SUBJECTS: Victoria’s Public Housing Lockdown, Public Housing Neglect
SANDY ALOISI, HOST: Well, let’s go to those housing towers. Of course, they’re still in lockdown and Peter Kahlil is the Federal Member for Wills, and that covers five of the lockdown suburbs in Melbourne extending, of course, past those towers. He joins us now. Mr Khalil, good morning to you. You grew up in public housing, how concerned are you for those residents in the towers there?
PETER KHALIL MP: Look, I am very concerned and upset. I actually spoke to Ahmed Dini yesterday among other community leaders. He’s a fantastic young community leader and I’m glad you had him on the program. He’s eloquent, articulate and he clearly states what the needs are residents. But, I am, like they are, frustrated and angry because all too often public housing residents, ‘housos’ as we’ve been called, tend to be an afterthought at all levels of government, frankly. 40 years ago when I was growing up there, public housing stock was about 6 per cent in this state of total housing stock. It’s now dropped to 2%. So resources haven’t been flowing to public housing.
While I completely support the Victorian Government’s need for a strong health response, Sandy, and have been supportive of the government’s terrific efforts over the last couple months, as all state and territory governments and the Federal Government have worked cooperatively on all of these issues, I do raise questions, as Ahmed and many others have, as to the immediate issues that they’re facing, such as the lack of notice. Where are the health workers? Where the social workers the mental health support, food and medication delivery, and so on? These are immediate problems that need to be addressed. But, the deeper underlying problem, Sandy, is one that I’ve been trying to raise, and that is the lack of focus on public housing. Already, these people are disadvantaged: socioeconomically disadvantaged, new and emerging modern groups, language and communication barriers, and health issues. On top of that, they are further disadvantaged by the high density nature of their housing.
SANDY ALOISI, HOST: But really when you think about the fact of this virus is that governments have to respond fairly quickly when there’s an outbreak. I think the premier of Victoria himself said that the reason there was no notice given was that he felt that he had to act quickly to try and halt the spread of the virus. What else could he have done though, Peter Khalil?
PETER KHALIL MP: Well, I don’t second guess or question the actions of the State Government in a strong health response, with ring fences as they’ve been saying, to high risk areas, particularly the high density housing in these towers. That’s not the issue I’m raising. What I am getting at is, in a sense, this situation has shone a spotlight on public housing and public housing residents, and the disadvantage they face. As I said earlier, this is about the ongoing resources, or lack of resources, for public housing. The fact is that all too often, in governments of all persuasions – and this is not a partisan thing, Sandy – people in public housing are mostly an afterthought.
In my own electorate is a public housing estate. I had to drag police and DHS staff to come to meetings to hear the issues and concerns of residents. Do you think, do you think if a Federal MP didn’t do that; anyone would have bothered rocking up? No. What I’m talking about is, and I’m glad people are showing support which is welcome now, absolutely, but I want this conversation to go on. I want us to all do better as far as resourcing and funding for public housing, because if we’re talking about a quality of opportunity in this country; the quality of opportunities that are in many millions of migrants got, it was about access to education. It was about access to healthcare, and it was access to housing. And that seems to have fallen away a little bit, particularly in the last decade.
SANDY ALOISI, HOST: I think you’re quite right when you say that the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on those areas, perhaps that had gone under the radar a little earlier. Just finally, quickly, what about you personally? I assume you’re confined to Victoria for the foreseeable future?
PETER KHALIL MP: Yes, and we are not sure about whether we go back to Canberra for the next sitting period in early August. There’s some talk about how that would work, whether it be virtual sitting. So yes, we are confined to Victoria. There are five suburbs in my electorate of Wills in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne which are under local lockdown as well, so there’s a lot of work we’ve been doing to support community members. I sent out a couple of months ago letters in multiple languages, and I did ads on SBS radio because people need to hear verbal communication as well. That’s what I’m talking about by reaching people in different communication channels, particularly those members of the community who have those language barriers and that socioeconomic disadvantage.
SANDY ALOISI, HOST: Peter Khalil, good to speak with you. Thank you.
PETER KHALIL MP: Thanks, Sandy.
SANDY ALOISI, HOST: Peter Khalil, the Federal Member for Wills in Victoria, which covers five of the lockdown suburbs in Melbourne.