Senin, 13 September 2010

New Minister for Social Housing... but no Minister for Housing

The formation of a new government and the appointment of new ministers is an occasion for congratulation and optimism, but this time the feeling is mixed with disappointment.

Congratulations to Senator Mark Arbib on his appointment as Minister for Social Housing.

(Senator Mark Arbib, Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness)

However – and no disrespect to the new Minister – it is disappointing that neither he nor another of his colleagues is 'Minister for Housing'.

This portfolio, which was reinstated by the previous government and held by Tanya Plibersek after its long absence under the Howard government, has once again gone missing. After this afternoon's swearing in, Jenny Macklin will remain Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, as she was in the previous government, and Tanya Plibersek will be Minister for Social Inclusion and Minister for Human Services. Senator Arbib takes the new, narrower portfolio of Social Housing and Homelessness, along with Sport and Indigenous Employment.

I hope this isn't a sign that the new Federal Government intends to abandon the wide view of housing policy represented by the previous Minister's more widely-defined portfolio, which encompassed homelessness, social housing, housing affordability and even the landlord-tenant legal relationship. I hope it isn't a sign that social housing policy will once again be cut off from wider housing policy, or that social housing providers will have to retract from their only-just-emerging role in the wider provision of housing.

Let's try to be optimistic. Here's hoping the newly reappointed Prime Minister and Treasurer each see themselves as Housing Ministers, and begin to reset the policy levers at their command – those of tax policy – from their present pro-speculation, pro-inflation settings, to instead make housing more affordable for renters and would-be owner-occupiers.