NSW Parliament speech: Shelter is a basic human right

28 June 2023

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (19:07): Shelter is a basic human right. I am pleased to be part of a government that not only recognises that, but also recognises that the shelter we provide for our most vulnerable citizens has, over the past several years, not been anywhere near good enough. I have lost count of the number of times I have spoken in this place about public housing issues in my local area, the ongoing and persistent maintenance issues that have plagued public housing tenants, the lack of access and the interminable waiting times in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, the massive increases in the number of people experiencing or facing homelessness, and the previous Government's clear disinterest in providing safe and secure accommodation for the most vulnerable members of our community.

The previous Government's disinterest is obvious. In June last year the wait for a studio apartment or one‑bedroom property in Newcastle was two to five years, and anyone waiting for a larger property faces a wait of up to a decade. It is even worse in Lake Macquarie East. More than 500 people were on the waiting list on 30 June last year, and they were facing waits of between five and 10 years for a property of any size. Each and every day my office deals with multiple issues related to the legacy of neglect of our social housing, whether it is tenants who have been left waiting for repairs, families left languishing on transfer lists in overcrowded homes, or people who are desperate to access stable, safe accommodation. Every day I hear from people who are trying to navigate a public housing system left in an absolute shambles by the former Government. To demonstrate how truly dire the situation this Government inherited is, we only need to look at the 2023 street count of rough sleepers. It recorded 1,623 people sleeping rough, which is over 400 more people sleeping rough than last year's count. What is even more disturbing to me is that the count showed that more people are sleeping rough in regional areas like my electorate.

Even the longest night is followed by the dawn. Today, as I speak once more about these issues, I am pleased to report that there is finally some positive news. We have a Minister for Housing, and Minister for Homelessness, and a Minister for Planning and Public Spaces who care and who have vision for the future. We have a government in which every member is committed to working with the others to fix this long-neglected problem. We are taking a fresh approach to support housing organisations with the announcement of a two-year extension of specialist homelessness services contracts. That decision will enable those organisations to build up their networks, to develop their capacity and, most importantly, to deliver services and support with certainty to the people who need them.

We have also taken the decision to ease the burden on people living in temporary accommodation. These are people who are already under an enormous amount of stress, as my experiences in the Charlestown electorate office have shown me. We are taking a more compassionate attitude towards people experiencing or facing homelessness. We are taking a more engaged stance with our public housing tenants and their needs. And we are doing it by taking on the problem right at its source. As the housing and homelessness Minister said, "You can't solve homelessness without housing." I am proud to be part of a government that understands this. I am proud to be part of a government that will streamline the complicated and byzantine network of agencies responsible for this area by creating Homes NSW. I am proud to be part of a government that is auditing all New South Wales government land to identify options for more housing.

I am proud to be part of a government that will remove barriers to the construction and provision of more high-density, low-cost and public housing. I am proud to be part of a government committed to working with the private sector to incentivise the provision of affordable housing. And I am proud that we have instituted a freeze on the sale of public housing stock. We have to put a stop to the off-loading of public housing so that we can keep more people in safe, secure housing. After 12 years of waiting, public housing tenants in Charlestown have reason to be optimistic. I am proud to say that the Minns Labor Government is deeply committed to ensuring everyone can live in safe, affordable housing. I know the people in my electorate need it.