Doorstop Interview – Katoomba – Thursday 18 November 2021


SUBJECTS: Housing crisis in Macquarie; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; Morrison Government’s lack of investment in housing for women and children escaping domestic violence.

SUSAN TEMPLEMAN, MEMBER FOR MACQUARIE: I’d like to welcome you here to meet the Shadow Assistant Minister for Communities and the Prevention of Family Violence, Senator Jenny McAlister, and the Shadow is Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare, and I brought them to the Mountains to understand what the challenges are around domestic violence and housing. The two are not necessarily separate, they’re often linked, but there are a lot of factors that go into each of them. And what we’ve heard today already, from meeting with a number of the service providers, including the wonderful people here at Junction 142, is that there’s a growing need, there’s a real lack of transitional housing and longer-term housing, and that really, things have to change if we are to have a decent society that gives people a chance to get their life back on track, so I’m really pleased and I might hand to Senator McAllister, who we all just called Jenny. Just to to share her thoughts on the issues that we all face.

SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Yeah, thank you, Susan. My name is Jenny McAllister and I’m, within the Labor Party, responsible for the policies around the prevention of family violence. And I’ve been working really closely with Susan and with Jason, to really understand what the big issues are here in the Blue Mountains and in the Hawkesbury. Susan is constantly talking to us about how important it is that we get across these issues. Family Violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women. And everywhere we go around the country, the family violence specialist services say that their number one issue is housing and homelessness. Over time, neglect from the Commonwealth Government, a failure to invest in new housing stock and new infrastructure, has meant that we are now at a really critical point. And what the services tell us is that women enter a refuge, they’re escaping violence, but once they enter, there’s nowhere else for them to go. There is insufficient temporary accommodation, there’s insufficient affordable long-term accommodation. And increasingly at all points in the system, we are seeing constraints. The consequence of that is that 10,000 women and children each year are turned away when they reach out for help to escape violence and that’s just not good enough. We often hear people say why doesn’t she leave? Well, the answer is that too often there is just nowhere to go. And the consequence of this is that women are either sleeping in their cars, sleeping in parks, or I think worse, returning to a home where violence is a permanent feature of their existence. If we’re serious about tackling violence, we have to get on top of the housing crisis. It’s why Jason and I are are working so closely together, because our two portfolios, from a Labor perspective, are absolutely inseparable.

JOURNALIST: That’s right. The issue of domestic violence is really, really important. But there was also an issue of just homelessness generally because of rents, especially here in Katoomba and Blackheath, and the upper mountains, probably the lower mountains as well because house prices have gone up. A lot of people have left Sydney during COVID. I mean, I’m sure you’re aware of the issues. So how is it possible to address this in terms of housing stock and price rises?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: There’s no one single thing, but one thing you have to do is build more affordable housing. You’re right, COVID has encouraged a lot of people from the big capital cities to move to the regions. There used to be a time where Sydney was the place that was unaffordable to buy or rent and the regions were cheaper and more affordable. That’s changing. We’ve seen as people have moved from Sydney, to either the South Coast or the North Coast or here in the Mountains, that house prices have jumped by more than the national average. House prices have jumped by 20 per cent across the country, but they’ve jumped by 30 per cent here. And when house prices go up, rents go up as well. That’s driven, in part, because there is nothing to rent. Vacancy rates are at record low levels.  In Sydney rents have gone up by about five per cent but here in Katoomba, they’ve gone up by about 10 per cent. In Leura, by about 16 per cent. So, if the rent goes up, but your wages don’t, that means there’s less money left over. It means it’s either harder to save for a deposit if you trying to buy a house or for the Australians that have very, very little money left over when they paid the rent, they struggle to pay even the electricity bill or to put food on the table. That’s why organisations like Junction 142, where we are today, and other organisations that help people who are on really low and modest incomes, are seeing more people than ever before, meaning organisations are telling me they’re seeing people that have got a job, a good paying job, that have never asked for a helping hand from charities before but they are now because the rents are so high. As COVID has, hopefully receded in the rearview mirror, it’s left something permanent which is higher housing costs. There’s no expectation from the people we’re talking to today that suddenly rents are going to go down and that people aren’t going to need their help tomorrow. Part of the reason for the visit is one, Susan Templeman put a headlock around us and said, ‘if you if you care about people who are struggling to put a roof over their head, come here, because there’s a lot of people who need your help’, but also to talk to the organisations who are on the front line so I can get a better understanding, so Jenny can get a better understanding, about what we can do. One of the other real life impacts of COVID is that we’ve seen, with all of that stress of being locked down and with less money to pay the bills, an increase in domestic violence. As Jenny said, refuges are full and so one of the things that we’ve committed to do if we win the election next year, is not just to build more refuges, but to build more permanent accommodation for women and children fleeing domestic violence. If refuges are packed because there’s nowhere to go after the refuge, then you’ve got to build that long-term accommodation. Otherwise, there’ll be more women and kids sleeping in cars or more women and kids going back to the house where the violence happens.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, you know, it’s absolutely important. In somewhere like Katoomba, or the Mountains generally, where would you actually build? I mean, there’s very limited geographical area. A lot of the land has been taken up already. How would you go about the process? 

CLARE: We were incidentally just having that conversation now. There is land, sometimes it’s owned by the state government, sometimes it might be owned by a church, sometimes might be owned by charity, sometimes might be owned by the federal government. A fund like this would create an incentive for community housing organisations like Link Wentworth to work with landowners, whether it’s a government or a charity or a church, to build that affordable and social housing on that land. If we can get that sort of collaboration, then we can we can build more and more homes for people who need it.

JOURNALIST: What about in the interim, before that housing is built? Is there any, do you have any plan? There are a lot of vacant buildings around that could probably be refurbished for, you know, interim housing. Do you have any plans for that, because it’ll take years to build new stock.

CLARE: We’re dealing with the consequences of an under investment in housing for a decade or more and a federal government that says it’s not its job, to be real about it. If we’re going to make a difference here, though, you do need all levels of government involved. You need the federal government investing more in housing. Just think back about what it was like after World War Two. I know that asks us to rewind time quite a bit but that was all about reconstruction after the war. Curtin, Chifley building housing for veterans and for other Australians. There’s a reconstruction that has to take place after the crisis that we’ve been through here. So, having the federal government providing money is important, having the state government that can provide land is important, but you talked about vacant property and I think local government has a role to play here in helping to identify it and then try to make it available. 

TEMPLEMAN: And can I just wrap up by saying, for me, it’s about having a federal government that is prepared to step into this space, and to take leadership and say, this is a big enough problem. It affects people in so many different ways, we’re not going to leave it to the states to do as little as possible, we’re going to step in, show some leadership and get things happening. So, that’s why, as Labor people, we just are so desperate to see some change, but it’ll only happen if we win government next year.

JOURNALIST: What about the other side of the equation like making it more difficult for people to invest, say, like reducing speculation on the property market or reducing investment by perhaps cutting negative gearing? Would that be something that Labor would do?

CLARE: We took that policy in the last two elections, and we lost. You’ve got to look at all the reasons why you lose elections, listen and learn. But if the point you’re making is the problem is still there, you’re right. In fact, it’s got worse. There are other ways to tackle that problem. Whether it’s trying to help people who are growing up here to buy a house, or whether it’s trying to help people to rent or whether it’s just to put a roof over the head of people who are here being helped by Junction 142 and sleeping near the Three Sisters tonight. There are things that we’re working on, to help tackle that. But one thing the federal government could do now, if they really cared, is put this on the agenda of National Cabinet. We’ve got this thing called National Cabinet and it’s designed for a crisis. And it did, by and large, a pretty good job in making decisions that were needed about the pandemic. It wasn’t perfect but you know, no process is perfect. But you’ve got it there. Why isn’t this on the agenda? It should be on at the next meeting. 


ARLEY BLACK 02 9790 2466