Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hit the pause button

Front page of The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 2017
A fortnight ago ABC News reported that Australia looks almost certain to win a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, do we deserve a seat?

In recent years Australia's human rights record has become very blemished ... not just in the area of treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Back in August 2014 Ms Kim Boettcher, solicitor for Seniors Rights Service addressed the United Nations' Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (5th session), and drew attention to the plight of tenants of social housing at Millers Point and The Rocks. She told the Working Group how one of the elderly residents said to relocate her away from her community is ‘one step short of putting you up against a wall and shooting you because it’s saying you are of no value to society. You are worthless.’ You may read her full address here. Indeed, last year The Millers Point Community Working Party and Tenants Union of NSW made submissions to the Australian Law Reform Commission on 'Protecting the Rights of Older Australians from Abuse', arguing that the actions of the NSW Government in Millers Point constitute systemic elder abuse.

The NSW Government's sale of public housing in Millers Point continues. As at 11 July 2017, there have been 151 sales, some of multiple properties. Altogether the sale of 200 properties at Millers Point has raised $422.77 million (with a further $22.09 million being generated in Stamp Duty!). You may check the NSW Government's dedicated website for their figures at the end of June 2017 here.

But at what cost? At the time of the Minister's announcement to sell all social housing stock in Millers Point, there were 579 residents in 399 tenancies in the portfolio.

At 19 July 2017, 16 residents in 10 tenancies remain. So, altogether 563 tenant and household members in 389 tenancies have either vacated or are committed to moving. There are 2 tenants remaining in the Sirius Building. We have previous reported extensively on the impact of forced relocation on the residents.

So when is enough, enough? This once proud and historic community indeed, the only community to have bestowed upon it the status of 'A Living Heritage', has been decimated by the cruel edict in March 2014 to remove all social housing tenants from their community and sell off their homes, resulting in great pain and suffering! The last few surviving elderly, vulnerable tenants ask the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to end this abuse of their basic human rights and allow the few to stay, and 'age-in-place'.

A new development gives our Premier the opportunity to redress this great injustice. On Tuesday of this week, the NSW Land and Environment Court made a ruling that the NSW Government's decision not to put the iconic Sirius Building on the heritage list was invalid. This gained wide media coverage on the ABC News , The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian . Shaun Carter, Save Our Sirius chairperson, said it was a good day for the building, the local community and the whole of NSW. He urged the Premier to hit pause on the demolition and and sale of Sirius. He said let's talk about the heritage listing of Sirius and how the building could be used for social housing again. He added: 'We are desperately short of social and affordable housing, let's now use it for what it was intended.'
Last two remaining Sirius residents Myra Demetriou and Cherie Johnson
and Save our Sirius chairperson Shaun Carter. (ABC News)
So the question becomes: Will the NSW Government show compassion and allow Myra and Cherie (and the other older residents of Millers Point) to age-in-place in their homes? Yes, stop the evictions, with more residents facing hearings at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Yes, seize the opportunity which the Land and Environment Court has provided and let's talk again about the importance of retaining social housing in Millers Point. You have received oodles of cash from the sales to date and you also announced a billion dollar windfall in revenue from stamp duty in this year's State Budget. If you still insist on selling the homes which are not in the Sirius building, then defer this and do so when these few remaining residents don't require them. 

Over to you, Premier! Show the nations of the world that our great state, New South Wales, has a government that leads the way by being fair and compassionate when it comes to its citizens, no matter of age, race or creed! Let's make a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council more than mere words.

The authors of this post are Barney Gardner, member of the Millers Point Community Working Party, and Robert Mowbray, Project Officer - Older Tenants with the Tenants' Union of NSW.

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