Open letter to Campbell Newman calls for reversal of tenancy advice cuts

Community Law Australia, a national coalition of more than 200 organisations campaigning for access to justice, has written an open letter to Queensland Premier Campbell Newman urging the immediate reversal of his decision to withdraw funding from 23 organisations providing Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS) across the State.

The letter says the more than 100,000 people annually who seek help with a host of serious tenancy and housing issues including eviction and in many cases homelessness will have nowhere else to go except to poorly resourced and over-stretched community legal centres.

“These cuts not only undermine access to housing justice for ordinary and disadvantaged Queenslanders, they undermine their access to justice for a range of everyday legal issues – issues for which they are unlikely to qualify for government assistance, and for which the price of private legal help is simply out of reach,” said national spokesperson, Hugh de Kretser, today.

The letter rejects the cuts as an inappropriate measure to achieve additional funding for social and public housing, likening the move to sacking doctors and nurses on the pretext of funding the construction of new hospitals.

“The claimed savings from these cuts will have little impact on the 30,000 Queensland households currently waiting for social housing – a problem which itself clearly demands a substantial increase in core government investment.

“Funding must not be taken from the very people and organisations working hard with scant resources to address serious problems of tenancy and housing that have flow-on effects for the cost of court and tribunal proceedings, as well as for other pressured services – including hospitals, health and mental health, child protection, family violence, disability and aged care,” de Kretser said.

Funding for TAAS does not come from public taxes, but from only ten per cent of the interest from rental bonds in Queensland, which has the second highest rental accommodation rate in Australia (33.3%).

The letter concludes with a call to reverse the funding cuts, and to commit to essential funding for other vital public interest programs and organisations – several of which have suffered similar cuts by the Newman Government. The letter has been copied to Federal Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, and to Shadow Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis.

Download the open letter to Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman (PDF).

Download this media release (PDF).

4 thoughts on “Open letter to Campbell Newman calls for reversal of tenancy advice cuts

  1. Dear Mr Hugh de Kretser and Community Law Australia,

    As a renter in Queensland, I want to thank you so much for speaking out against Campbell Newman’s axeing of the Queensland Tenants Union and associated TAAS (Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service), and to offer some further perspectives.
    I’m sure your point that the fairest use of the interest from housing bonds (renter’s money held in trust, after all) is to fund a support and advocacy service for the benefit of all tenants made a lot of sense, both to the general public and to the large percentage who rent. With the regulatory environment so skewed in favour of the property owner, the power differential between tenant and landlord has never been greater since before the second world war. For the Queensland Premier to remove the one agency that offers support to tenants at a time when renters are experiencing unprecedented housing stress (due to scarcity and unaffordability) is morally reprehensible.

    It is also short term gain for long term pain. It could be argued that the presence of the TAAS and Tenancy Union has a preventative effect, preventing far more people from slipping into homelessness and onto public housing wait lists – prevention is always a more efficient use of funding than the cost of fixing after-the-fact damage. If there was any natural justice, funding for new public housing should come from the profits made by the property investment market, landlords, developers, etc, who have benefited directly from successive governments’ regulatory policies that have favoured their interests at the expense of the interest of renters (who would benefit from an unstimulated property market where prices were allowed to fall naturally, and from regulation to protect security of tenure). In lieu of that, the government should take responsibility for the negative effects their policies have caused, bite the bullet, and properly fund a program of public housing construction. This would stimulate the economy, provide work for the building industry, and cool the over-heated property market, thereby giving relief to the many Queenslanders that rent.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, Australia is one of the only countries in the OECD that permits “without fault” termination of tenancies – there is no security of tenure. That, combined with comparatively short leases, 6 – 12 months, and no dedicated private rental stock, means that Australian renters basically have no right to a home, and are constantly uprooted and having to relocate, like it or not, particularly in a volatile property market, and even more so in a situation of scarcity of rental stock exacerbated by ambitious immigration quotas. Has anyone ever thought to count the cost of this lost productivity, not only to the lives of those constantly uprooted, but to the wider economy?

    Public Housing stock has been allowed to decline (even sold off) by successive governments, despite growing homelessness for years now. Rental assistance payments for those on welfare were simply absorbed in rising rents in no time at all. In Brisbane and in many regional centres, as in the rest of Australia, stats now show there is NO affordable housing available for low income singles.

    The state of Queensland has a few additional idiosyncracies that make low income renters in this state even more vulnerable:

    – from the days of Bjelke-Peterson, the property lobby has been very powerful, and the community support networks that exist are not so well established as in other states

    – vacant possession is favoured: in Queensland, RE agents generally persuade owners they’ll get a better price if the property is sold with “vacant possession”, so even if the current tenant has been a very good tenant, and the new owner may in fact be looking to re-let, the tenant is almost always served an eviction notice prior to listing for sale. This adds to renter pain when the market is volatile.

    – Queensland has no actual law preventing a landlord from renting sub-standard (slum) accommodation

    – the new premier, Campbell Newman, seems to be taking a leaf out of Howard’s book. Instead of facing the problem honestly and taking appropriate action, he has chosen to blame, stigmatise and harry those most in need, to intimidate and silence them, while at the same time alienating them from the public support they might otherwise receive. Current public housing tenants are already being bullied, threatened with evictions, forced sharings, new temporary lease arrangements, draconian restrictions on visitors combined with a re-definition of “abandonment” to include the tenant being away from the property for more than 2 weeks. Surely the tenant has a right to visit or holiday, particularly where that may be the only way an otherwise socially isolated tenant could spend time with distant family or close friends. The public housing tenant has done nothing wrong, is not a prisoner out on probation. Isn’t the public housing tenant entitled to the normal rights of freedom of movement and association afforded to every free citizen in a democracy? But those affected are too afraid to speak out or complain directly – although they may speak to a tenancy support service.

    The Residential Tenancy Authority will not fill this role. Every renter knows that body is there primarily to enforce the rights of property owners over those of tenants – just look at the records of cases brought to tribunal. Staff are not actually permitted to provide any tenancy advocacy advice. They may only offer referral to the slow process of tribunal hearings which may eventually issue unenforceable directives – this is no help to most tenants who know that provoking the landlord in this way could only lead to a rent hike or a termination notice. Who will stand up for the rights of tenants from bullying private landlords, agents and bureacracies when there is no longer any tenancy support service in Queensland?

    Thank you again sincerely for your advocacy in this matter, and I do so hope you and your organisations are able to exert the pressure needed to save these much needed organisations. But Newman is a stubborn man.

    Personal testimonial:
    As a life-long renter, a single artist mostly on low incomes, in recent years on a disability pension due to chronic health condition, suffering extreme housing stress and constant moving while 10 years on the Queensland government public housing wait list (the last 5 years spent in isolated rural, squalid, substandard accommodation that adversely affected my health) before finally this year offered a placement in public housing, I can speak of all these things from personal experience. I have on several occasions been greatly helped by the Tenants Union and more recently the TAAS, when faced with crisis situations of unfair treatment, bullying, denial of rights, etc, by landlords, real estate agents, or even subletting tenants.

  2. The length of the previous correspondents epistle notwithstanding , I say “Congratulations Campbell Newman”.Your predecessors already offloaded a hugely biased RT Act on landlords who have legal obligations galore ,but seemingly very few rights to be protected . We do not require anymore hotbeds of socialist doctrine funded by the taxpayer .The RTA does that already very efficiently. The RT Act is hugely out of line and smacks of the worst type of discrimmination. .

  3. To the attention Housing Minister Dr Flegg:

    In recollection Dec 2005 issue of the Tenant News hoisted: “One social housing system”! As the “introduced new system has been developed to make it easier for the people seeking help and ensure the assistance offered to them will best meet their circumstances”, insisted Director General Natalie McDonald.

    When in fact jellyback treacherous pollies forfeited public housing entitlement for low income recipients. Such as myself, interim lodged in a unit leased by the principal tenant from Department of Housing, while I awaited for the public housing placement since 27-09-02.

    Only to receive suddenly: “You are not eligible for long term social housing”, “based on the information you have provided, you’ve been assessed as being adequately and appropriately housed at … this time and not experiencing housing affordability issue”, avowed 25-08-08 dated ruling by the Dept of Housing.

    But as one to think that nothing worse could possibly happen, Rent Review Officer of Brisbane Central Area Office informed on 15-10-12 the principal tenant that the Dept of Housing will not consent to my return on Oct 22, 2012, after three month absence.

    Due to the “overcrowding” at the unit, where a principal tenant occupied a bedroom, while a sofa-bed suited me at the (3.7m x 3.8m) spacious lunchroom. Built in 1998, unlike the claustrophobic housing churned these days (streamlined with a bed-sitter alongside kitchen).

    In the meantime exploited mass-media by the Housing Minister as a means of public communication to reach large audience, professed apropos “under-occupied” premises dilemma. Adamant to convey that accommodation sharing was a key solution to chronic homelessness by the destitute.

    Yet low income recipients in dire straits (due to the highly inflated rental market) weren’t offered public housing. To jog the memory, Dept of Housing actually flogged public housing assets while playing a corporate high-flyer’s role. Just as deregulated banks borrowed recklessly to finance speculative bubble. Ballooned as treacherous pollies abolished death duty and halved the capital gains tax.

    Then prompting moreover frenzy feeding via negative gearing with tax deductibility of the interest against all the income. No wonder for the rental market’s inflation! To offset which, public housing ought to represent at least 6% of the total housing stock. Because public housing underpins an entire housing system, besides an anti-inflationary benefit to the economy in the lucky country.

    Where life’s vital necessities should have never turned into lucrative commodities. Yet astonishingly Aussie taxpayers actually subsidised govt endorsed scams to the detriment civil society. Still ironically Director General Natalie McDonald declared in the Tenant News Feb 2005: “Dept of Housing will continue to reinvest in quality housing outcomes and assist as many Queenslanders as possible to enjoy the security and equity, public housing offers”.

    What a deceit by the ruling elite! One may be excused for feeling as an inmate in the ghetto, where sociopathic bureaucrats practised sadism reflexes. No wonder long overdue ENT consultation was awaited by me since Jan 18, 2005. Whilst the closed-shop affiliated GPs treated me with the utter contempt. Outrageously ignoring the fact that the recurrent respiratory track infections emanated as a result of my dry nasal passages, dehydrated mucus membrane of which impoverished autoimmune system defences.

    As a viral/bacterial infiltrations afflicted ultimately my ears and lungs. Surely dry eyes, dry mouth and salivary glands decline, had something in common. As much as a blasting airconditioning impact on my entire skeletomuscular anatomy. Likely acute flatmate’s neck-n-back woes just as mine sprang as a result of cold draughts exposure. Unless rheumatoid arthritis afflicted her neck/back in turn.

    Clearly research of such matters to benefit both of us, if not for Dept of Housing callous bureaucrats insistence that on me was to hit the road, sprawled with homeless. On a mission impossible to secure any alternative public housing for the senior citizen. Useful otherwise to provide needed support to the principal tenant.

    Ovarian cancer sufferer, stage IIIC metastased papillary serous carcinoma. Luckily at least in remission since Sept 2010. Yet as an oncologist set periodic checkups approached, imperative on a cancer sufferer was to share any misgivings, alleviating thus creeping anxiety. Otherwise contributing to the elevated blood pressure, dizziness and a risk of falling. Dreaded particularly outcome for the abandoned to languish on her own.

  4. The Concept of ‘Home’ is of Growing Importance in the Law!

    Certainly, “home is a lot more than shelter. Home is a place of security, belonging and comfort”, Justice Bell said. Forced eviction of vulnerable people raises profoundly important social, ethical and legal issues. Such people are very vulnerable and their human rights are imperilled by their circumstances (spelled out by Patrick Troy in his book: Accommodating Australians)

    In a nutshell, Justice Bell believes that current state and territory laws do not adequately protect the security of tenure for public housing tenants, who can be evicted without reason or cause. During 18 Sept 2012 lecture at Monash University Faculty of Law, Justice Kevin Bell of the Victorian Supreme Court focused precisely on the lack of protection (under Australian law) from forced eviction of people living in public housing.

    Of course accolades for the principled Justice Bell, who certainly warmed forsaken battler’s heart. Only to realise subsequently that nothing tangible beyond the short lived euphoria resulted in the nitty gritty to resolve the “overcrowding” claim by the Dept of Housing. Frivolously made to preclude my lodging at the spacious living room of the modern unit, shared with the principal tenant over the years.

    Sadly, intervention sought at the local electorate office (MP responsible for the Public Housing) resulted in the ongoing stonewalling. So much for the representative democracy system — ultimately to be told that no appointment could be made this year. Sought to confront the illusive Member for Brisbane Central. Lacking adherence to the elementary “code of conduct”. That actually doesn’t exist, neither the criteria for constituents to meet their MP. What makes one to realise how vulnerable duped citizens are.

    Although earlier in the year Campbell Newman chosen pollies outperformed each other to pound on a chest within the tactically choreographed gestures of assurance that people’s interest was in their heart. Yet in reality crucial human rights were violated, trampled and obliterated by the ruthless pollies. Unaccountable for their actions, due to the absence Charter of Rights & Obligations!

    To jog the memory 25-08-08 dated ruling by the Dept of Housing stated: “You are not eligible for long term social housing”, “based on the information you have provided, you’ve been assessed as being adequately and appropriately housed at … this time and not experiencing housing affordability issue”! Thus I was dumped from the queue, just because I interim lodged at … while awaiting for the public housing placement since 27-09-02.

    Now, four years down the track, Newman Government Policy Advisor within the Office of the Minister for Housing (who fell on his sword) informed me on 14-11-12: “Thank you for your letter of 23 Oct 2012 to the Honourable Dr Bruce Flegg MP regarding your current housing situation. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf. I understand that the unit you are requesting to reside in has one-bedroom and is designated to be occupied by either a single person or a couple occupying the same bedroom. As a responsible landlord, Department of Housing cannot encourage overcrowding”!

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