• MARK PEARSON’S SPEECH OPPOSING THE BILL TO REMOVE HOMELESS PEOPLE FROM MARTIN PLACE

    9th August 2017

    Second reading speech.

    Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON (17:24): The Animal Justice Party is absolutely dumbfounded by the Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017. I find it embarrassing that, in 2017, I am speaking to such a draconian, disgraceful, unconscionable piece of legislation. When the police arrest these people and pack up their very meagre belongings—as Mr Shoebridge pointed out, even the tiniest things; they could be photographs, locks of hair, a gift given to them by very important people—they are not valued in the way these homeless people value them, but they are going to be wrapped up and taken from them. It is questionable whether they will be returned. When the police arrest them and move them on, where will these people go? Where is their chance? Where is their space?

    It is important to note that one of the safest places—believe it or not—for homeless people to gather is in the city where it is busy and people and police are about, and Parliament and a hospital are nearby. Whether it be Martin Place or wherever they have chosen to gather in the city, they do so because living in a dark corner in Kings Cross or Newtown or any other backstreet is far more dangerous and jeopardises their wellbeing and safety. They come into the city for this sense of safety. But because a particular member of Parliament might find it uncomfortable to look upon these people we now have to remove this distasteful vista and push them away so we can have the space back . We do not know what has happened to them.

    I support the suggestions made by the Hon. Mick Veitch and Mr David Shoebridge. For God’s sake, we are a civilised society. The measure of a civilisation is how we take the vulnerable, the sick, the weak, the needy under our wings whatever the situation is that has caused these people to live in such a way that they are homeless. The notion that they are being belligerent and obstructive and may be choosing to live this way is utter rubbish. Even if some comment that this is the way they want to live, that person has a story to tell about why they have come to that decision. We cannot turn our backs on these people and treat them in this way.

    The aspect of section 7 that astounds me is that the provisions of the bill apply if the police officer believes on reasonable grounds that the person’s occupation of the reserve materially interferes with the reasonable enjoyment of the rights of the public. Using a broader definition of enjoyment, these people are enjoying the relatively safe space here in the city. How could they be considered to be materially interfering with other members of the public? I have seen no complaint, I have heard no claim that another person’s liberty has been materially interfered with by a person who puts a very small, very uncomfortable, cold tent in a street next to another tent where people can walk freely on either side.

    We need to face this problem head-on, not dodge it and not punish people for finding themselves in a terrible situation through no fault of their own. It is time that we turned our minds to understanding compassion and how it relates to civilisation. One of the best measures of human beings is whether they honestly address problems, take responsibility for them, and work proactively together to solve them. We must work with people in this dreadful situation and address homelessness. Not only have they experienced bad luck and terrible situations but this Government has also put in place many mechanisms that obstruct their free access to the liberty of a home. The Animal Justice Party absolutely opposes this legislation, which is draconian and an embarrassment to this and the other House. I condemn the bill.

  • HOMELESSNESS

    4th June 2015

    Adjournment speech.

    HOMELESSNESS

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON [3.46 p.m.]: Today I raise the issue of homelessness in New South Wales. Even though this issue has been addressed by both governments over time, it is becoming quite clear that the measure of any intervention or policy change would be a reduction in the number of homeless people across New South Wales. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. Even 2½ blocks from this Parliament several people are living in a terrible situation one block behind the courthouses where their walls are blankets and their protection is old doonas and filthy clothes. They are living in impoverished conditions right under our watch.

    The two major causes of homelessness are mental illness and domestic violence. Crisis teams and mental health intervention teams were established in the early 1980s under the Richmond Implementation program so that where mentally ill people were living in the community, very assertive and robust services were available to them and their families 24 hours a day. A fundamental principle of the program was to use a case management system and to form a therapeutic relationship with mentally ill people. What has been occurring, and is still occurring, is that a person will have a psychotic episode or another type of severe mental illness episode, he or she will be treated and then returned home or found housing somewhere. But the nature of a chronic mental illness is that episodes recur. If there is not proper intervention and support for these people, they will end up becoming homeless. Because of their mental illness and psychosis, they are unable to care for themselves and they wander the streets, frightened and paranoid and become lost within our community.

    In a robust and assertive mental health service these people form a relationship with a particular caseworker and they stay in contact with them. The key to proper mental health intervention is to watch out for early symptoms. That is very much the case in the work that has been done by Professor Patrick McGorry, OBE. He says we need to intervene early and form a relationship with mentally ill people to prevent further psychotic episodes or mental health issues which render them incapable of caring for themselves and becoming homeless.

    Another issue is the complex circumstance in Australia where one woman dies from domestic violence every week and one is hospitalised every three hours, which can lead to some becoming homeless. More than 25,000 domestic violence assaults occur in New South Wales each year, the vast majority of which are on women. Approximately 31 per cent of homelessness is caused by domestic violence. The Government must prioritise funding for accommodation services proven to help vulnerable women at risk of serious injury and death as a consequence of domestic violence. It is crucial that women and children have access to supported accommodation immediately upon presentation to the police or to other services where there is no safe alternative other than to leave their home. Being forced to leave home due to violence should not result in homelessness.

    Some reforms undertaken in 2014 under the Going Home Staying Home program have manifestly failed to protect women who have become homeless due to domestic violence. Instead, the New South Wales Government reduced 336 existing services to just 149 services. The tendering process awarded contracts to big non-government organisations, almost all of which were Christian organisations. These reductions in services have had a deleterious effect on women and children who are seeking help and it is the second main contributor to homelessness.

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