Thursday, 21 March 2024

Questions without notice and ministers statements




Evan MULHOLLAND (Northern Metropolitan) (12:14): (479) My question is to the Minister for Housing. Yesterday the Ombudsman handed down a follow-up report on social housing complaint handling. The Ombudsman said that letters to a succession of responsible ministers went unanswered until a draft of yesterday’s report elicited the response that recommendations to government were under active consideration. The Ombudsman progress report says they are not started. Minister, we are in the middle of a housing crisis. Why are you ignoring the specific recommendations aimed at the government?

Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria – Minister for Housing, Minister for Water, Minister for Equality) (12:15): Thank you very much for that question, Mr Mulholland. Yesterday’s report by the Victorian Ombudsman contains a number of examples of experiences of renters that are absolutely appalling. Be under no doubt that I do not accept that renters who call for help and do not get it are in fact the product of a system that is doing what it needs to do. I have been very, very clear in my expectation that complaints-handling processes need to improve and indeed that a level of responsiveness needs to be built into the system to in fact deliver the level of responsiveness, care and cultural engagement in a way that makes and keeps people safe and dignified throughout the course of that engagement. Whether it is with contractors or whether it is with housing officers, that is consistent across the board.

In noting the Ombudsman’s interest in social housing and in this report, you are correct in identifying a letter of response which is appended to the Victorian Ombudsman’s report, a response which I had detailed and sent to the Ombudsman a number of months ago. I am committed to making sure that we have better outcomes, that we have positive outcomes and that we have consistent outcomes for renters across the social housing system. We have seen a 22 per cent decrease in housing-related inquiries from the Victorian Ombudsman in the July to December 2023 period compared to the same time from 2022. There was also a 25 per cent reduction in housing maintenance inquiries and 4 per cent fewer neighbourhood dispute inquiries were received from the Victorian Ombudsman during this period.

I am also determined to make sure that in delivering on local maintenance pilot projects – which are delivered through hundreds of people across the system, including people who call social housing home – there is engagement and a response that accords with the urgency and the priorities of issues as they are raised by residents. I also want to make sure that we are considering the recommendations made by the Ombudsman and are in a position, given that they cross a number of different portfolios, including as they relate to the charter of human rights and to freedom-of-information law, for the government to respond to and address those questions and recommendations. But I also note that the content of the same report refers to significant progress being made by the department.

It is my expectation, as I said at the outset, that those improvements will continue. We do see a significant reduction in the number of general maintenance inquiries raised by residents and tenants, and we do see that the work goes on to improve a system which, as I said at the outset, should never have included the sorts of examples set out in that report. Indeed the work goes on. I am committed to being part of it.

Evan MULHOLLAND (Northern Metropolitan) (12:18): The Ombudsman’s report did highlight an 83 per cent increase in complaints about public housing, including tenants waiting 18 months for basic maintenance – all this despite the Big Housing Build. The government has announced today a new taskforce to crack down on dodgy rentals. Minister, as the state’s largest landlord, will the government be subject to this new taskforce?

Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria – Minister for Housing, Minister for Water, Minister for Equality) (12:18): Thanks, Mr Mulholland. There are a couple of different elements to your question, the first being maintenance and the second being rental reforms and the $4 million taskforce that has been established. In relation to the matters being overseen by the Minister for Consumer Affairs, there is a question that is appropriate to be directed to her in the way in which that occurs. What I am happy to confirm to you, Mr Mulholland, is that Homes Vic provides maintenance to around 64,000 dwellings at a cost of around $281 million – over the period, for example, 2021–22 – and undertakes 350,000 maintenance activities every year. They include requests from renters and essential safety checks as required by the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. That is – (Time expired)