Public tenants union fights privatisation
By Dave Mizon
MELBOURNE — Late last month the Kennett government defunded the Public Tenants Union (PTU) by putting the funding traditionally available to it up for tender.
The bulk of the funds went to the Tenants Union, which deals primarily with private tenants, the rest being handed to the local Housing Council. All the workers employed by the PTU were sacked, with no redeployment offered.
The PTU has always been poorly funded. This has not stopped its workers from forming a strong relationship with public tenants and suburban housing councils.
It has campaigned strongly for more high quality public housing, emergency housing and rooming houses and for control by public tenants over the planning, design and running of public housing stock. It has also defended public tenants against evictions.
It is therefore no surprise that it has come into conflict with both Liberal and Labor governments. When the Kennett government defunded the PTU, the ALP put up no opposition, and Trades Hall Council offered no concrete assistance. The union covering the public tenant workers, the Australian Services Union (ASU), only lectured the sacked workers on the virtues of well-run community campaigns!
The Tenants Union has historically been better funded. It has dealt only with the rights of private tenants and has not undertaken the same level of research and campaign activity as the PTU, although it has offered to use its new funds to train public tenants in advocacy skills.
The Kennett government is also proposing to shift the administration of public housing and emergency housing to local councils (which are already starved of funds).
The government's strategy is clear: while removing effective representation for public tenants, shifting the administration of public housing to the councils and thus deflecting responsibility away from the government. In this way, the government hopes to gradually privatise public housing stock.
The PTU has resolved to keep its main office open in Port Melbourne. The big battle to save public housing has yet to happen.