Housing activists say NSW Labor’s budget fails the test

September 21, 2023
Housing activists say the demolition of good public housing, such as Waterloo South, shows the government's pro-developer bias. Photo: Action for Public Housing/Facebook.

Housing activists have criticised the first Labor budget for failing to act on housing shortages affecting hundreds of thousands of people across New South Wales.

Given that Labor expects an additional $9.5 billion into Treasury’s coffers from stamp duty transfer fees, the amounts it is offering to fix the housing crisis is minimal.

Action for Public Housing said it “delivers little for the 62,000 people experiencing homelessness, the 56,000 desperate people on the public housing waiting list, or people who are suffering from a shortage of 221,500 public homes”.

Emily Valentine, a public housing tenant in Glebe, said Labor is “denying its history” by not supporting public housing “like it should”. “Nurses, bus drivers and Uber drivers should be able to get public housing, not just the needy.”

Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said on September 19 the government’s priorities are housing, essential services and boosting public sector workers’ pay.

It has allocated $300 million to state-owned developer Landcom to deliver just 4697 new homes, including 1409 “affordable” homes. Sixty million will be spent on publicly-owned build-to-rent trials in the Northern Rivers and the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region.

A new $400 million Housing Infrastructure Fund will be financed from funds left over from 700 homes funded through Restart NSW, created from the proceeds of previous privatisations.

Mookhey acknowledged Landcom would not go close to delivering the number of houses required, but said the symbolism that a “publicly-owned company can build housing for the public” was important.

Karyn Brown, a Waterloo South public housing tenant, criticised the housing package because most of the $2.2 billion will “fund infrastructure projects, not build much needed public housing”.

She said $300 million to Landcom is only expected to deliver 1500 affordable homes over 15 years (80 homes a year).

“Labor has committed $998 million to the first home buyer program, yet is offering a completely pathetic amount for 80 not-really-affordable homes every year till 2040.”

This amounted to more money being “pumped into privatising housing, not solving the crisis through building public housing”, she said.

Mark Degotardi, NSW Community Housing Industry Association spokesperson, said the budget is “extremely disappointing” given the 56,000 people on a social housing wait list. “It’s a pretty underwhelming centre piece,” he told The Guardian.

He said a plan to deliver a handful of “affordable” homes by 2040 meant people in need would be left waiting, although he did support Landcom delivering homes.

Amy Hains, Homelessness NSW acting CEO, said the social housing package “amounts to crumbs”. “NSW does not need more vehicles for housing and homelessness finance: we need direct investment, now.”

NSW Greens’ housing spokesperson Jenny Leong said the government was using inflated housing prices to prop up a budget that provided little to renters.

“The budget has been saved by the housing crisis and yet who is ‘saved’ and who ‘pays’ for this incredibly cooked system?”, she asked.

Unions NSW said on September 19, union campaigns to scrap the public sector wages cap, end privatisation and recruit and retain the essential workers had been acknowledged. “This budget begins the process of delivering on those commitments, without any further privatisation of our public assets”, it said.

A $3.6 billion Essential Services Fund will be set up. Pay and security for teachers will be improved. The government has committed to rebuilding the health sector, including 500 new regional paramedics, 2312 nurses and midwives, granting study subsidies to 12,000 healthcare students and improving benefits for more than 50,000 healthcare workers.

Unions NSW also applauded Labor’s investment in new child protection workers, support for natural disaster response programs and the $224 million to deliver “more affordable and social housing”.

Abigail Boyd, Greens Treasury spokesperson said Labor’s budget decisions had been made “within the bounds of a relatively stable revenue base” and that with “a handful of modest revenue measures, targeting those who can most afford to pay” an extra  $2 billion could have been sourced for urgent social and ecological need.

Boyd cited a few revenue-raising measures from: raising royalties on the coal industry; a supplementary levy on the profits of the major banks; ending the payroll tax exemption loophole on the Big 4 accounting firms; raising taxes on the gambling industry; and a property windfall profits tax.

She said an extra $2 billion could accelerate the clean energy transition, protect precious habitats, ensure the viability of essential community services and build the industries of the future.

Boyd said measures to accelerate the energy transition are “far too modest” and the prospect of Origin Energy benefiting from large amounts of public money from extending the life of the Eraring power station is another major concern.

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