Jenny Leong introduces bill to Parliament to end unfair no grounds evictions in New South Wales, on 13 October 2022:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (13:32): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Today on behalf of The Greens I am introducing the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Prohibiting No Grounds Evictions) Bill 2022 to finally put an end to unfair no-grounds evictions in New South Wales. New South Wales is in a rental crisis that is worsening by the day. Every single day, renters are being hit with massive rent increases. They are too fearful to negotiate or ask for basic repairs because of the constant threat of being evicted. The rental vacancy rate is at record lows and rents have skyrocketed up to 40 per cent this year in some Sydney suburbs and as much as 30 per cent in regional New South Wales. Renters in this State are desperately in need of security. They need stability and they need urgent rent relief right now. With the bill before us in the Chamber, we could deliver all of that by Christmas.
Forget the cost of lettuce. The cost of rent is by far the most significant expense in people's weekly budget. The number of households experiencing moderate or severe rental stress is on the rise. The latest census data shows that a third of renters are in rental distress. This means they are paying 30 per cent or more of their household income on rent every week. Rising food and energy costs pale in comparison with the pointy end of this cost-of-living crisis. A recent report commissioned by Housing All Australians warns that more than two million lower income rental households will be in serious housing stress by 2051.
We know that the current no-grounds eviction provisions, which allow landlords to evict tenants at the end of a lease or during a lease with no reason whatsoever, are a key driver of this problem. Currently, tenants in New South Wales who meet all of their responsibilities and pay their rent on time can be evicted at the end of their lease without any reason. Tenants on an ongoing periodic agreement face even more insecurity. They can be asked to vacate the property with just 90 days' notice, again without the landlord having to give any reason. If a landlord believes that they can get more rent from a new tenant, they can simply terminate the lease of the existing tenant with no-grounds and no good reason. We are seeing this play out in real time in regional communities as Sydney's worsening unaffordability crisis is driving people from the city into the regions and causing chaos in the housing affordability crisis in the regions.
A recent report commissioned by the rental review site Rent Rabbit found that 20 New South Wales regional communities are deeply experiencing the rental crisis, with tenants in severe rental stress. Communities from Port Macquarie to Narooma, Swansea, Wagga Wagga, Tamworth and Tweed have rising rents and low vacancy rates. No-grounds evictions are driving and increasing this crisis because landlords know that they can just boot out tenants for city renters who they know will pay more because it will seem like less rent compared with what they had been paying in the city.
All of this cost comes at a great price to our society and our community. Many New South Wales renters do not know where they will be living from year to year or, in some cases, from month to month. This instability creates a huge amount of stress, particularly for children who are forced to move schools, elderly people or people who rely on local health and support services. It prevents renters from being able to put down their roots in their neighbourhoods and communities and contribute to our society. The Tenants' Union estimates that evictions cost the average renter more than $4,000 and that up to 30 per cent of renters will face an eviction through no fault of their own. The risk of eviction, particularly into homelessness, is especially high for people who are experiencing personal crises or other stressors.
The Greens recognise that in certain circumstances it is reasonable for a landlord to terminate a rental agreement. Contrary to what some on the other side may say and suggest to me at times in this Chamber, we recognise that there are cases which would have completely legitimate and reasonable grounds for a tenant to be evicted. The bill prescribes those genuine grounds and sets them out quite clearly. The first of those grounds is that the landlord themselves or a close family member of the landlord intends to live in the property for more than 12 months. The second of those would be that the landlord intends to carry out renovations or repairs that will make the property uninhabitable for a period of more than four weeks and has ensured that all the necessary permits and approvals have been acquired. The third would be that the premises would be used in a way or kept in a state that it cannot be used as a residence for at least six months. The fourth would allow any other grounds prescribed by regulations set out by the Minister.
The reason for that is because we know that there is always a risk that when we bring a crossbench bill to this Chamber that people will want to say, "What about this bit? What about that bit?" and say we have not consulted on these grounds. What we are saying is the urgency to act on this crisis and pass this bill before Christmas means that we want to give the power to the Minister to be able to set in regulations additional grounds, if required. If any member of this place is hearing the reasonable grounds that we are putting forward and wishes to advocate for other grounds to be included, there will be the space and opportunity to do that, but that can be done at a time after we have acted in response to the urgency of the crisis renters across the State are facing.
Those are the grounds set out under this bill that would be considered reasonable to terminate a lease. This bill would prevent unfair no-grounds evictions taking place. We know right now across this State of New South Wales, there are a whole lot of very unreasonable ways that landlords are kicking tenants out. It is not reasonable for a tenant to be kicked out of their home because they attempted to negotiate with the landlord or agent about the cost of their rent rise or dared to question the idea that they were subjected to a rent increase. That is absolutely unreasonable for a tenant who has requested essential repairs and maintenance because of a massive hole leaking water into their bedroom and onto their bed, or because their entire study is covered in mould from a damp issue or because their oven does not work. It is unacceptable for tenants who make requests for basic maintenance repairs to not do so because they are fearful of eviction as a result of making that maintenance request.
It is unreasonable for a landlord or real estate agent to put off repairs knowing they can wait until the lease expires, evict the tenants, raise the rent and get a new tenant in—and then start that process again. They know the rental market is so hot right now that they can kick someone out at the end of their lease, bump up the rent another $30 a week to make more money and then do the same in six or 12 months' time. Those are not reasonable grounds for someone to be kicked out of their home, which could force a child to move schools or an elderly person to find a new GP. Those are not reasonable grounds to subject renters to exorbitant costs of moving every six to 12 months.
Those are not hypothetical examples and no member in the Chamber can ignore those stories. Once upon a time they may have been stories in the heart of Newtown, in which 50 per cent of people rent, but those stories are being covered each day inThe Daily Telegraph and other Murdoch press. Those stories are as real and live in northern, western and southern New South Wales as they are in Erskineville, St Peters or Darlington. Everyone across the State may experience the housing crisis and members of Parliament have the opportunity to make a change to offer security to everyone before the year's end.
The other key provision in the bill provides remedies for tenants who are wrongfully evicted. New sections 85A and 85B make it a requirement for landlords to ensure that residential premises are used in accordance with the grounds on which an eviction is made, and empower the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to compensate tenants if a landlord breaches the grounds of an eviction, including directing the landlord to use the property as per the grounds set out in the eviction, and/or reinstating a residential tenancies agreement to tenants who are wrongfully evicted, and/or paying compensation to a tenant to cover the costs associated with a wrongful eviction.
People who live in rental properties are not second-class citizens; they are families, children, individuals, retirees, students, migrants and young people. Those rental properties are their homes. Those people should be able to put down roots in a safe, secure and affordable house. They should be able to connect with their community without facing the ongoing stress and uncertainty of knowing that opening an envelope from the letterbox or an email could result in the uprooting of their entire family and life because a landlord wants to make an extra $30 or does not want to fix their oven. We must recognise the two million people in New South Wales who face that stress every day. We should not be putting that stress on our communities, and we can act right now.
Housing affordability is worsening and home ownership rates are declining. Many people are renting for longer than ever before. Generations of people know that they will rent for their entire lives. It causes them stress knowing that they will be renting for their entire lives under that level of insecurity and lack of power. They do not know whether the place they call home now will be the place they call home in a couple of months. We must act on that. We have a moral obligation to resolve that issue. The 2021 census data tells us that over two million people rent in New South Wales in the private rental market. That is two million people who live with chronic insecurity and a power imbalance that have become features of renting in New South Wales. That balance must be tipped back and righted.
Introducing reasonable grounds to end unfair no-grounds evictions is the start to re-establishing that balance. It shows respect to those two million people in New South Wales. The issue is not and should not be controversial. Ending no-grounds evictions is a sensible and practical reform that the Tenants Union' of NSW has been pushing for years. In 2018 the Make Renting Fair campaign was backed and pushed for by a coalition of unions, social services, local councils and community legal centres, and the former Labor leader committed NSW Labor to that policy. Last week in question time Labor members interjected during an answer from the Premier, confirming that they also back ending no-grounds evictions. Even the Treasurer, then fair trading Minister Matt Kean, acknowledged that we need reform. In 2018 he said:
No grounds evictions, retaliatory evictions, all these things are currently undermining renters' rights in NSW.
It is time to get it done. We cannot wait until the next Parliament. We can provide renters with protection now. I acknowledge the Tenants' Union for its assistance and support in drafting the bill. I urge all members to seek a briefing from the union on the bill to understand why it is essential. I acknowledge in the gallery members of the Healthy Homes for Renters campaign. It is wonderful that they are unintentionally present in the gallery at the time of my second reading speech on the bill. I urge all members to look deeply at the bill. We could pass it before Christmas. The community needs the bill. At the end of this term of Parliament, members can come together and deliver for the two million renters who live in New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on the urgency to end no grounds evictions, on 09 November 2022:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (15:28): I move:
That the general business order of the day (for bills) No. 5 [Residential Tenancies Amendment (Prohibiting No Grounds Evictions) Bill 2022] have precedence on Thursday 10 November 2022.
Right now, every member of this Chamber has the chance to provide by Christmas protection and certainty to the two million renters in the State of New South Wales. For the first time in a very long time, the Liberal‑Nationals Government does not have the numbers on its own to pass or block legislation in this Chamber. I seek an urgent reordering of business to bring on The Greens Residential Tenancies Amendment (Prohibiting No Grounds Evictions) Bill 2022 so that it can be debated tomorrow. The moment to do it is now. The Independents are on board, and we do not need to wait to kick out the Liberal-Nationals Government in March 2023 to deliver on this reform. If NSW Labor steps up right now and stands by its election commitment that it made just days ago to end no grounds evictions, we can introduce it this year. We must take this opportunity now to deliver immediate housing security and cost-of-living relief for renters in this State.
For NSW Labor to stand in the way of this critical reform just days after making an election announcement, talking itself up all over social media, to end no grounds evictions and then refuse to support this motion would be nothing short of offensive. Renters cannot afford to gamble in the hope that NSW Labor might win the election in March 2023 and then potentially deliver on this reform. We need to act now, and we have the numbers to do it. Ending no grounds evictions is not a controversial move. The only people who see it as controversial are those who seek to profit from the massive housing insecurity in this State.
Peak organisations such as Shelter NSW and the Tenants Union of NSW support the urgency of debating this bill today. The NSW Women's Alliance, which provides specialist services and statewide support to those affected by sexual, domestic and family violence, have written to all members of Parliament urging them to support this bill and urgency motion. Every month we delay, thousands more renters will face rent hikes, because they are too scared to negotiate, or evictions, because they have asked for repairs or have been forced to move out of their home for no reason. At the Healthy Homes for Renters briefing, which we co-hosted with Better Renting, Sweltering Cities and the Tenants' Union of NSW, they all pointed to end no grounds evictions right now. Renters know that the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government is a party of greedy landlords and big investors, and we know that too. But where does NSW Labor sit? We know what its members have said and what they have championed on social media. But what will they actually do? We can and we must pass this bill by Christmas to give renters the protections they need.
Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on the Privatisation of Inner West Buses, on 3 August 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (15:09): By leave: It was hard to find the words to seek leave to speak in this debate because of the hypocrisy that I just heard from Opposition members—former Government members—who said, "Please, we want our buses back. Our communities want our buses back." Who destroyed the bus network in New South Wales? They did.
Ms Yasmin Catley: And who was the Parliamentary Secretary for transport?
Ms JENNY LEONG: Indeed. The member for Oatley was then Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure. I cannot believe it. I find it unfathomable to even comprehend the idea that we are now seeing members of the former 12-year Liberal-Nationals Government crying, "Oh my goodness. I have this problem with my local school. The community just wants to be able to catch a bus." Seriously. They caused this disaster by pursuing their privatisation agenda.
The Greens thank the member for Swansea for bringing the motion to the Chamber and acknowledge that the new Minns Labor Government has brought into play a task force to examine the issues. Let us be clear: The task force is necessary to consider the massive challenges ahead. But we must acknowledge absolutely that privatisation has failed and anything other than a commitment from the new Minns Labor Government to bring the buses back into public hands is unacceptable. It is not enough just to critique privatisation. It is important to renationalise and bring services back into public hands. That is absolutely critical. The privatisation agenda delivered ongoing cancellations, constant delays, fewer services, longer travel times and terrible outcomes for workers. Privatising inner west buses was completely disastrous and created dangerous conditions.
After the buses were privatised, my electorate office started receiving phone calls from local people. The back streets between Enmore Road and King Street are very narrow—members might be familiar with them. People were ringing in a panic, thinking someone had stolen a bus because bus drivers were driving down their quiet back streets. The drivers were not adequately trained and did not know the routes so were turning down side streets in the back of Newtown and Enmore. In addition, bus stops were closed. I look forward to the details of when the task force will consult the community about inner west and inner-city bus services. I thank the Minister for Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport for their commitment to inform us so we ensure our communities engage with that process.
Let us be clear: While it is welcome that the bus task force's remit will include engaging directly with communities and hearing about the impacts of privatisation, it is not enough for this Government simply to talk about the disastrous impacts and deflect the blame and responsibility onto the dudes behind me. We need a commitment to bring our bus network back into public hands, because any public transport system that is run by private operators will be driven by profit motive over and above the interests of passengers—families, communities and young people who use the bus services. The private operators' priorities will always be different. Privatising our bus network means running it for profit instead of providing a quality public transport system that meets the needs of and delivers for our communities.
If we are committed to the idea of creating jobs and having a world-class public transport system in this State, we must recognise the importance of keeping the system public. I cannot stress that enough. I remember many years ago standing with the unions and the Labor Party, which made a commitment to oppose the privatisation of inner west buses. We promise to make sure that the new Labor Government keeps future bus services in public hands.
Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on the Climate Crisis, on 2 August 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (20:59): From unseasonably warm winter days in Sydney to scorching summer temperatures and wildfires across Europe, and scientists confirming that July is the hottest month on record the Earth has ever experienced, the United Nations Secretary‑General has given us a grim warning: The era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived. Here in Australia, we are bracing for scorching summer temperatures, with many scientists predicting the first El Niño in three years. It is clear that we need to immediately end our dependence on climate-wrecking coal and gas, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and make the big polluters pay for the damage that they have caused and continue to cause. But instead, tragically, the New South Wales and Federal Labor governments continue to be captured by vested interests connected to the fossil fuel industry.
While we are watching temperature records being broken day after day, and alarm bells are ringing in all directions in the form of wildfires and melting ice caps and extinctions, the New South Wales Labor Government continues to log our native forests, refuses to break the addiction to the fossil fuel industry and steers us further and further towards climate catastrophe. This week, instead of taking the opportunity to follow Victoria's lead to ban gas in new homes and buildings in that State and signal there is no place for gas in a clean energy future, the New South Wales Premier instead chose to shut this move down, declaring in reports that he did not need "another complication"—never mind complications like the catastrophic floods, the raging bushfires, the extreme heatwaves and the droughts that our communities are facing as "complications" to their lives.
Meanwhile at a Federal level, Labor's environment and water Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has approved three coalmines in just the past two months—a new mine, a mine extension, and an exploratory licence. Our community would hope that, as the Federal environment Minister, the Federal member for Sydney would act to protect the environment, which is supposed to be one of her core responsibilities. Instead, she has tried to spin her decisions by citing laws that require applications for new fossil fuel projects to be considered on a case‑by‑case basis and not according to their cumulative contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Both federally and in New South Wales, Labor's climate strategy seems to be to condemn a decade of Liberal inaction in Parliament—and let us be clear, that inaction is real. But it is important to realise that Labor is now in power in New South Wales and federally. It is not enough to just condemn past Liberal inaction. We need to act now to make sure that we are not expanding coal and gas while continuing to log our native forests.
The reality is that, on all fronts, Minister Plibersek, the Albanese Labor Government and the New South Wales Minns Labor Government sadly continue to side with the coal and gas industry over the urgent and desperate need for climate action. We cannot put out this fire while pouring petrol on it and we cannot afford to continue to go down this path. Our inner-city communities, our inner-west communities and our communities across New South Wales expect more. We know that the people who will be impacted most by extreme heat are also the people who are the most vulnerable in our community—those who are marginalised or are facing economic insecurity. We already know, and have seen, that during hot summers parents in Western Sydney resort to driving their children around in cars to keep them cool enough to get to sleep, and older people are forced to spend time, day in and day out, in shopping centres to avoid the extreme weather.
Soaring energy bills and the rate of support below the poverty line—which is another thing the Federal Labor Government has failed to address—mean that people on income support cannot afford to keep themselves warm or cool, with renters freezing or sweltering in their homes because they rarely have access or the funds to fix their cooling or heating systems, and there are no minimum energy standards to ensure their homes are safe. The Greens back the calls from Sweltering Cities and other organisations to keep people safe during extreme heat and extreme cold. Beyond the individual household solutions, though, what we desperately need is real action and real leadership from the New South Wales Government and the Federal Labor Government.
The earth is burning. We need to put an end to coal and gas and move towards 100 per cent renewables. We need to stop the destructive logging of our native forests and make coal and gas corporations pay for the damage they are causing to communities and the environment. No ifs, no buts. This is not the time to make apologies or excuses. The earth is boiling and it is time to act.
Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on Banning Gas Connections on New Homes, on 2 August 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (17:41): I contribute to the public interest debate and acknowledge the contributions by my Greens colleagues: the member for Ballina, who brought the motion to the Chamber, and the member for Balmain. Electrification is the future. By now we all know the harmful effects of gas on the environment and on human health. It is baffling that in 2023, in spite of that knowledge, we have still not moved beyond relying on that toxic fuel, including members in this place, when we should be making sure that everyone's home is safe and healthy. I echo my colleagues' concerns and disappointment that, for all its talk about acting on climate, the New South Wales Labor Government is still refusing to implement a ban on gas connections for new homes.
Thankfully, where this Government is failing to show leadership in the movement away from coal and gas toward an electric future, our communities are stepping up. Just last week I had the pleasure of meeting with the Asian Australians for Climate Action—soon to be the Asian Australians for Climate Solutions—to hear about their grassroots campaign to encourage Asian communities to swap their gas stoves for induction. My colleagues who come from an Asian background will understand that the gas hob is an important cultural item for many of us. We grew up knowing the clang of the wok, the click of the ignition and the sizzle of hot oil meant that a delicious meal was soon to come.
When my own parents remodelled their kitchen, the biggest priority for my dad was finding the largest and hottest gas cooker that he could fit into the kitchen so that the wok would be hot. He regularly talks about the tactics he has for ensuring that he gets the best char kway teow by ordering separate dishes at separate times so the noodles go into the hot wok in a way that tastes best. Thankfully, the love of generations of family recipes—and, indeed, char kway teow—in these meals is not the gas stove. In fact, it is actually the way that it is cooked and the connection to our community and our culture. The Asian Australians for Climate Action are doing everything they can to encourage people like my dad in Asian communities to make the switch to electric, to make sure that we are not engaging with this toxic fossil fuel any longer. It is an important reminder that culture is a living and growing thing, and we evolve with the times. I encourage everybody to check out the TikTok video that the Asian Australians for Climate Action made of cooking a delicious char kway teow on an induction stove.
Beyond this, I want to caution that we are talking about electrification and that, in doing so, we do not overlook the fact that many people simply cannot afford to transition away from gas. Many renters, seniors, public housing tenants and those on limited incomes would struggle to cover the costs of purchasing and installing a new cooktop or heater, let alone paying to have solar panels or batteries installed in their homes. In many cases, because their landlords make those decisions, they are in no position to make the choice for themselves. I give a shout-out to the public housing tenants in Redfern, in the heart of the Newtown electorate, who have worked with our office to start a petition calling on the Government to install solar panels on the roof of all public housing properties in the State. A publicly owned windfarm would help propel us towards a cleaner, greener electric future, as would government subsidies to help low- and middle-income households transition away from gas. The Greens hope to see both of those things on the horizon soon and will keep pushing them on the agenda. I note that the member for Heffron has moved an amendment to the motion. The Greens seek to amend the member 's amendment. I move:
That the amendment of the member for Heffron be amended by inserting at the end "and insert instead: (4) Urges the New South Wales Labor Government to follow the Victorian Labor Premier and move urgently to a future where all new residential properties and government buildings, including schools and hospitals, are powered by electricity."
The Greens believe that it is not okay for the New South Wales Labor Government not to stand strong and follow the lead of the Victorian Premier and the Victorian Government by moving urgently to a transition away from gas. The Greens believe that we absolutely need to get the entirety of the State off coal and gas, but this motion is specifically in relation to new builds. It is clear that the New South Wales Labor Government does not understand the urgency. We need to take the climate crisis seriously in this Chamber, at this time, and move toward a situation where we would see all new residential properties and government buildings, including schools and hospitals, powered by electricity into the future.
Jenny Leong introduces the Greens' bill in Parliament to freeze rents, on 29 June 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (10:18): I move:
On behalf of The Greens, I introduce the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Rent Freeze) Bill 2023 to freeze rents for two years and to put a stop to out-of-control rent increases. New South Wales is in a rental crisis the likes of which we have not seen in generations. Rents are increasing four times faster than wages, evictions are on the rise, and too many renters are just one rent hike away from homelessness. The NSW Council of Social Service this week estimated, based on census data analysis, that one in five renters in New South Wales are living in poverty. The Greens are introducing this bill because renters are in crisis right now. There is a need for immediate action to address skyrocketing rents.
Before the Government claims that it is making renting fairer by appointing a Rental Commissioner and planning a broader suite of reforms, I make it very clear that none of those actions will provide any relief for the crisis that renters face right now. This crisis requires an urgent response. I urge all members to think about the stories they have heard from people in their communities who have been subjected to massive rent hikes. People are in housing stress, living below the poverty line and paying well over 30 per cent of their incomes on rent. Members should consider whether they could face those people and look them in the eye if they do not support this rent freeze bill, which will give renters desperately needed relief from the ongoing stress of worrying about rent hikes or evictions. The Parliament has the power to act right now to make this change. We can give urgent relief to the renters in our community who are experiencing enormous financial stress; all we have to do is vote for it.
The Residential Tenancies Amendment (Rent Freeze) Bill 2023 will prohibit rent increases on all residential tenancy agreements in New South Wales for two years. Under new section 40A (3), all New South Wales residential tenancy rents will be frozen at their rate as of 30 June 2023. If a new tenant starts a lease at a property after that date, the property can only be rented at or below the June 2023 rate. If a property was not rented out as of 30 June 2023, then during the rent freeze period of two years it can only be rented out under a new tenancy agreement at or below the median rent for that postcode. These provisions—freezing rents as of tomorrow, 30 June 2023, and linking rental rates to the property rather than to the tenant—ensure that we will not see a massive rent hike before the bill is enacted, nor an increase in unfair, no-grounds evictions as a way for dodgy landlords to avoid the freeze. The rent freeze is linked to the property, and not to an individual tenant or lease agreement.
New section 40A (4) (a) also provides a maximum penalty for breaching the rent freeze at 50 penalty units for an individual or 100 penalty units for others. These penalties are in line with the Government's recently passed Residential Tenancies Amendment (Rental Fairness) Bill 2023 and are appropriately balanced against the significant profits that are to be made in the private rental market. New section 229 sets out the requirement for the Minister to ensure that a review of new section 40A is conducted within one year of the legislation commencing. A report on the outcome of the review must be tabled in each House of Parliament no later than six months after the review is carried out. It is envisaged that the soon-to-be-appointed Rental Commissioner will be best placed to conduct this review.
The legislation sets out that the review must consider three elements: first, whether the policy objectives of the new section remain valid—that is, the two-year rent freeze—secondly, whether the terms remain appropriate for securing the objectives of the bill; and, thirdly, and most significantly, whether ongoing limits on rent increases are required to ensure that rents are and remain affordable. This will give Parliament the time to consider the impact of this temporary two-year rent freeze as well as any longer-term or ongoing actions required to ensure that rents are affordable. These actions might include the introduction of limits on rent increases and making it illegal for unlimited rent increases to be imposed on renters in New South Wales. To be clear, the bill does not do this. At this point, the intention of the bill is to introduce an interim two-year rent freeze to offer time to reform rental laws in the State and to deal with the immediate rental crisis.
I take time to respond directly to comments by the Premier and others expressing their concerns and opposition to a rent freeze. I believe in drafting this legislation The Greens have responded to those concerns and that they are all now addressed. We have heard concerns that freezing rent increases will somehow actually increase rent prices, suggesting that landlords and real estate agents will jack up rents in anticipation of or at the end of the rent freeze period. While this is a clear admission of what The Greens know to be true—that dodgy landlords and real estate agents are price gouging and profiting off the housing crisis—we share the concern that those who wish to profit off the housing crisis will stop at nothing to boost their bottom line. That is why the bill includes a number of safeguards to ensure that this does not happen.
New section 40A (3) (b) ensures that the rent freeze is not just linked to the individual tenant or tenancy agreement, and is set in place regardless of whether a tenancy ends at that property, to act as a safeguard against eviction for the purpose of a landlord wishing to avoid the freeze. The 30 June 2023 commencement date also ensures that landlords cannot pre-emptively increase rents ahead of the freeze period. New section 40A (2) clearly stipulates that rent increases after this date will have no effect. The review required by the bill also ensures that consideration will be given as to whether the ongoing limits on rent increases are required to ensure that rents are affordable. On behalf of The Greens, I will be clear: This bill is intended as an interim, emergency measure to get rents under control. Much bigger and longer-term reforms are still needed. But we also know that renters are struggling now, and a two-year rent freeze gives the new Government the time and space to implement the reforms that it believes will actually address the crisis.
During the 24-month rent freeze period, The Greens members expect to be working hard in Parliament and campaigning hard on the streets to ensure that the Government is taking the necessary action to put an end to no‑grounds evictions and to implement long-term solutions that will get the cost of rents under control. That is the job of the Government. The Greens are committed to working with the Government on solutions to address the housing affordability crisis and to make renting affordable, secure and fair. We recognise that fairness is not enough. We need to ensure that renting is also secure and genuinely affordable. Sadly, we have repeatedly heard outdated and irrelevant studies rolled out to justify inaction and oppose a rent freeze—studies that do not take into account the scale of the crisis we face or reflect the temporary nature of The Greens' proposed rent freeze. They also misrepresent arguments about supply in a way that shamefully, but unsurprisingly, works to benefit big investors and those profiting from the current crisis.
One of the clearest examples I can point to is that of Berlin, where in 2019 residential rents were frozen on apartments built before 2014. The sky did not fall in, and neither did supply. Instead, as economist Dr Cameron Murray wrote inThe Guardian last week, Berlin saw considerably faster new housing development than the 13 next-largest German cities in the two years following the introduction of the policy. We have also heard claims that in a rent-controlled market, investors will simply pull their investment properties off the market. Not only is there no evidence to back this claim, but also the reality of the housing crisis means that many renters would love to buy their first home but have instead been locked out by ever-increasing house prices, in no small part because big investors with access to more borrowing power are hoarding properties. If landlords have no interest in participating in a rental market that does not fleece renters, they can sell their investment properties and create an opportunity for first home buyers, while also reducing the demand in the private rental market.
Before we hear cries about the loss of rental supply, The Greens offer a simple solution. We can tackle the problem by building more public housing—and not demolishing existing stock—and by putting in place an immediate requirement for at least 30 per cent genuinely affordable housing in all new private developments. Too often we hear blame and excuses for why intervention is not possible. Whether it is the nimbys, migrants, wealthy overseas investors, international students or local councils, every week the Government seems to find someone else to blame for the housing crisis. Instead of playing the blame game when it comes to the rental crisis, the New South Wales Government could act right now. When we come back from the winter break, we could pass legislation in this Chamber to freeze rents for the people of this State. Everything is possible until it is not; all we need is the political will in this Chamber to provide financial relief for the more than two million renters in New South Wales.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis right now. Governments need to take the necessary actions and intervene to address this and make a material difference in people's lives. During the pandemic the Federal Government doubled the rate of JobSeeker and lifted more than one million people out of poverty. I do not think any of us would have predicted that would happen under a Liberal-Nationals Government. In this very Parliament, at the peak of the COVID pandemic, we froze rents on commercial tenancies for six months and introduced a moratorium on evictions for residential tenants under the Retail and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19) Regulation 2022. It was an emergency, and the Parliament acted accordingly. In Victoria, all residential and commercial rents were frozen for six months during that pandemic period, alongside a ban on evictions under the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020. Just last December, after adjourning for the year, the New South Wales Parliament was urgently recalled in this Chamber—in fact, bizarrely, in a side room—to pass laws to cap coal and gas prices and reduce electricity bills in the face of escalating cost‑of-living pressures.
That showed the Government has a responsibility to urgently intervene in unprecedented crises, and the rental crisis and financial stress that people are facing in this State are unprecedented. With no limit on rental increases, rents over the past 12 months have surged by 20 per cent in Sydney and by 6.7 per cent in regional areas of New South Wales, according to the Tenants' Union of NSW's rent tracker data. Rentals in New South Wales are at unprecedented levels of unaffordability. More and more people are experiencing severe rental stress, and there is a dire shortage of affordable rentals for people on lower incomes. Just this week the Tenants' Union of NSW, Shelter NSW, the NSW Council of Social Service and the Housing for the Aged Action Group jointly demanded government action on out-of-control rents. They said:
Too many are spending too much of their income on rent, leaving too little for other necessary expenses. The escalating cost of housing has placed a tremendous burden on individuals and families. Together, we draw attention to the urgency of addressing the problem of increasing rents. The NSW Government needs to provide clear plans to address the pricing of this essential service to bring it in line with community needs and expectations.
I have good news today, because this bill would do just that. It is not the only solution, but it is the start of a solution. The bill would give renters immediate relief and would cost nothing for the Government's budget bottom line. As a cost-of-living measure, it would have a much more significant impact on the weekly budget than the Active Kids vouchers, toll rebates or energy caps. It would not cost the Treasury a single cent. Every day that the Government refuses to act is another day that a renter will face eviction because of an unfair rent hike they cannot afford.
The Greens know that a rent freeze alone is not going to solve the housing crisis. It is the start, not the end, of ongoing, desperately needed reform to put a stop to the massive profits that big investors and developers are reaping from the housing crisis and to make renting more affordable and secure. The Greens look forward to the commitments that the Government has made to end unfair no-grounds evictions, appoint a Rental Commissioner and provide much greater transparency and oversight of the rental market. We believe that unlimited rent increases can and should be illegal. Whether it is through rent caps similar to those in the Australian Capital Territory—the only State or Territory in the country that has seen the cost of rent go down—through capping rent increases to 2 per cent per year, or through establishing an independent body to regulate and set rents, The Greens want long‑term measures to get the cost of rent under control.
We also need to address the short-term and holiday renting issues in our communities. In regional holiday hotspot areas, families and local workers are finding it nearly impossible to find affordable rentals where they live. That is why The Greens are committed to cracking down on the profit motive underpinning the housing crisis, making those profiting from short-term rentals pay tax just like any other business, empowering local councils to set short-term rental caps as they see fit and imposing a 5 per cent tax—at least—on empty homes. But there also need to be viable alternatives to the broken private housing system. We need a massive investment in public housing. Australia has one of the most privatised housing markets anywhere in the world. By stepping up and making this a government responsibility, we can improve conditions, incentivise lower rents and ensure better living standards for private renters. If public housing is good, cheap and plentiful, private landlords have to offer something better to remain competitive. The State has a role to play.
Today The Greens are clear: We are here to work with the Government to make renting more secure and more affordable. There are many mechanisms, levers, policy reforms and new initiatives that can solve this crisis. We know the solutions are all there; this is just one small part. But we also know that renters cannot handle the financial stress any longer and that they need urgent relief while the rest is being worked out. The New South Wales Government and, indeed, every member of this Parliament, with this minority government, has a choice: They can stand on the side of big investors and developers or they can relieve renters from soaring rents by supporting The Greens' rent freeze bill and working with us to implement longer-term solutions to the rental and housing crisis. It is time to listen to the 60 per cent of people who, as a recent Guardian Essential poll found, support a freeze on rental increases and to back this bill. A freeze on rents is not only possible but urgently necessary, and this Parliament has the power to do it. The time for blame is over; the time for action is here. I commend the bill to the House.
Jenny Leong questions the Premier in Parliament about his plan to block protest livesteams, on 27 June 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (13:18): My question is directed to the Premier. Given human rights and civil liberties advocates like Digital Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch and the Council for Civil Liberties have all warned that Labor's plan to team up with Meta to block protest livestreams would further suppress the right to protest in this State, will he heed the experts' concerns and abandon the plan to silence dissent and further crack down on the freedom of expression and peaceful protest in New South Wales?
Mr CHRIS MINNS (Kogarah—Premier) (13:18): No, I will not. It is important that we put in context the reasons why. Those are, at the end of the day, illegal activities. Whether they are for political purposes or otherwise, they are more often than not extremely dangerous. Given Meta and other social media companies in New South Wales block content like copyrighted information, media and social media have every right to block the livestreaming of illegal activities. We have to be really careful about what is being broadcast, particularly considering it is illegal. I do not deny and I do not want to be in a position where the Government does not acknowledge the passion of protesters, or their right to peaceful assembly, or their right to freedom of expression or to protest. But I have a genuine fear—one that must be acknowledged—that they will kill either themselves or someone who is sent in to rescue them. The circumstances around that are serious, and I will explain why.
A 32-year-old person is alleged to have blocked three lanes with a truck on the Harbour Bridge during morning peak-hour traffic on 13 April 2022. An 18-year-old woman is alleged to have scaled a coal loader and glued herself to the railing. A 22-year- old Queensland woman was detected at 7.15 a.m. on Monday 19 June suspended over the freight line at Kariong. Emergency services were called to Rose Point Road in Singleton because there were reports that two people had climbed on top of a train carriage at Singleton railway station. It is a genuine fear that either the people who are conducting these protests, or the New South Wales police, paramedics or ambulance who are sent in to rescue them, may lose their lives in these protests. Given social media companies routinely and regularly take information offline, whether it is illegal or not, I believe it is appropriate in the circumstances. I do not want to see someone killed as a result of these protests.
Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on Public Sector Wages, on 27 June 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (17:18): On behalf of the Greens, I thank the member for Mount Druitt for moving this motion. I always welcome the opportunity to talk about giving workers in New South Wales a pay rise. I hope we see the Minns Labor Government commit not only to negotiating with the unions but also to scrapping the wages cap. The right to get fair pay for fair work has been a problem in New South Wales for a long time. I recognise that our public sector workers—our nurses, midwives, health workers, paramedics, teachers, transport and frontline staff—have all worked tirelessly year after year to keep us safe during a crisis. Now we need to see them remunerated properly. The Greens absolutely support an end to the public sector wages cap. The cap has meant that, as the cost of living rose, as inflation went up and as billionaires and big corporations reaped record profits, public sector wages and conditions went backwards.
We need to remember the history of the wages cap. It was put in place by a former Labor Government. The commitment to scrapping it now should also indicate a commitment to moving on from what was a neoliberal agenda under the last Labor Government that saw a concerning move towards privatisation and a sell-off of public assets. There was a failure to listen to the needs of workers and a failure to protect and support our public sector. I hope the motion and the actions of the incoming Minns Government indicate its willingness to put aside those dark days of the past and move to give workers real wage increases. The Greens absolutely agree that we need to scrap the public sector wages cap to ensure that our teachers, nurses, midwives, paramedics, transport and public sector workers have a fair wage.
But let us be clear: Just scrapping the wages cap is not enough. Public sector workers need a real wage increase to match the rising cost of living. We heard from the former Treasurer earlier. Members now sitting on Opposition benches want to have both sides in the debate, as the member for Mount Druitt pointed out. On the one hand they are saying, "This is scandal! Look how much it is going to cost!" We saw how much money they spent on their corporate mates when they were in government. On the other hand they are saying, "Come on! Where's the action? Why haven't you done more?" The hypocrisy of members of the former Liberal-Nationals Government is beyond belief. It will continue to go on; I feel certain. I am running a bit of a competition as I watch from the crossbench to see how long the Labor Government will blame everything on the former Liberal‑Nationals Government and how long are the Liberals and The Nationals will play both sides of the coin.
Dr Joe McGirr: Two years.
Ms JENNY LEONG: Two years? I reckon longer. On the one hand, Opposition members are on the side of the workers, and they want to see some action and change. On the other hand, they are freaking out about how much it will cost. The Greens want to see the public sector wages cap abolished and the delivery of real wage increases for public sector workers. We know that we can pay for it. We can pay for it by making the big polluters pay. We can pay for it by making sure that those who are making huge amounts of money off the property industry pay. We can do it by making sure that in this budget workers are given priority over and above giving tax concessions and benefits to the big end of town.
The Greens stand firm in our support of the public sector workers who have taken to the streets just outside this Chamber and taken strike action to demand better pay and conditions. We support mandated staff-to-patient ratios in hospitals. We know that mums matter and babies count. We back the call for 24/7 patient transport vehicles to keep ambulances free for emergencies. We recognise there is a need to fix the chronic staff shortages in schools and back the calls for urgent intervention to alleviate the unreasonable workloads teachers are facing. We back the demands for genuine investment to address the longstanding safety issues burdening our public transport system and to bring the inner west buses and the entire bus network back into public hands. While we are talking about renationalising things, let us bring back Public Works and scrap the public housing maintenance contracts. We are committed to ending the wages cap. We are committed to seeing this reform happen so that we can secure better wages and conditions for the people of New South Wales.
Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on mandatory drink spiking and sexual violence prevention training, on 22 June 2023:
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (16:20): On behalf of The Greens, I contribute to debate on the petition to make training for the prevention of drink spiking and sexual violence mandatory for security and bar staff in New South Wales. I acknowledge the work of What Were You Wearing? Australia, a Newcastle-grown community organisation that is dedicated to the eradication of sexual violence. In response to a growing number of drink‑spiking incidences in their local community, members of the organisation took the initiative to stand up and demand change. I acknowledge the member for Newcastle for sponsoring the petition. It is wonderful. It is no easy feat to have a debate on a 20,000-strong petition and I thank the 20,181 people who signed the petition in support of these significant changes and reforms.
I also acknowledge the 14,000 people who shared their stories of when they experienced drink spiking. It is a massive achievement to have this debate, but it is more important to hear the cross-party support across this Chamber in recognising that we need to act together to do more. Everyone deserves to be able to go out and have a drink while feeling safe, but we know that drink spiking happens and happens on a huge scale. There are clear links between people having their drink spiked and going on to experience sexual assault and violence.
This is also a gendered problem. Women are particularly at risk of this behaviour. While it is important to deliver on all of the suggested reforms in the petition, at the end of the day we must step up and stop the perpetrators—the people who believe that they can spike a person's drink and then have some kind of claim of ownership over that person to do what they wish with them. The patriarchy and the arrogance and dominance of sexual behaviour in our society fuels a system and culture in our communities where people think it is acceptable to spike a person's drink and then do whatever they wish with them. The sexism and inequality that exists in our society enables that to fester, and we need to address it.
Shamefully, all too often, victim-survivors are not believed. Their experience is routinely dismissed. The scrutiny and vitriol that is levelled against them is shameful, toxic and relentless. It is critical to acknowledge that when people have their drinks spiked, too often they are not believed. They are instead routinely dismissed as having had too much to drink and being a bit too loose or too messy. They are kicked out of venues when they are in a vulnerable state and put in dangerous and extreme situations. That can then be further weaponised against them if they experience sexual violence, and it has a lasting impact on their trauma and causes harm to them, their communities, their friends and their families.
To anyone who has had their drink spiked, and to all survivors of sexual violence and assault, I say that we see you, we hear you and, most importantly, we believe you. Our night-life and venues must be safer, and staff need the training and resources to make that happen so that they can recognise when drink spiking has happened and how to respond in a way that supports victims in those situations. Even better, we ideally prevent it from happening in the first place and take the appropriate steps in our community and society to stamp out sexual violence and assault in general.
It is also important to recognise that the responsibility should not sit with individuals and victim-survivors, which is why the incredibly named What Were You Wearing? Australia demonstrates the complete hypocrisy and irony of asking a woman, "Did you cover up the drink? Were you watching it? Did you leave it on the bar when you went to the bathroom? Didn't you ask someone to hold it or look at it for you?" Maybe we should ask the guy who just put something in that person's drink and was going to take them outside and assault them why they did that, rather than asking a person why they did not keep holding their drink close to them all night with a coaster rested on it in case they go to the toilet. That is the question that needs to be asked.
Too often, it is young women who are asked to answer questions, instead of the male being asked why on earth he thinks he is entitled to walk into a pub, drug a woman and then sexually assault them. That is the question we should be asking. We must continue to remind people that, at the end of the day, we should be focused on the perpetrators of that kind of aggression and violence. Rather than looking at how we can protect young women, we need to look at how we stop people from being such arrogant, patriarchal men. I was proud to be a part of the reform that delivered the absolute affirmative consent law reforms in New South Wales. I offer The Greens' support for the ongoing campaigning that What Were You Wearing? Australia is doing to end drink spiking and make sure that women, girls and everyone in our communities and bars are safe.