HON COLIN TINCKNELL (South West) [10.10 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house acknowledges the shameful policies of the McGowan government that have led to a tragic rise in the number of homeless Western Australians and a large reduction in the quantity and quality of social housing dwellings available to Western Australians.
Comments and speeches by various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.30 am]: I am very pleased to speak on this very important motion. The issue of homelessness, the lack of social housing and what has happened under this government have caused serious disquiet, particularly within the homelessness sector, but also in a whole range of related areas, such as mental health, disability, family and domestic violence and child protection services. There is a huge concern that this government has simply not taken the issue of homelessness and the need for social and community housing seriously enough. There is no way that the government has showered itself in glory.
That was never more evident than during the initial response to the outbreak of COVID-19, when the investment the government made to ensure that people who were sleeping rough would be in safe accommodation was woefully inadequate when compared with the sort of investment that happened in all the other states. As soon as it appeared that we were out of immediate danger from COVID-19, those supports were effectively pulled. We are now in a situation in which things are worse than ever. It is true; the statistics do not lie. Service providers like St Patrick’s Community Support Centre tell us that the number of people who are rough sleeping and who are coming into their service for help is increasing on a daily basis. I have spoken to my colleague and friend, who will hopefully soon join me here, the Mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettitt, and he is adamant that the situation in Fremantle around homelessness and rough sleeping is worse than it has ever been. He is at his wit’s end from trying to get the government to pay the sort of attention to this issue that it desperately needs. Even close to home for me, in the north metropolitan region, there has been a massive increase in concern around rough sleeping, particularly in the Perth CBD. It is now at the point of becoming a primary issue of focus as we go into the Perth city council elections. Yet, as has been rightly identified, it is not actually a local government issue; this is a state government issue, and it is happening under this Labor government. This Labor government should be ashamed.
I have watched the Labor government come out with announcement after announcement around homelessness and housing, and the media just laps it up and does not question what is actually happening. But the statistics do not lie. The reality is that there has been a serious underinvestment in social housing over a very long time. As has already been pointed out, and I think it warrants repeat, as at 30 June 2017, there were 36 963 public housing properties and 7 124 community properties, or 44 087 properties in total. That number had fallen—we had gone backwards— by May this year, despite all the announcements. We had gone backwards this year to 35 636 public housing properties and 7 317 community housing properties. That was a reduction to 42 953 in total. As of 30 June 2017, there were 64 168 public housing householders, yet at 31 May 2020 there were 62 523 public housing householders. This government is planning to construct only 550 new properties.
That is not nearly enough to replace all the properties that were lost. We are already talking about an area that has suffered chronic underinvestment under successive governments. According to Anglicare, before COVID-19, WA needed about 15 000 additional public housing properties. It estimates that that number could double, given the economic impact of COVID-19. There are an estimated 9 100 homeless people in Western Australia, and over 3 000 of those people are children. Three thousand children in this state are currently homeless. Those overall numbers are expected to grow once the federal government’s COVID-19 income support payments and the state government’s moratorium on evictions end. There is a looming crisis in this state under the watch of this government. As at 31 May 2020, there were 14 328 applications on the public housing waiting list. That represents 23 709 people. Of those applications, 1 860 were priority listed, representing 3 347 people. These people require priority housing, yet they still cannot get housing.
Although there was a decrease in the number of public housing evictions from 2016–17 to 2017–18, unfortunately we have noted that this number is starting to climb again. Arrears and disruptive behaviour were the two main reasons for eviction, although I have to make it very clear that even those numbers do not represent the true situation. The Department of Communities does not report the number of tenancies that end following nonrenewal of tenancy agreements; it reports only on actual evictions. In 2017–18, in reality, 562 public housing tenancies ended after legal action was taken by the government.
As has already been mentioned, First Nation people are estimated to make up approximately one-third of WA’s homeless. They continue to experience higher levels of housing disadvantage than other Western Australians and comprise 41 per cent of those who are receiving support from homelessness agencies. There is a lot to be learnt from Indigenous-led solutions in other jurisdictions, such as Canada. That is something we need to pay more attention to, because we are not learning any lessons here in Western Australia.
Prior to the pandemic, young people made up a significant proportion of the homeless population in WA. This is likely to worsen post-COVID-19. Half of the people who are accessing youth homelessness services had slept rough before the age of 18, and two-thirds of them had been in out-of-home care, so they were children who already had been failed. More than half had run away from home because they were experiencing violence from their parents or guardians. For close to a year, the south west, great southern and wheatbelt have had close to zero youth crisis beds available. I know that my colleague Hon Diane Evers has a lot to say about the issue of homelessness in the regions.
I also note that Western Australia is in the top four states nationally for the highest shortfall in specialist disability accommodation. Also, there is a chronic lack of support for complex cases—that is, people who experience ongoing mental health issues, who have disability, or who experience issues such as hoarding. This has been an ongoing problem. There has been a failure to adequately respond to rough sleepers.
We note that the rental market is incredibly tight. The rental vacancy rate across Perth is the lowest it has been since 2015, and the number of properties for lease has dropped significantly over the last 12 months. We are currently down to about 4 000 properties for lease. That will mean that people will be further squeezed out of the private rental market, particularly if they are vulnerable people.
What do we need? Clearly, the first thing we need to do is to build more social housing. This government has shut down more housing than it has built or is planning to build, yet it releases spin after spin. I assume that some sort of announcement will be made after this debate, which will be lapped up by a media that will not bother to find out the true situation. That is very lucky for this government! But it is not lucky for those who are without a home and who are sleeping rough on our streets; it is not lucky for them. The first thing the government needs to do is recognise that there is a chronic shortfall. It has actually sent us backwards. It needs to bring investment close to what we need.
We also need to ensure that individualised and person-driven supports wraparound particularly vulnerable people. Good work began around trying to develop those frameworks. Interestingly, the work done under the previous government through the Mental Health Commission—credit where credit is due—has basically fallen by the wayside, and we certainly have not seen any investment. Australian and international research demonstrates that on average it costs less to provide appropriate housing and support to a person who is at risk of becoming homeless or experiencing homelessness compared with providing that same person with short-term and ongoing emergency and institutional responses, and covering the health and other costs of homelessness. As I say in this place all the time, if the government simply does not care about the people, if it does not care about Western Australians, can it at least look at it from a financial perspective, because the dollars do not add up?
Comments and speeches by various members
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon Dr Steve Thomas): Hon Colin Tincknell, you would have had 15 seconds by the time you stood up. I think we will claim that the time for non-government business has expired.
Assuming that he has now caught his breath, Hon Matthew Swinbourn has a private members’ business motion.
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.