Page 460 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 18 February 2015

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MR BARR (Molonglo—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Minister for Urban Renewal and Minister for Tourism and Events) (11.49): I am very pleased to rise to speak to Ms Fitzharris’s motion today, and I thank her very much for bringing it forward, because urban renewal is a core part of making the city of Canberra that we all know and love an even better place. I spoke earlier this month about how important urban renewal is for our suburbs and what we are doing as a government to ensure that Canberra is a place where people want to live, work, visit and invest in.

I spoke of the challenges that we face through population growth, climate change, energy and food security and acknowledged our community’s very clear desire to preserve the history of our city as we grow in our second century. I also spoke about the progress we have made across the territory, with a number of successful urban renewal projects either completed or underway, including in Kingston, Campbell and the Tuggeranong town centre, and how they present exciting opportunities for new investment and new jobs, new homes and new lifestyles for Canberrans. Urban renewal is critical to our city’s competitiveness, our productivity, our livability and ultimately our city’s economic viability.

But today I would like to take the opportunity to talk about how important urban renewal is for social housing. Our city has a proud public housing tradition. As a city growing from scratch, public housing played a crucial role in giving the influx of new residents to our capital, mostly public sector workers, somewhere to live as they went about building this city in its earliest days. Since the establishment of self-government, successive ACT governments have prioritised public housing, and my government is no different in this regard.

But Canberra’s long commitment to public housing has left a legacy. We have the oldest portfolio in Australia. The average age of a house in our portfolio is around 30 years. The stock on Northbourne Avenue is now more than 50 years old and, to put it bluntly, these buildings are old and they are tired. They have reached the end of their useful life. They were built quickly and to the standards of a different time, and bringing them up to contemporary building or energy efficiency standards is simply not a viable option.

Most importantly—and I think this is something we should all dwell on—these buildings do not serve the needs of our tenants, some of whom are the most vulnerable Canberrans. In fact, these buildings do a significant disservice to our tenants. They serve as a reminder of outmoded thinking on public housing. They reflect a time when the concept of place-based disadvantage was not appreciated let alone considered. These properties were constructed hastily in the era when large numbers of public servants were being transferred to Canberra as part of the establishment of commonwealth departments.

Fifty years ago these buildings were adequate, temporary accommodation for newly arrived, single people. They are not adequate for this purpose today. They do not suit families. They do not suit ageing in place. They do not suit disability access. They are expensive to maintain and to live in. This is the bottom line: much of our current public housing stock, particularly the stock along Northbourne Avenue, does not meet the needs of public housing tenants and no amount of wistful wishing can change that.

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