The past few months of La Nina have been incredibly difficult for the people of New South Wales. Most obviously, floods in the Northern Rivers and across Sydney have devastated communities. A less visible problem has been the scourge of mould. Local residents have reported mould blooming across walls and ceilings, dotting furniture and even hiding in cupboards and crevices. We know mould spores can kill. They are known to trigger allergies, respiratory infections and asthma. There is evidence that mould can also impact a person's mental health. Children and older people are most at risk, as are those with underlying or existing health issues.
We also know that mould can have a disproportionate impact on low income households and in households where tenants rely on others to effectively manage it. That is particularly true of renters and people living in public and community housing. Recently many renters have called my office exasperated, saying they warned their landlords and real estate agents for months about persistent mould issues, only for those calls to fall on deaf ears and for gigantic blooms to appear with the recent heavy rains. Some landlords unhelpfully tried to manage the problem by painting white over the mould, which might have put the issue out of sight but has not fixed the problem because the mould and damp returned.
The Australian Rental Housing Conditions Dataset suggests that up to 27 per cent of Australian renters report issues with mould in their homes, and a further 21 per cent have general problems with damp. Given that one-third of people in New South Wales rent, managing the issue of mould in rental properties must be a clear priority for the Government. I have been concerned by the number of calls I have received in my office about the difficulties that tenants in public and community housing have been having. Most of those people are vulnerable residents in my community. An elderly woman explained that she had started seeing white spots throughout her kitchen and bedroom, and she tried to manage it herself with clove oil and a dish rag. She explained that she was going to try to stay on top of it, but she came to my office asking for assistance, with a waterfall cascading down the external walls of her apartment whenever it rained. The gutters need urgent replacing.
A tenant in seniors housing let me know that she had been waiting for weeks for a response to her requests for maintenance and help, explaining that mould had crept across her floors, walls and ceilings and that part of the ceiling in her complex had collapsed in the recent wet weather. She was understandably angry, and she explained that many of the residents in her complex are elderly and sick. She suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is extremely susceptible to illness or infection from mould. Reportedly she responded to a letter from contractors that she had received, asking for residents to contact them about flood damage. She was then told that mould, guttering and replacing damaged carpets was not their responsibility. Are we expecting an 80‑year‑old resident to do that work?
Most disturbing of all is the story of a young Indigenous woman living with her three children in Marrickville. She lives with a disability and is a survivor of family and domestic violence. The youngest of her three children has a significant respiratory illness and has missed a significant amount of school on account of being sick. The property she and her family live in is infested with mould, and she has been trying for over a year to be transferred to a property that better meets the needs of her family, particularly her youngest daughter. We want to make sure she has the chance to get better and get to school. The good news is that, with the support of specialist NSW Health workers and social workers, the carpet was recently replaced with linoleum. Unfortunately, that has not fixed the problem, both for her daughter's health and the building overall. I have again asked the Minister to urgently assist the family and to transfer them to a suitable property. It frankly is not good enough.
The Government has a duty of care to protect the vulnerable people that it houses. We know members opposite cannot control the weather, but they can ensure that people living in public and community housing have properties that are properly managed. Public and community housing tenants are often the most vulnerable people in our community, experiencing complex social and health challenges whilst also having less financial capacity to manage pervasive mould. They are also unable to deal with the maintenance themselves. That must be done by contractors. Many of the stories I am hearing from my community are simply unacceptable. I urge the Government and the Minister responsible to ensure that they deal with the problem as a matter of urgency.