Greens Oppose Heartless Laws Attacking Homeless

Today the Berejiklian Government introduced new legislation to push homeless people out of the sight of Parliament. The Greens strongly opposed this heartless and heavy-handed police powers response to this social problem. 


Ms JENNY LEONG ( Newtown ) ( 10:52 :04 ): I speak on behalf of The Greens on the Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017. It will surprise no-one in this place that The Greens fundamentally oppose this bill. I would like to take a step back and look at what is happening here. Just outside this Parliament, there are homeless people sleeping in tents in the middle of winter in Martin Place. Everyone would agree that we have a housing crisis. There are 60,000 applicants on the public housing waiting list—that is more than 100,000 people currently approved and waiting for public housing in New South Wales. On the last street count there were more than 400 people sleeping rough in the inner city.

In addition to that, we know that 30 per cent of people who currently live in private rental accommodation are under severe rental stress. They are facing the threat of eviction because of dodgy landlords and huge increases in rent. We know that the solution is to invest more money in social, public and affordable housing. We know that there are answers to these problems and the housing crisis. But we are not here today to have a conversation about a bill that introduces inclusionary zoning to increase the amount of affordable and public housing in new developments. We are not here to pass emergency legislation to introduce a housing-first approach in New South Wales to address the risks of homelessness and help the more than 400 people in our city who are sleeping rough on our streets. Let us be clear, those people sleeping rough are only 6 per cent of the homeless population in New South Wales.

There may be only 6 per cent of people sleeping rough, but they might be very visible and very out there to the people in this place. But we are not here considering any of those things. What are we doing? It is just beyond belief: we have a Minister for Family and Community Services—the person whose job it is to protect the most vulnerable people in this State—saying last week in the media that people should just be moved on and here speaking in support of a bill that will basically allow NSW Police to go and get the homeless people out of her sight because apparently it makes the Premier feel completely uncomfortable. I have news for the Premier: sleeping rough is completely uncomfortable. Being the Premier of New South Wales and having to face the reality that she did not put money into addressing homelessness in this State while claiming that she has this amazing budget surplus is completely uncomfortable and she should feel uncomfortable about that. I can assure the Premier that The Greens in this place will continue to make her and the Liberal-Nationals Government feel very uncomfortable about their failure to assist homeless people.

I make it very clear that The Greens strongly oppose this bill. It is a heavy-handed and heartless police powers response to a social problem. In circumstances such as this the Premier and the Government could have shown compassion. Yesterday we heard the Minister for Family and Community Services criticise the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, for her handling of the situation. That is completely outrageous. Having spoken to the Lord Mayor this morning, I put on the record that she had extensive conversations with the Premier to try to come to a peaceful solution in relation to this issue. The City of Sydney experts have been at Martin Place with the trucks and the council workers to clear the space and work constructively with the people who are there to ensure that the space is safe and clean. They have been speaking to this Government, to this Premier, about good ways forward, such as looking at 24/7 community spaces and assisting homeless people with information about the kind of housing that can be provided, including the city contributing funds to Family and Community Services to help them with this service. But we would not know that from what the Minister for Family and Community Services said yesterday, because apparently the Lord Mayor is playing politics with this issue.

The only people playing politics with this issue are the people who feel uncomfortable about having to come into this place after walking past the failed policies of this Government that do not address homelessness and do not address the fact that people are sleeping rough because the Government is failing to do anything.

Mr Michael Johnsen: When is she going to deal with the professional protestor who is using homeless people as pawns?

Ms JENNY LEONG: The member interjects and says that they are using homeless people as pawns.

Mr Michael Johnsen: You and The Greens encourage professional protestors to use homeless people as pawns.

Ms JENNY LEONG: This bill apparently will not be used to target protestors and use police powers to move people on. Apparently this bill is about clearing tents from Martin Place. The Minister for Family and Community Services has said that there are political protestors outside. So this bill will not solve that problem because those people are protestors and they cannot be moved on. The Government says it is not an authorised protest. It is unclear what an authorised protest is because the right to protest is a fundamental human right. However, if it needs to be an authorised protest, who has the power to authorise tents being set up in Martin Place? Interestingly, the City of Sydney does. The City of Sydney could authorise tents being set up in Martin Place and then this bill will not apply.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Ms Anna Watson ): Order! The member for Riverstone will come to order.

Ms JENNY LEONG: This bill will not apply then because it is a protest. If I, the member for Newtown, decide to have a protest outside and set up 100 tents in Martin Place and get approval for it, under this bill those tents are completely fine. Tents that are housing homeless people in the middle of winter are not allowed by this Government. But a protest that has 100 tents set up is not captured by this bill and are okay. Similarly, if I sing badly in Martin Place and I am offending somebody's personal enjoyment of the recreational area of Martin Place, apparently someone can ring the police and this bill could move me on for singing badly because I am ruining their enjoyment of the reserve at lunchtime. This is a thin-edge-of-the-wedge bill that is focused on the City of Sydney and shows that this Government does not like being shown up by the actions of the City of Sydney when it comes to addressing the issues in our community.

But, clearly, it also could start a swathe of movement and attempts to prevent the community from being able to enjoy their open space and public space. Let us be clear, it is the Minister and the police who make the determination. I do not know what other members think, but I do not feel that this Minister understands what is in the public interest because this is the same Minister who introduced the local government amalgamations, which clearly were not in the public interest. We are allowing the public interest test to sit with the Minister who had responsibility for the biggest debacle we have seen in this State in recent times. He completely misjudged the public interest on that issue.

It is impossible for me to be able to address all the problems in this bill. I would like to be able to inform the House what the key stakeholders—Homelessness NSW, Domestic Violence NSW, the Law Society of New South Wales, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties and other groups—think about this bill. I am unable to tell the House because this bill was introduced yesterday and is being rushed through the House today. There is no need for this bill to be rushed through today. This bill is an attempt by the Government to provide cover for what will be a violent and aggressive act towards homeless people in Martin Place, that is, removing them from that space. Why would the Government want to do that? Maybe it makes them feel uncomfortable seeing people sleeping rough out there and knowing that amongst that group are women fleeing domestic violence.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Ms Anna Watson ): The member for Riverstone will remain silent.

Ms JENNY LEONG: Maybe it makes them feel uncomfortable because they know that homeless people is the best demonstration of this Government's failure to act on the housing crisis in this State. I urge the Government to take a step back and look at what it is doing, that is, introducing legislation to move people on, to sweep the homelessness problem under the carpet. What it should be doing is addressing the issue of homelessness and putting housing supply first. It is shameful for the Minister for Family and Community Services to be a part of this. [Time expired.]


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