19 March 2014
(Motion Accorded Priority, 4.02pm 19 March 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
That this House calls on the Government to halt the sale of Millers Point public housing.
I commence by welcoming the many residents of Millers Point who are seated in the public gallery to hear firsthand why the Government intends to sell off their community and a part of Sydney's history. Today's decision to sell 293 public housing properties at Millers Point in two years will disrupt and uproot the lives of more than 400 vulnerable people. For more than a week now there have been rumours that the Government was going to sell the properties, yet the response to my repeated calls to the Minister's office was that no decision had been made. Today there was an announcement that everything is to go and pre-prepared letters were delivered to those residents.
The review of the Millers Point houses began soon after the Government came to power. The O'Farrell Government has bent over backwards to give a billionaire a casino; it is now going to turf out its neighbours—400 vulnerable and elderly people. Where are the priorities? Many in the community were willing to work with the Government to reach an outcome that benefited all. They hoped that only some vacant homes would be sold, with no tenant forced to relocate to another area away from their services and social and family networks. Working with the community, we got the review of properties to include a social impact assessment, which looked at the social costs of displacing vulnerable tenants from their homes and tight-knit community. Despite the Government's initial promise, the department did not make the social impact assessment public for comment before making its decision.
In response to my application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, I was told that the assessment findings were commercial-in-confidence. I agree with the community that this is an excuse to hide the devastating social impact that selling tenants' homes will have. What about an open and transparent government? I have asked the Information Commissioner to review this absurd refusal. I understand that the social impact assessment is now online, but, of course, the residents have not been notified of that and on my reading of it a number of the recommendations made to the Government have been ignored. No decision should be proceeded with until the wider community is aware of the social costs of this sale.
Millers Point has a long history of providing low-cost housing, originally to wharf workers. The Maritime Services Board also gave properties to the then Housing Commission to manage as low-cost housing. The State Heritage Register recognises the importance of Millers Point's social history—it is listed for its cultural and built heritage. The National Trust has described this community as a "living treasure". The announced sales will destroy this living heritage, which will be a loss to the wider community. Social housing tenants are allocated to areas based on need, including being close to health services, work or a family member being cared for. The inner city is close to transport, jobs and support services and as a result there is a huge waiting list. It can take up to two years for people with urgent needs to be allocated housing and from five to 15 years for others.
It will be impossible to relocate more than 400 tenants in the inner city. Those who are old, frail and socially isolated, or who have a mental illness or an intellectual disability, will be pushed to the fringes of the city, away from the support networks they have worked hard to build. Some tenants have been in their homes for years—some for five generations. The impact on them is unimaginable and costly. It is a furphy for the Government to say that these are all luxury homes with harbour views worth $1.3 million. Many are low-key small units that provide vital low-cost inner-city housing to key workers. One-bedroom apartments without views in the Sirius building and the walk-ups are not worth close to that amount.
Another argument was that maintaining these heritage properties was too costly. The Sirius building and other public housing properties are modern and accessible. They are not falling down and do not cost more to maintain than properties in other areas. This is nothing more than social cleansing of the inner city masked with misinformation. The sale of 293 homes in only two years will flood the market and reduce values. In the long term the Government will lose out with this fast approach, while putting tenants through the unwanted ordeal of leaving their homes and community in a rush. This small and stable public housing community has a long history of connection and social support. There is no history of communal conflict, violence and antisocial behaviour. Millers Point tenants care about and contribute to their community.
Successive governments have failed to maintain Millers Point assets, allowing publicly-owned properties to become run down. Tenants are not responsible for this failure, nor are they responsible for the vandalised homes that have been left empty and allowed to fall apart. The tenants are continuing to be punished. Millers Point is one of the oldest and strongest communities in Sydney. The health and mental costs of the impact of today's announcement on residents cannot be assessed. The sales program will soon begin and a tight-knit community that is vital to the social fabric of the inner city will be devastated.