to the vested interests, does not fall into the same trap as the failed Marshall government—and that is to capitulate to the big end of town—but instead shows the leadership we need to get our state back on track and provides relief to families who are struggling in the middle of this economic crisis.
South Australians need relief now. The ideas that the Greens are putting forward in the lead-up to this state budget are sensible. They would have an immediate effect and they reflect the kinds of priorities we would like to see from this new government. I urge Premier Malinauskas and our new Treasurer Mullighan to take note of this motion that the Greens have put forward, to listen to the debate and to consult with us. We would be very happy to give them some ideas for the kinds of actions they could take to help South Australians who are struggling at the moment.
3 May 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Hon. Clare Scriven, the minister representing the Minister for Housing and Urban Development, on the topic of public housing in South Australia.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Last week, Anglicare released their annual Rental Affordability Snapshot of 2022. Their report shows that in Greater Adelaide only two rentals are affordable and appropriate for a single person on the minimum wage—just two. In regional and rural South Australia, none of the available homes are affordable for a single person without dependents living on income support. The new Malinauskas government has committed to building just 400 new public homes with the next state budget, yet the waitlist for social housing is 16,000 people.
My question to the minister is: does the minister concede that just 400 new homes across the state and just 150 in the regions is well short of what is required to address South Australia's housing affordability crisis?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his question. Of course, his question highlights the awful record of the previous Marshall Liberal government over the last four years in terms of addressing housing affordability and the rental crisis that we have.
Both whilst I was in opposition and also since as minister, I spent a lot of time in regional South Australia, and I live in regional South Australia myself. It has been absolutely devastating to witness people living in their cars, people living in caravans, people couch surfing, and we have seen even homelessness services having to provide tents as a housing alternative because under the previous Liberal government there were so few steps taken to address the housing affordability crisis and in particular the rental affordability crisis.
In contrast, Labor's election commitments included more than $180 million in new funding to the South Australian Housing Trust and to our homelessness services. On 25 April, Labor announced $6 million in additional funding for critical inner-city homelessness services: the Hutt St Centre, St Vincent De Paul and Catherine House. Of course, those services had lost funding under the previous Liberal government's so-called reforms.
Our commitment does include 400 new homes, including 150 homes in regional areas, and also 350 empty homes being brought back to an appropriate standard, and a maintenance blitz of 3,000 public housing properties. The South Australian Housing Trust, I am advised, has also already identified properties in regional areas to benefit from upgrades and maintenance. The total additional spending in regional areas will be tens of millions of dollars. This will support local jobs while providing safe and affordable housing in our regional areas.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: I note the minister's response. Does she therefore acknowledge that 400 new homes is simply not enough, and will she be advocating for more funding in the Malinauskas budget?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): As I mentioned, there are also commitments in regard to bringing back houses to appropriate standards and maintenance on public housing properties. However, I will refer the member's question to the responsible minister in the other place and bring back a reply, if there is further information to add.
10 February 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:
That this council—
- Notes the extension to the moratorium on eviction from residential tenancies for the non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19, expired in December.
- Recognises that the current outbreak of the Omicron variant, and subsequent restrictions have had a devastating impact on businesses across the state, particularly those in the CBD, with many now being unable to meet rent payments.
Calls on the Marshall government to—
- (a) immediately provide a moratorium on eviction for residential and commercial tenancies for six months in circumstances where tenants are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19; and
- (b) provide a more generous and effective financial support package for businesses that are experiencing financial distress.
This motion calls for an extension to the moratorium on eviction from residential tenancies for the non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19, and we note that that expired in December. It recognises that the current outbreak of the Omicron variant following the Liberals' decision to open the borders without appropriate preparation, which occurred last year, has led to a series of restrictions that have had a devastating impact on businesses across the state, particularly those in the CBD, with many people now being unable to make rent payments.
The motion calls on the Marshall government to immediately provide a moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenancies for six months in circumstances where tenants are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19, and provide a more generous and effective financial support package for businesses that are experiencing financial distress.
This is not new to this chamber; I have talked a lot about this issue since I began my term in the parliament back in May last year. At that time, the moratorium on evictions for people experiencing financial distress was due to expire and the Greens worked hard to get it extended and appreciated the support of other parties here in this place to make that happen. We were able to secure an extension of the moratorium until December, but it expired in the lead-up to Christmas.
I am very concerned that as the economic crisis and the public health crisis have deepened, vulnerable people are not getting the protection they need. We know that if somebody is evicted out of rental accommodation they are at high risk of falling into homelessness and insecure accommodation, and that can really create long-term issues for somebody in terms of being able to access housing and have a roof over their head and a place to call home long term.
I am also very concerned about the plight of many businesses in the CBD, many of which are renting commercial tenancies. I have spoken to many businesses, and I am aware of many that are reporting that it is going to be really difficult for them to pay their rent and that, if they cannot do so, their business is going to close. What I am calling for is for the government to put a moratorium on these evictions and to actually provide some adequate support to struggling businesses.
I recognise the government have put forward a support package, but it has been inadequate. It has not hit the mark. We need to ensure that there is a more appropriate investment in support for businesses that are struggling and for vulnerable renters. I do say also that I hope that after the next election in the parliament we have an opportunity to review renters' rights here in South Australia and take steps to strengthen renters' rights more broadly.
We need to look at rent caps. It works in other places around the world, yet we have not used it here in South Australia. There is something seriously wrong when we have a housing system that treats housing as a commodity. We have a housing system that allows some people to own numerous properties when others do not have a foot in the door, do not have a place to call home, do not have a roof over their head.
I think there is something seriously wrong with that system. We need to recognise that housing is a human right. That means changing the Residential Tenancies Act to restore the balance between tenant and landlord. It means ending things like the no cause eviction process we have in South Australia. Mr Deputy President, you would be aware that when somebody reaches the end of their tenancy the landlord can simply say, 'We are not going to renew your tenancy.'
That creates a lot of anxiety for renters. It means that they are often reluctant to report issues around inadequate housing, or report maintenance issues that need to be actioned, because they live in fear and anxiety that their tenancy may be terminated or may not be renewed. That is a terrible thing and it puts tenants and it puts renters really at a significant disadvantage in terms of being able to assert their rights.
But there are other things that other states look at too. I know my predecessor in this place, the then Hon. Mark Parnell, introduced a private member's bill to provide a presumption in favour of tenants being able to have pets. Other states have done that, but we do not do that in South Australia. That needs to be looked at. Also, we have bidding wars that occur in South Australia, where if someone is trying to get a rental property they are often at the mercy of a market that allows people to just bid against each other. All these things need to be addressed.
We need to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure that renters get the protection they deserve, but in the short term the government should step up and provide protection for renters experiencing financial distress during this economic crisis. I asked the minister about this yesterday. I did not receive a satisfactory answer in terms of what measures are in place to help people. It is not good enough to say, 'We will refer you on to a support service.' We need to ensure that people have protection now. We need to ensure that they know they are not going to be evicted, that they are not going to be kicked out onto the street.
Anyone who lives in the CBD area will be aware of the significant issue we face around homelessness in our state. It is a significant problem for us to address. It is deeply saddening to see more and more South Australians sleeping on the street. If we do not put these sorts of protections in place, I am very concerned that we are going to see more and more South Australians living on the streets and facing insecure housing. I commend the motion.
The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (11:46): I rise today in support of the Hon. Rob Simms' motion and thank him for his advocacy of some of the state's most vulnerable citizens in our community. When we think of the basic needs we all have, secure housing is right at the top of that list. All members of this place should be aware of the ongoing rental affordability crisis in our state. Given previous debates in this place just this week, we should all be aware of the impact of COVID-19 on the financial security of many casual workers.
While those opposite claim that their government was well prepared before the opening of our borders in November, we have many examples of the impacts they were not prepared for. Some seem not to have even been considered at all. Being prepared means planning for events before they occur. It means looking to see what happened in the past and what has happened in other states and predicting what might happen and what the impact could be. After all, it is only the government that has the most recent Omicron modelling available to them. It means learning from the past so that the outcome is better the second time around.
Two years into this pandemic, this government can hardly say the impacts of COVID-19 on our small businesses and financially vulnerable citizens were unpredictable. This government had two years of lessons from other jurisdictions. Not only could they learn from the experience of other places that had a suite of policies that had been designed to avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic ready to go but, instead of learning the lessons or maintaining these policies, this government opened up with no safety nets and no protection.
The Marshall Liberal government let our small businesses, casual employees and our most vulnerable citizens bear the brunt of COVID-19, when they should have been more prepared to protect them. Back in September, we saw the expiry of sections 8 to 10 of the COVID-19 emergency act, which had, up until then, put in place protections for rental and commercial tenants experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID pandemic. These protections protected tenants from increased rents and terminations of tenancy if the tenant was unable to pay rent due to the impact of COVID-19 on their business or employment.
Those opposite might have hoped that we were all suffering from short-term memory loss, Omicron may have been new and we may not have known much about that variant, but we did have some idea of the impact any variant of COVID-19 would have on our workforce and any business, especially the hospitality sector. The Hon. Robert Simms touched on this, but the hospitality sector has been particularly impacted.
This government did not even need to look that far to see what potential effects may occur. They could have looked to our neighbours in Sydney and Melbourne to see the impacts our state would face when this outbreak would eventually hit. In Sydney and Melbourne, casual workers were again losing shifts and their personal financial security. Mixed messages and unclear communications of restrictions saw small business hit by the shadow lockdowns—that is, customers avoiding businesses they perceived as dangerous.
In New South Wales, although dining was not restricted beyond one in two square metres, not only were concerned customers staying away and leaving dining rooms empty but staff who had no isolation available to them were unable to work. Some businesses were losing so many staff as close contacts that they were unable to be open.
As I mentioned already, all this was happening before the much more highly transmissible Omicron began to circulate in our community. The writing was on the wall. The protections for residential and commercial tenants had expired and alarm bells were being rung by multiple organisations and industry associations—as well as my colleague the Hon. Rob Simms—about the bomb that was about to go off in our state.
Yet, nothing from this government. No plan and no protections for those at risk were put in place. When this government could have extended sections 8 to 10 of the act, which would have provided a safety net in case an outbreak caused the same issues that were unfolding in other jurisdictions, it instead let them expire.
When COVID-19 first came to South Australia, the stress of the financial impacts that would be overwhelmingly borne by our casual staff and small businesses was blunted by protections put in place by the federal and state governments. JobKeeper, eviction moratoriums, tax breaks, grants and other incentives were used by all other layers of government to buoy the economy from the worst impacts of this pandemic.
These economic levers recognised the potential for the pandemic to cause significant and lasting damage. Of course no-one expected these things to last forever, only for as long as they were needed, for as long as COVID-19 threatened to wreak havoc in our community. So why was it, when our state was experiencing the pandemic most acutely, we were taking away the restrictions that the community needed?
The decision to let sections 8 to 10 expire has caused additional stress to thousands of vulnerable South Australians who are at risk of eviction through no fault of their own but from a lack of planning by this government for the predictable impacts of COVID-19, impacts that were obvious even before Omicron. We remain in the middle of a global pandemic and are feeling the worst of it in South Australia in our community without the safety nets designed to navigate the pandemic at its worst.
Labor will be supporting the Hon. Rob Simms' motion and calls upon the Marshall Liberal government to learn from their mistakes and support South Australians by recalling this parliament—which might be too late—to fix sections 8 to 10 of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act.
9 February 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Human Services on the topic of the rental moratorium on evictions for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: In May, the parliament provided renters experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 with a reprieve when it extended the moratorium on evictions until September 1. This was again extended until December but has since expired. Given the pandemic has entered a new phase, with borders being opened by the Liberals and the Omicron variant therefore running rampant, we know that the pandemic and the associated economic crisis has coincided with a rental affordability crisis in our state and there are more and more South Australians struggling to find affordable housing.
My question to the minister is: what arrangements, if any, have been put in place to ensure that no South Australian will be evicted into homelessness now that this moratorium is no longer in place?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for his question. The government runs a number of services that assist in the homelessness prevention space. I think that certainly what we saw through COVID, especially in the early phases, was that before the financial support was made available for people who needed it, there were grave concerns about people being evicted into homelessness.
I would be hazarding a guess that in terms of people who are in the private rental market, particularly those who have sustained private rental for some time, we do see some people who come to our services, either to the South Australian Housing Authority to register for public or community housing and also to seek support from the homelessness service providers. A number of people wouldn't actually require those services, but support is always available.
I think we are in a period where we are transitioning certainly the economy and in terms of people's employment prospects, as the Treasurer has already outlined, we have very low rates of unemployment. Generally speaking, people in South Australia are doing as well as anyone in the world on that economic front. We always have services available regardless of what the particular situation is and, indeed, the queries that come across my desk are generally resolved one way or another so those support services are effective and they are working.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: has the minister advocated to her colleagues for the moratorium to be extended?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): The honourable member may not have the benefit of how government operates, but these are cabinet decisions and, as a member of cabinet, that is my decision as well.