Thursday, November 16, 2023

Families waiting for public housing frustrated as almost 1,400 government-owned properties sit empty in WA

When I was a landlord, I did from time to time have tenants leaving my property in a mess. I usually had the place habitable again within a week -- usually by bogging in myself to do a cleanup. When government is the landlord, however it commmonly takes months to get the property ready for new tenants. It stays vacant meanwhile. An old-old story about government inefficiency

Families experiencing homelessness in regional Western Australia say public housing is sitting empty and boarded up for months and even years at a time — forcing some into overcrowded and unsafe living conditions.

Geraldton woman Dena Comeagain and her two-year-old son Boston have been relying on family members for a place to live since July, after a series of private rentals they were living in were sold.

Ms Comeagain is on the priority housing waitlist, but she could still be waiting over a year for a house.

She said the past few months — moving between crowded houses and not knowing when they would have a place of their own — had been unsettling.

"It's taking a toll on me now; everything is, with being homeless," Ms Comeagain said.

"I just want to get up and go, but I can't because I have nowhere else to go.

Ms Comeagain's frustration builds when she sees empty public housing boarded up around Geraldton.

As of June, there were 191 vacant public homes in the Midwest and Gascoyne, which includes the regional centres of Geraldton and Carnarvon.

There were 1,380 houses across the state sitting vacant.

In December last year, the Midwest-Gascoyne had the highest rate of vacant public housing in WA at 13.7 per cent — three times the state average.

The December figures, which were provided to WA parliament earlier this year, show empty public housing has been climbing over the past three years.

Statewide, empty public housing increased from 2.5 per cent in December 2020 to 4.2 per cent in December 2022.

Ms Comeagain said she had called the Department of Communities about empty properties she thought could be suitable for her and Boston.

"I am angry when they keep telling me the same yarn over and over ... that's their job, to get the people so they can be fixed, so people can be housed."

Ms Comeagain is not alone in her frustration.

A report to a parliamentary committee on the Funding of Homelessness Services in WA, released in June, found there was a significant number of public housing properties in Western Australia that were vacant or under-utilised.

The parliamentary committee heard anecdotal evidence of properties that had been empty for many months, and even years.

Ten people under one roof

Housing advocates are also concerned that lack of public housing is a factor contributing to unsafe overcrowding.

Over the past few months, Ms Comeagain and Boston have stayed with family members, and at times there have been 10 people living under one roof.

Ms Comeagain she found the overcrowded living difficult, especially after hearing about the death of a 10-month-old baby in the Midwest in July while awaiting public housing.

"I could be in the same situation. I'm a single mother and I'm living the same way those girls were with their babies," she said. "We want to break that cycle.

"[The Department of Communities] should be able to house people so they can have a safe home for their babies."

Ms Comeagain craves stability. "Having a safe haven for my baby, putting him in daycare and getting my life back on track, getting a job again and just being stable," she said.

Potential health issues

Veteran housing advocate Betsy Buchanan said it was difficult for families in desperate need to see empty houses. "I think it's it makes them feel very powerless and very unheard," Ms Buchanan said.

She said overcrowding led to many health issues. "It means that the children get very ill ... that places huge stress on the entire family and the mothers and grandmothers often feel personally responsible, when the overcrowding is really triggering a lot of the illness," she said.

A Department of Communities spokesperson said the number of vacant public housing properties in the region had dropped by 50 since last December, with 35 properties and 12 units being refurbished.

Another 12 "untenable" properties were demolished to make way for a road reserve.

The spokesperson pointed to damage caused by tenants as a factor contributing to properties being vacant, alongside the lingering impact of Tropical Cyclone Seroja and the collapse of the department's property maintenance contractor in the region, Pindan, in 2021.


Women pay the price for the Prime Minister’s productivity problems

Despite a rapidly declining birth rate across the Western world, new research out of the United States shows many people want more children than they are having. The study published by Ohio State University’s Institute for Population Research suggests demographic decline could be reversed if people simply had the children they claim to want.

Yet birth rates in countries like Australia continue to fall. The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the birth rate has fallen three per cent since 2021 and the total fertility rate has dropped to 1.63 children per woman.

The reasons for this are both socio-political and financial. They are proof that we live in a society that increasingly does not value motherhood, children, or family.

Last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made this abundantly clear during a recent keynote address to The Australian’s Economic and Social Outlook conference.

‘We’ve narrowed the gender pay gap to its lowest point on record– and we’re not done yet,’ he said. ‘That’s why we have made equality for women a central economic priority – because it is central to our future economic success.’

Increasingly the political class measure a woman’s success by her contribution to the national economy. This feeds into the narrative that success should be viewed through a commercial lens and that employment is empowerment.

Mr Albanese continued, ‘Making child-care more accessible and affordable is an economic reform that boosts productivity and participation for working women in particular.’ He added, ‘It has also delivered real and immediate help for around 1.2 million family budgets.’

What the Prime Minister pointedly failed to admit is this policy only helps mothers who want to return to the workforce, not the stay-at-home mum. Today’s policies around childcare, while pushed in the name of female empowerment, have everything to do with economic interests and very little to do with giving women a choice.

This is further exacerbated by an economic climate that is not family-friendly. According to the ABS, the average annual income for a man in Australia is about $90,000. However, with inflation at 5.4 per cent and interest rates recently increased to 4.35 per cent, the average salary does not stretch as far as it used to.

Confronted with rising rental and housing prices, many women are forced to return to work sooner than they would have liked. Cost-of-living has killed the stay-at-home mum, and for many women, the choice between returning to work or devoting more time to caring responsibilities has been made for them.

Today, women’s workforce participation in Australia is at 62.2 per cent. However, according to the latest Gallup poll, 50 per cent of women with children under 18 would prefer to stay at home.

Women are being sold a lie. It suits the interests of the political class to support the perception that wealth, career, and lifestyle are the key markers of success. It certainly suits the budget bottom line. The Prime Minister acknowledges this when he says that women’s productivity is ‘essential to boosting productivity’.

When you hear motherhood described as ‘unpaid caring’ and a ‘penalty’, replace those words with ‘unpaid taxes’ and a ‘penalty on the national GDP’. These politically opportunistic catchphrases have nothing to do with empowerment but are rather about encouraging women to make a rapid return to work.

Under the guise of supporting women, the Prime Minister in fact does a disservice to all women by making the ‘gender pay gap’ a top priority for his government.

Moreover, this type of rhetoric fuels the grievance industry by promoting the idea that the patriarchy is preventing women from succeeding in the workforce.

Our elected representatives should be focusing on much more pressing issues, such as improving the national economy by cutting taxes, income splitting, and making housing more affordable, thereby enabling families to survive on a single income.

The 3 per cent fall in the birth rate since 2021 speaks to a society that has forgotten the value of family and the stay-at-home mum.

While feminism has achieved huge wins for women, we must not be deceived by anti-motherhood and anti-family rhetoric. True liberation is about choice, not employment.


Glib advertising no substitute for classroom reform

‘Be that teacher’ is a new $10 million advertising blitz by federal, state, and territory governments that aims to elevate the status of the teaching profession, to celebrate its impact, and to inspire more individuals to consider teaching as a fulfilling career path.

The campaign’s objectives, to reshape the public perception of teachers and to encourage aspiring educators, may well be necessary, but it will do nothing to address the reasons behind our drastic teacher shortage or stem the exodus of teachers from the profession.

To encourage new recruits, the campaign offers up the testimony of eight dedicated teachers. Their stories regarding the connections forged with students, emphasise the transformative power of a great teacher and the enduring satisfaction teachers can derive from their vocation. It’s genuinely positive and convincing stuff.

However, the campaign runs the risk of doing more harm than good. By not seeking to address the systemic problems within the education system, ‘Be that teacher’ obscures the challenges faced daily by teachers in the classroom.

Lack of ‘teacher-heart’ is not the problem in the Australian education system. The problem that demands urgent attention is what awaits a teacher in the classroom, namely, a steady decline in academic standards and a workforce in crisis. It is a crisis generated by a lack of relevant training, unsustainable workloads and unnecessary paperwork keeping teachers from their actual job. On top of this, parents with often unrealistic expectations, and unruly – sometimes violent – students exacerbate the problem.

Any campaign to attract teachers that fails to address these issues will do little to solve the teaching crisis.

Australian classrooms are one of the most problematic in the OECD. The 2018 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment results (PISA) showed while most countries registered an improvement in classroom behaviour, Australia’s had deteriorated. Australian classrooms ranked among the unruliest in the world, at 70th out of the 77 countries surveyed.

It is unsurprising that students feel empowered to antagonise and disrupt when our National Curriculum is an ideologically driven document explicitly urging students, from their earliest years, to dissent and participate in acts of civil disobedience. The idea that self-restraint and discipline are outdated vestiges of a bygone era has hardly helped.

Moreover, when a student misbehaves, the subsequent administrative demands on the teacher are daunting. The investigation and detailed documentation of the incident itself is followed by a teacher-led ‘roundtable’ discussion with those involved – employing ‘restorative practices’ – and further meetings with other staff and parents. Every one of these conversations must be documented. Hours of time, taken away from actual teaching or lesson preparation, are required every time there is an incident of almost any kind.

Many parents, too, have become increasingly and unrealistically demanding. It is not uncommon for parents to reject the school’s view of a matter and for a teacher to endure complaint, hostility and even abuse. And, of course, all the meetings arising from a complaint must be documented. Unsurprisingly, the school environment can quickly deteriorate, marked by a general lack of trust and respect.

The abandonment of the principle of ‘in loco parentis’ has led too many parents to the belief that it is their right to intervene on their child’s behalf whenever they want. This sense of parental entitlement has created a situation where 59 per cent of teachers report they spend five hours or more, every week, just dealing with parents.

Teachers are on the receiving end of a staggering and increasing rate of abuse. A study by La Trobe University’s Paulina Billett, Rochelle Fogelgarn and Edgar Burns, found that 80 per cent of surveyed teachers had experienced bullying and harassment in the preceding 9-12 month period, and more than half reported this behaviour coming from both students and parents. No other workplace would tolerate such an incidence of bullying.

Many teachers struggle to manage disruptive behaviours and maintain a conducive learning environment. The lack of adequate support and training in behaviour management perpetuates the problem, undermining the learning experience for both students and teachers. Initial teacher training, notably Woke and notoriously lacking in evidenced-based preparation for the realities of the classroom, leaves new teachers floundering and vulnerable, which in turn contributes to burnout.

The workforce shortage has also led to high numbers of teachers taking subjects they have no training in, known as ‘teaching out of field’, which is another contributing factor to the decline of educational quality and student outcomes.

The public perception of teaching being a 9am-3.30pm job with long holidays, if it was ever true, has never been further from the truth. The profession is under extreme strain, with teachers routinely describing their workload as ‘excessive’, ‘unrealistic’, and ‘unsustainable’. A recent Monash University survey suggests almost half of the teaching workforce is considering leaving the profession.

While the “Be that teacher” campaign celebrates exceptional educators, the $10 million spent will in no way address the real problems underlying the teacher shortage, and will only overshadow the pressing need for sweeping system reform.

For the teaching profession to be genuinely elevated and, crucially, for workplace conditions to improve, comprehensive reform is urgently required


Australia’s energy system can handle extreme summer if system holds up, market operator concludes

No reserves

Australia’s energy system faces a once-in-a-decade spike in electricity demand this summer – as well as an increased bushfire risk and extreme heat – as the country’s market operator warned the system cannot afford any unexpected outages or supply shocks.

The Australian Energy Market Operator in August warned the country’s energy system could be stressed to near breaking point as soon as this summer, and Victoria and South Australia could both experience blackouts as there was a heightened threat that there would be insufficient generation to meet demand.

The warning had triggered emergency measures, which the AEMO said has eased the shortfall threat, but there is little capacity for any unexpected problems to Australia’s ageing coal generators.

The AEMO’s executive general manager operations, Michael Gatt, said months of planning with industry has gone into preparing the nation’s power systems for a possible summer of extreme demand.

“Our extensive planning with industry, governments and network businesses aims to have enough generation and transmission available year-round to meet consumers’ electricity needs,” Mr Gatt said.

“This year’s summer forecast is for hot and dry El Nino conditions, increasing the risk of bushfires and extreme heat, which could see electricity demand reach a one-in-10-year high across the eastern states and in Western Australia.”

The AEMO said in September it had asked for commitments of extra generation for both SA and Victoria, and tenders from heavy users who could be paid to lower demand when the grid was strained so much that blackouts could occur.

The AEMO said it is also bolstered by additional capacity as major generators return to operations. The market operator said an extra 1500MW of scheduled generation will be online this summer compared to the previous one, and it now expects an extra 2000MW generation capacity from new wind and solar projects will be available.

In WA, the market operator said nearly 50MW of extra scheduled generation is expected to be available. “The increase in generation availability and additional reserves being procured will help navigate reliability pressures, should they eventuate,” Mr Gatt said.

The additional capacity will largely come from Queensland and NSW, with several major generators on course to complete repairs and maintenance.

Coal is still the dominant source of electricity, providing around two-thirds of the nation’s power. But many of the coal generators are approaching the end of their technical lifespan, leaving many exposed to faults.

Many of Australia’s largest power station operators have undertaken intensive maintenance to ready their units for the spike in demand, but industry sources said recent history showed a spate of issues.

The Callide C power station, one of Queensland’s largest coal power plants, is on course to come back in January, the plant’s operator said earlier this year, while AGL Energy’s Bayswater and Origin Energy’s Eraring coal power stations are both set to return to full capacity after units were taken offline for required maintenance.

However, while the increased generation will ease concerns about insufficient electricity supplies, the AEMO said there remains an elevated threat as an El Nino weather system is expected to bring soaring temperatures and a significant rise in demand for electricity for cooling.

Australian authorities have warned of a heightened risk of bushfires, which could damage or destroy high-voltage transmission lines, which could create serious problems for the nation’s electricity grid.

Elevated demand could also cause further pain to Australian households. While AEMO said it now expects to have enough electricity generation to meet demand, increased usage will likely push up wholesale electricity prices.

Wholesale prices – the cost of electricity – are the biggest component in how much household and business bills rise by in 2024.

Australian households, struggling under high inflation and 13 interest rate rises in little more than a year, have endured two years of electricity and gas price increases of more than 20 per cent.

A record number of Australians are already struggling to pay their electricity bills, and further increases will prove deeply unpopular, and will not be welcomed by the federal Labor government, which has seen its polling slide substantially amid the cost-of-living squeeze.

Increases in utility bills could also fuel inflation, forcing yet more interest rate rises from the Reserve Bank of Australia, which has vowed to bring inflation back to its target by the end of 2025.

Energy market executives fear continued increases in electricity bills will also temper public support for Australia’s energy transition.

Labor has set the ambitious target of having renewable energy generate more than 80 per cent of the country’s electricity by the end of the decade, a key pillar in the plan to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030.




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