Profile: Millers Point resident Robert Flood
His family have paid a century of rent for their home in Millers Point, so Robert Flood feels entitled to stay where he is.PT3M42S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3cyzw 620 349 August 1, 2014
The NSW government ignored warnings that moving elderly residents from Millers Point would increase their risk of death, and an official report was altered to downplay the potentially deadly effect of the public housing sell-off.
Internal documents also show authorities changed the study methods used by consultants researching the social consequences of the sale, so the findings were concealed until after the decision was announced in March.
Concerns: John Dunn and Margaret Bishop fear for elderly tenants at Millers Point. Photo: Tamara Dean
A source familiar with the research confirmed departmental officials were ''concerned about [using] the word ‘death’ '' in the final report, which the government used to demonstrate that the effect of relocations on vulnerable residents had been fully considered.
The interference has reignited criticism of the decision to sell the entire Millers Point public housing portfolio, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the government’s coffers, rather than allowing some elderly and long-term residents to stay.
However, Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton says Millers Point properties are unsuitable for elderly residents and thousands of tenants across the social housing system have been relocated without serious health effects.
Health risk warnings ignored: Millers Point. Photo: Tamara Dean
Documents obtained by independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich under freedom of information laws show warnings about an increased risk of death were either removed or altered in a social impact assessment, commissioned by the NSW Land and Housing Corporation.
A first draft, prepared by consultants Cred Community Planning in July last year, highlighted in the report’s summary that a full sell-off, and forced relocations, could lead to ''negative health impacts, and potentially death'' for older people or those with generational links to the area. That reference was omitted from the final report.
The risk of death was included in the body of the final 134-page report. However key detail was removed, including quotes from a Scandinavian longitudinal study that risk of death in urban renewal was ''one important implication we want to emphasise''.
Refusing to take the bait: Millers Point residents Bob Flood (standing) and Barney Gardner. Photo: Ben Rushton
The report recommended that older people with long-standing ties to the area be allowed to “live out their life in Millers Point”.
It said new, accessible seniors’ housing at Millers Point should also be built from the sales proceeds. Neither option was taken up by the government.
The early draft also shows researchers intended to release the report for public comment before it was finalised. The final version was released on the day the sale was announced in March, without consultation.
Mr Greenwich said the government had ''buried'' references to a higher risk of death, and changed the project’s methodology ''so the public didn’t have access to this information before the government started their campaign of spin''.
Ms Upton said the social impact assessment ''contained a comprehensive explanation of the risks and potential health impacts of relocating older people'', including references to the longitudinal study.
''A wide variety of expert advice has informed this decision,'' she said, adding the report also noted the risks of ''leaving residents in ageing and unsuitable properties''.
Ms Upton said Housing NSW had relocated 3000 tenants ''in recent years without any older residents dying or being hospitalised'' and that older and vulnerable residents would be supported in their move.
University of Sydney urban planning professor Peter Phibbs, who peer-reviewed the study, said ''the government obviously wasn’t all that keen to have [the risk of death featured] prominently in the report'', adding it was ''a very significant part of that research and should impact the strategy you follow''.
Shelter NSW executive officer Mary Perkins said moving elderly and vulnerable people ''carries very heavy risks'' and the government ignored proposals by tenants groups to allow some public housing residents to stay at Millers Point.
The social impact assessment contained a letter from St Vincent’s Hospital psychiatrist Anthony Richardson, recommending that a patient, who suffers from schizophrenia, not be relocated.
''Moving [the patient] again represents a very large stressor and is best avoided from a medical point of view,'' he wrote.
A spokesman for the Department of Family and Community Services said ''medical needs are fully taken into account in the relocation process''.
Bob Flood fighting Millers Point relocation
Bream, flathead, mackerel, leatherjacket: Bob Flood has fished them all from the wharves at Millers Point, and says they make ''beautiful eating''.
The fourth-generation resident has ''never been crook'', despite warnings about fishing in Sydney Harbour. ''You just cut them behind the spine, take their head off and skin them, and bring them home. Mum used to cook them up ... sensational,'' he says.
Mr Flood, 64, is among scores of residents who have vowed to fight their relocation as part of the government’s public housing sell-off.
After a lifetime of living and working on the harbour, and drawing the occasional meal from it, he has become ''part of the furniture'' at Millers Point.
He fears for the welfare of his elderly neighbours, despite government assurances that they will be supported in their move.
''Moving people out of here ... it’s going to affect me for sure. People who are 90 and 80, I think it’s just their death sentence,'' Mr Flood said.
''We always thought ... we’d be here till we died like our family. We were always taught ... to look after the place and look after the people who were here, and that’s what we’ve done.''