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Social housing back to the dark ages

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 21 October 2016

Housing Minister Mick de Brenni's proposal to exclude not-for-profits from the social housing sector, takes Queensland's public housing, and with it, unfortunately, its tenants, back to the dark ages, and runs counter to the modernising trends in Labor and good economic sense.

Minister de Brenni must have missed the memo from federal leader Bill Shorten that the socialist objective is "as useful as a 100-year-old street directory", and been absent from cabinet when Deputy Premier Jackie Trad was hatching her plan to privatise huge swathes of government landholdings.

And he's forgotten the parlous position of state finances, with debt on an upward trajectory, and the state owned electricity assets that were supposed to be paying it back generating more red ink than profitable electrons.


What's more it appears to be contrary to his own Department's Working together for better housing and sustainable communities a three month consultation started in March, which now, seven months later, has yet to report.

A government-owned and managed housing sector may have made sense in 1945 when the Queensland Housing Commission was first set up to deal with a housing shortage caused by World War II, but it makes little sense now.

For years the system has been failing its tenants and society under government stewardship.

The sector has always been plagued by long waiting lists (currently around 15,000), high costs, poor maintenance and a lack of innovation.

To eliminate the waiting list would cost upwards of $5bn, money that the state simply does not have, and if it did, it would put it into other infrastructure.

It has led to too much of our asset base being tied-up, looking after only a fraction of the people who need help, while other, more efficient and effective means are neglected.


The best thing that could be done is for most of the public housing sector to be sold-off to its tenants – that was an approach adopted by Robert Menzies and Margaret Thatcher, and implicit in the rental subsidy policies adopted by federal Labor when Brian Howe was the minister.

The second best is that management and ownership be transferred to entities, like not-for-profit Community Housing Providers, that can manage and maintain the stock, advance the well-being of the residents, raise the capital, and provide more innovative and flexible solutions.

This is the path favoured by the overwhelming number of those organisations who made written submissions to the department's consultation.

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This article was first published in the Courier Mail.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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