Friday, 27 July 2007

No rhyme nor reason

The current stoush over public housing raises a whole barrow-load of questions about the sort of society we are trying to create.
The Federal Government is promoting now the idea that public housing should go into private hands. (here)This seems to me like ideological madness.
I am not against outsourcing per se, and I am not particularly in favour of governments running businesses that might be more effectively run privately.
There is, in my mind, no need for governments to run or own factories, farms or retail outlets.
But public infrastructure is a rather different issue. With this sort of body we are not just talking about some finite business, we are also talking about social policy. So health, education, communications and housing, it seems to me, need to be played close to the governmental chest.
Not, perhaps, for the majority of people who can manage things quite well, but for the ever-increasing number of people finding that these things are traps which they cannot negotiate.
The economic rationalist dogma (for such it is) that the private sector can run these things more efficiently must be called into question.
They may be able to achieve certain efficiencies by harsh cutbacks, by limiting services; but we also need to recognise that this does not serve the most vulnerable. The very people that public education, public health, and now public housing are supposed to protect and serve.
The trouble with the housing rental industry is that it is rapacious. Poor people are very vulnerable if the roof over their head is threatened (or their school or their hospital). Most people in our society can create choice for themselves, but the poorest and the weakest cannot.
This is not a question, then, of economic dogma. It is an issue about social policy. That is not the province of the private sector. It is the responsibility of government. It cannot and should not be outsourced or privatised.


Anonymous said...

Or, for example, there is also the risk that successful tenderers will opt for the "good stuff" and the "not so good" or downright crappy will be left as just that... so the developments.. in ooh shall we say Elizabeth will stall and none of the social issues will be addressed, and we will continue bandaiding in suburbs where the rate of public housing is as much as 85% (a far better optimum would be 15%) or we stay with the system we already have which fails to address the poor condition of many of it's properties, and in suburbs like, say Elizabeth, they continue to be hard to let.. because with the "big sell off" of properties over the last 10 years or so.... which were to be targetted to owner/occupiers, they were in fact purchased by investors (many of whom are interstate, and have never spent a penny on them, and the only tenants who will take these rundown properties are people who Housing SA (formerly known as SAHT)reject, evict or the like.. so instead of reducing the high density of tenancies with social issues...they have in fact exacerbated the problem.With the private renters being a worse mix in these areas.

stephen clark said...

Yes, it is not easy.
My sister works in the public housing sector and has found it almost soul-destroying.
One of the great difficulties with the private market is that we do not have any serious rent-control, which is not true in Europe or in America.
Should private investors be required to lock rents in for say a 5 or 10 year period.
These things can be got round of course, but what is the point of privatising if you are going to then have to regulate so heavily that you need a structure as complex as the original government unit to regulate it.