Jenny Leong, MP for Newtown, speaks about the impacts of the floods on the housing crisis in northern NSW and the Greens' plans to support affected communities and tackle the unfolding emergency.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (17:26): I speak on behalf of The Greens and particularly on behalf of my colleague the member for Ballina, Tamara Smith, who is unable to be in the Chamber today. She was unwell and awaiting a PCR test. I am glad to say that it is all clear. But I understand that those in regional areas might have to wait a little longer for their results than others. So, unfortunately, she could not be here today. I know she will be putting the views of her community and her response on the record later this week, when she is in the Chamber. On behalf of The Greens and the member for Ballina, I thank the member for Coffs Harbour for bringing the motion and join with the member for Lakemba and all members in acknowledging the work of all affected local MPs and their staffs. They were not only impacted by the extreme weather events but also tried to support their communities at the same time. I recognise that this is still very raw. The sense of crisis and the trauma people are feeling and the realities of what they are facing are happening right now, still to this day, and will take a long time to repair and recover from. There are massive challenges that lie ahead.
We have heard about and seen the work that the member for Ballina and others have been doing on the ground. I recognise that there are many gaps in services, and that is partly because the scale of the disaster is nothing like we have seen before. But we need to recognise that, when we are at a crisis point—whether it be the pandemic or this recent flooding or the bushfires of the past—the existing inequalities and problems in our communities and society can affect how the crisis impacts on individuals. It could be because of economic inequality, housing insecurity and unaffordability, not having access to income support or other services, or challenges with language and other things. We need to recognise that everyone has gone above and beyond but also that some existing inequalities are escalated in a crisis. As is often said, we experience the same circumstances, but the infrastructure and the support networks we have around us are not equal for everybody.
The recent floods in the Northern Rivers rendered several thousand homes unlivable, turning the already existing housing crisis into the emergency it is. I have been working closely with the member for Ballina to look at the escalating housing crisis in the region. No-one would deny it was a problem before these floods hit or not now realise it is of epic proportions. The community is traumatised and overwhelmed by what has happened. In addition, families, mothers and elderly people are being forced into overcrowded housing with friends and relatives, are parking caravans on front lawns or living in makeshift shelters, including tents, or are living beside properties that have been condemned.
The member for Ballina is calling for immediate relief for flood victims in the Byron shire and for the Liberal-Nationals Government in New South Wales to honour its election commitment around capping short‑term holiday letting at 90 days as one of the simple solutions. There are many other things we could do. Today I introduced a bill into this place, which I will give the second reading speech for this week, that will cap rents for 12 months in flood-affected areas so that people do not profit from this crisis. It will also stop any evictions from occurring in flood-affected areas, because we know that can be a risk. People kick people out and then do the house up and charge an astronomical amount of rent, and we see further escalation of rental prices. I hope members will look at that as a possible solution.
Although nothing I have seen on television or heard in stories compares in any way to what the members who have contributed to this debate experienced, I did experience something from afar. I received a text message at 6.56 in the morning from one of my sisters who lives in Cabarita Beach, where the floods hit. At 6.56 it was a somewhat light-hearted message. She said that the pool seemed to have encroached into the house. We had spent the summer there and swum in the pool. By two o'clock that afternoon—after much stress and worry—she, her partner Jake and their dog were lucky enough to have been evacuated in a tinnie. That things escalated that quickly gave me a taste of what must have been the trauma, heartache and pain suffered by so many in those communities. I can give them my absolute commitment, The Greens' commitment and the member for Ballina's commitment, that we will do all we can to make sure the adaptation and disaster response serves the needs of the community.