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.