Ministers in the NSW Government seems to be having a lot of trouble understanding what their own policy of Aging in Place means. Below are transcripts from the past few days as NSW Government Ministers answer questions and present what they know about the situation in Millers Point and The Rocks.
Craig Johnston of Shelter NSW advises that the matter of relocation of older tenants from Millers Point came up in the Legislative Council hearing on Tuesday, 30 August 2016 on Budget Estimates 2016-17 on 30 August 2016, by the Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No.2, for Ageing, Disability Services and Multiculturalism portfolio.
When the Christian Democrat’s Paul Green put the NSW Minister for Ageing, John Ajaka, on the spot over what he understands by ‘Aging in Place’, the Minister couldn’t answer the question. Read this excerpt from page 10:
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: … Minister, you would agree that it is important for people to be able to live in and have quality of life in their local communities.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: Yes.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Can you enlighten us how your department is helping those people around Millers Point who have been displaced from their housing, given the fact that their communities, their friends and their doctors are local?
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I think there are three aspects to that. The first aspect, of course, is that this is a matter for Minister Hazzard, for Family and Community Services. I understand that he was here yesterday morning. It is a matter for his agency to take the lead in relation to that. The reply to the second part of your question is that many seniors and older people are sitting on the waiting list and they are desperate for social housing. The third aspect is that when the sale of a Miller’s Point property is able to be utilised to purchase three or four other properties it is appropriate that action is taken from a whole-of-government perspective. That is the action that is being taken. I am well aware, and I know Minister Hazzard is able to answer these questions, that appropriate action — all action — is being taken to assist those seniors currently residing in Miller’s Point to transition into another home.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Thank you for that. I realise it is another portfolio, but that is not the question that I asked. Are you concerned, as the Minister for Ageing, about the approach to remove people who are ageing in place from their homes? Are you concerned that it will set a dangerous precedent—moving elderly seniors or vulnerable people from their homes, given that their real estate may be attractive to the Government, but that it is not in the interests of those people?
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: It is not their place, it is the Government’s place — it is government housing.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I am satisfied that all action is being taken by Minister Hazzard and by the secretary, who is sitting on my left, that appropriate assistance and care have been given to assist those seniors to locate, in many cases to a brand new home in a location that they choose. It was important for me as Minister to be made aware that those actions were being taken sensitively and appropriately to ensure that these residents are relocated. I also indicate that I have met with a number of residents who have located to these new homes — and I have visited these new homes—and they thanked the Government for what has occurred. At the same time, many residents who have been sitting on the waiting list for years—
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: I was not talking about those residents; I was talking about the principle of ageing in place.
The Hon. JOHN AJAKA: I am talking about Millers Point residents who have moved and who have said to me that they love their new home. You have to weigh up the fact that everybody benefits from the sale of one property to purchase four other properties. As long as you take the appropriate action in being sensitive and providing all the assistance — and that is what is occurring — to answer your question I am satisfied.
Kevin was one of the relocated residents who ‘thanked’ the government for his relocation. Read Kevin’s story to find what really happened. The Minister’s statement indicates a properly researched study on the effects of the Millers Point Relocation is needed. (Watch this space – one is in the pipeline, creating more questions for the Minister for Aging).
The Minister talks about relocating older residents away from Millers Point so the government could sell the grand heritage homes it had resumed from an earlier generation of the community. The government refuses to acknowledge it was the Millers Point community that asked the government to sell the heritage houses in Millers Point because the government was unable to look after them. The government ignored the community’s offer to move long-term older residents within the Millers Point area so they could remain in the area many had known all their lives.
Brad Hazzard had even more trouble at Parliament coming to terms with Aging in Place…
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Can you update the Committee with regard to the current public housing situation at Millers Point and how the Government has responded to the needs of those vulnerable housing tenants, ensuring they are adequately housed and not displaced from ageing in place?
Mr BRAD HAZZARD: It is a challenge. It is a difficult issue. The Government took a view which was that those particular properties were worth so much—as you are aware, when I became Minister I had a chat to the Premier and others about this issue. Initially the view was that each one of those properties could sell for between $1.5 million or $2 million, and possibly $5 million or $6 million.
The $2 million sale of one very old property—usually more than 100 years old, with challenging maintenance issues, and often with an elderly individual living in it—could lead to the rehousing of six families or individuals from the waiting list of 60,000. As much as that was a difficult decision for the Government, the fact was that the sale could raise half a billion dollars and build about 1,500 new homes. That was the policy decision that was taken to try to address the very long public housing waiting list. The last figures I saw showed that the list had gone up by another 2,000 or 3,000. Even though we are building new homes at a rate that has not been seen for years, it is still very challenging. I do not know whether you have seen the really good Auditor-General’s report from three or four years ago. I was fascinated to read it because he talked about the fact that the former Government had been forced—as governments sometimes are—to make the decision to reduce the amount of public housing because it had to pay maintenance on the properties. In a sense, it was eating public housing.
We have reversed that. We have created a lot more. I am intent on building a lot more public housing. As recently as last week a Labor Minister from one of the other States came to see what we were doing and to consider how it could work for them. It is difficult. Having said that, I also recognise that there are some folks who have a community of interest. Some people really want to stay in Millers Point. As a result, I approached the Government and the Cabinet and it was agreed that we would put aside 28 units for accommodation. They have all been modernised. They are only small but they are fantastic. Sadly, not all those properties have been taken up. At the moment only about 12 of them have been taken up.
I have asked the department to be as flexible as possible. For example, there are a couple of brothers who are used to living together. In those 28 units there is one three-bedroom, a couple of two-bedrooms and the rest are one-bedroom. That is the evolving accommodation demographic: Most people are living by themselves. It does not mean that they necessarily want just one bedroom for accommodation, unfortunately, but that is what the Auditor-General said that we should be doing. In the case of the two brothers, I asked the department to knock a hole in the wall. That required council approval. The department got council approval and put the two brothers together. We are trying to be flexible.
The Committee would also know that Minister Speakman also recently made a decision about the Sirius building. There are about seven tenants still in there. We are looking to rehouse them. I have been out personally to look at some of the properties. Almost everybody who is being rehoused has been offered really good property in Glebe, Marrickville and Leichhardt—inner-city areas. There are a few people who are saying that they will not move. A few of the younger ones are running a campaign saying that they will not move. I am saying, “I am sorry; you have to move.” For those people who have complex needs, there are another 16 units of accommodation available in Millers Point.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Do you know the condition of sale of the Sirius building? Why could affordable and public housing not be included in that?
Mr BRAD HAZZARD: There has been no decision taken on that yet. There are two arguments. On the one hand, you could say that on all government-held land there should be some affordable and social housing. Sometimes that happens. On the other hand, by saying that that has to happen to the Sirius building you could substantially reduce the price. You could get a much higher price and build a lot more social and affordable housing somewhere not too far away. I think the answer is that one should probably go with the latter. It is difficult.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: Providing accommodation on site ties in with the principle of ageing in place. That is pretty important for those people.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD: I understand that. Keep in mind that some people in the Sirius building have been there for only two or three years but are saying they want to stay there.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN: I am talking about the one who has been there for 50 years.
Minister Brad Hazzard begins his answer with weasal words, repeating the same mantra presented by the government on every occasion – the government decided to sell the grand heritage homes of Millers Point so that it could build many more homes for people on its waiting list. But it was not his idea to sell the grand heritage homes the government had resumed compulsorily from an earlier generation of the community. The government refuses to acknowledge it was the Millers Point community that called on the government to sell these houses in Millers Point because the government was unable to look after them. The government ignored the community’s offer to move long-term older residents within the Millers Point area so they could remain in the area many had known all their lives. The community asked to move residents to the Workers Flats and the Sirius building.
Amongst Sirius residents Brad Hazzard knows Myra has lived in this area for 57 years, and Cherie has lived in Sirius since 1980. Hazzard says he is flexible and expects the same from the community. Myra is not being flexible: her knees and hips don’t work well enough for her to climb stairs, and her blindness means she must have safe access to her home. The government has attempted to relocate her to properties with stairs and a dangerous entry. The way things are going, Myra says to the government, “You might as well take me out and shoot me.” Myra leads the Save Our Sirius campaign. Is she one of Brad Hazzard’s “younger ones”? He points out some people have been in Sirius only three years. Had these residents lived nearby and downsized? This is what has always happened in this area. For example, Flo’s mother moved into Sirius when her place was demolished to build the Shangri-la Hotel, and Flo has lived in six different houses in Millers Point.
Perhaps the worst recent comments in Parliament come from the Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet yesterday in the Parliamentary Standing Committee examining proposed expenditure for the portfolio area Finance, Services and Property, Chaired by Fred Nile…
The CHAIR: You mentioned the Sirius building. What are the plans for that building?
Mr DOMINIC PERROTTET: The heritage Minister made a decision to not list the Sirius building on the heritage register. That was a decision he made.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Despite advice.
Mr DOMINIC PERROTTET: We are the Government, we make decisions.
These middle-aged men don’t seem answerable to anyone.