West Australian public housing tenants are at risk of electrocution and fires, according to the state’s auditor-general.

Auditor-General Colin Murphy found systemic weaknesses in the Housing Authority’s capacity to inspect safety devices in the 36,600 properties throughout WA, after it was unable to confirm whether all of them had working smoke alarms and electrical safety devices.

“Housing needs to address the concerns around safety devices otherwise they continue to put tenants and properties at some risk from electrocution and fire,” Mr Murphy said in a report.

The audit sampled 90 property records and found all lacked complete and accurate electrical safety device information, with three properties said to have working devices despite photographic evidence showing they didn’t.

Mr Murphy said it was critical the authority improved its safety device management given there were four fires and 18 electrical incidents in public housing each month.

The Housing Authority last month commenced a $26 million program to identify and replace non-compliant residual current devices and smoke alarms, and collect baseline information, which is expected to take three years.

“For this program to be a success it is important that Housing address the systemic weaknesses we found in property inspections, data collection and management oversight,” Mr Murphy said.

  • This highlights an interesting background issue with respect to public housing: rightly or wrongly, it's not a vote winner, and because of this, governments are loathe to spend any more than they need to on either new public housing dwellings in order to ensure the basic safety and conditions of the residence are met.

    Like it or not, the sad reality is that public housing tenants are often assumed to be 'safe' Labour voters, albeit with growing competition for their vote nowadays from the Greens. Because of this, neither Labour nor Liberal have much to gain through spending time or money on social housing provision and upkeep. Furthermore, the stigma often attached to public housing tenants amongst the general population means that any spending on upkeep and maintenance in this area is unlikely to be a vote winner amongst mainstream vote winners in the same way that upkeep of schools or hospitals might be.

    Whilst I am certainly not suggesting that there has been any deliberate neglect in this particular case, certainly it must be acknowledged that spending on upkeep and new provision of public housing is nowhere near the vote winner that that on schools and hospitals will be. That is partly why we are under-invested in public housing stock and probably why problems like this keep happening.