West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has come under fire after blaming “anarchists” for the tent cities that have drawn attention to the state’s homelessness crisis.
The premier has accused activists of establishing a camp in Fremantle over the Christmas period as a political stunt ahead of the March election.
About 100 people are sleeping in tents at Pioneer Park, located opposite the office of Communities Minister Simone McGurk.
Another homeless camp on the eastern fringes of Perth’s CBD has been largely vacated amid growing violence, theft, drug use and a series of fires, while others have sprouted in Rockingham, Mandurah and Joondalup.
A “frustrated” Mr McGowan says some of the people at the Fremantle camp already have accommodation but have been enticed there by organisers – a claim that has been vehemently rejected by residents and advocates.
“The protesters, professional protesters, are often people from organisations like Extinction Rebellion – basically anarchists,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“They are coordinating this as some sort of protest movement.
“Often these people have complex mental health, drug addictions, alcohol addictions – I just urge them, use the services that are available.”
House the Homeless WA spokesperson Jesse Noakes, a former Extinction Rebellion organiser and prominent advocate, labelled the premier’s comments as “baseless conspiracy theories”.
“That the premier chooses to paint desperate people demanding support from his government as professional protesters shows how his government handles a crisis – with spin, distraction and a fatal abandonment of duty of care,” he said.
Indigenous leader Mervyn Eades, the chief executive of Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation, made an emotional plea for the premier to visit the camp.
“McGowan should be here. He’s our premier,” he told reporters.
“These people need houses. We’ve got elderly people here, we have young people, we have pregnant people here.
“Our people shouldn’t be homeless in our own country.”
Opposition leader Zak Kirkup said the premier was seeking to deflect from an increasingly problematic issue for the government.
“They aren’t anarchists. They are the most vulnerable people in our community,” he said.
“Western Australia is a very wealthy state. We have a government that is sitting on billions of dollars of extra revenue.
“If we can’t help the most vulnerable people in our community, who can we help?”
Homelessness is shaping as a major election issue despite expectations the Labor government will comfortably win re-election.
About 15,000 people are on the social housing waitlist and more than 1000 people are living on the streets, according to Shelter WA.
WA’s rental vacancies have meanwhile hit record lows amid a moratorium on evictions and rent increases.
Mr McGowan said his government was investing “more than ever before” into new social housing and homelessness services.
The Liberals on Tuesday announced they would deliver 100 interim accommodation beds in Fremantle within six months of being elected.
Mr Kirkup is expected to announce a major social housing commitment later in January.