Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Matters of Interest

Storkey, Mr G.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:20): Today, I rise to speak in relation to Mr Gary Storkey. I knew Gary from 2017, originally in his role as the Chief Executive of Community Housing Limited, when I was the then shadow minister for human services. Gary taught me a great deal in a short space of time about the opportunities provided by good housing outcomes and how these can best be supported by innovative government policy. He was a great thought leader in areas of public and community housing, shared equity, build-to-rent housing products for Aboriginal people and affordable housing.

Following the election in March 2018, Gary took on an advisory role, helping our new government implement election commitments relating to forming a standalone SA Housing Authority, which brought together housing assets that had formerly been managed by Renewal SA, with the tenancy management and property maintenance roles from the former DCSI. Gary was initially appointed as the interim chair of SAHA and later as the chair of SAHA until 2022.

Gary's career in housing spanned decades, in which he held pivotal roles in HomeStart Finance, the South Australian Housing Trust, Common Ground, the Credit Ombudsman of Australia and CHL. His special passion was helping people on low incomes, which led him to think laterally about solutions. In 1989, his vision led to the creation of HomeStart Finance, which has seen over 60,000 South Australians achieve home ownership, and he also created the Nunga loan. I came across an email I received from Gary in 2017, which I think signifies a lot of what he stood for and his approach. He said, in part:

My interest has always been that of reformer rather than for personal interest of CHL or that of myself. For 20-plus years I have written and discussed how the system of social housing is broken, yet it can be fixed with the right policies and programs. As with politics it is often the good solutions are blocked because of personal power constraints and other personal interests rather than for the benefit of finding a viable solution.

I have also found that if you don't get the reform implemented in the first six months of any new government, ministers move into ownership mode and simply start defending rather than reforming. My history at HomeStart showed me that you can do all these things without too much subsidy and in many cases actually make a profit. However, they all carry risk and at HomeStart I was always of the view that each risk can be measured and quarantined with good management/people. One of the reasons RP Data was established was precisely for instant valuation of property price risk. Most people don't realise property price and credit risk are far less dangerous than interest rate risk, yet most bureaucrats have no idea about this!

The second issue we discussed last time was how you bring about the change or reform. Having been involved in this before the system has created a lot of self-protection mechanisms in it and is very clever at drowning ministers in complications. Even non-housing agencies such as Treasury, Premier's Department, all try to control or block changes to uphold their power. Treasury has inserted so many conditions into everything, such that you can't do anything without getting them onside. In many cases they don't want debate for fear of losing control.

I helped set up the HUD Act to allow the Housing Minister to create a statutory authority by regulation and both HomeStart and Renewal SA come under that.

New ministers try and change the status quo and as I have said that I learnt from HomeStart that it is easy to start the new and then go back to fix the past because the system protects the past so vigorously.

Gary was absolutely critical in the housing reforms we undertook in our term. I say 'reform' because there were a lot of reforms—I have a motion on the Notice Paper to talk about that in a lot more detail, which I will do—in the public housing system, which was a sclerotic organisation that had old assets that had been left to rack and ruin because the view of the former administration was that there were 'no votes in public housing'.

There were a lot of changes that we undertook, both within the organisation but also in terms of income and asset tests and the way that antisocial behaviour was managed. There is a huge, long list of things that I will speak to in greater detail at some stage which we could not have done without Gary's vision. He passed away last year. He was a great friend, and I miss his advice. May he rest in peace.