Subject: Mike Baird’s sell-off of Millers Point social housing
LINDA MOTTRAM: Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Linda.
MOTTRAM: This is politically hot, the Liberals sell off public holdings, recycling the capital, Labor oppose it. That’s really the problem with this story, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: The problem is two-fold. One is the impact on the individuals. The lack of respect shown to a gentleman who lives in a house for 84 years and gets an eviction notice just shunted under their door without notice. The uncertainty that families are facing prior to Christmas. What is important about this analysis by SGS Planning is that it looks at the impact on the productivity of a city and the impact of having an approach taken to its logical conclusion which is you sell housing where the value of that housing is greater than the average of the inner city. So the logic of selling Millers Point would also point you toward selling the housing that’s on Sydney’s North Shore, the Glebe Estate, the public housing in Redfern, Waterloo, Woolloomooloo, and the impact that it has on a city’s productivity. What the research says is that the city needs a mix. That successful cities economically are those that are socially inclusive, that contain suburbs that have a mix of incomes in them. There are some real social reasons why you want that but there are also economic reasons. If you exclude people of lower incomes from the inner city then in terms of the work that needs to be conducted – in childcare, in cleaning, the work that takes place – you won’t have a workforce that doesn’t have to travel to do that and that doesn’t make any sense in terms of long term productivity of the city.
MOTTRAM: Ok and this report says that it could actually be a negative for the city if it goes in that direction. But what is to say that a government could not address that by providing the appropriate mix of housing reinvested in the inner city area as well as in other areas?
ALBANESE: It points towards that Linda and this is a very pragmatic report. I call upon the Baird Government to really give this proper consideration. What you have in Millers Point is some houses that are very large that have high maintenance costs, and this report does suggest there is a case for selling off that housing, but for reinvesting the money into social housing in the area. The logic of the Baird Government’s position is undermined by the sale of housing such as the Sirius building which people would be familiar with – as they cross the Harbour Bridge – there’s those wonderful houses that look like Lego boxes –purpose built social housing for people with disabilities and other special needs. If you just sell that off and it’s replaced by people who can afford that level of private housing then you lose those people from the community but you also lose what is a contributor to having that affordable housing mix in the inner city.
MOTTRAM: But it’s not as if the Baird Government doesn’t have a view on the need for affordable housing. I’ve spoken to state ministers before who have said yes, that’s part of what we’re looking at, making sure that we can provide affordable and social housing in the places that we need them. Presumably as you’ve read this report, as we’ve all had these discussions about the mix of our cities – any sensible government would go down that path?
ALBANESE: They’re not being sensible, that’s the point. What they’re doing is selling off housing at Millers Point and not giving people any certainty other than that they’ll be moved somewhere else. They’re not talking about reinvesting in the city; they’re talking about people being shifted out with that uncertain future that those residents face in the lead up to Christmas. Now, if this was an example of public policy that the Government was proud of they wouldn’t be having these secret auctions that take place almost James Bond style where you have to get a special code and go to a place –
MOTTRAM: But that’s a commercial reality isn’t it, because it’s in the hands of commercial salespeople.
ALBANESE: No, that’s being driven by the government. The commercial reality would be that the commercial interests would be out there wanting as many people as possible to participate. That’s not the way this is being run, Linda.
MOTTAM: Ok, Millers Point has been very contentious. We know that, and all those discussions about the social effects – they’ve been terribly tragic stories. But cities, just to argue the case, cities have to undergo change. People are moved out of inner city areas all the time in cities. It’s happened before. It’s happened here before. In this city before, under governments of your side. We can’t keep things stationary, and there is a huge demand, I mean 58,000 people on the waiting list.
ALBANESE: What you can’t have are enclaves of advantage and disadvantage. That is a recipe for disaster. And we know in the past indeed – where you have concentrations of social disadvantage, concentrations of social housing where people didn’t have jobs, the former state governments of both persuasions it must be said intervened to make sure there was a mix of housing in that area. The whole community housing movement arose out of that need for a mix of people so that a city functions effectively. That’s important socially. We have people in Millers Point who’ve lived for generations, who’ll be moved away from their social connections. There will be a cost to that. If you don’t have the neighbour who knocks on the door and checks on how you are, then we’ve had some really tragic examples in this city unfortunately of people being found a long time after they’ve passed away because they’re totally isolated from their community.
MOTTRAM: But that’s also happened where people have lived in their communities where people have lived for a long time when the community has changed around them, and it is terribly unfortunate, but the sad fact is still the hard economic one from the government’s perspective. I wonder if Labor in government wouldn’t do the same thing – that there is a lot of money tied up in Millers Point.
ALBANESE: This report does suggest that some sell-off of housing is appropriate. It doesn’t argue for no change. It argues the economic case for making sure that change is managed in a way that benefits not just looking after the individuals and pays them some respect. It also makes sure that the interests long term economically of the city are looked after. As the Shadow Minister for Cities that’s one of the things I’m very concerned about, what makes a successful city. In the United States you had a retreat from the inner cities and you had these gated communities and now you’ve had people move back into the inner city, and public policy makers decided that essentially in order to be successful you needed that inclusion and the inner city is made up of a mix of housing. Places like the Glebe estate and Woolloomooloo are really important. When I’ve shown people who’ve been visiting from overseas the serious social housing there at the Rocks and said, that’s what makes Australian an egalitarian society, we don’t have a class based society that’s not entrenched in the same way as say the UK is, that’s an important thing we should hold on to.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.