Social housing advocates label Queensland’s 2021 budget spending a ‘band aid’ that won’t solve crisis

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The Queensland government’s multi-billion-dollar state budget spend on housing and health has been met been with mixed reactions, as stakeholders say more is needed to properly address issues.

Brisbane woman Imogen Bunting, 48, was under-employed and found herself homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic after spending years on the public housing waitlist.

“Housing has been devastated by the state government for many decades,” Ms Bunting said.

“They’ve sold them off and they’ve failed to maintain them.

“Of course it’s the biggest investment because they haven’t been investing in it consistently.”

Yesterday’s state budget outlined a $1.9 billion spend over four years to increase the supply of social housing and upgrade the existing portfolio.

Social housing funding ‘a band aid’

A $1 billion Housing Investment Fund will also be set up, with its returns to contribute about $160 million in extra funding over the forward estimates to increase supply.

The Queensland government said it was ramping up the construction of new social housing dwellings, with plans to build 6,365 new homes over four years — more than that originally planned over the decade to 2027.

As of September last year, there were 26,397 households waiting on Queensland’s Public Housing Register.

“I think it (the plan) is at least 34,000 houses short. It needs to be public housing not social housing — and it was needed 10 years ago,” Ms Bunting said.

“It’s a drop in the ocean of what’s needed and it’s a band aid.”

New investment in social housing has been met with relief by advocacy groups, which have been sounding the alarm about a growing crisis for months.

Micah Projects CEO, Karyn Walsh, said the funding meant more Queenslanders would have access to affordable and safe housing in the next few years.

“We’re really in the grip of a housing crisis like we haven’t seen before,” Ms Walsh said.

“This money means some of the initiatives that started through COVID will be able to continue.

“At the moment, we’re seeing rough sleeping go up, we’re seeing overcrowding go up, we’re seeing rents double for people who’ve had rents at a lower rate.”

‘A beacon of hope’

Queensland Council of Social Service chief executive Aimee McVeigh said the investment was a “beacon of hope” and she wanted to work with the government to make sure the funding delivered outcomes.

“What the investment means is effectively a tripling of supply of social housing over the next three years,” she said.

“This is an important first step but it is by no means going to solve the crisis.

“We need to celebrate that this is a new approach … it’s a step in the right direction but we will need to see more over the coming years.”

Debbie Kilroy from prisoner advocacy group Sisters Inside said better provision of social housing would make a difference to marginalised groups, including women who had been in prison.

Opposition says there is ‘nothing to fix health crisis’

The Queensland 2021-22 Budget includes $22.2 billion for health over the next four years, including a $2 billion hospital building fund to combat growth pressures across the sector.

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said the investment in health would not address pressure in the sector.

He said the majority of the $2 billion hospital building fund was allocated after 2024-25.

“There is nothing until after the next election of any tangible amount to fix the health crisis and it has been the thing that Queenslanders have been screaming out [for],” Mr Crisafulli said.

“In fact, if you look at the capital expenditure figures, health is less this year than it was last year.

“So when Queenslanders are stuck in an ambulance waiting for a hospital bed, ramped, they will remember this pretend fund.”

As part of its $22 billion spend on health, the government said it would establish a $2 billion Hospital Building Fund, which initially included $42 million for the Toowoomba Day Surgery.

It also included $117 million for the ongoing care of public patients at the expanded Mater Springfield Hospital and an uplift in Queensland Health’s base capital program, with further commitments expected beyond 2024-25.

The budget papers show in the past financial year, $1.473 billion was spent on capital expenditure for health, with $1.35 billion set aside this financial year for capital investment.

‘Our healthcare funding is broken’

AMA Queensland vice-president Bav Manoharan said the health spend lacked heart and soul, with investment mainly focused on infrastructure.

“What we’re seeing is an investment in health infrastructure but not an investment in the healthcare workforce, we’re not seeing an investment in Indigenous health or rural and maternity services,” he said.

“We’d like to see more investment in mental health care of frontline health workers.

“This budget goes some way to addressing the volume and capacity issues with half a billion being announced, but we really need over a billion dollars … in this budget to address that hospital block.”

Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union secretary Beth Mohle welcomed the spend on health but said more focus was needed on addressing the root problems causing a strain on emergency departments and hospitals.

“We need new models of care, we need a fundamentally community-based healthcare model,” she said.

“Our health funding model is broken in Australia, the way the federal governments and the state government fund healthcare is wrong and it’s driving the wrong outcomes.

“This budget has delivered record funding for healthcare but we need to look more deeply at the way that healthcare is funded.”

By state political reporter Rachel Riga and Emilie Gramenz (Original ABC Article)

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