Speech on Public Housing to the ACT Legislative Assembly

29 March 2017

The story of public housing renewal in Canberra and its significance to the community today is something we should celebrate and something we should continue to build on. The government established this unprecedented program in the last term—the largest renewal of public housing in the territory’s history. Both Labor and the Greens committed to the continuation of this program in the parliamentary agreement and the government is continuing to meet that commitment.


Unfortunately, the Canberra Liberals did not make this same commitment, and I am concerned by the lack of support for public housing in Mr Parton’s motion. For several years now, the ACT Liberals have failed to indicate any genuine support for Canberra’s social housing system. Going into the last election they refused to tell the community whether they would sell off stock or outsource public housing. All that we are sure of is that if they had terminated the contract for light rail, which they promised to do, they would also have terminated the public housing renewal program, the asset recycling initiative and the federal government funding which was tied to it.




I am happy to lay out the approach and values of our government, and our actions, through the public housing renewal program to give people who are doing it tougher than we are a decent go. I think that all members agree on the importance of safe and secure housing. These shared values are reflected in the parliamentary agreement, which also includes initiatives to address affordable housing and homelessness in this city.


With respect to the size of our city, the ACT government maintains the highest proportion of public and community housing stock in Australia, with about 30 dwellings per 1,000 people against a national average of 17. Let us remember the history. This housing provided homes to the people who built Canberra. It gave an equal chance at life to so many families who just wanted to contribute and be part of a welcoming community, my own family included. It does these things today.


I would like to remind the Assembly of what housing renewal means for tenants moving out of old, outdated homes. A number of public housing dwellings which served many families and individuals for generations have now become outdated, environmentally inefficient and expensive to maintain. It means more comfortable and modern homes, better suited to ageing in place, and in smaller developments where community safety is built into the design.


The government’s renewal program is seeing families and individuals moving into more energy efficient homes with better security and modern amenities, which have already begun to make a significant difference to their lives. The public housing renewal program is seeking to address that problem and spread housing more evenly across the city.


Some of the existing older multi-unit sites have up to 400 units clustered in a single location, and we are seeking to reduce this concentration. The renewal program has been following, and continues to and will follow, the principles of the salt and pepper approach. We are including public housing in as many suburbs as possible. We are developing lower density public housing in a mix of stand-alone houses, compact homes and smaller groups of townhouses and apartments. The government is delivering this through both construction and purchase, in both newer suburbs and established areas.


I have been lucky to see a number of the newly built and refurbished dwellings, and I would be happy to extend the opportunity to show other members some of the new projects as they are completed. They are top-rated for accessibility and are being built to a standard often exceeding the quality of private developments. Indeed I have heard people say, when they have heard of public housing being built in their suburb, that they went looking for the new public housing and they could not find it. So I welcome a discussion around the planning and environmental aspects of this program. I want to assure the Assembly and the community that the government is listening to all the input that we receive.


Yesterday, as I said earlier, I spoke to one of the community representatives in relation to a proposed renewal site, and I will continue to engage with them. I also

want to be clear on a decision I made some weeks ago to extend the DA consultation period. In relation to these new proposals, the DA consultation period has not yet commenced. We are talking with communities before we have lodged a DA, listening to and considering their views. The proposals which have recently been announced for sites in Wright, Holder, Chapman, Mawson and Monash are in line with the government’s aims and this process.


The land that has been identified is zoned as “community facility”. Under the ACT’s planning arrangements, this land can be used for a range of facilities, including health care, child care and cultural facilities. In particular, this land use zone permits supportive housing, which is housing for those in need of support. Supportive housing means using the land for residential accommodation, including self-contained dwellings, which is managed by a territory-approved organisation.


While not all of the public housing renewal program is using community facilities land, we do have some great examples where local communities and community councils have worked with the government on shaping a good development and embracing new families in their local area.


I was chatting with a number of public housing tenants last week, both in the tenants consultative group, the joint champions, and neighbours in my own suburb. These people are diverse in the views, goals and aspirations that they have for themselves and their families, just like the rest of us, and just like residents in the suburbs in which we are attempting to build public housing.


That is why public housing residents get to have a say in where they move, as part of the renewal program. Each resident is asked about what their needs are and is provided with support to relocate. This government works closely with all tenants to find the most appropriate housing for each of them. Some tenants have chosen to stay in their current community; in fact, we have more than 170 replacement dwellings located in the inner north to support this choice. Other tenants have chosen to move to an area which better meets their needs and preferences. They may have family or friends living in another part of the city, or they may want to be closer to their work or their child’s school.


I am aware that some concerns have been raised about the Chapman site, as it is located in a bushfire-prone area. Fifty per cent of Canberra is a bushfire-prone area, and the environment in Chapman has changed significantly since the fires in 2003. The government is considering any and all risks associated with this site, as part of the design process. The public housing renewal task force undertook due diligence to make sure it was suitable for public housing, and this included a bushfire risk assessment. The proposed development will be required to use appropriate materials and landscaping, have suitable access points and locate servicing underground, with extra hydrant connections. This is not unusual for buildings on the urban edge of our city, and the design and construction requirements will be addressed as part of the development application and building approval stages. As with each renewal development, tenants for this location will be carefully selected by Housing ACT, with assistance from community service organisations, on the basis of their suitability for the particular type of development in this area.




While the new public housing is mainly intended to provide an option for tenants who are moving from the current multi-unit properties, it will not be limited to these tenants. Ageing tenants or those with a disability might, for example, get the chance to transfer to a much better home for their needs. I know of tenants living with disability who are now much happier in an appropriately designed home. I also know about young families who feel safer and more secure living in a newer property close to the services they need. We need to make sure that we continue to build an inclusive and supportive community, valuing all members of our society and understanding the different needs of the people who rely on our public housing to provide a safe and secure foundation for life.


The government is engaging with the community’s views on the design of the proposed developments. The five-week DA consultation period, which has not begun yet, that I have put in place makes sure the community has time to give formal feedback after the development application is lodged, as well as the time before that takes place when the government is also talking with local residents.


I understand the community concerns that Mr Parton wants to put forward today, and I have also spoken with community members in these areas. It is fair to say that there are also residents who are strongly supportive of these proposed developments. They just want to be sure that they fit in with the amenity of the existing suburb, and we are very happy to talk with residents about how this could occur.


Members of the public housing renewal task force will be available to answer questions and listen to feedback at drop-in information sessions scheduled for 7 and 8 April 2017. Again I welcome the chance to have this wideranging discussion today. I encourage all members to engage constructively with policy debates about public housing, and I hope we can all support this amendment, which paints the full picture of the government’s approach to this vital renewal program.


Full Hansard available here