Jim McGinty has held many positions in his time as a Labor member in the WA Legislative Assembly from 1990 to 2009. He was Labor Party leader and Leader of the Opposition and served as WA’s Attorney General for seven years.
But it was his role as Housing Minister which was the closest to his heart.
“I’m a great believer in the fundamentals of bricks and mortar and just getting a roof over peoples’ heads,” said Mr McGinty. “I think things like our health system, our education system and public housing are the great ways in which government can make sure that everyone in the community is looked after to a high standard.”
After being elected in 1990 as the Member for Fremantle the then Premier, Carmen Lawrence appointed him to the Housing, Construction, and Services and Heritage portfolios.
“I loved Housing when I was appointed by Carmen around a year after being elected. Housing gave me a big buzz because I knew what it meant to tens of thousands of people,” he said.
As Housing Minister Mr McGinty appointed a new executive director to the State Government’s housing arm, Homeswest. Greg Joyce who already had 20 years’ experience within the organisation replaced Greg Black, who became chief executive of the Education Ministry.
The relationship was a positive one from the start with the “inspirational leader”.
“He was equally passionate about the cause and we worked on many things at the time,” recalls Jim. “Greg had an excellent understanding of the role the organisation plays in the provision of social and affordable housing for lower income earners.”
What would drive both men at the time was the need to increase stock.
In the 1992-93 financial year Western Australia had a public housing construction programme which people today could only dream of. 2,000 construction starts were earmarked thanks to massive block funding from the Commonwealth to build houses and state supplemented funding from the sale of a prudently acquired Homeswest land bank.
“I drove this as much as I could. It was the largest construction programme ever undertaken by Homeswest and I wanted to find every last cent that we could to put into it knowing it would change the lives of thousands of people.
“Quite often people just fluff around the edges, and don’t really acknowledge the need to increase the stock which was driving me so much at that time. You need to build the capacity of the system to meet the need.”
As the significant construction programme got underway there was another matter at the forefront of the ministers’ mind.
“We targeted the most problematic 100 families in Homeswest accommodation and engaged groups like Anglicare WA and others to work with them to make sure they were assisted with everyday functioning. It provided great support and we spent a lot of time looking to contracts with Community Service Providers to make these tenancies work.”
In terms of Shelter WA Jim McGinty remembers the organisation well.
“Shelter WA were very supportive of what we were trying to do, and I have the good fortune of not remembering too many negative things from the sector. Back then social housing was seen as a good thing to do, whereas today it’s not registering as a political positive for either of the political parties.”
With a different perception of social housing and a huge construction programme underway there was not much lobbying from the sector however other work was still being done.
Correspondence shows Shelter WA formally acknowledged the support they were receiving from ministers Jim McGinty and Yvonne Henderson for state funding.
In 1991, Shelter WA received $100,000 from Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs for a two-year project to look at migrant housing.
Written by Migrant Access Worker Annie Goldflam ‘Securing Shelter: Strategies for Migrant Housing’ examined the “problems faced by recently arrived migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds in finding culturally appropriate, safe, secure and affordable shelter”.
The paper covered the public, private and community housing sectors and how the interaction with Homeswest staff and non-English speaking backgrounds can be impacted by language barriers. Over one hundred and forty-eight agencies and individuals were consulted including mainstream accommodation workers, ethnic welfare workers and non-English speaking migrants in Perth, Bunbury, Geraldton, Hedland, Karratha, Paraburdoo, Broome and Derby.
The report concluded that migrants were forced to compete for limited secure, affordable accommodation available in an Anglo-oriented arena.
“Essential strategies for achieving access and equity include the appropriate use of interpreters and translators; effective consultation and communication with members of ethnic communities; ethnic data collection; cross-cultural training; and identified positions for bilingual/bicultural workers,” the report said.
Not long after the release of the report a national parliamentary committee found strong evidence of discrimination and a lack of cultural sensitivity at Homeswest.
“Homeswest seemed to try but not be able to get it right,” recalls Jim.
“The criticism was made, and I thought it was justified and today people would be appalled by those findings and what transpired in those days. I think Homeswest, as with all of us, has developed a lot over the years in our understanding of the issues and what we need to do. That was a wake-up call.”
As we fast forward through to the challenges of today, Jim McGinty sees the natural economic advantages of the community housing sector as a way to increase much needed housing stock to reduce homelessness.
“Community housing being a non-government organisation with charitable status means it can attract Commonwealth Rent Assistance which Homeswest does not. It doesn’t pay the goods and services tax on either construction or maintenance and it does not pay stamp duty or local government rates.
“If you aggregate all those financial benefits with what the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation can offer with low interest rates I would have thought there is tremendous potential for the state government, in a partnership with the community housing sector, to develop a majorcapital works program.
“It will just take a bit of political will.”