NSW government hides funds from Millers Point sales

The NSW Coalition government is refusing to tell the community how it will spend millions of dollars gained from the sale of Millers Point public housing. Potentially hundreds of millions of dollars will be reaped if the sale of nearly 300 houses goes ahead. The government has received more than $11 million from the auction of the first four houses.

A further 289 properties are still listed to be sold, including 79 apartments from the iconic Sirius building at The Rocks, which were purpose-built during the 1970s for the elderly and people with disabilities. The sales program is due to make the NSW government more than $500 million in total if completed.

Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton has refused to reveal how the proceeds will be spent, only saying it will go "back into the social housing system," the September 19 Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A crossbench parliamentary inquiry into social, public and affordable housing in September found the detail provided by the government was inadequate.

The inquiry committee, consisting of mostly conservative MPs, was "dissatisfied" that the government could not spell out how much of the Millers Point proceeds would be used to build new public housing. The inquiry called on the government to invest the profits from all public housing sales into a fund dedicated to building new homes.

The Herald said the social housing waiting list in NSW of 58,000 is expected to increase to 86,000 by 2016. Labor housing spokesperson Sophie Cotsis said selling public housing properties to fund a maintenance backlog was "like selling your house to pay off your credit card."

Police were called on September 16 to evict squatters from a vacant property in Millers Point. Dozens of houses in the inner-city suburb are empty while the government prepares its forced eviction program for hundreds of other residents in the area.

Millers Point community spokesperson Barney Gardner told the September 17 Sydney Morning Herald that the squatters should have been allowed to stay.

"The property has been vacant for some time and will remain vacant for some time,” he said. “These people ... are not damaging the property, they are just living there. They haven't had anywhere to live and now they are being turfed out onto the street again."

In a further sign of the broadening of the community opposition to the government's neoliberal housing policies, Unions NSW has condemned the state government's sale of affordable housing throughout Sydney, saying the city needs a diverse community.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said: "We are seeing long-term residents kicked out of their homes in Millers Point, while the move towards elite, exclusive dwellings in the city rolls on.”

At the same time, the Millers Point community is continuing to organise to resist the state government's "social cleansing" of their suburb. A substantial section of the Millers Point public housing tenants are adamantly refusing to move, in the face of harassment and other pressure from housing department officers.

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