11 May 2021

Parton vows to continue fighting for public housing tenants

| Mark Parton MLA
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Mark Parton

MLA Mark Parton says the only way to get the government’s attention on housing is to “embarrass the hell out of them”. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

This week, RiotACT published an editorial about my push to help a Canberra family who have been living in a Housing ACT residence that has been deemed by housing to be uninhabitable.

The story received wide local media coverage, but this editorial suggested that the situation was “much more complicated than he realised” and that I should “keep the government honest on such a crucial issue, but do my homework”.

There was a suggestion that I was “crestfallen after the facts of the case were laid out”. This is quite simply not the case.

Since July last year, I’ve been dealing with this specific case. During that time, I’ve written to Housing Ministers on five occasions and, as is usually the case, those requests for action were batted away with Ministerial waffle.

I’ve had countless conversations with the tenant and made multiple visits to the home, and I was aware of all of the “complexities” of this particular case.

I take my role as an MLA very seriously, and with that, I take the role of Shadow Minister for Housing very seriously.

The only way I can force the government to do anything in this space is to embarrass the hell out of them.

In the last five months, it’s become clear to me that there is a major maintenance problem associated with Housing ACT and potentially with the Programmed Facility Management contract. For some reason, only extremely urgent maintenance work appears to be allocated to sub-contractors.

I’ve asked questions in the Estimates and Annual Reports Hearings. I’ve asked questions in the chamber, but these have been batted away. I will have more to say on this crisis in the coming weeks.

I moved a motion in the Assembly in April calling upon the Government “to commit to a program to determine the actions and work required to rectify all dwellings that are in breach of, or below health and safety standards” and to “allocate sufficient funds to have all significant maintenance requests including for health and safety defects resolved by no later than 31 August”.

Bizarrely, the Labor/Greens government struck out those two clauses and passed the motion without Liberal support.

The amended motion called upon the government to “reaffirm its commitment that all public housing dwellings meet health and safety standards”, so more of the same. This commitment is not actually delivering and the government needs to be held to account for it.

There are hundreds of people experiencing difficulty of one type or another in this space, and when they turn to me it’s because the system has failed them and nobody is listening.

Despite raising concerns with ministers, for the most part, nothing ever gets done.

Occasionally we do feel the need to push stories publicly to force an outcome.

There are hundreds of public housing tenants who are extremely thankful that I was able to advocate on their behalf and I make no apologies for doing that. That’s my job.

I would also point out that as Housing Shadow, I took a series of policies to the election in October designed to create hundreds more social and affordable dwellings. These policies were roundly endorsed by ACTCOSS, by ACT Shelter and by the Community Housing Providers.

I took those policies to the Assembly in a motion earlier in the week but, of course, it was completely rejected.

I would summarise the sort of feedback from the community with this Facebook comment from Ray from a month or so ago.

He said: “It’s very strange that it increasingly looks like the best hope for the future of public housing in the ACT is to have a Liberal government at the next election.

“There seems to be a lack of awareness on the ‘left’ that effective and adequate maintenance is fundamental to the viability of public housing systems.

“The problems with management and maintenance in Housing ACT are problems that need to be dealt with when there seems to be deep commitment to look the other way.”

I can promise you, I won’t be looking the other way. And I can assure you, there’s plenty more where that one came from.

Mark Parton MLA is a Member for Brindabella and the Shadow Minister For Planning, Housing and Gaming and Racing in the ACT.

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While we’re at it I’d like to see cost benefit analyses of having on site residential managers at the larger public housing complexes.

Mike of Canberra6:51 pm 12 May 21

Mr Parton, you are not a social worker, you are a politician. As such, you are well placed to demand a complete overhaul of Housing ACT and to develop policies that would benefit all housing tenants as well as private residents impacted by recalcitrant housing tenants. These private residents include the lady who writes repeatedly to the Canberra Times because of the shocking harassment she experiences from public housing tenants in her street. By demanding a comprehensive policy overhaul, you can also save ACT rate and taxpayers a lot of money. You really need to change your mindset if you want to be an effective opposition spokesman and possible Minister for Housing in an ACT Liberal government.

Mark Parton has helped age care and those with disabilities living in ACT housing more than anyone .we have had 3 break ins to our elderly units at Mawson one elder lady been punched in the face by the intruder all because some safety screen doors are broken .A letter was sent to Housing minister back in March but no reply. We have been told by Programs there is no money to fix our falling down units

So what have you achieved other than self promotion? A message from someone saying that the only hope they have is for a liberal government at next election? Only just had an election and voters rejected the liberals for labour and the greens.
I think your going on about a system that’s never going to be perfect for a number of reasons and has been broken for a very very long time

Capital Retro8:39 am 12 May 21

Nailed it.

Mark Parton MLA9:30 am 12 May 21

It’s my job to help constituents and It’s my job to hold the government to account. I’ll continue doing both.

Fair enough Mark, but do it in a way that doesn’t use people for political purpose and in a way that does not to missrepresent the truth.

HiddenDragon7:17 pm 11 May 21

If this was a program run in the same way, to the same standards, by the federal government, there would be deafening demands for a Royal Commission.

“The only way I can force the government to do anything in this space is to embarrass the hell out of them.”

This is a straight up admission that the MLA was trying to use media publicity to force the government to act outside of the defined policies rather than to fix any systemic issues with Housing ACT. That political pressure is more important than facts and evidence.

It’s base politics and only ensures that actual good outcomes get replaced with ones that can be portrayed well in the media and public.

If this was meant to make the Liberals look like a better choice than the current ACT governnent, it’s a massive fail.

And this comes from someone who dislikes most of what the current mob are doing.

Mark Parton MLA5:28 pm 11 May 21

All I’m doing, is trying to help as many people as I can, as best I can and I make no apologies for doing it. Everything I do in the space is backed up by facts and evidence.

If there are limited resources available and your advocacy for specific individuals causes the government to assist people outside of defined policies and processes, what do you think happens?

By doing this, you arent “helping as many people as possible”, you are ensuring resources are redirected to reduce the media and political “embarrassment”, regardless of need.

Have you ever thought about what happens to the individuals on the waiting list that can’t or don’t want to go to you or the media?

They get pushed ever further back.

Some of the policy directions you’ve been pushing are good, you should stick to that over base political and media stunts.

Mark Parton MLA9:35 pm 11 May 21

Thanks for constructively engaging, but I would reject the characterization of my advocacy for Alex as a media stunt. And I will continue to advocate vigorously for individuals because I’m usually their last hope. It’s not their fault that this system doesn’t work.

Except the responses provided by Housing ACT show that the case you mentioned wasn’t as simple as what was portrayed in the media and alternative housing options had been offered as an interim measure. If you don’t correct the record as part of your job, you are complicit in that messaging.

Do you not see how that behaviour erodes public trust and creates inefficient outcomes, if you continue to push these cases outside of the defined system?

Point out the flaws in the system and try to fix them and you’ll win more support.

Chewy. Whilst I’m no Mark Parton fan. You and I both know the ACT Government’s oft used cover all claim “it’s not as simple as portrayed and/or the government has a deeper understanding of the complexity” is only true about half the time.

This history makes it hard for the public to know when the Minister’s response is real or just more spin.

Too often it comes out later that:

. The hospital admissions data was actually that bad.
. The building didn’t actually meet the original zoning or DA.
. The decision to close the school was actually made before the analysis and report was completed.
. The Government’s property valuer was able to purchase the best piece of rural land for himself.

Occasionally even the ACT government itself admits later down the track that their original claims were false. They usually do this very quietly in Hansard or buried deep in a report.

. The new bus stop distance was based off a straight line not walking distance as originally claimed.

. There is an agreement for the ACT Government to consult unions on procurement projects.

Who knows where the truth lies? I encourage the Greens and Libs to continue to question the Government.

those other issues are not relevant here. The claims and counters would be clearly documented physically in correspondence between the parties involved.

If procedures haven’t been followed, they can be pointed at with the relevant documentation.

The fact that this hasn’t happened tells you all you need to know about where the truth lies.

I’m perfectly supportive of politicians and others calling out government controlled areas that aren’t working properly to hold them to account. But that needs to be based on the facts with an overall goal of improving the system not simply to achieve a media headline or get an individual special treatment.

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