Kate Borland, public housing advocate: ‘Public housing is a good community value that we must respect and uphold and adhere.’
Kate Borland said she’s standing to highlight the public housing issue. She told us that her Dad designed a number of housing commission homes and the Olympic pool, so she knows about structure and architecture. Labor and Liberals are trying to privatise public housing, Kate explained, and through KPMG, the Liberals are trying to overhaul it.
Context: a Victorian Auditor General report found that the operating model for public housing was unsustainable, as costs ballooned while revenues declined. The AG explained as that rent is set at 25% and the department understandably prioritises housing to those in greatest need, who are generally on welfare benefits, the pool of revenue that comes from rent is shrinking. It’s a vexing problem: how does the state ensure that it can afford public housing in the long-term, without imposing unreasonable conditions, or limiting access to, the most needy?
The AG said that faced with knowledge of public housing’s increasingly parlous financial situation, government departments failed to take action. You surprised? Over half of properties are over 30 years old and 14% were approaching the point of no return, yet government didn’t have an adequate asset management strategy, with departments often lacking accurate information about the conditions properties were in.
Earlier this year, the Baillieu Government increased rents for pensioners early this year by almost $10 a week for some people, so that rent didn’t fall below 25 percent of their income in rent after a Federal pension increase. The Government has also developed a discussion and options paper on ‘Pathways to a Fair and Sustainable* Social Housing System’ , which was written by KPMG, hence Borland’s reference to them.
In Labor candidate Jennifer Kanis’s campaign materials, she says the Baillieu Liberal Government is considering increasing rent above the current 25% of income, limiting the time residents can live there, and selling public housing. The Greens are also campaigning on similar concerns. The fact is that nothing has been done yet; these are just options raised (in more anaesthetised but unequivocal language) in the discussion and options paper, which admittedly seems to be ideologically skewed towards that kind of ‘self help’ mentality that underpins Tony Abbott’s comments about dole bludgers.
Borland didn’t go into detail about any of this though, instead she spoke about her background (she’s a nutritionist, works in drug and alcohol, and finished her degree while bringing up a child and breastfeeding) and the value she places on community. Safety is community, for her, Borland says. At one point it feels like she’s almost yelling, ‘I have African neighbours, Indian neighbours, Vietnamese neighbours!’ It’s a bit overwrought, but I respect her passion.
Borland says her father designed renovations for Bob Hawke’s house man-years ago, and she grew up a staunch Labor voter. I found it quite strange how Borland mentioned her Dad so often. Actually, her whole speech felt like someone following the form of a candidate’s speech (the rousing appeal to conscience and shared humanity, the story of how your family inspired you, and your struggle against adversity) but strking slightly the wrong note.
During question time, this little kid from up the front asked: ‘My question is for Kate. What are your views on public housing?’ Me and the guy next to me simultaneously groaned, and he muttered ‘Oh no, the cute kid. Well too bad, you can’t vote!’ Kate then explained why public housing was so important to her and at the end of her spiel, said, ‘Thanks for the question my dearest darling daughter.’
Adrian Whitehead, climate activist
Adrian was wearing a sparkling white No New Coal T-shirt. It had an apple with a bite taken out of it. I don’t understand the significance of that: is it a reference to Apple computers being environmentally devastating?
‘I want to start out by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land’, Adrian said, ‘but also acknowledge that the part of our culture that crushed and killed at wiped out a culture – for the sake of greed and money – still persists today in the large corporate entities that control political life, and manifests itself most concerningly in the area of climate change.’ Fair enough, but I find this level of generalisation in theme-finding almost meaningless, in a similar way to Socialist Equality Party candidate Patrick O’Connor’s attempt to draw parallels between the Arab Spring and the movement against social inequality in Australia.
Overhead gas heaters lit up above the pews as Whitehead started talking about the devastating environmental impacts of climate change. ‘Who will save us?’ he asked. ‘Not the policies of the Liberals, not the policies of the Labor, not the policies of the Greens. The Greens know what we need to do, but won’t say it. We have to go for zero emissions by 2020.’ At this point, Whitehead made an analogy between climate change and quite a sad personal story about a friend with serious skin cancer, at which point he lost me. I did put him first on my ballot paper though.