Monthly Archives: August 2013

Student concerns rise with SUV rent

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SUV has again opted to increase its rental prices sparking accusations it is taking advantage of students’ desperation for housing, reports Ada Lee

Sydney University Village (SUV) is set to raise prices again in 2014, with the cheapest four or five bedroom apartments to cost $271.50 per week. The change represents a $14.70 or 5.7 percent increase on this year’s prices. The increase will mean that SUV’s cheapest rooms are now $60 more expensive than they were in 2011.

Many residents have been left worried and are asking why Campus Living Villages (CLV), the company responsible for SUV, has again boosted rates. Little explanation has been offered to students who are growing increasingly resentful, according to SUV resident Sophie Holt.

A spokesperson for CLV said that the company strives to deliver a safe and supportive environment that “provides value for money” to residents.

Along with market factors and customer surveys, CLV said “product upgrades” influenced pricing, pointing to various renovation projects such as repainting, carpet repairs, and work on the student common area, ‘The Well’.

However, long-term resident Camille* said these upgrades were “completely necessary” and should be “routine”. She did not think they justified the increases in rent. Camille reported seeing rats and cockroaches in the cooking areas during recent months. “The carpet was filthy, the walls were browning,” she said, “and The Well ceiling was literally collapsing”.

Considering that a five-bedroom apartment will cost a total of $1357.50 per week in 2014, Camille believes CLV is “ripping people off” even when taking into account Newton’s recent property market booms.

The University of Sydney owns 5-10 percent of SUV, sharing with other private stakeholders. Together, they set the rent. The CLV spokesperson said they recognised the cost of living pressures faced by students but did not specify whether this affected pricing considerations.

CLV are the “bad guys” according to Camille*. She doubts whether ‘affordable housing’ is actually one of their aims. “It’s really about what they can get. They know that students are desperate for accommodation near campus so they can drive the price up and they’re well within their rights to”, she said. “CLV needs to turn a profit and so that’s what they’re doing.”

Statistics provided by CLV show an 86 percent customer satisfaction rating but that only 42.9 percent of 2012 residents reapplied in 2013.

Another resident, Georgia Hitch, believes SUV offers a great student service and community but does not believe the “incredibly exorbitant” rent increases are justified. “Saying ‘oh it’s really good and people will pay it’ is not a good enough reason. That dispels the whole idea of equity among students,” she said.

Residents emphasised the importance of student housing in making university accessible, particularly for rural and interstate students. Even though private rent in outer suburbs may be cheaper, Ms Hitch, who hails from Canberra, said it can be too daunting for non-Sydney students to consider when moving to an unknown city.

The news of SUV’s latest price adjustment comes as the University looks to increase its stock of student housing and enter into an agreement with a second party to develop and administer the Queen Mary Building. The failure to keep SUV’s rates down will increase pressure on the University to come to an agreement that minimises the potential for future rate rises.

Last year over 100 students rallied and circulated a petition when SUV announced rent would increase by $18.30 per week.

*Name has been changed

Published in Honi Soit, 27 August 2013.

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Election Propaganda: The Advertisements That Will Make You Cringe

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Recent election advertising makes me wonder whether it is possible for any political party to make an ad that doesn’t look like propaganda. Maybe it’s from all the film analysis I had to do at school, but I sincerely struggle to see these ads as anything less than ridiculous.

Without further ado, the awards are…

Sex Appeal

Surprisingly, this does not go to Tony Abbott. No, the Greens have stolen it.

When I first saw this Greens ad, I genuinely thought it was a joke. On second look, it has the perfect amount of, in the words of Tony Abbott, “sex appeal”, to keep the viewer hooked until the punch line at the end. It even incorporates an iPhone to show that the Greens are hip and down with the young people and there are enough close-ups of screaming faces at the end to make sure you understand the emergency of the situation.

Most Natural Performance

“I believe that investing in local schools (pause), like this one here, ” he says, pointing behind his shoulder while his eyes remain fixated down the barrel of the camera. The seamlessness of Kevin Rudd’s performance deserves an Oscar. At the very least, he could give weather presenters a run for their money.

Most Inspiring

There stands Prime Minister Rudd on a sunny day amid background shrubbery. His voice, of course, is accompanied by happy music, which crescendos as the video progresses to match the rising level of inspiration. “I know for sure that the old politics of negativity Just. Won’t. Work”, he says with a sort-of-smile on his face and hand gestures to match.

With this positive outlook in mind, I bring the next award.

Best Horror Film

Cue the doomsday music you often hear in horror films when the killer is hiding behind the curtain. A high angle shot looms over Tony Abbott’s helpless victims. A gloomy voiceover croaks into your ear as the stage light is symbolically switched off over the glum-faced ‘losers’. The simple slogan “If he wins, you lose” evokes the appropriate amount of edginess in anyone who doesn’t like losing. Most importantly, a dark shadow is cast over Abbott’s sinister face, looking more like a character from The Godfather. Real subtle, Labor.

Heartbreaker
This Liberal ad speaks to the sentimental among us, marking the third anniversary of “Labor’s Carbon Tax Lie”—there’s even a cake and a candle! The sombre music and slow-motion montage bring back a flood of haunting memories.

If you look carefully at the bottom-right, you can even spot a sneaky Kevin prancing and laughing jubilantly, followed by his best pal, Julia, after the carbon tax is passed. The ad even sneaks in that awkward photo of what looks like Kevin and Julia smooching.

Best Disney Remake

I sense Walt Disney won’t be happy with how similar the background music of this Liberal ad sounds to ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It has the magical feeling of a Disney movie with smiling faces and a sprinkle of Australian slang—“having a go” and “land of opportunity”—in true Tony Abbott style.

At the end of the ad, there sits Tony on an airplane (in what looks like Business Class), looking out the window with hope as the light shines on his face (hint: symbolic for the promising future under the Coalition).

So there you have it – the ads that are supposed to inform the electors. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I would rather political agendas be sensationally blatant than perniciously subliminal. Use all the dramatic music and plastered smiles that you want – just don’t expect us to take your ads seriously.

Published in Vibewire, 24 August 2013. 

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Australia far from settled on refugees

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In a sea of political rhetoric, phrases like “stop the boats, “refugee rights” and “queue jumping” seem to constantly get splashed around. Problems, causes, symptoms and solutions get swirled together, often making it difficult to grasp the complexities of the asylum seeker issue.

Rudd’s PNG Solution gave fresh lungs to voices across the political spectrum. Over a month later, the Coalition has finally made its move.

Early on, the left voiced outrage at Labor’s PNG solution with Greens leader, Christine Milne, accusing Rudd of lurching so far right that he leapfrogged Tony Abbott in cruelty.

In a political standoff, the right found itself facing a Labor policy that looked uncannily like its own – ‘offshore processing’ and ‘stopping the boats’ seemed to be the phrases of the day. Abbott’s initial response seemed baffled and ambiguous. “I welcome it, but it won’t work under Kevin Rudd, ” he said. Later, at the federal debate 11 August, in almost schoolyard “you copied me” style, Abbott said: “let’s face it, we invented off-shore processing.”

But on Friday 16 August, Tony Abbott came out with bigger guns and a more coherent response in an attempt to distinguish Liberal from Labor and secure the conservative votes.  Firstly, Liberal will deny asylum seekers the right to appeal to the courts for refugee status. Secondly, any legitimate refugee found among the 30, 000 asylum seekers who have already arrived will only be granted temporary rather than permanent visas.

There are many stages in an asylum seeker’s journey to Australia. Every stage remains controversial. This is the story Australians tend to hear: a person is manipulated by a conniving boat smuggler into hopping onto a rickety boat without a visa, placing their lives at the mercy of the turbulent high seas. If they survive, the asylum seeker is taken into mandatory detention where their claim for refugee status is processed. If the claim succeeds, questions remain over where they will be settled and what rights they will be given.

Should the boats be stopped?

Both Labor and Liberal have echoed a resounding “yes”.  Australians are no stranger to stories of disastrous boat journeys and deaths at sea. Like most politicians, when Rudd announced his hardline deterrence policy, he framed it as a compassionately motivated attempt to end an exploitative system of boat smuggling. “There is nothing compassionate about criminal operations which see children and families drowning at sea, ” he said.

However, many refugee advocates denied these moral claims, arguing that such deterrence methods merely punish the most vulnerable.

Daniel Webb from Human Rights Law Centre told Fairfax Media that deterrence was the wrong policy. He said deterring boats only addresses the symptom of the problem. The problem, he said, is that there are people in our region who desperately need protection and who lack a safe, viable, alternative pathway to access it. “Now you can shut Australia’s doors but that doesn’t resolve their underlying desperation and their underlying need to obtain protection”, Mr Webb said.

Like Rudd, Abbott seems determined to stop the boats, expressing sentiments of effective border protection. ”The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here, ” Mr Abbott said.

Detention and Processing Claims

With both major parties now supporting offshore detention, the Liberal party has hardened their stance on the processing stage. Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, expressed a desire to end Labor’s “tick and flick” approach by removing asylum seekers’ right to appeal. In the March quarter, Labor’s court appeal system saw an increase of approved refugee statuses from 65.3 to over 90 per cent. According to Mr Morrison, this appeal process was being “promoted by the people smugglers to put people on boats”.

Settlement

There are currently 30, 000 asylum seekers “that Kevin Rudd’s already let in”, said Mr Morrison. From these, any legitimate refugee will be denied permanent residency under the Coalition.

In the words of Mr Morrison: “You don’t get the right to stay in Australia forever, you don’t get the right to apply for citizenship, you don’t get the right to bring your family here, you don’t get the right to come and go from the country as you please.”

Refugees on welfare will be signed up to the ‘Work for the Dole’ program where work experience must be completed in order to receive continuing income support from the government. This is because “you shouldn’t get something for nothing if you’re coming to this country, ” said Mr Morrison. According to the government website, this program aims to “give eligible job seekers the opportunity to learn new skills, get work experience and improve their chance of finding a job.”

When a temporary visa expires, refugee status will be reassessed according to whether a person’s home country has improved enough for them to return home.

#AUSylum Conversation

The questions are complex and the answers in Australia remain divided…

Should the boats be stopped and if so, how?

Will policies of deterrence support the greater good in dismantling a boat smuggling system of exploitation or does it merely punish vulnerable individuals? 

Is this a matter of border security, humanitarian obligations or both?

Is ‘queue-jumping’ a myth used to demonise desperate boat people?

Is a system of (potentially indefinite) detention humane and economically viable?

Should asylum seekers be processed on the mainland or offshore?

Should refugees be granted permanent or temporary visas?

Whether you want to learn more, or you want to have your say on these issues, join the #AUSylum Twitter conversation. To tackle these complex questions with you, Vibewire will be hosting these panellists:

  • Joe Hildebrand, journalist from The Daily Telegraph
  • Graeme McGregor, National Refugee Campaign Coordinator of Amnesty International
  • Sara Saleh from Amnesty International
  • Gemma Amy-Lee from I am a Boat Person

Follow the twitter feed and add your piece to the puzzle as we explore these complex issues in 140 or less characters.

Published in Vibewire, 21 August 2013.

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Aboriginal Housing Company – 40 years and best yet to come

SSH_AUG13_05July 25 marked the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Housing Company and its long-term commitment to the provision of affordable housing for Aboriginal people.

Forty years ago, being Aboriginal meant being discriminated against in the private rental market. When conflicts arose between Aboriginal squatters in Redfern and the local authorities, Aboriginal activists were inspired to set up the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) in 1973. The AHC began purchasing land at The Block using a $500,000 grant from the Whitlam government.

The next 40 years were marked by highs and lows, struggles and disappointments, roadblocks and accomplishments.

In the 1970s and ’80s, The Block became a new urban home where Aboriginal people could belong. CEO of the AHC, Mick Mundine, recalls a “very caring and sharing” time. Music would fill the air and kids would play on the streets.

But the good times did not last.

In the 1990s, the Redfern community was slammed with drugs and alcohol, which preyed on deeper mental issues. “A lot of people get onto drugs because they’ve got no life for them,” Mr Mundine said. “[They wonder] where else to go? That’s when they turn to grog and they turn to drugs.”

A “vicious cycle” was begun and the AHC’s land was transformed into a safe environment for criminal habits, he said.

Mr Mundine blamed the government for perpetuating a “welfare mentality” amongst Aboriginal people. But he also emphasised the need for Aboriginal people to take responsibility for their actions.

The community was deteriorating and the AHC had to face the hard decision of whether or not to demolish the beloved Block. The 2004 Redfern riots sealed the deal: “Enough’s enough,” Mr Mundine said. Tenants would be relocated, The Block would be demolished and, ultimately, redeveloped.

Over the years, the AHC has had to fight hard to keep the Redfern land. Disagreements with the state government meant that it took ten years to gain Concept Approval for the $70 million Pemulwuy Project. Mr Mundine said the state government had tried to “crucify” the AHC because they wanted the land. “That land is prime real estate,” he said, pointing towards The Block.

Today, The Block remains in the hands of the AHC. A business plan is currently being written up by KPMG and the DA approval in December last year gives the AHC five years to complete the Pemulwuy Project. Outside Redfern, the company owns 41 houses across metropolitan and country areas, which will continue to be leased to Aboriginal people after The Block’s completion.

It has been a 40-year struggle but the passion of Mr Mundine and the AHC has not waned. More than simply providing affordable housing for Aboriginal people, its redevelopment projects are about self-determination and building a new community. Mr Mundine’s hope for the future envisions a brand new community with good housing, good parents, healthy kids going to school and tenants that work to make sure the vicious cycle of the past does not return.

Many non-Aboriginal people have also shown their support for creating a better Redfern. Not only was Mr Mundine thankful to his own company, but also to the several non-Indigenous supporters such as the City of Sydney, REDWatch, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein and the recently passed Col James. “I think it boils down to respect. We’re all working together, all want to achieve that one goal,” he said. Mr Mundine paid tribute to Col James, calling him a “legend” and a “brother”. “He had a good heart, he was strong in what he believed in. He was a man that looked after disadvantaged people in housing, especially Aboriginal people.”

Published in the South Sydney Herald, front page, August 2013.

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More young people falling by the Wayside

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KINGS CROSS: Demand on youth services in Kings Cross is growing as more young people drift into the area. 

Behind every drug addiction, crime, enslaved sex worker and homeless teen is a person with an intricate story that goes beyond his or her stumbles in life. Whether it is child abuse, mental illness or generational encounters with the legal system, these young people come from a broad range of backgrounds. But Wayside Chapel Youth Manager, Dean de Haas, narrowed it down to an underlying issue.

“A lot of our young people are really hurt by something. They’re just suffering some pain from somewhere,” he said. “Often, we have young people who’ve been told for a long time that they’re not going to amount to anything, so they follow that pathway themselves.”

Wayside Chapel, in Kings Cross, has experienced a dramatic increase of young visitors in need. Spread throughout the 2011/12 financial year, Wayside supported 31 people aged under 16. But in the last two months, it has already seen 28. In four years, the yearly intake of under 25-year-olds has increased from around 150 to 450 people.

Young people have not been spared Australia’s housing affordability crisis. A recent survey discovered housing to be the greatest unmet need for social service clients. At Wayside, only 10 of the 450 people under 25 years of age had stable accommodation in the last financial year.

With more of these young people finding their way into Kings Cross, Mr de Haas is concerned this opens the door for teens to be groomed by people who might not have their best interests at heart.

Still, in an area plagued by drugs, crime and homelessness, beauty arises in places like Wayside where members of the community unite to help themselves. Importantly, Wayside gives a “hand up” not a “hand out”. There is dignity in the way visitors choose and pay for their meals at the café. The drop-in youth space, with couches, a chalkboard wall and a kitchen, is a safe place for young people to own and look after.

The Employment Pathways Project helps to foster ambition and self-worth. The excitement was evident on Mr de Haas’s face when he told the story of a young man who went from asking for money on the streets to being the leading salesperson at a call centre.

But the demand is getting tougher in Kings Cross, Mr de Haas says. “It is a challenge and it means we have to train our volunteers to be able to take on greater roles. Our youth service has opened for longer hours to meet that need. We have increased staffing, but we haven’t received any increased funding.”

There are currently two full-time and two part-time youth workers at Wayside, accompanied by 28 volunteer shifts a week. According to Mr de Haas, funding from NSW Health only makes up around 30 per cent of their budget, the rest of which is acquired through fundraising and foundations.

Across Australia, youth services have been under increased strain with 65 per cent saying they have had to lengthen working hours and limit service levels.

In May, many were outraged when the NSW government announced it would disband the Kings Cross Adolescent Unit, which has provided after-hours specialist youth support for 27 years. The Public Service Association called this a disastrous move and accused the government of having “no effective plan” for tackling youth risks on the streets.

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 4, August 2013. 

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