Rabu, 23 September 2009

The Housing Amendment (Registrable Persons) Act 2009

As foretold by N.C, the Brown Couch's resident soothsayer, the NSW State Government today introduced legislation to allow it to immediately terminate that much-reported public housing tenancy in Sydney's north-west. The Housing Amendment (Registrable Persons) Act 2009 was passed without amendment by both chambers of the Parliament this afternoon.

It is a bad law.

Essentially, the Act provides for the summary eviction of public housing tenants who are registered under the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000. The Act provides that an order for termination and eviction may be made by the Director-General of the Department of Human Services, upon the recommendation of the Police Commissioner.

The Police Commissioner's recommendation is supposed to be based on the Commissioner being of the view that the tenant's presence places a neighbour or the tenant at risk of physical harm or injury (new s 58B(2)) – but don't mind the intricacies of the wording too much, because the decision to make a recommendation is not subject to any kind of review by the courts. Nor is the Director-General's decision to make the order. The Act precludes any independent scrutiny by either the courts or the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.

The tenant is entitled to no notice of the termination order, and no notice of their eviction. They may have no notice that the decision is being considered at all, and no opportunity to put their case as to why their tenancy should not end. The first they can expect to hear of these proceedings is when the police knock at the door and say 'right, you're leaving.' They are entitled to no compensation, though any rent in advance is to be repaid. The Director-General must ensure that alternative housing is made available, but not necessarily public housing.

The new legislation is the final, or nearly final, act in a drama that started at the beginning of last week with the Housing Minister's comments to the media about a certain tenant. Now, it's fine for a Housing Minister to question the decisions made by his department, including decisions relating to the housing arrangements of individual persons. But with due respect to the Minister, he was wrong to comment publicly on the housing arrangements of a client of his department, and he was wrong to give the impression to neighbours and the public at large that he could order a tenant 'be moved' 'by tonight'. The Act makes those statements the new legal reality.

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In 2004, an aide to US President George W Bush explained his Administration's philosophy to a New York Times journalist with a quote that has become a by-word for hubris:

''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out."

I don't think the Housing Minister would personally identify with this awful philosophy and its authors. The Housing Amendment (Registrable Persons) Act 2009 is unworthy of him and his Government.