Chairperson's message 2015-2016

Paula RixForty years ago, a group of tenant activists formed the Shelter Tenancy Working Party. The group included Andrew Bush from the Bondi/Waverley Tenants’ Association, Charlie Begg from the Manly and District Ratepayers Association, Father John Gallagher, a Catholic priest from Lidcombe, Viv Abraham, a private solicitor who had worked extensively both on Aboriginal issues and in housing over many years, Kate Holland, a research officer with Australian Council of Social Service, Robert Mowbray, at that time with the Tenants’ Rights Project of South Sydney Community Aid, and Mary Perkins, at the time working in a youth unemployment project in Kings Cross/Darlinghurst.

On 17 August 1976 the Working Party became a separate entity as the Tenants’ Union of NSW Cooperative Ltd. Its purposes were to bring together individuals and organisations concerned with tenancy issues; make recommendations on policy matters relating to tenancy; take action to secure a more equitable landlord-tenant relationship; and stimulate and provide support for tenants’ organisations. In 1978, Minister for Consumer Affairs began a review of Landlord and Tenant Act 1899. The TU began its campaign for reform of this archaic legislation.

These remain core purposes for the TU. This year we again took the cause of a better deal for tenants into the reviews of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and the Strata Scheme Management Act 2015 and the social housing ‘anti-social behaviour’ reform. But as this annual review shows, our activities have grown over the years to include providing tenants in NSW with expert information through which they can take action to enforce their rights, training and ongoing support for tenant advocates in the 19 Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services and other community workers, and broadening our reach to include residential park tenants and those in marginal tenancies like boarding house residents.

At the same time, we have continued to ensure best practice in governance to meet the evolving legislative and regulatory framework in which the TU operates.

The Board continues to foster a practice of reflection and learning. We participated in the Australian Association Benchmarking Survey, conducted by the Association Executive Services. The results from this self-assessment of governance practices are benchmarked against an average Australian Association. The TU scored a high 174, well above the average of 124.

The Board also held an external facilitated review day in January. This was a day devoted to selfevaluation and planning. Initiatives developed from this process include the development of Board Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), implementation of a secure cloud-based information sharing system for Board members, increased stakeholder engagement and restructuring of the agenda to facilitate ‘big picture’ discussion at Board meetings.

The Board has spent time this year reviewing its governance structure with a view to ensuring it is fit for the challenges and opportunities ahead. We will soon be engaging with the membership on this important issue.

In collaboration with staff the Board also endorsed and published a new strategic plan for the TU covering the period 2016-2019. The three priority areas are:

  • Effectively communicate and strategically deploy our organisational identities
  • Building a constituency for change in tenant law and practice within the context of social justice
  • Creating a strong, viable and sustainable organisation

We have been re-accredited as a legal centre with Community Legal Centres NSW for a further three years and maintain our Registered Training Organisation status.

I thank our major funders, NSW Fair Trading and Legal Aid NSW for their continued support.

However as I noted last year, we continue to exist in a shrinking and uncertain funding environment with the Commonwealth Government foreshadowing dramatic funding cuts for 2017 and beyond. We witness continual legal and policy reforms that harshly impact on social housing tenants. We notice the shift towards government service delivery being contracted to not-forprofits and, increasingly, for profits.

Our More Bang for Your Bond campaign for increased funding to the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program culminated in November 2015 with a presentation at Parliament of a petition to Dr. Geoff Lee MP (Member for Parramatta), Jenny Leong MP (Member for Newtown and Greens spokesperson on tenancy and rental housing), and David Mehan MP (Member for The Entrance). The program was refunded for three years but with no increase in funding.

The TU continues to look for opportunities to diversify our funding base. We now have Charitable Fundraising Authority from NSW Fair Trading and we will be putting increased effort into a donation strategy in 2017.

The highlight of the year has been the celebration of out 40th Anniversary. The roll up and enthusiasm of participants attending our forum and party in August is testimony to the critical role the TU continues to play today when there are more renters than could have been imagined when we began. There is a growing recognition of the need for reform of the whole housing system and we are on the verge of a cultural shift in the place of renting in our society.

None of the work of the TU could be done without the extraordinary skill and commitment of our staff. The quality of their work and their energy and initiative has shown great results.

I cannot conclude this section of this report without mention of the work of Julie Foreman, our Executive Officer, whose manner of leadership and quiet creation of synergies of skills, capacities and relationships of those involved in the work of the TU makes her job look easy, which of course it is not.

I would like to thank my fellow Directors for undertaking the responsibility of guiding the organisation, for providing sound governance and fiscal diligence. I would especially like to acknowledge and thank Directors Meredith Osborne and Charmaigne Weldon who have decided to conclude their time of service with the Board.

 

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