There is a stark contrast between the O’Farrell Government’s handling of two matters next door to each other in Sydney. The Government appears to have gone out of its way to support, ignore process, and fast-track a second casino proposal, while readying to sell adjacent public tenants’ homes.
Millers Point is one of Sydney’s oldest and strongest communities. It is home to public housing tenants who greatly contribute to the fabric of our city, and who are anxious their tight knit community will be destroyed under the Government’s review of housing.
Recent media reports claim the Government is evaluating up to 250 properties for sale — a massive sell-off. This follows the previous government’s sales of 32 homes and a further four approved for sale.
The Government says the Millers Point houses are inappropriate for the singles and couples who mainly comprise the social housing waiting list, but the 55,000 people on the list include large families.
There has been a long history of government neglect and underfunding, leaving older heritage properties expensive to maintain. Maintenance has been ignored, homes left vacant to deteriorate and be vandalised, and there’s a large backlog of repairs.
Alarmingly, it seems the O’Farrell Government intends to sell occupied homes and move tenants, many of whom have been there for years — some for five generations. Selling homes and removing low income tenants will have a major impact on this community. It will reduce housing for key workers close to the city, and push more tenants with health and welfare problems to the fringes of the city without transport, jobs or support services.
Reports have suggested that tenants be relocated in the inner city, but Housing NSW reports inner city urgent waiting times are up to two years, or five to 15 years for others. People needing larger family homes — like many being sold in Millers Point — wait for over 10 years.
Inner city social housing is close to health and welfare support services, jobs and public transport. This proposal will displace Millers Point tenants, expand the already lengthy waiting list and reduce available stock.
The State Heritage Register lists the Millers Point/Dawes Point Village Precinct as "unique in Australia because of a strong sense of cohesion facilitated by a range of complementary architectural, structural, physical and social elements". This should be maintained.
There was widespread alarm over statements by the Minister for Finance and Services in a Sydney Morning Herald article on 26 October where he said, "Inevitably, when considering the future of Millers Point, the Government needs to consider it in the context of all of the surrounding areas, including the Barangaroo development area".
Selling high value inner city properties is like selling the family silver; it will also "cleanse" the area of poorer people at the same time that millionaires get the rules changed to suit them.
There is community outrage at the approval process for James Packer’s second casino on the Barangaroo site. It seems there will be no tender process for a second Sydney casino and no independent assessment over whether dealing with one company will provide the best outcome. Rules for not going to tender were changed just before the proposal was approved despite the Government’s promise before the last state election that it would end deals being behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, the Opposition has jumped at the chance to agree to James Packer’s plan for a second casino without tender, after a longstanding ‘one casino’ policy.
Aside from encouraging gamblers to lose their money, casinos can be hotbeds for crime. Any decision to change the law for another casino should be made only after extensive community consultation and with input from crime experts, welfare organisations and the local community.
The casino and hotel will be on public land and up to 60 storeys high, with major impacts on the Barangaroo development, particularly the adjacent public open space.
I don’t believe Sydney needs another casino, especially within walking distance of our existing casino, the Star — which also occupies a prime harbour waterfront position. Especially not while Millers Point public housing residents live in fear of being turned out of their homes.
We need to retain inner city public housing, because stable low cost housing is vital for people to get back on their feet after a crisis or serious health condition, or indeed a gambling problem — something that anyone can experience.
The Government needs to halt plans to sell inner city public housing and to invest in social housing to provide homes for those 55,000 waiting. The Government should apply an open tender process and full evaluation of costs and benefits for a second Sydney casino before any decision is made.