AMNESTY FOR WHOM?
Monday, February 11th, 2013
By Ross Smith, for the
The announcement of a granting of amnesty to a small number of public housing tenants announced on Sunday 20th January 2013 marks a misguided day in the history of the administration of public housing in NSW.
This ‘initiative’ is a copy of the move made by the incoming Queensland government within days of the last election in Queensland. The new Queensland government decided to show the electorate that it was a responsible economic manager. To do so it needed to portray itself as being tough on those deemed to be robbing the state.
Public housing was costing the Queensland government $1 million per fortnight. Instead of identifying and resolving the inefficiencies in the management and administration systems for the public housing portfolio, the decision was made to demonise the public housing tenant body by portraying them as bludgers on the state purse.
The reason for doing so was that they were a soft target with very limited capacity to defend themselves against a campaign designed to appeal to the revanchist mentality of the broader community. The bureaucracy on the other hand were comparatively articulate, had the capacity to defend themselves from attack, had the resources to do so, and were organised with access to legal services.
The outcome was the retrieval of a one-off $5 million, which was the equivalent of the operational losses incurred by ten weeks of the existing inefficient management and administration systems residing in the public housing portfolio.
There was no consideration of the ongoing costs transferred from one state department budget to other state department budgets arising from the associated creation of homelessness and the cost of servicing that homelessness. These costs to the state budget are ongoing and substantially higher than the cost of housing the homeless.
The NSW government chose to follow in Queensland’s footsteps. It felt that it also had to demonstrate its financial responsibility and management capabilities.
The NSW decision to grant amnesty to a small number of public housing tenants raises the question of what was the Department’s Fraud Investigation Unit doing for all the years it has been a charge on the Housing Budget, and how much it has cost the NSW government in foregone revenue. Similar questions arise around the management and administration of the department’s maintenance regime.
If the Minister’s intent was to show that the state’s funds were to be administered in accordance with the legislated requirements, perhaps a wiser choice would have been to grant amnesty to herself for her failure to give value for money to the people of NSW whilst administering a state owned asset to ensure it delivered its legislated outcomes.