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Reform Needed to Protect Public Housing Tenants

18 September 2012 at 11:04 am
Staff Reporter
The lack of protection of people living in public housing from forced eviction under Australian law, will be the focus of an upcoming lecture by Justice Kevin Bell of the Victorian Supreme Court.

Staff Reporter | 18 September 2012 at 11:04 am


Reform Needed to Protect Public Housing Tenants
18 September 2012 at 11:04 am

The lack of protection of people living in public housing from forced eviction under Australian law, will be the focus of an upcoming lecture by Justice Kevin Bell of the Victorian Supreme Court.

Presenting the 2012 Costello Lecture in Melbourne tonight, Monash alumnus, Justice Kevin Bell will discuss the Australian public housing system in the context of human rights.

Justice Bell believes that current state and territory laws do not adequately protect the security of tenure for public housing tenants, who can be evicted without reason or cause.

Justice Bell said for many years public housing in Australia had been targeted at the disadvantaged community including people with disabilities, single parents, the elderly and welfare dependant people.

"The concept of ‘home’ is of growing importance in the law. Home is a lot more than shelter. Home is a place of security, belonging and comfort,” Justice Bell said.

“Forced eviction of vulnerable people raises profoundly important social, ethical and legal issues which I will identify and discuss in this lecture through the lens of human rights. Such people are very vulnerable and their human rights are imperilled by their circumstances.

“To ensure protection from forced eviction, I believe a reform of the Australian law is necessary in accordance with the human right to adequate housing and home, as administered in the Australian Capital Territory and in other countries.”

The lecture will cover aspects including demographics, the social and cultural role of the home in promoting individual, family and community wellbeing, the human, civil and political rights of public housing tenants in both a domestic and international context.

The Honourable Justice Kevin Bell was appointed to the Supreme Court of Victoria in February 2005. He sits in all divisions of the court, including the Court of Appeal, and has conducted major civil and criminal jury trials. He is a former president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Justice Bell will present the 2012 Costello Lecture ‘Protecting public housing tenants in Australia from forced eviction: the fundamental importance of the human right to housing and home’ from 6-7.15pm on Tuesday 18 September at the Monash University Law Chambers, 555 Lonsdale St, Melbourne.

The lecture is a free public event. RSVP essential by calling +61 3 9905 2630 or emailing



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  • landrights4all says:

    The current mortgage/ rental situation has work and lifestyle implications that don’t leave much energy for the neighbourhood.

    However, with the sort of rental security that public housing tenants have and with the supports being developed by a small group of tenants in Hope St Blaxland, a vibrant, productive, inclusive and sustainable neighbourhood culture could be encouraged anywhere. We could have ‘neighbourhoods that work!’

    Neighbourhood participation could provide people with a valid role and build new skills. For those who need such arrangements, participation should be counted as an approved Centrelink work experience or voluntary work activity (this is already an option for over 55’s). It is important to keep in mind however, that free and willing participation can be supported and encouraged, but should not be mandated.

    The potential is also there for neighbourhood participation to reach a level of productivity and accountability to warrant the payment of a small income. This type of work opportunity is likely to become very important as more and more market employment is specialised and centralised in cities.

    In the midst of two public housing estates in Hope Street in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney, neighbours are starting to use the supports devised by NTW (Neighbourhood that Works).

    A food garden, a car pool, an ornamental beautification program and some social events have all taken place.

    As at Hope Street, public housing estates represent a great opportunity for NTW participation because tenants have the sort of housing security needed, as well as the incentive to improve their situation in a new more local and cooperative way.

    NTW seeks to translate whatever the natural energy that different neighbours have into a sustaining, vibrant and truly viable neighbourhood that works.
    This could also progress ‘by design’, even more deliberately than through the ‘evolutionary’ process happening at Hope Street.

    Neighbourhood participation has been shown to dramatically improve the safety, vibrancy and general well-being of all sorts of communities.

    If such important outcomes could be achieved with little to no extra cost and within existing government requirements, investment in secure and affordable rental housing could become much more attractive for government and private developers.

  • landrights4all says:

    I would like to look at the foundations for human rights and then at how this might change the way we approach some important issues.

    If all human rights are built on the foundation of a right to life, then it follows that we must have access by right to the basics for life.

    Most would agree that the right to things like food and shelter is, more fundamentally, the right to work with the basics provided by nature to grow food and build shelter – it is not a right to have the food or shelter produced by others laid on for you, which is a different claim made by some.

    Whether you like that distinction, we could agree (see HREOC letter – that to work with nature’s gifts to produce food and shelter is the fundamental right, and that in choosing to exercise this right, the responsibility would be to do so sustainably (ie in a way that everyone else who wanted to do likewise could follow without adversely impacting the same opportunity for others.)

    It is said that the individual right to life is protected because our social and economic system provides the opportunity to work with nature’s gifts of air, water sunlight & land through a system of cooperation with each other – but is it true that this system protects our fundamental right?

    I want to explore the claim of an “opportunity”.

    Opportunity implies choice – real choice requires more than the choice between survival by using a pre-ordained system, or death if you do not.

    Freedom to make sustainable choices is essential to the idea of human rights. However the current opportunity for work is limited to what the system deems to be valuable. The system does not recognise the individual right to work directly with nature’s gifts to grow your own food and build your own shelter.

    We did not always have the current modern system. In the past, man has proven capable of working alone or with others directly with the gifts of nature. These days we don’t have that free choice because access to land has been almost entirely commodified by the system. To get access to land where you could grow food and build shelter, you must first find a way to serve that system – no choice in that.

    We must now work within the systemfor our sustenance in any available job that we are capable of, regardless of whether that is our choice, regardless even if the work available is harmonious with nature or not.

    I believe that the basics for life are not currently protected by right, and therefore that the right to life is not secured. If this is the case then it is nonsense to pretend that other rights exist, like freedom of speech etc..

    Is there any viable alternative that could be politically acceptable & complimentary to the current system which many people find entirely to their liking?

    Let’s first consider if our basic right to work with nature’s gifts of air, water sunlight and land was restored, how many people would be in a position to exercise that right to grow their food and build their own shelter – who would be eligible and what could be achieved?

    Only those whose environmental footprint was sustainable could claim additional land access by right. The amount of land they could access by right would depend on their footprint, which would include all benefits they receive from society.

    Both the earning and the spending of income is a good measure of footprint ( Only those getting and spending no more than around $200pw could lay claim by right to enough additional land to build a house and grow some food. They would then have the responsibility to be sustainable in what they do.

    If they wanted to retain an income of $200 per week from the system in order to buy the things produced by the system that make for a modern life, they would acquire additional responsibilities – either to an employer or to the society that might pay them social security benefits as part of a “mutual obligations” contract.

    If we start thinking of human rights and responsibilities from this foundation of birthrights and choice, it is clear not only that land access for growing food and erecting shelter is a human right, but that for those who want supplementary support, Centrelink’s “mutual obligations” definition needs to change. Firstly the change should recognise that, over generations, our heritage skills for success in growing food and building shelter have been taken over by the system and secondly, there should be a recognition of the contribution to society that could be made by regaining and practicing those skills.

    The effect would be a rapid development of sustainable processes to meet needs including food and housing, expanding work, an end to the social frustrations that result from the denial of freedom. We could have abundant honorable work, and an end to the concoction of an immigration problem (see

    The change needed is not as big as it might seem – indeed it is possible to see it as simply a matter of new understanding, requiring no major change or cost but with big productivity gains. (see

    To meet Centrelink’s “mutual obligations” and receive social security, those who are over 55 can already choose to either look for paid employment OR do 15 hrs/wk voluntary work, which for example could be with an approved community garden group (see Mature Age Requirements).

    This option for voluntary work is one which could easily be expanded to all ages.

    The identification of the basic human right to grow food and build shelter could encourage this change to Centrelink requirements so as to comply with this human right. Under these circumstances, income support could not be seen as a welfare concession.

    Unemployed people in public housing already have access to land through their housing, and it is often space enough to grow some food. But if an unemployed person chose to grow much of their own food and to substantially contribute to building their own public housing, the $200pw would be largely available to them for other things.

    Their skills and confidence would grow and they would look for ways to improve. If that resulted in an increase in income beyond $200pw, their rent would adjust toward market value as is already calculated by government for its rent and rent assistance (see page 22 at )

  • Leo Braun says:

    Does every Australian have a right to decent housing? One would like to face Housing Minister Dr Flegg’s response also apropos Dec 2005 issue of the Tenant News hoisted: “One social housing system”! As the “introduced new system has been developed to make it easier for the people seeking help and ensure the assistance offered to them will best meet their circumstances”, insisted Director General Natalie McDonald.

    When in fact jellyback treacherous pollies forfeited public housing entitlement for low income recipients. Such as myself, interim lodged in a unit leased by the principal tenant from Department of Housing, while I awaited for the public housing placement since 27-09-02.

    Only to receive suddenly: “You are not eligible for long term social housing”, “based on the information you have provided, you’ve been assessed as being adequately and appropriately housed at … this time and not experiencing housing affordability issue”, avowed 25-08-08 dated ruling by the Dept of Housing.

    But as one to think that nothing worse could possibly happen, Rent Review Officer Rebecca of Brisbane Central Area Office (3872 0332) informed on 15-10-12 the principal tenant that the Dept of Housing will not consent to my return on Oct 22, 2012, after three month absence.

    Due to the “overcrowding” at the unit, where a principal tenant occupied a bedroom, while a sofa-bed suited me at the (3.7m x 3.8m) spacious lunchroom. Built in 1998, unlike the claustrophobic housing churned these days (streamlined with a bed-sitter alongside kitchen).

    At the same time Housing Minister exploited mass-media as a means of public communication to reach large audience apropos “under-occupied” premises dilemma. Adamant to convey that accommodation sharing was a key solution to chronic homelessness by the destitute, yet low income recipients in dire straits (due to the highly inflated rental market) weren’t offered any such panacea.

    To jog the memory, Dept of Housing flogged apparently public housing assets while playing a corporate high-flyer’s role. Just as deregulated banks borrowed recklessly to finance speculative bubble. Ballooned as treacherous pollies abolished death duty and halved the capital gains tax.

    Prompting moreover a frenzy feeding via negative gearing with tax deductibility of the interest against all the income. Hence the rental market’s inflation! To offset which, public housing ought to represent at least 6% of the total housing stock. Because public housing underpins an entire housing system, besides an anti-inflationary benefit to the economy.

    Where life’s vital necessities should have never turned into lucrative commodities. Yet astonishingly Aussie taxpayers subsidised in fact govt endorsed scams to the detriment civil society. Not before Director General Natalie McDonald declared in the Tenant News Feb 2005: “Dept of Housing will continue to reinvest in quality housing outcomes and assist as many Queenslanders as possible to enjoy the security and equity, public housing offers”!

    Indeed, what a deceit by the ruling elite! One may be excused for feeling as an inmate in the ghetto, where sociopathic bureaucrats practised sadism reflexes. Hence the long overdue, imperative ENT consultation awaited by me since Jan 18, 2005. Whilst the closed-shop affiliated GPs treated me with the utter contempt. Outrageously ignoring the fact that the recurrent respiratory track infections emanated as a result of my dry nasal passages, dehydrated mucus membrane of which impoverished autoimmune system defences.

    As viral/bacterial infiltrations afflicted ultimately my ears and lungs. Surely dry eyes, dry mouth and salivary glands decline, had something in common. As much as a blasting airconditioning impact on my entire skeletomuscular anatomy. Likely acute my flatmate’s neck-n-back woes just as mine sprang as a result of cold draughts exposure. Unless rheumatoid arthritis afflicted her neck/back in turn.

    Clearly research of such matters to benefit both of us, if not for Dept of Housing callous bureaucrats insistence that on me was to hit the road, sprawled with homeless. On a mission impossible to secure any alternative public housing for the senior citizen.

    Useful otherwise to provide needed support to the principal tenant, ovarian cancer sufferer, stage IIIC metastased papillary serous carcinoma. Luckily at least in remission since Sept 2010. Yet as an oncologist set periodic checkups approached, imperative on a cancer sufferer was to share any misgivings, alleviating thus creeping anxiety. Otherwise contributing to the elevated blood pressure, dizziness and a risk of falling. Dreaded particularly outcome for the abandoned to languish on her own.

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