NFP Exec Turns to Politics to Help the Homeless
Thursday, 1st September 2016 at 3:43 pm
Not for Profit executive Leigh Watson says she has become so frustrated over the lack of political action by the major parties on critical issues such as homelessness and affordable housing she has decided to run as an independent candidate in the upcoming ACT election.
Watson, who is based in Canberra, is a former executive officer of ACT Shelter, a former journalist and more recently the communications manager with Community Council for Australia. She is standing as an independent in the Ginninderra electorate in the October poll.
Watson told Pro Bono Australia News that the focus of her election platform was affordable housing solutions for the ACT.
“I am fed up and really frustrated that in the ACT they are not doing anything to solve these issues. In other states and territories they are at least investigating and researching ways and trialing different methods,” Watson said.
“WA for example has a really good shared equity program and [in] places like NSW and Victoria they have put a lot of investment into community housing developments.”
Watson said a key part of the platform was a group of 12 measures that would help to level the playing field for people in the bottom 40 per cent of incomes in the ACT.
“The aim is to counteract the impact the current affordability crisis is having on ordinary Canberrans and their ability to access appropriate housing,” she said.
“According to the 2011 census figures, the ACT has the second-highest rate of homelessness after the Northern Territory, with 1,785 people counted as homeless.
“Many people are surprised, incredulous even, that the ACT could have the second-highest rate of homelessness in the country – a city that prides itself on being better off than our capital city cousins.
“There’s a convenient belief, milked by governments, that many people are in this situation for reasons of their own doing along with tacit blame of those in that situation. But governments should know better – in fact all of us should. This mentality gives governments an out, and at the same time lets them look good when they grandly launch a one-off housing response or support band-aid solutions such as swags or aps when what they should be doing is solving the issue of affordable housing supply.
“While there are both federal and local issues at play in the issue of housing affordability, there are measures the ACT Government could be implementing to ensure there is enough affordable housing for those who need it.”
Watson said the issue was being ignored from all sides of parliament in the ACT where the Labor and Greens coalition holds power under Labor’s Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
“They might argue that it is not their role to ensure adequate housing for their citizens, yet they see it is their role to ensure provision of education and health services, which are arguably less economically sustainable than housing where tenants, depending on their circumstances, actually pay rent for the service,” she said.
“But there has been no movement at all on these issues. The ACT Government has what it calls an affordable housing strategy but it’s in name only.
“And if nothing else the ACT Government should be noting that many key workers in the ACT are now totally priced out of the housing market – workers such as those who look after people with disability or the elderly, or who serve us in shops can no longer afford to live here.”
Under the ACT electoral system, which has only a Legislative Assembly, Watson’s seat will see her up against 11 other independents, five Canberra Liberals, five Labor candidates, three Greens and 12 other minor parties who are yet to announce candidates in each electorate.
“Ideally I would like to be in a position where I have the ability to ensure that affordable housing is developed and be in a position where I can get some movement happening,” Watson said.
“There’s a strong movement against both [major] parties for not doing anything about this problem but even more generally they are just fed up with them for a whole range of issues.
“There is a strong sense that there will be a move to independents and minor parties at the poll.”
She said the board and CEO of CCA had allowed her to continue to work in a part-time capacity to campaign for the election.