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One of Sydney’s most powerful Labor mayors has launched an extraordinary attack on the state government over housing, accusing it of using councils as a punching bag instead of crafting genuine policy and putting money on the table.
Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne said instead of “kicking” councils for failing to approve enough new homes, Premier Chris Minns and his ministers ought to make at least $5 billion available for social housing, as Victoria’s Daniel Andrews did during the pandemic.
Inner West Labor mayor Darcy Byrne says the state government is unfairly laying the burden of housing with local councils.Credit: Kate Geraghty
“Punching down at councils won’t fix housing supply and is no substitute for an actual policy,” he said in comments supported by other Labor mayors. “Many local governments are up for a mature discussion about increasing housing supply, but the government and the property industry lobby giving councils a regular kicking doesn’t achieve anything.”
Byrne, a long-serving mayor and close ally of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, said there was plenty of state and local government-owned land in the inner west that could be used for public housing if the capital was provided.
“There’s no getting around the fact that addressing the housing crisis requires the state government to play a much bigger role in funding supply at the bottom end of the market,” he said.
“The $2 billion in new federal funding is very welcome and should be complemented by the NSW government stepping up as well.
“The $5.3 billion investment from the Andrews government in building new public housing during the pandemic is the scale of action that is needed in NSW as well.”
‘Every time we go to bid for additional affordable housing we are gazumped by developers. Last time they were bidding in lots of $50,000. How can you compete against that?’
Byrne was incensed by remarks made at a Property Council housing summit last week by acting Planning Department secretary Kiersten Fishburn, who said if push came to shove, the housing problem was too big to “pussyfoot around with councils who will not play ball”.
She also said many councils were excellent and not to blame for the housing shortfall. But the comments followed weeks of government attacks on councils, including Minns accusing many mayors of only ever saying “no” or “hell no” to development.
“I have to make decisions to increase supply across the metropolitan area. If that means taking on the fight with councils, that’s what we’ll do,” Minns told 2GB in June.
The remarks – as well as policy changes that allow developers to exceed local environment plans if they include at least 15 per cent affordable housing – have aggrieved councils, including Labor-led municipalities.
Acting NSW Planning Department secretary Kiersten Fishburn said the housing issue was too big to “pussyfoot around with councils who won’t play ball”.Credit: Seb Haggett
Labor mayor of Waverley Paula Masselos said Byrne’s comments were “pretty well spot-on” and it was “really disappointing” councils had been sidelined from the state government’s plans.
“Darcy [says we need] a mature conversation, I call it a nuanced conversation,” she said. “Councils have to be at the table. Taking councils out of planning decision-making is a serious problem.”
Masselos said she would love for the state government to give councils money to buy affordable housing stock. “Every time we go to bid for additional affordable housing we are gazumped by developers. Last time they were bidding in lots of $50,000. How can you compete against that?”
While the state government has announced a number of policy changes – including reforms to planning that make it easier for public housing projects to get approval – it is yet to make more money available for the construction of social housing.
Asked about Byrne’s remarks, NSW Housing Minister Rose Jackson said he had been a consistent, constructive voice calling for affordable housing, and his contributions were “worth listening to”.
She said she would fight for more funding for social and affordable homes as the government finalised its September budget.
“[Byrne] is right, we need to take some of the hostility and finger-pointing out of the shared discussion about resolving the housing crisis,” Jackson said.
“I have said I want some councils to do more to support social and affordable housing, but [I] haven’t shied away from the fact the NSW government needs to do more as well.”
Planning Minister Paul Scully was also contacted for comment.
Victoria announced a $5.3 billion “Big Housing Build” in 2020 that aimed to fund the construction of 12,000 new homes. It was heralded as the biggest single investment in social and affordable housing by any state government in Australian history.
Some critics took issue with renewals of particular public housing sites into mixed developments of public and private homes, and the displacement of existing residents while that occurred.
The federal government’s proposed $10 billion housing investment fund, which would use its returns to fund social and affordable homes, is deadlocked in the parliament, with the Coalition opposed and the Greens demanding a rent freeze.
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