Oct 28, 2014

Communities – Millers Point and Leichhardt

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (21:00): Last weekend I was very honoured to attend once again the Norton Street Festa, an Italian community festival at Leichhardt in my electorate. As I wandered among the stalls and greeted old friends and constituents, I was reminded of the immense strength that resides with vibrant, dynamic, strong and healthy communities. Australian communities are tightly bound by a powerful collective spirit—a sense of shared experience and history and a feeling of belonging. People in communities like Leichhardt care for each other and their common wellbeing. They understand there is an inherent value in their community. They want governments to respect and build upon that value.

I am concerned that the current government is devaluing the concept of Australian communities. Through its policies and its rhetoric, the government seeks to trigger a shift in our national culture—one that gives the concept of individualism absolute priority, to the exclusion of any concept of common interest. We see it throughout a range of policies, particularly in the budget—regarding cuts to pensions and health and the deregulation of higher education that sees it as an individual commodity that can be bought and sold rather than as a benefit to the nation. This trend is also illustrated when the Treasurer claims that Australians are either lifters or leaners and when government ministers routinely attack disability pensioners as bludgers. This rhetoric is designed to make many Australians think more about themselves and less about the many.

This is a government that does not like public education. It does not like public health, public broadcasting or public services—in fact, it simply does not like the public. And it is not just in Canberra. There is no better example of this conservative campaign to devalue communities than what is happening in the public housing precinct at Millers Point in Sydney. New South Wales Premier Mike Baird is selling about 300 public housing units which for many decades have formed the basis of a vibrant community. This is housing that was formerly controlled by the Maritime Services Board. People who live in the community either worked on the waterfront themselves, or their parents—or even their grandparents—did. So far, six of these homes have been sold. Because of this injection of private investment, the New South Wales Minister for Family and Community Services, Gabrielle Upton, recently said:

… the future for Millers Point is optimistic.

There is not much optimism among those being thrown out of their homes.

It is easy to put a reserve price on a house in Millers Point, but no-one seems to weigh that value against the lost value involved in dismantling the existing community. No-one is asking how much it will cost the government to move these residents to other areas—presumably on the edge of town, away from services, public transport and their support groups.

When Mike Baird looks at Millers Point he sees dollar signs. When I look at Millers Point, I see a living, breathing community which deserves respect and care. Many conservatives seem to hold the view that, while wealthy people should be applauded for accumulating property, the public sector has no right to be a property owner. The fact is this: vibrant communities are part of our nation’s complex tapestry. It is not good enough for state or federal ministers to know the price of everything but the value of nothing. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of any government selling public housing stock when there is a public housing shortage. I am concerned that the logic the state government is putting forward would see it sell public housing in precincts like Pyrmont, Ultimo, Woolloomooloo, Glebe and North Sydney. This will change the nature of these communities.

Successful cities are not disconnected enclaves of advantage and disadvantage—they are diverse and vibrant. Successful communities are collections of individuals bound together by threads of history, common humanity, common experience and friendship. We should not toss people aside as if they are disposable. A government that seeks to engage with its community will find the community a willing partner and the entire community will benefit, regardless of its income. That is why the state government’s approach is so short-sighted. I call upon them to reconsider this attitude.