During debate on emergency measures during COVID-19, Greens Member for Newtown Jenny Leong MP moved an amendment to ban retaliatory evictions during the pandemic.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (14:24:38): I make a brief contribution to debate on the COVID‑19 legislation. My party colleague Jamie Parker has already spoken on it. At the outset I highlight that this legislation makes changes to a significant number of laws and is far-reaching in its scope. When one sees what is included in the legislation, it is clear where the changes are not being made and who is being left out. Renters have been significantly hard hit by the pandemic and the realities of the loss of income. A number of other vulnerable groups have faced significant risks and are at significant risk as we move forward in dealing with the pandemic. I want to put it out there that the legislation is being dealt with in a rush. I do not think that statement equates to us not agreeing that an emergency response is required but that does not mean that we cannot have a few more hours in this place to scrutinise and debate the bill adequately. It is important to continue to put that on the record.
I foreshadow that The Greens will move a significant number of amendments in the Legislative Council and two amendments in this place as they relate specifically to renters. We know that renters are doing it tough. We know that Scott Morrison said that there would be a moratorium on evictions as a result of one of the National Cabinet agreements but we also know that renters are still getting eviction notices because the way that statement was interpreted, renters in New South Wales did not get full-scale protection. The protection applied only to COVID‑impacted tenants if they could prove they had lost 25 per cent of their income. If you lost 20 per cent of your income you have no protections. The amendments that The Greens will move in the Legislative Assembly, which I will talk to when I move them, will seek to provide protections to tenants across the board from retaliatory evictions and from unfair no‑grounds evictions by limiting the grounds on which a tenant can be evicted.
I also wish to speak briefly about some other sections of the community that have been left out from the emergency measures. The first of those are artists and those in the creative communities, who have been hard hit by the pandemic. In many cases artists are already living with insecure incomes in insecure housing situations and with insecure finances. In addition, massive events have been cancelled, theatres have been shut and art galleries have been closed. We have seen creative activities and events having to stop. The absence of a relief package that looks specifically at support for artists, creatives and musos in our community is a huge oversight. It is very disappointing that this legislation has nothing that specifically goes to providing protections and support for artists and creatives.
Others who have been completely left out of the legislation include international students, migrants and non‑citizens. If ever there was a time for measures being introduced to protect people, now should be that time for those who live in the State and country. The idea that we would make arbitrary distinctions about who gets support in the crisis and who does not based on the colour of someone's passport or the status of their visa is completely unacceptable. We know that the COVID virus does not discriminate and that it can impact anyone. The idea that certain measures would support only certain people in our community is concerning. There are tragic pictures of international students lining up for food because they have no other way of sustaining themselves. There are horrible pictures of refugees and asylum seekers being held in detention centres, at risk because they are unable to physically distance themselves from each other in the conditions they are being detained in. Yet we are seeing no support.
I will call this out in the Chamber right now: What we are seeing in the response to how these measures are being implemented is in some cases clearly discriminatory and in some cases clearly racist. We know that people in the community who are providing support—the people working in shops and on delivery bikes, stocking food in warehouses, cleaning trains—are usually from migrant backgrounds. It is hard to ignore the fact that there is a colour divide when it comes to who is providing services in our communities right now. People do not want to face or think about how the statistics highlight who is being targeted and who is at risk and the inequality in our society in this pandemic but it is true reality for so many.
I give a particular shout‑out to the people from the Asian Australian Alliance, the campaign #UnityOverFear, the Chinese Australian Forum and Democracy in Colour who have been tracking these statistics. An incredible number of people have been highlighting the racism and discrimination that has occurred as a result of the pandemic. Their work continues to provide solidarity and support to those people and I thank them. I acknowledge the leadership that is provided when racism and discrimination increases in our community. If there was ever a time that we should be making decisions to protect and address the needs of everyone, it is now. One of the best ways that we can do that is by passing strong protections for renters in this State. The measures that we pass for renters do not discriminate. They exist to provide support to all tenants and/or renters in the community. We believe it is a high priority for this Parliament and will be moving amendments that relate to protections for renters in this place.