Robyn Kemmis


‘Lord Mayor, a resident has brought to attention a sad analogy. There is a painting by George Raper in the National Library of Australia called The Melancholy Loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island March 19, 1790.

‘The HMS Sirius was the First Fleet vessel under the command of Captain Arthur Philip. Sirius, the building constructed to provide affordable public housing in The Rocks, was named in honour of the First Fleet vessel.

‘Sirius was lost on 19 March 1790. Some 224 years later, exactly to the day, the Minister for Planning, Pru Goward announced the sale of 293 properties in Millers Point, and the sale of the Sirius building. On that day, the State Government turned the lives of 400 of the city’s residents into a nightmare. We are all still in shock – shock, disbelief and grief.

‘The bald announcement has made a mockery of consultation that the State Government promised – as part of the Social Impact Assessment undertaken in Millers Point and The Rocks.

‘It makes a mockery also of the Legislative Council Committee of Enquiry into social, public and affordable housing. The Committee is still sitting and is yet to reach any conclusions.

‘We were promised consultation on the findings of the social impact assessment over a year ago. It was released, with no consultation, moments before the Minister made her announcement.

Not only was there no consultation on the assessment, the Government’s responses to its recommendations are staggering. For example:

  • 2.11 Utilise some of the funds from sales to build accessible senior’s housing in Millers Point and near areas and give older residents the opportunity to relocate to this housing. Not accepted
  • 2.12 For any replacement housing built with funds from sale of social housing in Millers Point, consider innovative models of community housing including housing cooperatives, mixed tenure housing (such ans the Camperdown Project, (Common Ground model), and Community Land Trusts. This approach has been suggested by community housing providers and resident groups including CoRE. Not accepted
  • 3.1 Consider sale options that include redevelopment of some non-heritage sites for affordable housing for low-income workers to retain some diversity in the area.  Not accepted
  • 4.2 Utilise some of the funds from sales to build accessible senior’s housing in Millers Point and near areas so older residents are supported to age in place. Not accepted

‘Councillors will recall the Auditor General’s report of 2013 which identified the financial challenges of maintaining the public housing estate in NSW. In recognition of those challenges, members of the Millers Point community, CoRE, put forward a proposal to the Minister, proposing alternative models to the drastic measure of selling public housing, for example, the establishment of community housing. CoRE has been ignored.

‘The Minister’s announcement, and subsequent items in the press issued by members of the government, treat this as if it was a problem about a block of houses. It is not. This is a community. For families of many generations, for single residents, for the elderly, this is their family, their home.

‘As Anthony Albanese said, “Millers Point is a community– a living, breathing mixture of people that adds to the diversity of the broader Sydney Community.” He also said, “Successful cities are not disconnected enclaves of privilege and disadvantage. They are diverse; their people come from a mixture of backgrounds.”

‘The NSW heritage listing describes the Millers Point conservation area as an intact residential and maritime precinct of outstanding State and national significance. It describes Millers Point as providing “a geographically encapsulated portrayal of the evolution of Australian urban life prior to the mid twentieth century … the completeness and originality of its fabric … represents particularly strongly every decade between 1820 and 1930 and by the experiences and memory of its long term community. Its public housing and its development into a government corporate town, were probably the first such developments in Australia (apart from first settlement) and may be of international significance.”

‘In 1961 Jane Jacobs wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Before then, she’d written an article in Fortune Magazine called Downtown is for People. In her work she talks about how, to survive and flourish, cities must be dense, diverse, multi-layered, non-gated, authentic communities – not enclaves for the privileged few. Jane Jacobs wrote over 50 years ago. People who know about city planning have known this for decades. Yet this Government, by this action, is taking us back, in the wrong direction, away from the diverse community that is a vital part of, and sustains our vibrant city.

‘I lived with my mother and my sister in Northcott. I can imagine this happening; imagine my mother being told, in her eighties, that she had to move out of our home. It would have broken her heart– this breaks mine. The fate of Millers Point should give all Sydneysiders pause for thought. Do we want to live in a city that cannot make space for people on low incomes? We need more social and affordable housing in the inner-city, not less, or Sydney’s famous egalitarianism will be destroyed. The inner-city will become an enclave for the wealthy. New models are needed to preserve and increase social and affordable housing. In the UK, housing estates have been successfully redeveloped using a mix of social, affordable and private housing, private housing providing cross-subsidies for the social and affordable housing. Affordable housing schemes in Greater London deliver up to 50% new dwellings, whereas urban renewal schemes in inner Sydney rarely achieve even three per cent.

‘It is vital the government retain social housing in the inner city, particularly in places like Millers Point, where there are established, supportive and well-serviced communities. A city that turns into nothing more than an enclave for the wealthiest people might seem rich in dollars, but it would be poor in every other way. A community is only as good as the way it treats its least-advantaged members. This action by this Government is cruel – it’s callous –and must be resisted.’

—Robyn Kemmis, Council, 7 April, Social Housing Millers Point



3 Responses to Robyn Kemmis

  1. JohnD 27 January 2016 at 10:04 am #

    Robyn Kemmis advocated for social justice and social housing. Comments about Robyn Kemmis and especially more of what she said about social housing and Millers Point are welcome.

  2. Anne Junor 27 January 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    Robyn was a dignified, thoughtful, astute, generous and articulate administrator who was a great listener, practical problem solver and strong advocate for social justice. She went out of her way to show respect. She really understood the impact of loss of community.

  3. peter muller 30 January 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    Robyn was a defender of social housing in Millers Point and all of Sydney she realised the value of maintaining the social Diversity in our city The sell off of social housing in our city is something that will affect this city she loved will effect us all for generations and must be stopped

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