Jenny Leong MP, Greens Member for Newtown has welcomed the extension of pandemic protections for renters, but called on the Liberal/National government to address the significant inequality in our tenancy laws.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (14:42:44): I offer the support of The Greens for the amendment. It is essential that we see the extension to pandemic protections put in place for renters in New South Wales. Many thousands of people have been calling for an extension to and expansion of these rental protections. I acknowledge the work of the Tenants' Union for all that it has done to push and support the Government during this time to make sure that we have protections in place so that nobody finds themselves evicted in the middle of this pandemic. The Greens support the amendment, but recognise that the pressures and insecurities felt by renters existed before the pandemic, and they will exist afterwards. I urge the Minister and all those looking at these measures—which provide security for people during this pandemic, and which include the very important provision for ending unfair no grounds evictions—to deliver on these protections. As the pandemic continues and as we suffer through very tough and difficult economic times, those protections will be needed.
It is important to recognise the report published by the Tenants' Union supporting renters through the pandemic, which identified that many impacted renters are struggling to engage their landlord in good faith negotiations. I am sure that all members would have had interactions with people who are finding this stuff. We know that the power imbalance is not great. Some are not persisting after their initial request is either rejected or ignored, or are withholding requests altogether because they do not have the confidence to continue and feel that they will not achieve a reasonable rent reduction. It is also reflected in the small numbers of impacted renters making use of the formal negotiation processes through NSW Fair Trading, which I appreciate are great. We need more strength and support for these mediations in other jurisdictions.
I ask that this Chamber and the Minister, who I acknowledge is present in the Chamber, work to follow the recommendations of that report to strengthen and build confidence in the framework around the negotiation process by providing the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal with the ability to set fair rents when a landlord has ignored a tenant's request for negotiations or the negotiations have broken down. If we are not able to provide the tribunal with that power, what will the New South Wales Government do to ensure that the current process is fit for purpose and taken up appropriately by tenants?
The other key area is the issue of financial assistance. When these rental reforms were first announced the Treasurer joined the relevant Ministers to announce concessions around land tax. It was announced as a $440 million financial support package but obviously the land tax waivers and rebates have not been picked up in the same way. We all know there are challenges around that. I am not making a bad reflection on the Government as I know the pressures that were on it at the time to navigate this space in the middle of a pandemic lockdown. But we are now through that initial crisis period and we need to consider the fact that many people in New South Wales have either formal or informal rent debt that is financially strangling them.
People may have continued to pay their rent but they may have taken out an extra credit card to do it and now they have a massive credit card debt and cannot meet the payments. They may have avoided paying their electricity bill and other bills because they needed to prioritise paying rent, and now they have no way to catch up because they do not have the casual work that used to allow them to pay for those things. I urge the Government to examine this issue and—I really hope this is possible—see where we can increase the financial assistance for renters. That could be done through looking at the Government's Rent Choice scheme and expanding the COVID response. Hopefully, the Treasurer and Minister Ward can look at whether there are options around that. The Government could expand the eligibility for private rental assistance, introducing a rent relief grant scheme or a no-interest loan scheme to provide no-interest loans of up to $3,000 to handle housing and related costs and debts.
We know that this is a massive challenge for so many in the community. We know that people are doing it tough. This pandemic has shown that people are only a couple of pay cheques from being homeless. That is a scary reality for us all in this State. We need to do all we can to provide the necessary financial support. We must remember any money that is paid directly as financial assistance and support to families and people who rent in this State is money that will immediately be put back into our economy—whether for the purchase of takeaway food or other items—which will help us through this crisis. I urge the Minister Ward, the Treasurer and the Premier to do all they can to offer a financial assistance package to support renters during this time.