Michelle Lensink

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Couch Series: Michelle Lensink fields housing questions, confirms concessions review

UPDATE: Housing was a key question on the list for Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink, who also holds responsibility for housing. While she did not have an exciting announcement to share about public housing, she was happy to advise the concessions review called for by SACOSS was already in motion.

The second in our SACOSS pre-election ‘Couch Series’ was held on 2 March, with Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink fielding a wide range of questions from SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley. Shadow Minister Nat Cook, who had intended to join us, sent her apologies and will be providing a followup address to the sector, so that we can hear her responses to some of the key issues raised.

On the issue of social housing, Minister Lensink was pleased with SACOSS’ acknowledgment that the government had largely halted the loss of public housing that had been occurring for a number of years, but made no encouraging announcements of increases to come. She said the state of public housing inherited from the previous administration “really was a basket case”, evidenced by the Triennial Review published in 2018. To address problems with ageing properties, she indicated that record money has been spent on maintenance, to the tune of $168 million.

Minister Lensink also pointed to a reduction in public housing waiting lists and an increase in community housing, but said, “It would be wonderful to have the 7 and half thousand properties that the former government sold off, but at this stage we’d need to look for a lot more money in order to fund public housing and we’re trying to look at other ways to assist people in that space to get their foot into the door of housing.”

Instead of investment in more public housing, the Minister suggested that for people in the private rental market, build-to-rent schemes were a better option.

In response to SACOSS’ argument  that an increase in public housing might create downward pressure on rents, the Minister said that she appreciated the ‘demand argument’ that less competition for private rentals curbs price rises, but in this context talked of people who were likely to exit the private rental market once their new houses were built and an increase in investment by landlords as other ways of dealing with the current huge amount of demand.     

The Minister was more encouraging when it came to questions about reviewing the concessions system, as called for by SACOSS following the release of our Concessions Report, which she said was “already underway”, so that whoever wins the election would do something – given that Labor Leader Peter Malinauskas unequivocally committed to a review in our Couch event last week. But the Minister could not commit to any action on another of SACOSS’ policy proposals, portable long service leave for workers in the community sector.

Overall, the Minister did not suggest any new directions (with the exception of reviewing concessions) that aligned with SACOSS’ policies on digital inclusion, safe drinking water for all, public health and rental affordability. That said, the Minister pointed out that “we're not ideological warriors in this government. So if you can demonstrate a case, it's accepted.” Let’s hope that’s the case for a few more of SACOSS’ calls for action, as outlined in our Cover the Basics platform.

4 March 2022