State leaders speak out in Christian forum
Senior Bishop Robert Forsyth has joined leaders from the Christian community in New South Wales in questioning Premier Mike Baird and Opposition Leader Luke Foley, ahead of the state election.
The event was the latest in the Australian Christian Lobby’s Make it Count election forums, traditionally held before State and Federal elections.
Bishop Forsyth praised the willingness of both leaders to take part and to field questions.
“New South Wales is really blessed by having two high quality christian men of integrity as Premier and Leader of the Opposition” Bishop Forsyth said. “Their backgrounds are very different, one from a successful protestant family in banking, and the other whose father left the family when he was young, a Roman Catholic and deeply imbued with Roman Catholic social teaching and belief - involved in the union movement.”
“Both avoided overt politicking and talked about faith. They were respectful - they didn't abuse the occasion.” Bishop Forsyth said.
“I asked about religious freedom and the CEO of Anglicare asked about public housing. It was very well attended - people from right across the spectrum from Pentecostals to Roman Catholics all asked questions. It was at one of our own churches...the Village church at Annandale, which was very generous in hosting. It was a wonderfully ecumenical Christian and political occasion.”
ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton echoed Bishop Forsyth’s comments.
“We’re grateful for both leaders’ willingness to engage with the state’s Christian constituency and to be open about how their faith informs their approach to public policy,” Mr Shelton said.
“It was great to see both leaders state that there is an important place for faith in public life and both recognize the role Christianity has had in shaping our society.”
Anglicare CEO Grant Millard told the gathering “Anglicare’s work with low income households gives us a solid evidence base that low income households really struggle to find safe, affordable appropriate housing. And its not just a Sydney issue it’s a statewide issue.”
“So my question to you is, what will your party do to promote investment and innovative solutions in order to increase the number of socially affordable houses that are built in NSW, and we’re calling like many others of an increase of 20,000 properties by 2020. And we think of areas like the growth corridors in south and Southwest Sydney.” Mr Millard asked the leaders.
Premier Baird called it ‘a critical issue’ which has been a problem for two decades or more.
“The best thing you can do or start doing is supply, having direct opportunities in terms of affordable projects, one of the things we’ve sought in terms of our innovation approach is looking for partnerships to come forward and there is some exciting proposals that have already come forward on how government can be a partner with community service providers and start to generate the numbers we see. And that number, 20,000 by 2020 is not too ambitious, and it’s something we need to aim for.” he said.
Mr Baird also spoke of dealing with the problem early.
“Part of our strategy in terms of the homelessness space is to look at it holistically so don’t just deal with the crisis - how do we get into early intervention. One of the things we’ve done is through our social benefits bonds, so we’ve undertaken a program where kids who are taken from their families or are just about to be taken from their families, there is a program run by Uniting Care which is that direct intervention-heavy counselling, that tries to restore the children, if you don’t undertake that, it shows that only 1 in 4 kids get back to their families – they’re hoping about 60% do.” the Premier said.
Opposition leader Luke Foley said would make a policy announcement over the course of the campaign.
“When it comes to social housing, the blowout in the waiting list for public housing is of great concern.” the Opposition leader said. “I think it is now 58,000 families so about 120 – 130,000 people.”
“My concern is the public housing is no longer available to workers on modest incomes, it has now become welfare housing in many respects, low income workers cannot get access to public housing. Frankly, I’m opposed to the selloff of public housing properties at Millers Point. I’m far from convinced that the proceeds of those sales will be ploughed back into a new investment in public housing stock, my sense is that Treasury will want to capture that revenue for consolidated revenue, rather than the ambitious capital program that is needed to invest in new public housing stock.”
“So I understand the issue well, I understand the concern of so many people here, I’m not in a position to announce our policy commitment tonight, but at some point in the next 25 days I’ll be devoting a day to talking about Labor’s policy commitments with respect to affordable housing.” Mr Foley told the gathering at the Village Church, Annandale.