From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 4 February
It was simple: you worked a second job – usually in the hospitality industry; saved a 10 per cent deposit; met with your bank manager, and applied for a 25-year housing loan.
INVARIABLY, providing you were purchasing ‘brick and tile’, and you had permanent employment, the loan was approved. You bought your first house!
For others, in post-war Western Australia, the state housing commission imported and assembled fibrocement sheeting kit-houses. Everyone had a home.
In 1956, the recently elected Liberal-Country Coalition Party leader Robert Menzies sounded the death knell to Australia’s golden-age of public housing. So savage were the negotiations the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement was all but abolished. Regrettably, there has been no subsequent determination to remedy the situation. In the 1960s, state governments sold some 90,000 public houses. It was a homebuyers’ bonanza.
Currently, public housing construction is at 40-year low. Existing stock is drastically underfunded.
The magnitude of Australia’s homelessness problem is deplorable. The question is nuanced, and the solution, vexed. Undeniably, it is the direct consequence of years of neglect by successive governments. The inexcusable lack of commitment to public housing is an abject failure in government policy. There is a greater concern about staying in power than in good governance.
The lack of public housing is critical. Politicians will, in defence of the indefensible, obfuscate in classifying the causation. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?”
In truth, the shortage of affordable housing is a volatile, political cocktail of hubris, indifference, and neglect, coupled with unemployment and poverty. Family splits, mental illness, sexual assault, addiction, gambling, and social isolation, lead to hardship. Domestic violence is the single biggest cause of homelessness in Australia.
On any given night, approximately 116,000 Australians will be homeless. Many more, living in insecure housing, are one step from homelessness.
While the Federal and state governments are attempting to ease the situation, implementation of stratagems is too slow. Children living in tents in a country as rich as Australia is a social obscenity. Abhorrently, some state schools have refused to enrol children with no fixed address.
Victorian Premier, and Member for Bendigo East, Jacinta Allan, told ABC Central Victoria radio it was her strong belief schools should enrol homeless children. She posited, disturbingly: it was a breakdown of policy, and has since been ‘rectified’.
Those responsible for the exclusion should be relieved of their duties. They are not fit and proper persons to be controlling of any part of the State education system. The discrimination – the visitation of the sins of the parent onto the child – is odious. It has no place in a modern, Australian society!
Our societal configuration has altered, dramatically. The working class: the skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled, are no longer so clearly defined. Previously, and generically, many of the working class did not own property; were dependent on wages; their access to higher education was restricted; and they were, largely, excluded from the important decision making process.
The mid-20th century shift from manufacturing to service industries wrought great change. Employment opportunities shrank. Lives have been rent asunder by privatisation. Only the fittest survive. Governments have struggled to keep pace with societal change.
Success is measured by an accumulation of wealth. For those lacking acumen and opportunity the road is thorny; the prospects bleak.
Democracy is not the greatest system, but is superior to the alternative. Still, we must create a more equitable system. The format is difficult to envisage but the imbalance must be tackled, however challenging.
Roland can be contacted via [email protected].