The investment of $40 million in new public and affordable housing – as well as separate funding for air-conditioning in existing housing – will be truly game-changing for some of our most vulnerable residents.
Minister for Housing Richard Wynne, Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio and the Victorian Government are to be commended for the funding announced in the 2020-21 Budget.
It is estimated the $40 million commitment for the Mildura local government area and $15 million for Swan Hill LGA – which takes in Robinvale in the Mildura electorate – has the potential to see 180 new properties built across the Mallee which would provide an extra 200,000 bed nights per year.
Statistics have shown there is a lack of public housing stock in the Mildura electorate, so this investment will be a huge boost for many vulnerable people.
Investing in public housing is the best way a government can give people a hand-up rather than a hand-out.
People who are struggling for a range of reasons find it almost impossible to lift themselves out of their plight if they do not have stable accommodation.
This investment, which is part of the government’s $5 billion Big Housing Build program, will see construction over the next four years. This will give more certainty for our construction industry and help drive our economy.
The $119 million Social Housing Efficiency Program will complement the Big Build by providing air-conditioning for existing social housing properties.
The issues of air-conditioning in public housing has been an issue in this region for many years and has been exacerbated by climate change drivers leading to extended heatwaves and hotter night-time temperatures.
It is not hyperbole to say it is a human rights issue.
So to have air-conditioning being installed in 2000 existing properties in the Mildura, Swan Hill, Hindmarsh, Yarriambiack, Buloke, Gannawarra, Campaspe, Moira and Greater Shepparton local government areas is extremely welcomed.
It is expected 500 units will be installed by June next year.
I have raised the issue in Victorian Parliament several times since becoming the Mildura MP, including in June last year.
Watch Ali’s speech to Parliament below:
Ali’s grievance debate speech to Victoria Parliament about public housing
air-conditioning on June 3, 2020:
” I rise today to grieve for the people of my electorate who live in public housing and who are forced to endure longer, hotter summers without access to cooling.
”My electorate sits at the edge of Australia’s desert country. It is markedly different to the rest of Victoria in that it routinely experiences a hotter, drier climate than the rest of the state. This is exacerbated by climate change, which is seeing longer, more intense heatwaves and hotter overnight temperatures.
” In March this year a local family services provider, Mallee Family Care, delivered a landmark research project in partnership with the University of Sydney titled Extreme Heat Driven by the Climate Emergency: Impacts on the Health and Wellbeing of Public Housing Tenants in Mildura, Victoria. This research report demonstrated in both a qualitative and a quantitative way what we in Mildura have long known: that in our part of the world cooling is as essential to the habitability of our homes as heating is in the southern and eastern parts of the state.
‘‘The matter of whether our climate is changing is not in dispute here, and the report is based on the truth.
”As stated in the report:
Temperature data from the Bureau of Meteorology suggest that worldwide global heating trends are replicated in Mildura. For example, between 1988–99 and 2018–19 the number of days during the period from November to March with temperatures over 34°C had increased from 41 to 64 days. Likewise, the number of consecutive days over 34°C has increased from 30 to 52 days and the number of heatwaves (three or more days over 34°C) from 6 to 9 episodes.
”One of the most important indicators that impacts on wellbeing is the number of nights during heatwaves where the minimum temperature has remained over 20 degrees. Twenty degrees is considered to be the common maximum temperature regarded as conducive to restorative sleep and relief from heat. The number of nights in Mildura where the overnight temperature was more than 20 degrees has increased from 30 in 1998–99 to 55 in 2018–19. Put simply, in Mildura and the north-west our heatwaves are getting more frequent and more intense.
‘‘So what is the impact on the tenants of public housing? Using qualitative methods, the research team undertook focus groups and interviews to explore the lived experience of residents of public housing in Mildura and their opinions of the service providers who support them. Six focus groups were conducted, five of them with community members and one with service providers. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 71 years and came from a variety of diverse backgrounds. Residents agreed that it was hotter inside non- air -conditioned houses than it was outside, but they were forced to stay indoors to reduce the risk of sunburn, especially if they had kids with fair skin.
”Many residents recorded indoor temperatures in the 40s and 50s. They describe night-time heat as being as bad as or even worse than daytime heat because there was nowhere to escape during the night, whereas at least during the day it was possible to escape to the river, the pool, the library or a shopping centre. On their physical health, they reported suffering heat exhaustion, dehydration and headaches, breathing difficulties, especially for those with pre-existing conditions like asthma, and difficulty in regulating the temperature of their babies.
”I know this from personal experience. It was late in the afternoon during one of our famous heatwaves when my then six-month-old son needed a sleep. We had an air conditioner but it was an old-school evaporative one, and these ones always struggle to cope when the temperature climbs above 40, particularly when it is a few days in succession.
‘‘He was clearly very hot, so we did everything we could to cool him down. We stripped him down to his nappy and laid him down on our bed, on the assumption that the airflow was slightly better in our room. The ceiling fan was on, and we positioned a floor fan so it was blowing a breeze over him. His face and body were reddening. At 5- to 10-minute intervals we would dab his face and his body with a wet tea towel to keep his temperature down. It was a full-time job that day just keeping him cool.
”And my family was lucky, because we had a reverse cycle air conditioner on order. It was just a matter of waiting for our turn amid the rush of orders to the shop. But for so many families in my electorate, where disposable income is low and the number of public houses is high, a good-quality, effective air conditioner is simply not affordable. For people with pre-existing conditions, service providers in the region talked about the impact that extreme heat had on their clients’ and patients’ ability to manage their conditions. There are rules that allow people with certain illnesses to get access to air conditioning, but the criteria are far too narrow. One noted a case where an elderly woman had died during an extreme heatwave, but the cause of death was attributed to the person’s condition without taking into account the impact of her exposure to extreme heat. We understand this happens often.
”If extreme heat affects our physical health negatively, the impact on a person’s mental health is arguably worse. Some residents reported that exposure to extreme heat had a negative impact not only on their own mental health but that of their kids. Others reported that their mental health medications did not work as effectively in the heat. All residents interviewed agreed that extreme heat and resulting lack of sleep left many mentally drained and unable to think or cope with daily tasks.
”On the impacts on society and community, the residents interviewed talked about the impact of the extreme heat on their family wellbeing, with some referring to increased aggression and even domestic violence as the heat became unbearable. Others reported spikes in antisocial behaviour, such as people roaming the streets at night because their homes had become too hot, as well as increased substance use and related violence. Concerningly, one of the strongest themes in the report was the impact of the extreme heat on the education of children. Many residents reported that kids were often too tired to focus, having been up all night due to the unbearable conditions. The fact that Mildura’s schools have air conditioning is an incentive to come to school, but children should not have to attend school in order to sleep—and that is what has been happening, with exhausted kids taking refuge in a sick bay because it is the only place cool enough to get some decent rest. Obviously during these times these children are not participating in their usual class activities and risk falling behind.
”Service providers in the region have supported these accounts, stating that the attendance rate of students living in non- air -conditioned homes was consistently down due to a lack of sleep from elevated overnight temperatures. According to one service provider, this becomes a long-term systemic issue, where those children grow up with lower levels of education and are less able to articulate their concerns and advocate for themselves at a policy level, thus perpetuating more frequently and more intensely intergenerational cycles of poverty. I expect that results of the sub-study, also currently being developed by the University of Sydney School of Public Health, will further identify negative impacts for students who reside in public housing without adequate cooling. I will update the house when this sub-study is published.
”So what needs to happen, in my opinion? In the short term, the Victorian government must invest in air conditioning for all public housing, within the state’s north-west at least, as soon as possible. I acknowledge that this might require a more place-based approach to electricity subsidies, but surely this would not be too hard for a government with the right political will. In the longer term, the government should consider the appropriateness of new housing for the climate in which the housing is being built.
”Design, insulation and construction material are all critical to this. I am a keen and passionate member of the government’s industrial hemp task force, and I have been learning about the benefits of hemp as a product that can be used in the construction of eco-friendly housing in the form of hempcrete. Hempcrete is made by mixing woody fibre from the inside of the hemp stalk with lime and water. The result is a product that requires very little adaptation from the normal building process. It boasts high levels of carbon sequestration and is also a highly effective insulator. The hemp task force, along with industry partners, is looking at proposals to establish and expand hempcrete processing facilities in Victoria. By the way, I suggested the Mallee would be a good spot to start.
”Meanwhile, farmers and irrigators are starting to switch on to the environmental and economic benefits of hemp as a commodity. As a result, there has never been a better time for the Victorian government to start using this remarkable material to build its housing stock to support an exciting new industry and create massive untapped opportunities for regional economies. It is time for the Victorian government to recognise that the climate in my electorate desperately requires a place-based approach.
”In Mildura, air conditioning is not a matter of comfort; it is a matter of public safety and survival. Leaving public housing tenants to fend for themselves without this essential utility in the era of climate change is a dereliction of the state’s duty and, quite simply, inhumane. I plan and hope to work with tenants and service providers in my area, as well as with the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing and the department to get these changes happening. Thank you.”