FREMANTLE’S Tent City descended into a political stalemate this week while leaders pointed fingers and residents sat tight.
The homelessness camp hit the headlines on Tuesday when premier Mark McGowan described organisers as “anarchists” and “professional organisers”.
That sparked a visit to the camp from Opposition leader Zak Kirkup, keen to exploit just about the only chink they can currently see in the premier’s armour – arrogance.
“I saw the premier’s comments today and I think that we can all do with a bit more compassion and a bit more humanity for the issues that are facing those who are street present and homeless here in Pioneer Park and right across the state,” Mr Kirkup said.
“I was speaking to some people on the way here who are sleeping in the park; they aren’t anarchists, they are some of the most vulnerable people in the community.”
He used the visit to announce that if elected the Liberal government would commit $55.7 to increase emergency accommodation beds in Fremantle and other homelessness hotspots within six months of being elected.
“Covid has taught us that any one of us could find ourselves in this position.
“We know that there is a Labor government that is sitting on millions of dollars of revenue … and they’re doing nothing about it.”
That prompted Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt to chip in: “It’s the first time Mr Kirkup’s looked more like the premier than the premier.”
But Dr Pettitt’s also been in the hot seat over his knowledge of what camp organisers were planning when they first approached the council over running a boxing day soup kitchen.
Communities minister and Fremantle MP Simone McGurk told the Herald on Tuesday she thinks “Brad naively set it up”.
By Thursday Mr McGowan had also picked up that theme, telling media he was concerned about reports of escalating violence stemming from the camp.
Fremantle council “needs to step up here”, he said, after “inviting” the organisers to set up in the first place. Mr McGowan said the camp needs to end “now”.
But on Wednesday the council’s finance and policy committee had already voted in a denial: “The camp has not been approved by the City of Fremantle and the city does not support the camp remaining in the park.”
Dr Pettitt said while they wanted the camp situation resolved as quickly as possible, the only humane way to do that was by finding suitable accommodation from residents.
The council has now set a deadline of two weeks to come up with a plan to move people into supported accommodation.
On Thursday, just after the premier made his comments, WA Police said they wouldn’t be moving to evict Tent City residents without a direction from the council or communities department.
Meanwhile House the Homeless organiser Jesse Noakes was also doing some finger-pointing at the premier, saying his comments had stigmatised vulnerable people and threatened to inflame the situation.
Mr Noakes said he received threats after the premier’s initial comments saw his former role with Extinction Rebellion aired in media reports.
On Thursday he released a statement from a dozen health experts, housing experts and Indigenous elders condemning the premier’s comments.
Senior Noongar man, former Derbal Yerrigan Health Service CEO and retired professor Ted Wilkes – a recipient of an Order of Australia – said it was “disgusting” a privileged man like Mr McGowan would “distract from his failure” to tackle homelessness by attacking vulnerable families.
by STEVE GRANT