Public Accounts Committee

24th November 2021

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (13:39): As Chair: I take note of the Public Accounts Committee's [PAC] report entitledFollow-up Review of the Management of NSW Public Housing Maintenance Contracts. In 2016 the Public Accounts Committee completed an inquiry into public housing maintenance contracts. I was part of the inquiry that provided valuable information and helped inform members of the PAC of the significant challenge to government agencies in managing and maintaining the largest social housing portfolio in Australia. Driving the 2016 inquiry were the reports of the high degree of dissatisfaction with public housing maintenance that were being relayed to many members of Parliament. In a sense those reports were anecdotal. However, no doubt a majority of members would have believed there was a significant problem at that time.

The notion of systemic maintenance problems, reactive or programmed, within the public housing portfolio was supported by the evidence of witnesses and by the fact that Family and Community Services, which then carried the responsibility, had only recently made major changes to its contract management of the assets. That change was the asset maintenance services, or AMS, contract. It was a major change under the social housing strategy known as Future Directions, which was the policy of the new Government at the time. That is relevant because the committee found it difficult to draw significant conclusions as to whether problems would be addressed by the new AMS system. The PAC did seek a follow-up of progress under the AMS in 2017, which delivered a quite positive view of the AMS system and progress on public housing generally.

The current report and recommendations came about once again due to a large number of complaints that many members were receiving and still receive about public housing. As the chair of the Public Accounts Committee and a member during the 2016 inquiry, I was very attuned to the concerns raised by members across the board. For that reason I discussed the issue and the possibility of a further inquiry with PAC members as well as other local members. I believe that the committee approached the task with objectivity and professionalism and with a real desire to identify any systemic problems that have led to poor maintenance outcomes for residents across New South Wales. Committee members were also keen to identify ways in which the Land and Housing Corporation [LAHC] and the Department of Communities and Justice could be assisted in delivering better outcomes. The Public Accounts Committee was assisted by the Land and Housing Corporation, with visits to a number of locations showing a range of the challenges it has in providing suitable housing to its clients. The PAC members were appreciative of the time and effort given and were left under no illusion as to the magnitude of the problem.

From the fact that the inquiry made 21 recommendations, there can be no doubt that there are problems impacting on the delivery of timely and quality maintenance in many cases. The challenges include the diverse nature and quality of housing, which is often due to the age of the stock, as well as the fact that many clients have significant problems that mean that more resources are needed to address their concerns. The need to find suitable homes and/or to retrofit housing to suit in-home aging and disability or to accommodate people with other physical and sometimes mental health needs is also a challenge. That raises the urgent need for a huge increase in contemporary housing stock, which was outside of the scope of the inquiry but which is patently obvious.

While we believe that many of the recommendations will improve the service delivery to public housing tenants, there is a clear need for a major investment by the Government to deal with the backlog of maintenance and to accelerate planned maintenance and capital works. This is covered by recommendation 18. In my mind it is critical if the Government is to achieve more than just holding the line or seeing a continuing decline, particularly in older public housing stock. In regard to the ability of the Land and Housing Corporation to keep pace with maintenance demands, it is also apparent that the heavy reliance on rental income as a source of funds for this purpose is inadequate due to the size of the problem and the limited income available from tenancies, where rent reflects income for a client base that by definition will be of lower income.

I thank everyone in the Land and Housing Corporation and the Department of Communities and Justice working to provide housing for our most in need. It is a challenging task but housing that makes those tenants feel valued and want to have pride in their homes needs to be at the core of what we provide. Housing should not be the bare minimum; it should provide for the dignity of circumstance. Once again, I acknowledge those who work in this space. I particularly thank CEO of Land and Housing Corporation Mick Cassel for his openness during the inquiry. I thank his team, in particular Mark Byrne, and all those who provided support and evidence to the inquiry. Those who appeared in person included representatives from all head contractors as well as City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the member for Newtown and the member for Charlestown.

The inquiry raised additional matters about PAC's ability to have full confidence that it has access to all information required. That matter was resolved in the short term but will be subject to further discussion with the Government. We need to do better with providing public housing and those who have the responsibility for that must have the resources it needs to do so. If adopted, I believe the recommendations will go a great way towards that goal. I thank my colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee: the member for Mulgoa and deputy chair, Mrs Tanya Davies; the member for Keira, Mr Ryan Park; the member for Heathcote, Mr Lee Evans; the member for North Shore, Ms Felicity Wilson, who was on the committee at the time; and the member for Albury, Mr Justin Clancy. Great thanks must go to the committee staff, led by Mr Bjarne Nordin: Cheryl Samuels, Candy Lee, Ze Nan Ma and Derya Sekmen, without whom this work could not be done.

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