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Pages tagged "Housing and Urban Development"

Motion: Rent Freeze and Rent Bidding Ban

20 March 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:50): I move:

That this council—

  1. Congratulates the Malinauskas government on reforming the Residential Tenancies Act in 2023 to strike a better balance between renters and landlords but recognises that more action is needed to curb soaring rent prices.
  2. Notes that:

(a) Australia is experiencing the worst rental crisis in 17 years with the latest PropTrack data revealing rent prices in South Australia have increased between 10 to 30 per cent across 92 suburbs over the last year; and

(b) Shelter SA’s 2022-2024 survey of landlords, tenants and real estate agents revealed that ‘rent bidding’ allowing landlords to accept offers above the asking price is still prevalent in South Australia

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to:

(a) freeze residential rents for two years and cap any future increases in line with inflation; and

(b) ban rent bidding in its entirety by prohibiting landlords and real estate agents from accepting offers above the asking price for a residential tenancy.

This motion congratulates the Malinauskas government on the well overdue reforms that were made to the Residential Tenancies Act in this parliament last year. I want to put on record again my appreciation to the Malinauskas government—Minister Michaels and also the Premier, with whom I worked closely on those reforms—because the government did action many of the issues that were outstanding in the rental market. They addressed many of the issues that were concerning advocates in this space.

But the one area where they did not take action, where they were found wanting, was on the issue of rent prices, so this motion calls on the Malinauskas government to implement an immediate rent freeze for two years with any future increases to be kept in line with inflation, and also calls on the government to actually rule out rent bidding.

Members might recall that in their first tranche of rental reforms the Malinauskas government introduced an amendment to end the so-called practice of rent bidding. What they did was prevent agents and landlords from being able to advertise properties in a range. Their view was that that was contributing to the spiralling cost of rental properties. I agree with that, but what the government did not do was actually extend the principle to also say, if you are an agent or a landlord, you will not be able to accept an offer above the asking price.

I asked questions of the government about this in the committee stage of the bill, and I thought it might be useful to revisit some of the things that were said from Hansard because the Greens are often ahead of these debates. We did warn at the time that what the government was doing was not going to actually address the crisis that we faced in terms of unscrupulous conduct, in terms of people driving up prices by making offers below the counter.

Unfortunately, according to the latest data that Shelter SA have released, 28 per cent of respondents are still participating in rent bidding and 8 per cent of respondents are paying additional bonds contributing to the rise in median rents. That is their report that has been conducted over the last two years. That is concerning because the Malinauskas government assured us all that they were putting an end to this practice last year.

I will just revisit some of the exchange from Hansard. I said to the Hon. Kyam Maher, who was representing the Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs in the committee stage of this bill:

Many speakers on behalf of the government have talked about the bill banning rent bidding. Could the minister explain to me how precisely the bill bans rent bidding when landlords and real estate agents are still able to accept an offer that is made above the asking price?

The minister replied:

On my advice, what this bill proposes is that it will not allow landlords to solicit offers of higher rates than what is advertised. It will not stop acceptance of higher rates, but it will prohibit the soliciting of rates higher than what is advertised.

Then I went on to say:

Yes, I accept that, but how precisely does this ban rent bidding? Is rent bidding only the practice, in the government's mind, of advertising for rents higher than the asking price? Surely the bidding is when the individual is able to actually put in a bid that is higher than the asking price. Can I ask why that is not addressed?

The Hon. Kyam Maher said:

I thank the honourable member for his question. I do not have a lot more to add, but what this bill does do is prohibit the soliciting or asking for higher prices. It does not prohibit the acceptance of it, but it prohibits asking for that and therefore promoting people to do that.

I went on to ask the minister:

Webster's Dictionary defines a bid as 'to offer a price for payment or acceptance' or as a verb 'to make a bid; to say what one will pay'. In light of that definition, how precisely does the government's bill ban rent bidding if actually all it is doing is banning the advertising of a rent price above the asking price?

The Hon. Kyam Maher replied:

I am advised that in effect what this legislation does is ban the practice by agents: that is, it stops agents going out to solicit or attempt to have potential tenants offer higher amounts.

I went on to press the minister:

The Webster's Dictionary definition of the word bid is 'to offer a price for payment'. Does the minister therefore concede that the bill does not actually ban the bid?

The minister responded by saying that this was some semantics. But, as I have said, the advice is that it stops landlords engaging in this sort of behaviour. I will not go on, Mr President, because I think you get the point. The point is that what the government did, did not actually stop rent bidding and, as a result, the practice is still prevalent in South Australia. So the government needs to close that loophole and that is what this motion is calling on them to do.

I want to talk a little bit about the need for a rent freeze. It is clear that Australia is in the midst of the worst rental crisis in nearly 20 years. The data tells us that story. Data from PropTrack has revealed that rent prices in South Australia have increased by 10 to 30 per cent across 92 suburbs over the last 12 months. Median rent prices in Adelaide in the past 12 months have risen 13 per cent, far exceeding the 4.8 per cent rise in CPI, and the 4 per cent rise in the wage price index in the 12 months up until December 2023.

Of the nearly 20,000 renters in South Australia, roughly a third are experiencing rental stress. Rental stress is defined as housing costs exceeding 30 per cent of a household's gross income, with 38 to 60 per cent representing severe unaffordability, and 60 per cent or more indicating extreme unaffordability. For low income renters in South Australia the problem is even worse. Two-thirds of those households spend 30 per cent or more of their income on rent, according to PEXA and LongView. I should clarify that I think those figures relate nationally but it would be the same here in our state. Nearly 28 per cent of people aged 45 to 54 rent today, compared with fewer than 20 per cent back in 2001. Among those aged 55 to 64, 21.6 per cent are renters, compared with 15.7 per cent more than two decades ago.

The changes that the government made to the Residential Tenancies Act, working in partnership with the Greens here in this place last year, were a good start, and we welcome that. I note the disappointing opposition of the One Nation party and others to those reforms that are really helping vulnerable South Australians. But the changes have not gone far enough. More action is needed to curb soaring rent prices. Renters desperately need a break. We cannot have another two years like the two years that we have had.

Sometimes when I talk about rent freezes and the like, people think that I am being incredibly radical—and I see the Hon. Heidi Girolamo is smiling there—but I want to refer to the Liberal Party's own policy in the state of Tasmania, where they are in the middle of an election campaign. Part of their housing plan is to provide a $200 a week cash incentive and guaranteed rental income for two years to 500 property owners who cap their rents between 25 and 30 per cent of the median rate.

If it is good enough for the Liberal Party in Tasmania, surely it should be good enough for the Malinauskas government in South Australia. That bastion of left-wing politics over in Tasmania that is the Tasmanian Liberal Party is telling the Malinauskas government or setting the signpost for the Malinauskas government in South Australia.

This is not a radical idea. We have had rent freezes in the past. Indeed, the Greens worked with the previous Marshall government and in particular Minister Vickie Chapman, to secure the passage of a rent freeze during the COVID period through this chamber, and it is time for us to do so again, to give renters some relief and then to cap rent increases in line with inflation going forward.

We could also look at the Liberal Party proposal from Tasmania, that radical left-wing clique that makes up the Tasmanian Liberal Party, and my old mate from federal politics, Eric Abetz, who is always at the vanguard of these left-wing debates, I am sure would agree. It is an important issue and we need to see leadership from this parliament so that we can provide support to South Australians who are struggling to put a roof over their head because that is a fundamental right of each and every person to have a place to live, a roof over their head and a place to call home. With that, I conclude my remarks.


Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) (Building Inspections) Amendment Bill

6 March 2024

LAND AND BUSINESS (SALE AND CONVEYANCING) (BUILDING INSPECTIONS) AMENDMENT BILL

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:06): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Act 1994. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:06): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill the Greens are introducing today is a simple proposition but one that will have a big impact on people who are looking to get into the housing market in our state. When you are buying a house, especially for the first time, you want to be assured about the quality of the property that you are buying. Homebuyers are not experts on defects in buildings and so one of the ways that they can have peace of mind is to order a building inspection. In South Australia, the responsibility for getting that building inspection resides with the purchaser, it is at their discretion.

Building inspections can cost between $400 to $800 for a small to medium-sized property, or up to $1,000 for a larger property and so, if you are shopping around and putting in offers on multiple properties, that can add up to a hefty sum for a prospective buyer. Some people choose to place an offer on a property subject to a building inspection, and those offers could be looked at less favourably by the vendor than offers that are not subject to any such condition.

Indeed, we have anecdotal evidence that that is the case in South Australia and that potential buyers are foregoing building inspections because they want to give themselves the best possible chance of their offer being accepted. This is particularly the case when we are in the middle of a once-in-a-generation housing crisis. The reality is that, in the housing market at the moment, the property owner holds all of the cards. If they are receiving multiple offers for their property then they are likely to accept the offer that is not subject to a building inspection.

It is a very different story over in the ACT. In the ACT, the vendor is responsible for providing the pre-purchase building inspection. This promotes equity by ensuring that all potential buyers are provided with exactly the same information and no-one is disadvantaged simply for doing their due diligence. At the moment in South Australia, I fear the property market runs on the principle of buyer beware. If you are unlucky enough to purchase a lemon, then you can be up for tens or potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for rectifying a potential problem, and that is really not fair.

Knowing about potential building defects, such as cracking, rising damp or potential safety hazards, is really important for prospective homebuyers. Building inspections can prevent extra unexpected costs appearing further down the track. This Greens bill would ensure that potential buyers can request a building inspection, and this must be provided by the vendor or their representative within two days. This would ensure that this information is made available to a prospective buyer before they put an offer forward on a house, so they do so with their eyes open and with all the relevant information about the condition of a property.

Additionally, under this Greens bill, the building inspection would be included at the time the vendor's statement is served. We know this anecdotally as the Form 1. Under our bill, a vendor or the agent or auctioneer would be responsible for supplying the Form 1 at least 10 clear business days prior to settlement, including a current building inspection; that is, a building inspection that is no more than three months old. This information must be made available three business days prior to and at the auction.

The building inspection would also be supplied as part of any purchase. The buyer would then have time before the expiration of the cooling-off period to consider the building inspection report to make an informed decision, so if, when they receive that report, they become aware of defects and issues with the property they were not previously aware of, given that information is disclosed to the buyer during the cooling-off period, they can elect not to proceed with the sale. This change would ensure that buyers are given all the information relevant to their purchase.

Buying a home is the biggest purchase that most people will make in their lifetime. It is a significant investment that has huge implications for the life cycle, and we know that it takes most people up to 30 years or more to pay off a mortgage. So when you are making such a significant investment, it makes sense that you have all the relevant information at your fingertips. Why would we not ensure in South Australia that all potential buyers get access to this information at the point of sale so we can level the playing field for all and so that we can ensure that people make an informed purchase?

It is a simple reform, but it is one that I hope will enjoy support from across the parliament. I do intend to bring this to a vote in coming months and look forward to discussions with my parliamentary colleagues.


Question: Rental Vacancy Rates

6 March 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:31): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Planning on the topic of rental vacancy rates.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Figures that were published earlier this week in Domain's February vacancy rates report showed that Adelaide continues to have a vacancy rate of just 0.3 per cent, the lowest in the country. The data shows that in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adelaide's rental vacancy rates were much higher, at 1.2 per cent. On Monday, Architecture Australia published an article that suggested that Australia has enough unoccupied homes to cater for the shortage of housing. Also on Monday, SACOSS released its budget submission calling for a vacancy tax to free up more rental properties in our state.

My question to the minister representing the Minister for Planning therefore is: will the government consider a vacancy tax to free up more supply for rentals here in our state and if not, why not?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:32): I thank the honourable member for his question. I will refer it to the Minister for Planning in the other place and bring back a response.


Committee Stage: Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

28 November 2023

I am very sorry to dash the hopes of the Hon. Michelle Lensink, but the Greens will not be supporting this amendment. It is true that we usually like reviews, and indeed committees. I am a big fan of those, as you know. But in this instance we have just had the most comprehensive review of the Residential Tenancies Act in years. It has been a very thorough consultation process that the government has embarked on.

They have actually gone to the effort of publishing all the submissions, which is a really welcome transparency measure. The legislation has been in the public realm for some time and it has been an exhaustive process, so I do not think we need to create more uncertainty by having another review in three years' time. Let's lock in these changes and get behind them.


Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

28 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:15): I rise to speak in favour of the Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023, and I speak proudly in favour of this legislation. This is transformative legislation. It is something that will help South Australians who are struggling in the middle of the worst rental crisis we have seen in generations, the worst housing crisis we have seen in generations.

If the Greens' fingerprints are all over it, I am proud of that, because this bill actually achieves many of the things that we in the Greens have been campaigning on for many years. Of course, it does not go as far as we would like. We would like to have seen action on rent prices in terms of rent capping, an issue I have campaigned on over many years. However, this bill makes some really important changes that will change the lives of many South Australians for the better. I will speak to some of these features of the bill in a moment.

Before doing so I put on the public record my thanks to Minister Andrea Michaels for the collegial way in which she has worked with the Greens in approaching this. In particular, I acknowledge her leadership and that of the government in taking on this important reform piece, because it has been long overdue, so I thank her for that.

I also acknowledge the work of her adviser, Chad Buchanan, with whom we have worked closely, and my own adviser, Melanie Selwood, who has played a key role in negotiations with the government, and Commissioner Dino Soulio, who worked on the government's review process. I acknowledge their work and the work of the community sector, all the groups that have been campaigning on these things for years. They should be proud of their efforts today, because finally we are seeing some movement in this space.

I talked about the challenges we face in the rental market. It is worth going through them and putting some of the key stats on the public record again today. I will start with the vacancy rate across the state. In Adelaide City, the vacancy rate for property currently sits at 0.4 per cent; it was 1.2 per cent five years ago. In the Yorke Peninsula and the lower north SA it is currently at 0.2 per cent; it was 2 per cent five years ago. We have seen significant rent increases in Adelaide, all dwellings, in the last 12 months; in fact, rent has gone up 7.2 per cent across the board—houses 6.7 per cent and units 9.8 per cent.

We have median rent in Adelaide sitting at $548, versus Melbourne at $553. Gone are the days when people can say that Adelaide is a cheap place to live. We have 29 per cent of people living in metropolitan Adelaide who are renters and 23.9 per cent of people living in regional SA who are renters. These people deserve to have their rights protected by the law. They should not be treated as second-class citizens, and sadly that has been the case in South Australia over many years.

On 14 November, National Shelter released the national Rental Affordability Index, which showed that five years ago rent in Greater Adelaide was considered acceptable at 20 to 25 per cent of income, whereas now it is considered moderately unaffordable at 25 to 30 per cent of income being spent on rent. Large parts of Greater Adelaide are now considered unaffordable, where people spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

In November of this year, the Anti-Poverty Network released a report which detailed a snapshot of low income renting. It found that for people who are on Centrelink payments without any other form of income, 85 per cent are experiencing rental stress and 54 per cent are in the middle of a rental crisis. Seventy per cent of those people surveyed said that the cost of their rent meant they had to reduce spending on food.

In June of this year, SACOSS released their June quarter rental affordability report. Of the 33,000 renters in regional SA, 71 per cent were in the bottom two income quintiles. The Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot showed in South Australia there were no rentals affordable for a single person on JobSeeker, no rentals affordable for a single person on Youth Allowance, 1.7 per cent of rentals were affordable for a couple on JobSeeker with two children, 0.8 per cent were affordable for a single person on a parenting payment with one or two children, and 0.8 per cent were affordable for a single person on the Age Pension.

So the facts speak for themselves and it is pretty disappointing to hear the Liberal Party turn their noses up at these very sensible changes. It is very galling to see the One Nation Party attack the Greens for advocating for a fairer go for renters. It demonstrates, really, that the One Nation Party has no solutions at all, other than fanning the flames of xenophobia when it comes to dealing with the cost-of-living crisis in our state. They do not have any ideas other than to criticise others.

I want to talk through some of the really positive elements of this bill. I also want to highlight one of the things that the Greens negotiated as part of our discussions with the government. We are really pleased that the government have agreed to put funding on the table for an advocacy service for renters. That is an independent tenants' advocacy service that can stand up for renters' rights.

We know, of course, that SACAT receives approximately 1,500 residential tenancy related matters per quarter and that an advocacy body, such as the one that we have proposed and the government has supported, exists in other jurisdictions, such as Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The activities they undertake include informing and educating renters, supporting to resolve issues, providing help and assistance in writing letters or filling out forms, providing legal advice, support attending tribunal hearings, policy development work and systems advocacy, reform advocacy, and training in tenancy law. These things will be really helpful for tenants in the middle of this rental crisis and I know will be welcomed in particular by people who work in that sector.

This bill has lots of really positive features. One of the elements in the bill that we welcome is the focus on giving SACAT the power to consider whether or not a rent increase is disproportionate. We in the Greens understand that disproportionate increases are those that are beyond CPI. I think this change is a welcome one. It will also require the payment of rent to be reasonably convenient, and at least one means made available for the tenant should be electronic. The government has also stamped out the use of third-party apps, which often apply to tenants for a fee, and it is good that they have got rid of that practice.

One of the elements that has had some focus in the media—and rightly so—is the changes that make it easier to rent with pets. The bill will limit the grounds in which a landlord can refuse to allow a tenant to keep a pet. Other jurisdictions have been well ahead of South Australia in allowing tenants to rent with pets. The ACT and Victoria have a presumption of renting with pets, which is considered the best practice model. In that case, it is the responsibility of the landlord, not the tenant, to apply to the tribunal to deny a request.

This model is more in keeping with the Queensland model, where a landlord can knock back a request for a pet, but they have to have some clear grounds around that. Whilst we would have liked it to have gone further, we recognise that this is going to be a really positive step for renters in South Australia.

We know that according to the RSPCA, one in five animals surrendered is due to their owner being unable to find a rental property that allows them to have pets. That is pretty cruel when you think about it because a pet is actually a member of the family. If you are moving house, you do not leave a member of your family behind, and yet that is what we are asking people to do in the middle of this rental crisis. That changes with this law and that is a really good thing.

The bill also ensures that it is the responsibility of the landlord to manage a premises that has been contaminated by previous drug activity. It also reduces the right of entry to inspect a property to four times per year; previously, it was every four weeks. It also deals with terminations and evictions. It makes clear that a landlord can only terminate a fixed term tenancy with 60 days' notice, whereas it was previously 28 days. That extra time is going to be so beneficial for people in the middle of this tight rental market.

It is also going to see the removal of no-cause evictions from the act, that is, instead ensuring that a landlord can only choose not to renew a lease if the prescribed grounds have been met. This is a really important change because one of the issues we face in South Australia for renters is that we have a really tight market, but at the same time because the renter is living in fear of their lease not being renewed they are not in a position to assert their rights under the act.

I rented when I was in my 20s and my early 30s, and I had lots of issues in the rental market living in share houses with problems like broken air conditioning, broken toilets and issues with mould. It was very difficult to assert my rights as a renter because you knew, heading into the Christmas period, your lease was going to expire and you did not want to give yourself a bad reputation as a tenant and find that you were not able to then secure another place. That was 10 years ago. The market has changed dramatically since then. This change is one that has been on the wish list for advocates in this space for many years and finally the parliament can get that done.

Another really important change relates to domestic abuse. This bill establishes protections for people who need to terminate their agreement on the grounds of domestic abuse. They will no longer need to apply to SACAT. Instead, they can provide supporting evidence as prescribed in regulation. If a person is protected by an intervention order but not listed on a tenancy agreement, they will be able to apply to vary the agreement so that they can remain in their home without the perpetrator. Changes to the rules around damage caused to the property to protect people who have experienced domestic abuse are also happening.

There are changes in the law relating to rooming houses and residential parks. There are also changes relating to solar systems and tenants will be able to enter into agreements with landlords regarding the installation of solar energy for their homes. There are also changes around the way that information is managed. The landlord will not be able to charge a tenant a fee for giving personal information relating to them.

That is just a snapshot of some of the elements of this bill. There are many positive features that are worthy of support. In concluding, I want to read out a few stories that have been shared with me. In the lead-up to this debate, I put out a call on my social media and said, 'Look, does anyone have some stories they would like me to read into Hansard?' and we did get some constituent feedback so I will share those. In the first of those, and I will not name the constituent but I will refer to it as story 1, she wishes to share her daughter's experience as a tenant over the last decade. She writes:

It's a long story. It compromised her health and is certainly keeping her in poverty.

She is now homeless and has moved back in with myself (her mother) and step-father for the past 10 months. She cannot find affordable rent and is competing with hundreds of others in similar circumstances.

Ten years ago she moved from regional SA to Adelaide after ongoing harassment at her work and had depression as well as anxiety. She shared a house for the first 12 months with a former colleague. They went their separate ways, and she found a [National Rental Affordability Scheme] house at Andrews Farm which was modern and all appliances were in good working order. After 12 months, despite being an exemplary tenant, the rent increased to a level that was unaffordable for her on her Newstart income.

She was successful in getting a unit at Windsor Gardens which had a [Housing Improvement Act] order over it. There was mould, bowed walls, salt damp, broken screens and many fixtures that did not work…It was during this time she developed an autoimmune disease which I believe was triggered by the mould and damp in this unit. Only 1 fan was working, screens were broken and only an antiquated air conditioner in the lounge was operational.

She was there nearly 8 years. The lounge ceiling collapsed narrowly missing her, despite her bringing it to the attention of the agent that items were coming through from the roof. The owner shortly after this terminated the contract as she claimed she was selling the unit.

Since then my daughter has been unable to find accommodation in her price range. She is now on the Disability Pension.

That really underscores the point I made earlier about the benefit of axing no-cause evictions because this would give a tenant in this situation the capacity to be able to better assert their rights. Story 2 is:

When we first moved into our rental in Blackwood we had no access to electricity. The landlord had given SA Power Networks the wrong address to register the property. We did not have the permissions necessary to register, as we do not hold the title to the property. We explained this to our real estate agent, and they insisted it was our responsibility. This went back and forth for 2 weeks. They then demanded that we pay rent even without power to the unit (everything is electric, the stove, the water. There is no gas).

We did not. They then eventually had the property registered and told us that this wasn't a good start for us and that in the future we 'shouldn't make waves'. We still had to pay the rent for the first 2 weeks because we had moved our stuff in, which was limited to a couch and a bed frame. We both had to stay with friends in this time. Shortly after, the backyard sewage line developed a crack and began to leak raw sewage out of our back yard and into the walkway where other people walked. We were told it was not a priority to fix, and this was only resolved as the strata got upset. We've also had an ongoing issue with mould on our ceilings.

If this bill gets through, this tenant will be in a much better position to assert their rights. Story 3 is:

We are paying $450 a week for an old Housing Trust house that is falling apart. We've had 8 maintenance reports in 3 months. We have a power board that can't actually power the whole house properly. The back yard is completely overgrown.

Can anyone seriously say that the current system is working? Can the Liberal Party honestly say that the market is delivering what is needed to solve this crisis? It is clear that we need intervention, and whilst this bill does not go as far as the Greens would have liked, it is a significant step in the right direction and it will have a tangible impact on this crisis and I really do thank the government for their leadership and for stepping up to the mark on this important issue.


Question: People living in caravans

16 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: This week, it has been reported that Ms Kaylene Swan Hussey is facing homelessness after being served a notice of eviction from a caravan she was living in on a private property with permission of the landowner. The City of Playford, which issued the eviction notice, said that they had an obligation to enforce legislation which requires development approval for living in a recreational vehicle on private land for a period of longer than 30 days.

According to the South Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, there were 212 people actively homeless in Adelaide's inner city at the end of September this year, with the current residential vacancy rate for Adelaide sitting at just 0.4 per cent. Indeed, we are in the midst of the worst housing crisis in generations. My questions to the minister therefore are:

1. Is the government considering changing the legislation to allow people experiencing homelessness to live in caravans on private property without development approval?

2. What is the Malinauskas government doing to provide short-term solutions for people who just need somewhere to live?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:09): I thank the honourable member for his question and for outlining the particular circumstances of the woman he mentioned. I am happy to take it on notice and refer it to the Minister for Housing and Urban Development and Minister for Planning in the other place.

 

23 January 2024

In reply to the Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16 November 2023).

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): The Minister for Planning has advised:

1. Under the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 (the Act), a person may require development approval for residing in a caravan where the caravan is permanently fixed to land (as it is considered building work under the act) or where doing so results in a change in the use of the land.

Local councils are responsible for determining whether there has been a change in use of land. This may occur when the land on which the caravan is located was not previously used for residential purposes or where the caravan is rented or leased for a commercial purpose. It must be noted that under the act, the parking of a caravan on land used for residential purposes by a person who is an occupant of a dwelling situated on that land is not considered a change in use of land.

Development approval may be required in certain circumstances identified to ensure the appropriate health and safety requirements of the building rules are satisfied and the proposed building is suitable in the context in which it is proposed.

Further, land used to provide short-term accommodation in caravans, recreational vehicles, cabins, tents, and other similar demountable forms of shelter in a managed setting is defined as being a 'caravan and tourist park' under the act. The use of land as a caravan and tourist park, irrespective of scale, also requires development approval.

Given the important reasons for which development approval is required, amendments to remove the need to obtain it for fixed caravans or smaller scale caravans and tourist parks is not considered a viable option to resolve the current housing accessibility and affordability issues within the state.

Without development approval needing to be obtained, there would be no mechanism to ensure that the caravans are safe, habitable, and appropriately connected to necessary services (such as water and wastewater) and infrastructure to provide a suitable level of accommodation for the long term.

2. The Malinauskas Labor government has progressed a number of initiatives in the short-term to assist with getting people into housing. Those initiatives include:

  • As part of a $200 million investment, the SA Housing Authority is building 437 new homes (across metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia) through the Public Housing Improvement Program. This is in addition to new builds being delivered following a commitment in the state government's A Better Housing Future plan, which is available online at https://www.housing.sa.gov.au/documents/our-housing-future/A-Better-Housing-Future.pdf.
  • The State Planning Commission is also working closely with the SA Housing Authority to expedite planning approvals for housing where possible.
  • Amended the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (General) Regulations 2017 (the PDI regulations) to expand the fast-tracked approval process for temporary accommodation for regional workers involved in the provision of essential infrastructure.
  • Further amended the PDI regulations to provide an accepted development pathway (meaning planning consent is not required) for dwellings in growth areas (being master planned neighbourhood and master planned township zones).
  • Requested the State Planning Commission amend the Planning and Design Code to streamline approval pathways for ancillary accommodation and to provide for new build to rent opportunities.\
  • Requested the State Planning Commission amend an existing practice direction to prevent conditions on future development approvals for ancillary accommodation that limit or restrict its use, including by preventing it from being leased or rented.
  • Amended the regulations so it is no longer an offence for failure to comply with existing conditions on development approvals for ancillary accommodation that limit or restrict its use, including by preventing it from being leased or rented.

Question: Publicly Owned Builder

15 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:58): 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 social housing maintenance.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: On Monday, the New South Wales government announced that they will take back control of the maintenance of their social housing properties to reverse outsourcing to the private sector. The New South Wales announcement includes a new maintenance hub within Homes NSW that will coordinate work orders and deliver better outcomes for tenants. The Greens have been calling for the establishment of a publicly owned builder who could undertake construction of new public and affordable homes and complete maintenance work as well.

My question to the minister is: will the government follow the lead of New South Wales and bring maintenance of public housing back into public hands, and will the government consider establishing a publicly owned builder to undertake construction of new public and affordable homes?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:59): I thank the honourable member for his question. Of course, we are still living with the legacy of various privatisations of particularly a previous Liberal government. I will refer this question to the Minister for Human Services in the other place and bring back a response.

 

1 February 2024

In reply to the Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15 November 2023).

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): The Minister for Human Services has advised:

A media release in late 2023 announced the NSW government would be bringing a maintenance call centre back into public management, replacing the current model of maintenance contractors staffing their own individual call centres. The same announcement confirmed NSW will continue to use external tradespeople to undertake works and pricing for works will use a schedule of rates (SoR).

This will result in a similar model to South Australia that operates a single maintenance call centre to triage, scope and issue work orders while the external contractors undertake works in accordance with a SoR.

With regard building, the South Australian Housing Trust has commissioned tens of thousands of new homes since the first was put out for tender in mid-1937. This work has involved public funds supporting local business and tradespeople to build the homes. In turn, this plays a vital role in the state's economy through local employment, training of apprentices, and the use of local materials where possible.

The government has committed to grow public housing and the SA Housing Authority capital program from June 2022 to June 2026 includes more than 1,000 new homes to replace ageing stock and increase supply. This work is in addition to stopping the planned sale of 580 public housing properties.

The government will continue to consider the best ways to deliver on our commitment to boost social and affordable housing but the establishment of public owned builder is not planned at this time.


Appropriation Bill

17 October 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:11): I rise also to speak on the Appropriation Bill. In so doing, I echo many of the comments made by my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks. I want to reflect on the failure of this Labor budget to really tackle inequality. In doing so, I want to start with the housing crisis.

We are in the midst of the worst housing crisis we have seen in generations—in generations. We have a record low vacancy rate for rental properties. We have a waitlist for public housing of almost 20,000 people. As a result, we have people sleeping in cars, people sleeping in the street, people sleeping in tents. There are people who have employment who are not able to afford to find a place to live.

I do want to recognise the leadership of the Malinauskas government in attempting to tackle the crisis. They have taken some welcome steps. I know that Minister Hon. Nat Cook is passionate about wanting to address the homelessness crisis, and I know that Minister Hon. Nick Champion is equally passionate about wanting to see more land released for housing. We welcome that, but the government needs to do better. They need to do much, much better and we need to see a more radical approach being taken to housing policy here in this state.

This approach of simply saying, 'Let's let the free market decide,' is not working. It is turbocharging this crisis. Let's look at the rental crisis, where we have a record low vacancy rate and where we see rent prices climbing up and up and up. Rent in the city over the last two years has gone up by 20 per cent. In some regional areas it has gone up by 70 per cent.

What action has the government taken on rent prices? They introduced a bill that prevented people from being able to advertise properties in a range, which they said was banning rent-bidding, which we know did not actually ban rent-bidding. It does not prevent somebody from offering a bid above the asking price and clinching the property. It was a step but, quite frankly, far too little to have a meaningful impact on this crisis. They need to take action on rent prices.

I introduced a bill in this place that would have capped rent increases in line with inflation, a simple proposition, one in line with the model that has been in operation in the ACT over many years. I could not get one other political party in this place to support that bill, not one—not the Labor Party, not the Liberal Party, not the SA-Best independents, and not the One Nation party.

It is outrageous that not one party would step up and support renters in this place, not one party. Instead, they kowtow to the likes of the Property Council, they kowtow to the big end of town who are advocating for the interests of landlords at the expense of those South Australians who are feeling the pinch of this housing crisis. The Greens will continue to hold this Labor government to account on that. They need to do better.

I am not just here to complain about the lack of leadership in this regard. The Greens have also put some concrete ideas on the table. I am a proud South Australian but sometimes Victoria comes up with some good ideas. Recently, they suggested a levy on the Airbnb sector, the short stay accommodation sector. That would have a really positive impact in terms of incentivising more housing back onto the long-term rental market.

Mr President, I ask you to consider whether it is fair, whether it is equitable, that in the middle of the worst housing crisis we have seen for generations we have perfectly good properties sitting there vacant for six months of the year while people sleep on the street. That is not right in our society. At least the Andrews government in Victoria, in introducing a levy, are trying to address that, and the money raised could be put into social housing. So the Greens support that and we urge the Malinauskas government to take some lessons from what their counterparts are doing in Victoria.

We also urge them to look at applying a tax on vacant property and vacant land. In Victoria, they apply a tax of 1 per cent on property that is vacant without good reason for six months, and on land that is vacant without good reason for five years—1 per cent on the value of the property or the land, with the money again going to boost social housing. We need that investment in housing in our state and we need to crack down on land banking. That is what the Labor Party is doing in Victoria—they should be doing it here.

We also need to ensure that there are better concessions available for renters and that is why, in the lead-up to the recent state budget, the Greens called for an increase in the Cost of Living Concession for renters so that it was at the same level as home owners. We have called for that over the last two budgets, the first two budgets of the Malinauskas Labor government, and they still have not delivered it.

We also want to lift the eligibility for the Cost of Living Concession so that it is in line with the threshold for the Low Income Health Care Card and introduce a partial concession for low income earners who live in share housing. That would really help give a helping hand to those renters who are doing it tough. And, of course, we need to build a lot more public housing. We have been calling for 10,000 public homes over the next 12 months—that is 10 times what the Malinauskas government has put on the table—because we know that whilst what they are doing is a start it is just not enough.

It is not just in the area of housing where the Malinauskas government have failed to take action on the inequality crisis that is engulfing our state. They also need to invest more in our public schools and in providing support to parents. We have been calling to increase the South Australian government's share of the Schooling Resource Standard funding from 75 per cent to 80 per cent for public schools. We have also been calling for the government to abolish materials and services charges and other fees for parents at public schools so that public schools are actually free.

We want a universal free, healthy breakfast and lunch program in every public primary and secondary school in South Australia, and I do want to acknowledge the leadership of the minister, the Hon. Blair Boyer, in that regard. The government has put more money on the table for free breakfast programs in some schools, and we welcome that. That is going to help a lot of kids, but they need to go further and make it available in every school.

We also want more money to upgrade infrastructure in our public schools. By way of example, I recently went to my old stomping ground, Aberfoyle Park High School. I think I am one of the few people in this parliament who went to a public school. I am proud of that.

 

Members interjecting:

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: There are a few in this chamber, but not many in the other place. I am proud of that, but I might say that it was very disappointing to go to that school and see that it still has not seen the investment in infrastructure that is needed, 20 years after I graduated. There needs to be more money for maintenance of our public schools.

The other area where the Malinauskas government needs to step up, I would suggest, is in public transport policy. We conducted a major inquiry into public transport here in this chamber, and six months on I could not get the Minister for Regional Development to actually read the report for some time. I understand she may have done so recently—I certainly welcome that; that is a real move in the right direction—but we have not seen action in terms of the recommendations in the report.

That is, what is the government doing about rail for the regions? What is it doing to ensure that people living in regional areas have access to public transport? Where is the money for cycling infrastructure, when South Australia falls so embarrassingly behind other jurisdictions? There is lots of work to do, and the Greens will continue to push the government to go further.

In respect of transport, we saw recently that there had been a decline in the use of public transport over the last few years. We have been calling for free public transport to try to get people back onto the network and, in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, to try to provide relief to families who might be struggling with the rising cost of petrol.

There are lots of things the government could do, and the Greens will continue to put forward positive ideas here in this chamber. With that, I conclude my remarks.

 

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.


Motion: Public Builder

27 September 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:36): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that since January 2023, at least four major South Australian construction companies have gone into liquidation, resulting in:

(a) over 125 job losses;

(b) over 250 new residential buildings left incomplete; and

(c) over $50 million in unpaid debts.

2. Acknowledges that South Australia is experiencing a housing crisis, and it is the responsibility of the government to stabilise the building industry and to improve the supply of affordable and public housing stock.

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder to:

(a) undertake construction of new public and affordable homes;

(b) provide maintenance to existing public and social housing; and

(c) intervene to complete houses that are partially constructed where building companies have collapsed.

This motion notes that since January 2023 at least four major South Australian construction companies have gone into liquidation in our state. That has resulted in 125 job losses, over 250 new residential buildings being left incomplete, and over $50 million in unpaid debts.

The motion acknowledges that South Australia is experiencing a housing crisis and that it is the responsibility of the government to stabilise the building industry and improve the supply of affordable and public housing stock. It calls on the Malinauskas government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder to undertake construction of new public and affordable homes, to provide maintenance to existing public and social housing, and to intervene to complete houses that are partially constructed when a building company has collapsed.

The signs of this housing crisis are plain for all of us to see. We have people sleeping on our streets, we have people sleeping in tents, people couch surfing. There are 15,000 people on the public housing waitlist in our state, and across South Australia many individuals are grappling with skyrocketing rents, unattainable home prices, and the constant fear of eviction—and this problem is only going to get worse with our construction industry being plunged into crisis. According to reports in The Australian there have been over 60 building company insolvencies in South Australia in the last financial year alone—over 60. We have seen more than four major construction companies collapse in the last three months alone.

Let's look at some of those examples. In July 2023, we saw Felmeri Homes leave more than 100 customers in the lurch when it collapsed after amassing over $30 million in unpaid debts. At least 20 of those homes were left unfinished; those are South Australians left high and dry waiting for their homes to be completed. In August this year, we saw 7 Star Construction also collapse, leaving 27 homes unfinished, and Quattro Homes collapsed this month, with over 200 homes left unfinished and the loss of 25 jobs. Just last week, we saw 100 staff lose their jobs at the Wake Concepts business after they also went into liquidation.

The link between the housing and construction crises and the need for a public builder is clear. By investing in public sustainable housing projects tailored to the needs of our state, a public builder could directly address the shortage of affordable housing. It is the responsibility of government to step in when market failure occurs, and that is what we need to see here in South Australia. At its peak, the South Australian Housing Trust was building almost half of all residential dwellings in South Australia. It is time for the South Australian government to once again play a much more active role.

A public builder would stabilise SA's building industry and provide well-paid jobs and the opportunity to strengthen building standards. More public and affordable homes would mean fewer people being pushed into homelessness and fewer people needing to compete in the private rental market, also making renting more affordable.

As well as constructing new public and affordable homes, a public builder could step in and complete houses that are partially constructed in instances where a builder has gone bust. In those circumstances the state could acquire equity in that individual's home, and it could be paid back over time. There are examples of that in other jurisdictions around the world.

Currently, the housing system relies on contracts with private developers to address the housing demand, including some affordable and social housing within private projects. A publicly owned builder could intervene when companies such as Felmeri or Qattro collapse. By completing the construction of half-finished homes, the government could be then repaid over time.

In the United Kingdom, a program such as this was funded back in 2009. It was known as the Kickstart Homes program. The government then allocated £1 billion to kickstart housing projects that had been stalled during the recession—that was the GFC. The goal was to ensure that jobs were not lost, while unfinished homes could be completed. Developers were given five years to pay back loans, and they were used to complete construction. The program in the UK ensured that a total of 22,050 homes were completed over two rounds between 2009 and 2010.

There are other examples around the world of publicly owned construction companies. Germany has two publicly owned building companies, and Turkey is the same. In South Australia, Renewal SA is the state government's property development agency, but they do not actually do the building work themselves. They rely on private industry agreements to carry out their developments. Again, there is a risk involving these private partners if one of them falls into financial difficulty.

There are examples of that happening. For instance, back in October 2022, Oneconstruct, I understand, went into liquidation while working on a number of homes for the SA Housing Authority, along with school upgrades. Having a public builder would mitigate the risk of private agreements not being fulfilled.

There are other benefits to a public builder as well, such as ensuring construction jobs are considered public sector jobs, with the protections and conditions that come along with that. Of course, let's not forget that there is a backlog of more than $300 million in terms of maintenance works that need to be completed on our public homes. A public builder could step in and ensure that those things are done as a matter of priority. Such a builder would also have significant purchasing power that would be able to reduce costs for building new properties.

This motion calls on the government to investigate this idea from the Greens. I must say the government has a responsibility to step in and help those South Australians who have been left high and dry as a result of this construction crisis. It is not enough to simply say, as the government has said so far, 'Oh well, people need to read the fine print.' It is not enough to simply say, 'Oh well, it's a market matter, and the customer needs to read the fine print.' That is not acceptable. The government needs to show some leadership here.

Let's consider where we are. We have at least four major South Australian construction companies that have gone into liquidation over the last six months. We have hundreds of South Australians who have lost their jobs. We have more than 250 new residential buildings that are incomplete—South Australians left high and dry—and we have unpaid debts of more than $50 million. If this is not an example of market failure, I do not know what is. The Malinauskas government needs to show some leadership here and investigate this idea from the Greens.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.


Rental Affordability

24 July 2023

 

In reply to the Hon. R.A. Simms MLC (2 May 2023):

My questions to the minister therefore are:

  1. How many submissions were received as part of this review?
  2. Will the government commit to publicly releasing the submissions received and the report?
  3. Will the minister advise when we will see the full suite of reforms that the government has in mind?

 

Response by The Hon. K.J. MAHER:

"The Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs has advised that:

1. The government received 5,565 responses to the YourSAy survey and 156 written submissions. Of these written submissions, 60 were from stakeholder groups and the remaining submissions were from interested individuals.

2. Consumer and Business Services has advised of its intention to publish submissions received from stakeholder groups on the CBS website, excluding those marked as confidential. CBS has also advised that it intends to publish a summary of the YourSAy survey outcome on the CBS website.

3. The Malinauskas government remains committed to introducing further reforms to the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 in the second half of 2023.