Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023


Affordable Housing

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.A. Simms:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that housing is unaffordable for the most vulnerable South Australians with the 2023 Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot reporting for the weekend of 18 March 2023 that:

(a) zero rental properties were affordable and available for a single person receiving a JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, or a parenting payment;

(b) two rental properties were affordable and available for a couple receiving JobSeeker; and

(c) nine rental properties were affordable and available for a single person on the minimum wage;

2. Notes that the government has undertaken a review of the Residential Tenancies Act where:

(a) public consultation ran from 15 November 2022 to 16 December 2022;

(b) 5,565 survey responses were received; and

(c) 155 written submissions were received.

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to publicly release the submissions to and the report of the review of the Residential Tenancies Act.

(Continued from 18 May 2023.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:36): I rise to express some comments in support of this particular motion. I think we would all have to be living under a rock to not appreciate the housing crisis that Australia is gripped by. In fact, I think it is actually a global phenomenon, and particularly in South Australia. We do support this particular motion because there are obviously some very challenging issues for people in the housing market generally but also particularly in the private rental market which is what this particular motion is focused on.

I am not sure if these are historically the lowest vacancy rates that we have ever seen but, if they are not, then they would be very close to them. If I speak specifically about South Australia, we saw during COVID that things were challenging. It was hard to assess the movement of people because a lot of people were not able to get around and did not change their own personal situations, by which I mean that, due to COVID, they were not buying and selling houses or renovating, doing a lot of the things that people were doing normally or changing their rental situation, or moving out of home for the first time. All those sorts of activities became quite challenging but as the border started to lift and movement happened, we saw a large number of people return to South Australia.

We have seen a lot of investors who were landlords who have moved out of the market. I have spoken before, probably in the last sitting week, about this. There are a lot of contributing factors to that, including scaring investors in the market. One of those contributing factors is that the banking royal commission has put additional imposts on those who are landlord purchasers rather than the rest of the other lenders. That is just one of the many contributing factors in terms of people who have been landlords moving out of that market.

Of course, they did sell to a lot of people who have become owner occupiers, which is great for owner occupiers. We particularly on this side of the house are great believers in people owning their own homes, but there has not been the replacement of investors in the market to provide those rental properties to those who need them.

On that point, we need to be very cautious about some of the sentiment that goes around in this space where landlords are often demonised, particularly by the left. A lot of them may be using properties for their own superannuation. There are a lot of very good landlords as well as a lot of very good tenants. Sending signals in the market about things like rent freezes will only scare people away.

We put out a 10-point plan in July last year, which I have spoken about before. Some of those suggestions have been taken up by the government. I would have to say they were pretty slow off the mark in terms of some of them. As the honourable member has noted, a discussion paper was released last year by Minister Michaels, which closed submissions quite close to Christmas, and this motion calls on the government to release those submissions. We certainly agree to it. I think in the debate in this place on the recent residential tenancies amendments the minister made some commitment that they might be released, and we certainly think they should be because we believe in transparency.

As the motion notes, it is often those who are financially vulnerable who have the most difficulty maintaining a property in the private rental market, and that has certainly been the experience of some of the people who have come to my office for assistance, particularly single parents who have been quite successfully living in the private rental market for years and years and years, who generally would be considered good candidates to find another property in the private rental market, but they have not be able to because the properties just have not been there.

Some of those women have ended up being in the emergency accommodation system, living in hotels, which is certainly less than satisfactory, and there is a specific part of our 10-point plan in which we have called on the government to continue the work of the previous government to implement the immediate accommodation program, which was similar to the domestic violence beds that I talked about in relation to the preceding motion, where beds are set aside specifically for those household groups. It ends up being much cheaper; it is a much better outcome for all who use them.

I cannot understand why that program has not been taken up by the government, or at least been given some update on where it is at, given that the evaluation of the domestic violence bed program was shown to be such a huge success. It only makes sense and would go a long way to assisting those people who find themselves in this really difficult situation where they keep applying for rentals but keep getting knocked back because so many other people are applying.

In relation to the bill this parliament passed, Minister Michaels and I were on radio this morning. I noted that the rent bidding legislation that has been passed by this parliament will not have much of an impact; it is not a practice that takes place very broadly in any case. If you are a member of the Real Estate Institute, it is against their code of practice, so certainly their advice and the advice of the Landlords' Association of South Australia, through Margaret Kohlhagen, is that rent bidding is not a common practice. There might have been a few private landlords in that space who engage in it.

That is something that continues to be lauded by the government, which is very good at smoke and mirrors. Doing things of substance is something that they are really not very good at at all, and we urge them to seriously look at some of the initiatives in their own discussion paper and in our 10-point plan that would make a real difference for people in the private rental sector.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (17:44): I rise to speak briefly to indicate that Labor will be supporting this motion. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge that the Malinauskas Labor government has conducted the most comprehensive review of the Residential Tenancies Act since 2014. I am advised that in relation to the final point in the Hon. Mr Simms' motion, that in fact Consumer and Business Services intends to publish submissions that are not marked 'confidential' in the coming weeks.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (17:45): I rise to say that SA-Best actually supports this motion.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:45): I want to thank honourable members for their contributions: the Hon. Michelle Lensink, the Hon. Reggie Martin and the Hon. Frank Pangallo for that support as well. I want to reflect on the exciting revelation that we have heard, that the veil of secrecy will finally be lifted in relation to the government's residential tenancies review. It seems that the government's attitude on this has been, to quote Taylor Swift (who is in the news a bit today), 'Shake it off'—shake it off has been their approach every time I have raised questions. I knew they were trouble when they walked in, look what they made me do.

It is good that we finally have an outcome, and I am really pleased. It is disappointing, though, that it has taken a motion of this council to get the Malinauskas government to do something it should have done months ago, and that is actually to keep faith with the people who have engaged with the review of the Residential Tenancies Act and make the information publicly available. I think people have an expectation in our democracy that if you go to the trouble of making a submission, if you go to the trouble of providing feedback to the government, that should be publicly available.

I think people have an expectation that if a review has been conducted by an external body to government, that review should be publicly available, particularly when it informs legislation that comes to this parliament. I think it was very disappointing to see that the government did the review and they presented a bill to this chamber when no members of this chamber had had an opportunity to actually look at the review.

So a good outcome. I appreciate the government taking on board the feedback of the Greens, along with the opposition and the crossbench, and finally acquiescing to our very reasonable request.

Motion carried.