Housing Minister John Carey defends social housing eviction record as Supreme Court action launched

Jake DietschThe West Australian
 Housing Minister John Carey makes an important announcement for WA renters.
Camera Icon Housing Minister John Carey makes an important announcement for WA renters. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

Housing Minister John Carey has defended the Government’s record on social housing evictions as a Supreme Court action challenging the Department of Communities’ ability to evict public housing tenants without grounds begins.

The court action — launched Friday by legal centres Circle Green and SCALES on behalf of tenants facing eviction — seeks to bar the Department from issuing no-fault termination notices for tenants in public housing.

One of the cases concerns Aboriginal man Barry Garlett, who is arguing his no-grounds eviction denied him “procedural fairness” and therefore his termination notice is invalid.

The other concerns a mother of young children — who cannot be named for legal reasons — who wants the Court to review her no-grounds eviction.

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She claims the eviction destroys her chances of being reunited with her children and is also invalid on that ground.

Mr Carey responded to the landmark action while announcing a boost to homelessness funding in Fremantle, and said the Cook Government had dramatically reduced evictions of social housing tenants.

“Our Government has been has been driving down evictions in the social housing system. And I, personally as the minister, have been looking at what measures we can do to support tenancies,” the minister said.

“The stats do not lie. Under the previous Liberal Government in 2015 and 2016, there were more than 300 bailiff evictions. Our numbers in the last (financial) year were below 50.”

Mr Carey said this represented a “dramatic shift” and an understanding that vulnerable people who fail to secure social housing can fall “back into a cycle of homelessness”.

The minister said the decision to evict a public housing tenant was ultimately up to the Magistrates Court and not the Government or minister.

“No ground evictions, that terminology is a limited legal term. There are still substantial reasons why someone may be evicted,” Mr Carey said.

“There are cases where a tenant won’t engage with support services. It is always a last resort. But there are situations where the risk to neighbours, to other social housing tenants, or the community when there must be action taken.”

Mr Carey said in one case police were called up to 160 times within two years because of a tenant’s behaviour.

But SCALES lawyer Kate Davis said WA was the only state that routinely used no-grounds evictions against public housing tenants.

“In the case of a fixed term tenancy, the magistrate is required by legislation to order the eviction provided the requisite notice has been issued — without any evidence or witnesses or defence available to the tenant,” Ms Davis said.

“Public housing evictions are devastating for children — it’s a pipeline out of education and into juvenile detention, child removal, health and mental health problems, and we have seen children die homeless.”

Ms Davis said more than half of public housing families that were evicted were First Nations and labelled the over-representation “unfair (and) unjust”.

The case will be back before the Supreme Court in July.

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