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More protections for renters during COVID-19

Public Health and Other Legislation (Extension of Expiring Provisions) Amendment Bill 2020 - Second Reading Speech

24 February 2021

 

I rise to support the extension of emergency powers, a Bill which recognises that we’re still in a health emergency and still in the middle of of COVID-19 response. 

When the COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill came through the house in 2020, the Premier herself said “Nobody should be without a place to call home, especially when we are all being asked to stay at home.”

But Mr Speaker, this Bill recognises we’re still in a health emergency, and that over the coming months we may still be asked to stay at home, for days, for weeks, for however long it takes to keep us all safe. We were in a snap lockdown just a month ago - and while the vaccine goes out in a staged process, we may very well find ourselves in a lockdown again. 

But this Bill does not include any provisions to make sure all Queenslanders have a safe place to call home.

Clearly lacking from this Bill are measures to provide housing support to Queenslanders who are sleeping rough, and renters who are now facing evictions, or people struggling to meet their mortgage repayments.

Mr Speaker, when COVID legislation came through this house last year it included provisions to support renters here in Queensland, including an eviction moratorium. 

The Government put aside its promise to finally reform Queensland’s tenancy laws that continue to disadvantage renters, preventing them from putting down roots in their home, exposing them to skyrocketing rents with no controls, and allowing them to be booted out without a reason. It appears to have done so indefinitely.

What we got instead as part of the COVID-19 response was nowhere near good enough, let me be clear. After some intense lobbying by the well-funded real estate lobby, the so-called eviction moratorium was passed full of holes. 

The bill allowed rental deferrals rather than reductions, forcing families to sink into debt during a recession. Renters had to meet a strict set of eligibility criteria just to access COVID-19 protections.

But the Government hasn’t even deemed it important enough to extend ANY provisions to keep roofs over Queenslanders’ heads in this bill today.

If the government recognises the need to extend the CHOs powers, if the government recognises the need to extend mental health provisions, why then, has the government stopped all emergency support for Queensland renters, people struggling to meet their mortgage repayments and people sleeping rough.

These concerns are set against an economic climate that is likely to get worse - despite modest employment growth, unemployment in Queensland is at 7%, which still represents thousands of families in dire conditions.

These conditions will only get worse given the imminent drops to Job Seeker at the end of March, to just $307 per week.

The government's minimal commitment to social housing has seen the social housing register ballooning, a sharp increase in the people in the ‘high needs’ category since the start of the COVID pandemic, and 47,000 people, including 15,229 children, waiting for homes. 

Only one third of people who were housed in hotels during the height of the crisis have been housed - everyone else is back on the streets, or in insecure housing, and I have spoken to people in my electorate who are back sleeping rough after being in hotels.

Given there’s nothing in this bill or elsewhere in the Government’s response to house these Queenslanders, I’d also ask what the government’s plan is to contact and vaccinate those with no fixed address.

If we are still in the middle of a health crisis, these support measures deemed essential just a few months ago, they should be extended, particularly as we are yet to see the full economic and social impacts of the crisis. Every Queenslander deserves a home, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.