General Information

The Cowper St Mess part 2

MA Essay by DD for a peace journalism course

Part 2 Theoretical

By Denis Doherty


Peace Journalism requires that the issues be conflict – solution oriented, in this case the transparency of the project has to be revealed. The necessity to attack the words ‘affordable housing’, ‘social mix’, and urban renewal is because this was not being carried or planned for; in fact it was a case of larceny. Reverse Robin Hood, ‘stealing from the poor to give to the rich’.

The parties to the conflict all had voices, the MP, the ALP Councillor who is the aunt of the MP and Housing NSW were in a good position to push their views while the those being operated on were seemingly powerless.

The MP and the Government want to be re-elected this year so they had to put the best face on what they were doing. The MP for the area is in one of the danger seats for the ALP where she may loose her seat to the Greens Candidate for the seat of Balmain. Jamie Parker the popular Mayor of Leichhardt is the Greens candidate for the seat. Hence the term ‘Glebe Affordable Housing Project’ was pushed by both State and Federal reps for the area. The local media has been described a real estate newsletters and they had no interest in pushing for truth about the project. In fact this development would bring more business their way.

Many of tenants of Housing NSW were passive but we knew that this type of passivity was due to a suppressed form of anger. The people themselves knew they were being conned but many kept their heads down but not all there are some who really believe that Housing NSW is doing a good job. Resistance and finding it was a major job for the media intervention fortunately the new development will threaten a nearby street of private owners with overshadowing. The residents of this street Queen St started the resistance. This group started out the ‘Hands off Glebe’ (HoG) the people of this group requested a media intervention strategy. They also extended their group into the Glebe Estate among the tenants of Housing NSW.


The campaign to save the dwellings located in the area of Glebe known as Cowper Street project is a classic dispossession story. The Government’s side is inspired by the tenets of neo-liberalism which means that Government should get smaller hence the need for providing housing to the state’s citizens can be done away with, and less tax which means in the case of housing ‘more’ is supposed with done with ‘less’. The result is that all over the state pubic housing is gradually being eroded and privatised. One councillor in the Campbelltown area described the process as ‘social cleansing.’


A classic mode of operation by the Government is to neglect the maintenance of the houses and ignore the pleas of tenants for renewals and improvements. Eventually due to the weather and the usual wear and tear the houses became uninhabitable and then Housing NSW magnanimously suggests that the house/block or estate will have to be sold as it is too expensive to repair.


The Cowper Street mess is the Glebe variant on this mode of operation. It has some of these elements as well as a few distinctive features. One drawback that the Housing Dept has is that they 2 years ago did massive repairs to the buildings plus put lifts in some of the blocks. The Housing Dept promised the tenants suitable replacements but dreadful flats with yellowing walls from years of heavy smoking with power sockets hanging out of the wall. Take up residence in these flats and Housing NSW will renovate but tenants with years of inaction by Housing NSW would not be convinced.


Housing NSW explained the following in a submission to Sydney City Council for a Development Application (DA):

“Evaluation by Housing NSW of the range of options for estate renewal has found that these benefits could not be achieved by simply renovating, upgrading or extending social housing stock. Upgrading alone would only lead to a social benefit in the low/medium to medium range, while partial redevelopment increases it to medium /high to high. However, redevelopment within the existing planning controls for the site would not provide the optimum yield for the land and the contemplated mix of housing tenures. Furthermore, the relatively low yield would not attract a joint venture partner from the private sector.

Housing NSW is laid bare in all its complicity, it wants to privatise and engage in a public private partnership which is the same as privatisation! The needs of the tenants do not rate considering once you have ‘yield’ meaning more people able to buy dwellings which equals profit. Housing NSW is in the business of real estate not housing!