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.