There are many things that trouble me about convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson.

Illustration: John Tiedemann, News Limited.

There is the debate about whether such offenders are ever capable of rehabilitation (I doubt it). There is the debate about whether we are doing enough to address the causal factors that hard wire this evil behaviour, transforming a person into a predator that destroys young people’s lives.

But one issue that seems to have escaped attention is how can a convicted paedophile from Queensland move to NSW and get himself a five year lease in public housing, while almost 40,000 more worthy tenants in NSW are waiting in the queue. 

I suspect the four families who were featured in last week’s Four Corners program who were being shuffled from one motel room to another, with as many as five kids, must have been wondering what they had to do to get the same opportunity as Dennis Ferguson.

We hear a lot about the failures of our public hospital system, but what is happening in public housing and how we are failing to provide for our future housing needs is worthy of equal attention.

In 2006, 7483 families were homeless, an increase of 17 per cent since 2001. Of the 105,000 Australians defined as homeless, 26 per cent or 26,790 people were in families with children and 12 per cent were under the age of 12, just like those kids we saw in the 4 Corners programme last week.

As a Coalition, we have so far supported $3.5 billion of initiatives to address homelessness and affordable housing. While we agree with the Government on many solutions, such as early intervention strategies, supporting the charitable sector’s efforts and building more shelters, we disagree on the central role of public housing as part of the solution.

95 per cent of Australians live in private housing. 97 per cent of housing construction jobs are in the private housing industry.  If you want to make a difference for construction jobs and ensure there are more houses for people to live in affordably, then you need to encourage people to build more homes in the private housing market.

The Rudd Government‘s response to the challenges on housing affordability has been an almost complete reliance on public housing as the answer. We do not share this confidence.

There are more than 178,000 people waiting for public housing across Australia. Building 19,200 new public housing dwellings will not meet this demand. Nor has it ever been the principal way we have been able to reduce public housing waiting lists. We need to find them a home in private housing.

Between 1996 and the start of the global financial crisis last year, the number of people waiting for public housing in Australia declined by almost 60,000 applicants. During this same period the public rental dwelling stock also fell by around 55,000 dwellings.

Nor does spending more public money on building public housing seem to have had much impact on the number of public housing dwellings we have available in stock.

Between 2003 and 2008, $4 billion was spent in real terms on new construction in public housing by State and Territory Governments. At the end of this period we had 10,000 less public housing dwellings than when we started. It is hardly a great job application to be given a further $6 billion by the Rudd Government of more borrowed taxpayer money to repeat these same failures.

Between 1996 and 2008, around 2 million people got a job, real wages increased by more than 20 per cent, and the private sector built more than 1.7 million homes, or around 140,000 per year.  However, even this was not enough, as we know that prices and rents still moved up during this period.

It is estimated by ANZ we have a shortfall of at least 200,000 homes across the country. This mismatch between supply and demand is the reason why 30 families are competing for the one house today and why rents and prices are so high, not because there is not enough public housing.

We will need to build at least 160,000 homes every year for the next ten years to rebalance the supply demand equation – an increase of more than 15 per cent.  Some say this should be higher and they could be right. This is not going to happen as long as it costs $200,000 to develop a block of land in our major cities in various taxes, charges and other costs, before you lay a brick.

It is also not going to occur while we have an undeclared war between the various regulatory agencies of Government, the development industry and local communities. We need a cease fire to get these homes built.

At a community level the key is involvement and restoring trust. The failure to deliver roads, infrastructure and other services needed to support new homes either at the city fringe or in established urban areas, has crashed community trust in new development.

We also a need a real reform revolution in our sclerotic public housing sector. Government should be more interested in flesh and blood than public bricks and mortar. 

It should be about giving people and families the support they need to overcome the challenges they face in putting a roof over their own heads - not perpetuating some public housing empire – which isn’t even 20th century thinking, let alone 21st. 

In return for the billions of dollars we spend every year, the Federal government must require mandatory reforms from State and Local Governments to remove the blockages to housing supply and radically reform their housing agencies that have failed Australians so badly. Well, failed everyone except Dennis Ferguson of course, who remains a guest of the state.

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26 comments

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    • Sha says:

      07:14am | 29/09/09

      I was on the public housing list fro 10 years before I finally got a house.In that time I lived in 17 rental properties.Landlords kept selling them out from under us.In that time I also lost residency of 3 of my children to their father(who had incidently deserted the family and left us struggling to say the least).If I had the help when needed I know I could have kept the family together.Yes I got my house but the emotional and financial costs were enormous.Maybe I should have committed a crime.

    • Liz says:

      07:28am | 29/09/09

      The costs are too great for some as aboveand is appalling that in a country such as ours people have to struggle to keep their family together.
      The answer is NOT private housing but more public housing in the form of Housing Co-operatives.The movement exists here in Australia and in some places is thriving.the Government provides the seed money and the Co-op is run by the people whose reasonable rent goes into buying more houses.It teaches useful skills,gives a sense of responsibility,gets people on their feet and often into their own housing.It provides for some a foot on the ladder and is appreciated by those who have been there and experienced it’s value.Much, much more of this type of housing with the right support is a very viable answer.The money wasted on B&B and the stress caused,could all be saved by sensible action by governments,both State and Federal.

    • Darren says:

      08:44am | 29/09/09

      well done Scott- with articles like this you may eventually ingratiate yourself with the hard right of your party - they might even allow you to join one of the local branches next -
      1. We have freedom of movement in Australia - Dennis Ferguson (like the rest of the population) is allowed to move freely between states
      2. Ferguson was born and bred in NSW actually -
      3. He was homeless - and a person with a disability - also putting him at the top of the priority list for public housing
      4. the police need to know where he is living at all times - probably easier in a house than on the street
      5. our country is still suffering from the $1billion ripped out of public housing by the Howard government - if that had not occurred then we might have more available
      6. he is living by himself - his accommodation needs are massively different to the families with multiple children on 4 corners last week

    • alto says:

      08:58am | 29/09/09

      Darren: if what you say is correct, the best way to get to the top of the list of public housing is to be released from prison and tell the authorities that you are homeless. Also helps if you are single, old and of failing health. Good of you to explain how such people are considered more worthy of public housing than impoverished families with children living in a car.

    • Darren says:

      09:18am | 29/09/09

      hey alto - try thinking before typing -
      Ferguson is single - by himself - his housing needs are for a 1 bedroom flat - families with 2,3 or more children are not right for a 1 bedroom flat - it is not a matter of ‘considered more worthy’ it is a matter of what is available - houses verses 1 bed flats.
      If you read the media you might have also noticed that Ferguson did not just ‘tell the authorities’ he was homeless- he was staying at a homeless shelter - oh that means he was homeless

    • sha says:

      09:30am | 29/09/09

      Yes indeed alto.Homeless families have a myriad of problems that usually cannot be solved by a single agency. It seems its easier to shuffle them into short term accommodation then help them. In my 10 years on the Housing list I had to continually justify why I should stay on it. I also had to have a permanent address for contact. If I missed one important letter from Housing I was kicked off the list. then I had the laborious task of getting my family reinstated. I ama working mother whose circumstances changed.I have never been on the dole but I have on occasions used some of the charity organisations to feed and cloth my children and pay my electricty bill. I have never lived in a car but I have lived briefly in a caravan park.Housing did not consider me homeless then so I did not qualify for emergency accommodation. I am lucky now but the expense to my family over those 10 years is incalculable. My older children have grown up with no sense of permanence or routine in regards to a basic human right….a roof over their heads.

    • Stephen Pickells says:

      10:01am | 29/09/09

      When I applied for public housing I was but on a priority list and only had to wait four months. The reason is because of my chronic psychosis and another physical ailment. Plus I was on a methadone maintenance program which actually worked in my favour. It seems that the more pathetic you are, the better you are served. Dennis Ferguson is a case in point.

    • Steve says:

      10:01am | 29/09/09

      Having Ferguson living in a registered address is an infinitely better situation for the community than having him wandering the streets.

      Also, homelessness after prison is not considered part of the punishment. If we incarcerate people and purposefully deprive them of the skills they need to maintain paid employment then we should provide them with an opportunity to restart their life post-prison, that includes having short term accommodation.

    • Steve says:

      10:06am | 29/09/09

      Quality Labor government management.

    • Paul says:

      10:20am | 29/09/09

      Scott, indulge yourself, again, in the Howard schtick of beating up on societies bottom-of-the-ladder people. Political & media bullying is for weak and insecure people.  Hysteria is the fuel for politicians without solutions or vision.

    • Gibbot says:

      10:37am | 29/09/09

      As far as partisan articles go this wouldn’t be a bad one if you hadn’t brought Dennis Ferguson into it, Scott. You could have made your point very well by sticking to the facts and avoiding this unnecessary manufactuing of populist outrage.

      Shame you blew it for the sake of pandering to pack mentality.

    • alto says:

      11:37am | 29/09/09

      Darren, my point still stands whatever way you look at it. Obviously a one-bedroom flat wouldn’t suit a family - but why is it seemingly easier for a single person to get one of these than for a family to get the accomodation it needs? Wouldn’t be because of bad government planning, or worse, some sort of political bias would it?

      While you’re explaining (since you seem to know how it works) why did the government feel obliged to provide hotel accommodation to Ferguson prior to his flat becoming available?

      Steve 10:01am - Ferguson won’t be prevented from ‘wandering the streets’ if he is provided with public housing. Prison is the only way to prevent that.

    • Scott Morrison MP says:

      11:55am | 29/09/09

      Paul, my vision is for more homes being built affordably, by getting rid of the red tape of State Governments that inhibits land being supplied to market and developed for new homes and reducing the exhorbitant costs of developing a single block or unit. Once they have bought their new home, I would like them to be able to afford their mortgage, because the Federal Government can keep their spending under control, rather than putting upward pressure on interest rates, as is now occurring Labor’s ‘stimulus’ spending.

      I would also like to see homeless families given a chance, because money is spent to acheive these reforms rather than prop up failed state housing empires, so they can have a fair go in the private housing market.

      And when it comes to providing social housing services, I think community housing organisations and other not for profits do a far better job - and users of their services agree. Why not give them more support rather than pouring more borrrowed money into the bottomless bit of state run public housing. It would save money, reduce debt and be more effective.

    • Darren says:

      01:22pm | 29/09/09

      Hi Alto

      1. there are not enough large houses because of lack of supply -
      2. from following the media I would understand that Ferguson was in TA - the same as the families in the 4 Corners show -
      3. Prison? - he did a crime- he did the time- are you suggesting that people should be imprisoned despite serving their sentence.

    • Paul says:

      01:30pm | 29/09/09

      Scott, I agree with “community housing organisations and other not for profits do a far better job - and users of their services agree.” Except I lost my trust in the Liberals doing these sort of initiatives under the Howard reign. And you’ve got no population policy - or infrastructure policy.

      A major part of the Liberals problem was you never had long range coherent strategies. Don’t put all the blame on state governments. The roots of the housing shortage and rising poverty expanded on the Liberals watch. Cities were growing faster than you could plan for them.

      Why mix Liberal (and admittedly Labor)  political ineptitude on housing with a paedophile? Debate the issue sensibly mate and leave the howling and chest beating out of it. Thousands of kids are depending on it.

      (I’m unconvinced that the Liberals have finally worked out that it might make economic sense to help the homeless and others get on with their lives, and into the housing market etc , rather than castigating them for cheap political points - as you did with welfare recipients and single-mum beatups under Howard)

    • Greg Wilson says:

      03:07pm | 29/09/09

      A FEDERAL Liberal attacking STATE Labor….........hmmm that’s a tough one to work out. Good to see the reds-under-the-beds playbook is still in use - just change the target.
      Here’s a hint Scotty try sticking to FEDERAL issues (that’s what you’re paid for…) and get Barry of his fat behind and LET HIM FINALLY DO SOME WORK!!!
      Is this how Scott REALLY wants to be remembered for his service to Australia?  Is this how he wants history to judge him?
      More worrying, is this the best he can do?
      “Red carpet paedophile” .....can you say that while blowing a dog whistle?
      Life’s too short to read this rubish so I’m not sure if “Political Correctness Gone Mad!” got a guernsey but it must have gone close.
      Scott, try and be a bigger person.

    • RT says:

      03:09pm | 29/09/09

      Darren

      1. derrr

      2. Temporary accomodation in a 4-star hotel?  - maybe that explains 1. Should have left him wherever he was until the flat came up. I’m sure the whole 40,000 people on the waiting list are not in hotels

      3. I’m saying Ferguson got off far too lightly and is probably not rehabilitated.

    • Michael says:

      03:58pm | 29/09/09

      Everyone is covering this subject pretty well the only thing I have to add is a thank you to Scott Morrison I love it when the speakers on the punch take the time to get involved in the discussion.

    • acker says:

      04:02pm | 29/09/09

      Perhaps Dennis Ferguson has a lot of support in the same artisan section of the community that also support Roman Polanski and Bill Henson.

    • jay says:

      04:03pm | 29/09/09

      Scott - one of the reasons these families are homeless is - the ridiculous rents being charged by greedy landlords… there is no housing shortage… (more information on which ANZ reports you pull your stats, mate.) Must really burn you - when Scandinavia can do extensive public housing without the whinging from conservatives like you.

      One day you’ll realise the difference between the price of a property, and it’s true VALUE…

    • Scott Morrison MP says:

      04:24pm | 29/09/09

      1. May come as a shock but I have no desire to move to Scandinavia - why would I ever want to leave the Shire.
      2. There is a direct correlation between a shortage of private rental housing and private rents, economics 101.
      3. I am proposing that the Federal Government use their leverage over funding of public housing in the States to require reform. That is a federal issue.
      4. I totally stand by highlighting the Ferguson example in this context. It demonstrates how broken our public housing system has become. It’s relevant, however uncomfortable that may be for some.
      5. Thank you Michael

    • SimonH says:

      07:58pm | 29/09/09

      Scott Morrison MP: did the party you represent vote for or against a Bill aimed at evicting one particular man from his housing flat? And you’re complaining that the principle of fair and equitable administration of public resources might have been compromised because of the pressures of a single high-profile case?

      You’ve got a hide; I’ll give you that.

    • acker says:

      09:43pm | 29/09/09

      Like most things involving people who have limited finances

      If we could get the legal side and over costly solicitor based parts of housing public or private under control, by more plain english black and white legaslative definitions.

      The housing crisis through either public or private investment according to the government of the day could probably take a huge leap forward, via more funding being directed to housing people rather than paying legal

      The only reason parasites like Dennis Ferguson become lightening rods in housing availability issues is because the legal requirements have moved to far away from general community common sense and general community values, and too many legal parasites are wanting to jump on to suck some government money.

      If the legal system wishes to keep on operating this far away from the society it is supposed to serves values, we are probably only seeing a small preview of these problems.

      This litigious society is sucking us dry. And solicitors are totally non productive.

    • regina says:

      10:48pm | 29/09/09

      of course the government should give priority to finding housing for people in need but i don’t quite understand why denying dennis ferguson a house fixes this bigger problem.

      also i read the media reports and saw the television pictures concerning this story, and i can’t say i saw anything that resembled a red carpet being rolled out for him.

    • Paul says:

      03:22am | 30/09/09

      Scott, point 4 - you starved the public housing system for years and now on the basis of one case - you claim the system is broke? How many thousands of people does the housing system work for - balance it up!The private rental market is also cactus because the Libs weren’t paying attention and had no planning or vision for the homeless. All you had was a faith based belief that the private ‘market’ would fix housing supply problems and spiralling homelessness.  And a wacky idea that housing ‘affordability’ is a $300-400 K house? Quick to blame, slow to take responsibility Scott? Your inaction on these issues was methodically practiced over a decade.

    • Scott Morrison MP says:

      03:58pm | 30/09/09

      Paul, who do you think has been running planning policy in NSW for the past 14 years. It wasn’t the Libs. Bob Carr said the place was full so just go live somewhere else. I suppose that’s what you’d call vision.

 

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