Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (11:00): I rise to make my contribution on the Residential Tenancies, Housing and Social Services Regulation Amendment (Administration and Other Matters) Bill 2022. In doing so I would like to reiterate what the previous Liberal-Nationals speaker said in that we do not oppose this bill. It is largely a functional bill and certainly an administrative one, as the title informs us, but it does give me an opportunity to raise some issues from my Eastern Victoria electorate and also to delve into some of the—we will call them flaws or some of the things that could be improved in this bill.
We have heard some interesting topics and conversations and had some patting on the back from Labor members in this house. Anyone would think that all is hunky-dory, but we know that in the regions particularly the situation is still quite dire in terms of public housing accessibility and affordability. The Andrews government promised this Big Housing Build, and we have heard it all today. The Premier has talked about, ‘We’ve delivered the biggest investment in social housing Victoria has ever has seen X, Y and Z’, and 25 per cent of that was earmarked for regional Victoria.
I have concerns, and my concerns are not based on my thoughts alone but are from speaking to members of the community and also the sector that really is at the very coalface of this, the people who work with our homeless people and people looking for permanent roofs over their heads. They say to me, and I will identify who they are shortly, that they have identified in this big build there are supposed to be 88 of these homes constructed in Gippsland. We are two years on from this grand announcement, and they are still none the wiser as to where those 88 houses are, how far along they are and whether they have been built or not. These are people who work in the sector, so we are hearing all this fantastic, ‘We’re solving it’, yet people working right at the heart of the sector still do not know the pathway to those homes being available.
In relation to earmarking and tagging money in various LGAs, local government areas, out of the six in Gippsland, only three are targeted for funding. The other three have not been identified for funding. My community in Gippsland is saying they are feeling very vulnerable that again Labor will have these big announcements but on-the-ground homes for people in our region will not come to fruition. They are quite nervous about that.
The other thing—and I have raised this in an adjournment debate—is around people still living in motel units. Families are living in motel units. I raised this issue in Parliament a couple of months ago; there were 20 families, roughly 60 people, who spend their nights in motel rooms because of that dearth of social housing and the long waitlist. Labor has been in government for eight years and we still have this massive problem.
I thank all those people who work in the services. They do an enormous job. I have had the privilege of communicating with people like Chris McNamara through the Gippsland homelessness sector and through Quantum Support Services. She most recently informed me that there are 2200 Gippslanders on a priority waitlist with no property available at present. She stressed also the entry point services. She feels that those intake officers are absolutely overworked and we need more of those intake officers, because there are only a couple of them that cover all of the variety of centres across Gippsland. When you see the Premier’s spin machines and Facebook professionals, you just wonder why some of that money—some of that superfluous money—cannot be directed to employ people who actually help face to face Gippslanders, in my case, but Victorians as a whole. It is more important to spin it than to deliver those services to vulnerable people.
As we have heard before—and I fully agree—people can come from all walks of life and find themselves in a situation where they are homeless. It is very distressing. You hear on the radio on a number of occasions that professional people for whatever reason—marriage separation or domestic violence—end up in a caravan park. Some people do that by choice. I have got relatives who live in Queensland, and they love their permanent home in a caravan park. They think it is awesome, and I agree, but for others it is not their chosen place and it is very challenging for them—if they are lucky enough to get into one.
These services include the need for, as I have just said, intake-assessment staff to triage those complexities that individuals face, such as rental arrears advice, private rental assistance and negotiating with our real estate agents. Often people are in a stressed situation and they need that support. They are absolutely willing to go that length, but we all need help. This is one example this very good group of people have identified. Mitchell Burney runs the Quantum youth refuge in Morwell, and he has been in this space for many, many years. He told me some of the harrowing statistics when it comes to youth homelessness. The age group between 16 and 25—a quarter of Gippsland’s homelessness is represented in that age group. As the issues for this age group are focused on income and lack of rental history—you know, ‘Have you got a history?’, ‘No, because I’m too young; I’m just leaving home’ or ‘I’m leaving someone’s couch’—their reliance certainly is on crisis facilities. And indeed crisis facilities are scarce in Gippsland, with only 16 refuge beds spread across six centres. With the limited length of stay in terms of that crisis accommodation, it is really hard to exit them when they are exiting them to nowhere, so there is this bottleneck of need versus throughput. As I say, I thank them very much for giving me their time and their information, and I put it on the public record. If you cannot be a squeaky wheel in here—this is part of our role, to identify the need for all levels of government to hear.
I would like to talk about the private sector as well and what some of the proactive councils are doing in our electorates, and I will give you one example. Without a doubt the cost of living is pressurising all families on a low to medium income, and for those who are unemployed that is exacerbated and magnified. The analysis of rental data by the commonwealth government’s Everybody’s Home campaign revealed that rental prices in Gippsland increased by an average of a bit over 8 per cent per year over the last three years. Again, that surge in cost-of-living pressures really significantly impacts on people. The East Gippsland shire has recognised that finding rental accommodation is challenging. They have been very proactive, and I congratulate them for it. They have put letters out to ratepayers who have secondary properties, sent from the council, asking them to consider the rental market. The initiative responded to the lack of rental accommodation in our region. We know when we talk to anybody in small business in our regions it is very difficult to attract staff. That staff could be the chefs to bring people back into our region and have high-quality experiences in our pubs and clubs but also certainly in our beautiful restaurants in Eastern Victoria. Having those chefs, they need to have a home. They are often bringing their families. Police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses are certainly on that list too, who are looking to get into the rental market. And if they are struggling and they have a good income ahead of them, if not already, then it is really hard for that lower socio-economic group to get in there.
The East Gippsland shire certainly looked at growing this via developing a housing and settlement strategy providing over 1000 lots for subdivision and issuing planning permits. I just would like to make a comment on some of the words that Ms Terpstra said in her contribution and take umbrage of behalf of fully self-funded retirees. It feels like if they have worked hard—whether it is, as I said, a teacher working long hours and serving the community through education or whether it is a farmer who has worked 16 hours a day for 40 years—and they choose to buy a second home and then use that to help fund their retirement as part of their superannuation program or funded retirement program, apparently under the eyes of Ms Terpstra that is now a wicked thing. It is unfair and I think short-sighted, because we need to have a great range of people in this state. Unless we are going to go to a socialist state or a communist state where everybody gets measured out the same and there are no privately owned assets, then we need to have that range, and if people choose to own a house as part of their self-funded retirement, well, so be it. It is also wise—and I congratulate East Gippsland Shire Council for being proactive—to engage with people who may be self-funded retirees or have that second place to see if they would like to rent it out in the market.
Indeed The Nationals in government will—and we have made a commitment along with the Liberals—unlock 50 000 regional and rural housing lots in our communities. We will do that and support our councils by having planning flying squads that really leverage the pathway of planning permits. I am sure there is again a bottleneck on the Minister for Planning’s desk about getting those lots through. I am not saying that they should not be totally properly worked through in all their capacity and all their requirements, but where possible we need to unlock those and we certainly will be supporting our community and our councils to do so.
In the time I have left I just also want to share something about housing affordability in the social housing realm. My colleague the Honourable Tim Bull is a very active member in his community. He put some questions to the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, and he came out with the following research: East Gippsland has 33 social housing homes sitting vacant, and they have been vacant for a considerable period of time. The response was that they are being held for the homeless for an extended period under a program to assist with homelessness. It is called the From Homelessness to a Home program. So we have got 33 public housing homes sitting vacant, waiting for people to go into them who are homeless, and there are whatever reasons sitting behind this. But it should not take six months for suitable families on a waitlist to get into these homes, so I call on the government to fix that up. The other thing is that this is just the municipality of East Gippsland. If you extend that right across the state, there would be hundreds of homes for sitting vacant in the state government’s hands that are there for the From Homelessness to a Home program. Go and work that one out. I wish the government would and release those for people in need.
Finally, I would just like to finish my contribution in terms of the work that people do in our communities that sits in the social housing realm. I would like to flag the Traralgon East Community Centre, who have an open-door policy and support all people staying in their homes in East Traralgon but really provide a communication forum for those people in public housing. I would like to give a shout-out to Sarah Callow. It is very much on a very limited budget—really it is funded through donations of clothing and the like and very small gold coin donations. These people—and there are many of them across all our communities who work in that social housing space—do an amazing job. I had the privilege of speaking with some of the people that came in for a nutritious lunch the other day and listening to them, so I actually want the government to go out and listen to those people sitting in those sorts of centres to understand the issues facing them.