Friday, November 30, 2007

Tanya Plibersek, Federal Housing Minister

Congratulations to DH's local member Tanya Plibersek, for her selection to the Ministry.

Tanya is a dream politician: highly intelligent, balanced, sensible and competent, an excellent communicator, hardworking and conscientious, utterly reliable, approachable, friendly, unpretentious, and importantly truly compassionate and devoted to social justice.

She is a star in what has to be the strongest Ministerial team this country has ever seen. What an extraordinary array of talent, and how good to see the factions swept away and unable to install their bad apples into key positions.

A whole new world

What extraordinary tectonic shifts in the Australian political scene!

DH has always put her faith in the view that where the people lead, the politicians will follow. The people showed they had risen above responding to the panic buttons that Howard and the Liberal Party had used so successfully in the last century. They have swept aside the ugly polarisation of the last decade, and now we see that the both Labor and Liberals have reconstellated around the middle path. Both parties appear to be moving in a very positive way to dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. The old fogeys of the right are gone with their ancient hatreds and prejudices. The left have been forced to get down off their hobby horses of pure theory and face practical reality.

Just one week, and the hatreds and brown fugg of the Howard era seem like light years away.

It appears that Australia has had a peaceful revolution and it's difficult to imagine the country being hijacked again by extremists in any foreseeable future.

May it ever be thus.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

DH's Housing Policy Shopping List


  • Reversing the Howard Government's removal of $3 billion from the public housing system into the pockets of private landlords via inflationary rental subsidies
  • Following the advice of organisations like Shelter and ACOSS to reduce rental stress across the board and ease the pressure on public housing


Keep up the Good Work

  • Environment
    DOH has very impressive plans for upgrading old stock and implementing regular maintenance programs, and for building new stock to sustainable standards
  • Transfer to Community Housing
    Proceeding apace and despite misgivings of old lefties promises to decentralise DOH and provide more flexible and responsive housing options

Local Department of Housing Offices


Only God and Schrodinger know what goes on inside the black box known as your average NSW Department of Housing Local Office. Is there an administrative system in there, or just some kind of cat that, at any given moment, may be alive or dead?

The remaining notes are accordingly speculative only...

So far, the cat must be more or less alive, because everytime the box is pried open (the only way is to complain to your local member), there appears to be some feeble thumping in response but it all soon dies down again ...

  • Communications

    We can deduce that there is some kind of primitive communications going on in there because rent arrears precipitate an instant response. Sadly, every other form of communication from the outside world is directly funnelled into the Bermuda Triangle, which we now know hovers over DOH Broadway, and is never heard of again. There has to be a better way than post-it notes!

    DOH could try keeping tenants in the loop. Should avoid making grand promises like the 20 day maintenance guarantee, as disappointment does tend to set in after the first 6 months. And in official correspondence should attempt to sound less like Miss Dorothea McGillicuddy, DH's old Head Mistress, whose disciplinary style went out with Queen Victoria.
  • Performance
    Acesss to the league table of maintenance backlogs by local office would be a great step towards accountability. We know DOH has them. What are they doing with them?
  • Investment in administrative support
    Perhaps it's not Schrodinger's Cat in the Broadway Black Box, but a couple of Schrodinger's Chooks-with-Their-Heads-Chopped-off? The quality of output suggests understaffing and administrative mayhem.
  • Tenant Participation
    There's a long way to go. For instance, a person not entirely unknown to DH, found herself propelled to the heady heights of representative of all the public housing tenants in a large section of the inner city, without a single soul having voted for her, her neighbours hating her, and noone else so much as ever having sighted her. All because she accidentally sleepwalked into the general election and there was noone else there.
  • Safety and Security of Tenants
    A political minefield. More on this later.

.... that's it for now. More bright ideas following

Why DH has quit F/T work: Spreadsheet of a disincentive


The pincers in action: DOH and Centrelink between them manage to create the mother of all disincentives to work and education.

DH has quit F/T work. It just wasn't worth it. Tired all the time, no money, her daughter is a stranger, she hasn't visited her mother in yonks, the house is a mess, no money for repairs or maintenance, and not even enough money leftover for the all important lattes.

Spreadsheet based on DH's weekly payslips
over the past 6 months, by hours worked.*

The blue line shows DH's net weekly income after rent, for 21 hours work.

As you can see, her net actually gets LOWER with every additional hour worked until she hits 29 hours, or an extra day.

Consider her poor employers, a NSW Govt Department. She made them give her a raise as a matter of pride*, but while the difference between her minimum and maximum gross income is $490 she only ends up with $92 in her pocket

Given that $400 must cover: groceries, private health insurance, prescription meds ($100 a month), rising costs of public transport, gas and electricity, communications costs, more expensive work clothes (the old grey trackies would hardly do), repairs, outings, gifts, memberships, holidays (what holidays???), replacement of white goods (which are now 30 years old)...

Wait, there are more disincentives ...
DH actually pays more rent than she should, ie she pays more than the amounts on the spreadsheet. The amounts shown are what she should be paying. But DOH averages earnings over the past 6 months. As DH's income has been steadily dropping, she doesn't have the energy to go through the rigmarole of filling in the subsidy forms every time her rent drops, since it involves much frenzied faxing between herself, her employment agency, and DOH. She'd rather just pay the extra and have a life ...

... it's not much of an incentive, is it?
* Amounts rounded to nearest integer. Hours rounded to nearest 1/2 hour. DH's family income is augmented by her child's disability pension, which is about $150 a week, and on which about $13 extra rent is charged. DOH deems about $600 to be an average income. Even when DH earns over $1000, she finds she has to get charity help to make ends meet. Still, its better than living in most of Africa, South America, the Middle East, Bangladesh, so mustn't complain too much.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Election's over: Back on your heads!

Before the election, carrying water, hewing wood

After the election, carrying water, hewing wood

(Old Buddhist Saying)

Party's over. Back to reality. In the case of DH and her neighbours, this means
  • Having been foolhardy enough to ignore DOH and Centrelink's inbuilt Disincentives to Work and Education by getting a higher education, having more takehome pay for working 21 hours a week than for working 28 (thanks to escalating HECS, SPSS and DOH rent)
  • Giving up fulltime work because despite earning over a $1000 a week with the above disincentives, plus the additional costs of unsubsidised medication and transport, she is only a few dollars better off than on the pension, while her health suffers from the added stress, the time poverty, the chaotic life of being a carer, trying to keep a household running with no money for repairs or refurbishing.
  • Looking forward to a summer in a house designed by an idiot. With the house facing west with 70% of the western wall made of glass, no insulation in the roof, no eaves to protect against the sun, windows that open outward at a slight angle and allow no air to circulate so the house cannot cool down, with her daughter's brains frying in the eastern bedroom in the morning, and the main western bedroom unlivable in the afternoon, and the room not cooling till about 5 in the morning. Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. No rest in this house over the Christmas break.
  • DH's entire block of 8 houses put in an application to DOH at the beginning of the year to get some heat relief measures put in place. Despite calling half a dozen times, as is the case with DOH's own Siberia, the Broadway DOH, (see Bermuda triangle over Broadway) messages get lost, never to be seen again. There has been no response so far.
  • Elsewhere in the more crumbling regions of DH's precinct, elderly residents complain of being terrorised by the increasingly targetted population of mentally ill men, drug addicts and criminals. While DOH and other government departments are having a great time signing of high level agreements on mental health supports and bristle with acronyms HASIs and JGOS come and go while nothing happens on the ground

Monday, November 26, 2007

HellChoices: Epitaph to the Howard Years

If satire is the housing of last resort for the politically homeless, then let us pray that the Labor victory will put Diary of A Desperate Houso out of business.

In the meantime, DH thinks it fitting to resurrect this Lazarus of All Jokes in tribute to the era tha has passed

John Howard goes to hell and is met by the Devil, who says "There are 3 rooms here and you can choose which one you want to spend eternity in".

The Devil takes him to the first room which has the seedy appearance of a government funded dental hospital waiting room. An endless queue of lost souls clutching their jaws and writhing in agony are hopping from foot to foot in front of a door that says "reopening just as soon as hell freezes over". The Devil explains that this room is reserved for Moloch Worshippers who believed that Market Forces would look after the Meek (in the long term).

The Devil takes him to next room, "Mistress Miranda DeVine's Dungeon", where abject souls are being made to drink Lattes till their eyes pop out of their heads under the merciless tongue lashing of the hell kitten herself, all the whiles listening to a droning commentary from a quivering mass of ectoplasm going under the name of Gerard Henderson.

Finally the Devil ushers him into a third room and while it's true that everyone appears to be up to their knees in dreck, nevertheless they're all standing around quite sociably, drinking cups of tea and chatting.John Howards chuckles to himself, "Well, this is not too bad considering the swifties I pulled on the the mug battlers. I reckon I can handle this". So he helps himself to a cuppa and an iced vovo and prepares to meet and greet.

Just as he is about to take a sip, the loudspeaker suddenly blares. "A special announcement. The management would like to extend an especially warm welcome to former Australian PM, John Howard, the inspiration for our new industrial relations policy, Hellchoices. We are sure that he has made the right choice in accepting our offer of an iced vovo as a tradeoff on his annual teabreak.

OK punters, time's up. Everybody back on your heads!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Union or Billionaires Row. Which one will you join, come the election result?

Paul Sheehan, of the SMH, whose major impact on DH;s life to date was getting her to spend several $100 hard-earned on Silly Water (how could one of the the SMH's most senior journalists be wrong about this miracle panacea for all ills??*) read with interest his ominous article in today's SMH.

In purple prose reminiscent of the words of the fascist poet T.S. Eliot. "What slow beast lurches towards Bethlehem?" he reckons that there's no real difference between the parties, that the election is really about Union Power, and ends his rant with the following.

"Everything is in place. With Labor so close to the holy grail of power - every government in Australia - the machine, and the Labor left, are maintaining an iron discipline, and a patient silence"

Before voting, working punters should ask themselves "If I'm unhappy with the election result, and want to change things, which am I more likely to be able to join and influence: My Union, or the Billionaires Club?"

And vote accordingly.

*And how come the SMH still hires someone who has so little credibility?.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Meet the National Aspirationalist Candidate for the Seat of Sydney

At a "Meet the Candidates" held recently in Sydney, the Liberal Candidate, (her name was as memorable as the list of platitudes she read from) enthusiastically endorsed her party's new rebadging as the party of "National Aspirationalism".

DH has long suspected that this policy arises from a simple typographical error perpetrated by some Liberal Party staffer, steeped in that party's noble tradition of knowing as little as possible about history in case it turns out to be upsetting. Perhaps, having been told to research Globalisation, our staffer accidentally researching Goebbalisation instead, and couldn't tell the difference.

To check her hunch, DH asked Miss Liberal afterwards whether "National Aspirationalism" meant things like "Strength through Joy" and "Hard Work gives us Free Choice"*, to which the candidate enthusiastically agreed.


OTOH, if the Liberals threw in a free Mateswagen Beetle for every battler, and promised to get the trains and buses running on time, it could be a goer!

Translation: Relax...
Strength Through Joy
* Historical Notes
Work'Choices' gone Feral
  • Kraft Durch Freude - Nazi campaign to build the National Will via cheap holidays. Included a savings plan towards the KDF Wagen, later rebadged as the Volkswagen
  • Arbeit Macht Frei: WorkChoices gone Feral. Emblazoned on the main gates of the Auschwitz, it translates roughly as "Work will set us Free". It didn't then. It won't now. Australia is already the hardest working nation in the world. Calculate the social costs for yourselves.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Asperger's and the Mother of all Disincentives to Work, Education and Having a Life

DH strung out trying to survive as parent of young adult with Asperger's

Thanks to the interplay of the irrational policies of Centrelink and DOH, DH is staring down the barrel of unemployment again with maximum nuisance not only to herself but to her employers.

To get a grip on this saga of policy folly, you need to understand that DH is the parent of a young adult with
Asperger Syndrome, aka Autistic Spectrum "Disorder", or AS. AS can be thought of as primarily a disorder of social communication. It is neither a physical or intellectual disability, nor a mental illness, though for people with AS, depression and anxiety go hand in hand with the strains of being "odd people out" in a demanding world that doesn't understand their limitations. Parents of people with AS are carers by virtue of the constant psychological strain of dealing with their demanding, "loner" offspring, of advocating for them, of constantly being on call to troubleshoot from cradle to ... well, the totally inadequate Disability Support Pension. While both Labor and the Libs now recognise AS and are beginning to fund support programs for children, the first wave of AS children (AS was only recognised by the medical profession in the late 80's) are now in their early twenties. They need a lot of specialised support in employment, education and housing, but so far this is barely on governmental radar.

But in the meantime, parents of AS children are having a hard time being recognised as carers for the purposes of Centrelink. AS people do not need constant supervision, they love being alone!, and they don't need personal care, (if you don't mind being totally embarassed in public in the company of a normal, often very good-looking young adult who lacks the co-ordination to brush their teeth or their hair properly). The only trouble is that while they may love being alone, aloneness is detrimental to their wellbeing, they actually need social interaction same as anyone else, and thus their parents are carers by virtue of needing to be their sole friends, by needing to constantly be on hand to fight fires, to explain odd behaviours, to deal with official business, to explain a bewildering world,

Thus it was that DH gave up trying to stay on the Carer's Pension, which prohibited her from working more than 15 hours, (and GET THIS! that 15 hours included travel time), while not giving her enough money to live on. NEvertheless, it was an important safety net for herself and child, allowing her reduced taxation, subsidised medication and transport costs.

However, she was then put on Newstart, and 'assessed' (nice way to talk about a human being BTW. In DH's youth, the only thing that got assessed was an insurance claim). Anyhow, she was assessed as being capable of 30 hours work and forced to find it. How many jobs are there that employ someone for 30 hours??? In short, DH was forced to find fulltime work, despite the extraordinary strains she lives under as an unrecognised carer.

So now we see that with fulltime work,

  • no concessions on medications or transport,
  • DOH throwing her straight into rental stress by dropping her in the deep end at 30% of her gross wages (despite the fact that she never sees 10% of that as it goes to HECS, HELP, SPSS (Educational Supplement)

not only is DH only a few dollars a week better off than on the disgracefully, miserably low Carers Pension, but her employers are suffering as well.

With the constant stress, DH;s immune system is up the creek. She has been coughing her lungs out for several months, and if this blog was an Opera, she'd be singing her final deathbed aria by the end of this post. Not only that, her life is a constant round of visits to psychiatrists, councillors, employment agencies, social workers on behalf of her daughter. She only averages about 3-4 days a week. She is constantly tired, the work is not getting done. Being a responsible worker, she feels constantly guilty, she is stressed out constantly by the decision of whether to take a day off and lose pay (she's on an hourly rate, no holiday pay, sick pay).

DH, like many of her friends who are educated, working sole parents or carers, and live in public housing are finding it almost impossible to make ends meet.

No joke, folks.

Carer's Week is over, and this is still not a life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Public Housing not a Right" says Labor (!) Minister

Responding to the news that the Islamic Council has been caught placing cronies in community housing, rather than refugees, Housing Minister Matt Brown apparently ended an otherwise sensible press release detailing plans to stop the rort, with State Labor's new mantra:
"Social housing is a privilege not a right."*
Friday, 02 November, 2007
By Edwina Bartholomew
as relayed by National TSN (see below)
While the majority of voters in this country are desperate to see Howard and Co thrown out, comments like the above from the new generation of rightwing Labor careerists, who seem to be totally ignorant of Labor history, are not making it easy for Labor supporter to keep it together.
One effect of the long election year is that the ALP left are sitting on their hands, zipping their mouths, and barely holding back the torrent of reckoning that will come to this bunch of big-talking amateurs running the state, (who, DH is sure, are at this moment, quivering in their white shoes at the thought of the challenge from the handful of relics of the sixties who still hang on in their ineffectual branches)
Proving again why he is Public Houso No 1, Garry Mallard, PBIC (Pooh-bah in Chief) of the National Tenant Support Network comments:
Comment from Garry Mallard:

Yes folks, the Minister has uttered the magic sentence. Took longer than expected, sure, but there it is above, NSW Labor's official mantra for all social housing occasions - "Social housing is a privilege, not a right".
Carl Scully said it first, betraying the depth of his ignorance.
Jo Tripody followed Scully. He said it often and in that way that is peculiar to arrogant bullies.
Cherie Burton she said it too... but then, it is said she sought the assistance of an American television medium to contact her dead grandfather to see if he could recommend a good date for the Minister and her partner to marry (Daily Telegraph). Speaks volumes, doesn't it!
Now Matthew Brown has said it, and as the word spreads across NSW, our sector heaves a collective sigh that is shorthand for, "The honeymoon is over. Here we go again!"
The human right to housing is explicitly set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other international human rights treaties and Declarations.
The Human Right to Adequate Housing guarantees all people the right to live in security, peace and dignity. It involves more than the right to access to shelter and includes the following indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights:
  • The human right to adequate shelter.
  • The human right to an adequate standard of living.
  • The human right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
  • The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
  • The human right of the child to an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.
  • The human right to access to resources, including energy for cooking, heating, and lighting.
  • The human right of access to basic services, schools, transportation and employment options.
  • The human right to affordability in housing so that other basic needs are not threatened or compromised.
  • The human right to freedom from discrimination in access to housing and related services based on sex, race, or any other status.
  • The human right to choose one's residence, to determine where and how to live and to freedom of movement.
  • The human right to freedom from arbitrary interference with one's privacy, family or home.
  • The human right to security, including legal security of tenure.
  • The human right to protection from forced evictions and the destruction or demolition of one's home including in situations of military occupation, international and civil armed conflict, establishment and construction of alien settlements, population transfer, and development projects.
  • The human right to equal protection of the law and judicial remedies for the redress of violations of the human right to adequate housing.
Oh well, maybe we'll do better next time....or the time after, or.....?
Garry Mallard
The National TSN
TSN Bulletins ©The National Tenant Support Network