Questions for Pru Goward on Warrawong mum, toddler

Hollie Rizzotto and her young child in the unsafe complex where Hollie feels trapped.

Hollie Rizzotto and her young child in the unsafe complex where Hollie feels trapped.


Since last year, the Mercury has been reporting on the situation of single mother Hollie Rizzotto and her toddler, who are living in appalling conditions in public housing at Todd Street, Warrawong.

For two years now, Ms Rizzotto and her daughter have been surrounded by drug dens, addicts, sex workers and violent antisocial behaviour.

Her block has been described as the worst in the precinct. After some of our previous articles, the government sent in cleaners to tidy the place up.

Yet as recently as Tuesday this week, 30 used syringes were found in the garden beds around the building.

Ms Rizzotto wants to raise her daughter in a safer place. It seems a reasonable request, one that any responsible parent would make.

After her previous requests for a transfer were rejected, Ms Rizzotto took her case to the Housing Appeals Committee.

Three syringes and other drug paraphernalia sit on a landing just metres from Hollie Rizzotto's front door.

Three syringes and other drug paraphernalia sit on a landing just metres from Hollie Rizzotto's front door.

All three members of the HAC panel interviewed Ms Rizzotto.

All three agreed that she should be allowed to move.

But the wheels of bureaucracy turn in bizarre and unpredictable ways: the Housing Department merely thumbed its nose at the appeals committee, once again rejecting Ms Rizzotto's request.

Apparently, it was something to do with paperwork. With bureaucrats, it always is.

In the machinery of government, paperwork is more important than a child's welfare.

More important than a human feel for what is right and what is wrong.

More important than the advice of every expert the Mercury has interviewed, who all agree the child should not be raised in such an environment.

More important than the unanimous recommendations of the Housing Appeals Committee, a body that is independent of Housing NSW but reports directly to the same minister.

Department of Family and Community Services minister Pru Goward.

Department of Family and Community Services minister Pru Goward.

Which brings us to the Honourable Pru Goward, minister for the Department of Family and Community Services.

It is here that the red tape gets truly tangled because, while Housing NSW is part of Family and Community Services, so too is the department tasked with looking after the welfare of children: Community Services.

Thus, Housing NSW, Community Services and the Housing Appeals Committee all report to the same minister.

You might think that was good thing - if the various departments couldn't see eye to eye, Goward could round them all up, bang some heads together and get it sorted.

That's what you might think - but you would be wrong. The Mercury has never been able to speak directly with Ms Goward.

She leaves that unpleasant task to - you guessed it - the bureaucrats.

And according to them, there is no conflict between housing and the protection of children's welfare - because they are entirely separate issues.

Even by bureaucratic standards, it is a response that is breathtaking in its disdain for plain old commonsense.

We therefore pose the following questions to Ms Goward:

1 Do you think it is acceptable for a child to be raised in an environment infested with filth and drug addiction?

2 Is it acceptable for children to look out the windows of their homes and see junkies shooting heroin into their necks?

3 When a child steps outside their front door, is it acceptable to see sex workers urinating in the stairwell?

4 Is it OK for a child to open a window and smell marijuana smoke drifting in?

5 Is it OK for the child to step across used needles on their way to school?

6 Is it OK for a child to lie awake at night crying their eyes out at the brawls, the deranged screaming of strung-out crack heads, the death threats and foul language? While her mother lies next to her, crying her eyes out too?

7 The experts we have consulted all say they are extremely concerned about these things. Why aren't you?

We await Ms Goward's response.

Finally, we must turn our attention to those other residents of Todd Street.

Here we refer not to the drug addicts and prostitutes but to those in the precinct who are decent and law-abiding.

The Mercury has been reporting on the situation at Todd Street since 2009 - almost five years now.

Our stories about Ms Rizzotto's plight are only the most recent in that long and unfortunate history.

Naturally, we are aware that in the course of our reporting, some of these decent folk feel they are being tarred with the same brush.

That is not our intention and it never will be.

Still, we can't hide the truth nor attempt to make it more palatable, just because it discomforts or upsets those who do THE RIGHT THING.

Many residents of Todd Street live normal, quiet lives.

We sincerely hope the new community garden will encourage them to venture outside their units, to make friends with their neighbours and volunteer their time.

And we wish them well.

Related reading

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• Screaming for 20 hours straight

• Housing NSW knocks back transfer

• Drug deal: what our journalist saw

• Experts outraged at living arrangement