Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Homelessness figures, Seven Network Sunrise with Melissa Doyle

Location: Sunrise Seven Network

MELISSA DOYLE: New statistics have been released revealing the extent of homelessness in Australia.  The figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show more than seven million nights of crisis accommodation were provided last year. Now, a third of people living on the street also experienced domestic violence, which is a leading cause of homelessness. The majority of these were women but one in five were children under the age of 10.

Joining me now is the Federal Homelessness Minister, Brendan O’Connor. Good morning to you, thanks for your time, Brendan. Obviously a very high demand still for accommodation so tell us what is being done to address this.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Well, the government, when we were elected in 2007, invested $20 billion in housing affordability and homeless services. Since then we’ve built 21,000 social housing homes. We’ve built 11,000 subsidised rental accommodation homes and of course we’ve invested specifically $5 billion on homeless services in partnership with State and Territory governments, provided by many not-for-profit organisations.

And we’ve seen some positive signs but, as you just pointed out with this research, a lot more has to be done to realise our goal of cutting homelessness by half by 2020.

MELISSA DOYLE: It is a big goal, figures show around 80 per cent of people who still sleep rough are still on the streets. Is a goal like this achievable?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  It is achievable, it’s tough. I think a good Government always should put tough but realisable goals ahead of them, put the pressure on themselves so that we can dedicate ourselves to helping some of the most vulnerable Australians in this country.

As you just pointed out, a lot of people think about homelessness, they think about the bloke with the beard and the bottle under the bridge, but really many times it is women sleeping with their kids in cars, it’s children on the streets, it is, of course, a cross section of our community in very difficult circumstances.

And that’s why it’s very important that the offer I’ve made to the State and Territory governments for an interim agreement for one year, starting July 1 next year, sitting down and negotiate a longer term agreement, it is very important to get that answer back from State and Territory governments as soon as possible.

MELISSA DOYLE: What are other specific things being done to help women and children who the victims of domestic violence, given a third of all homeless people have experienced this sort of violence?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  The first thing I’d say is women and children fleeing domestic violence is one of the primary reasons for homelessness. As you know, there is crisis accommodation specifically for women and children and, indeed, that they are not known, often, to people, so that they cannot be found in circumstances where their lives might be in danger.

Can I say to you that one of the best ways to prevent people being homeless is finding accommodation for them, that if, indeed, they have to leave their home or residence because of that violence, they can stay, for example, in one of the social housing homes I have mentioned.

MELISSA DOYLE: And how long term? Because isn’t the issue a lot of women might find the crisis accommodation but then it’s the next step and trying to find stability for their children and have their family.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  That’s absolutely right.  So crisis accommodation serves a purpose but it does not serve the whole purpose or the need for women and children. What they need is sustainable accommodation and that’s why we’ve had to invest and build these social housing homes. Of course, they may use public housing. The social housing homes have been used by women and their kids so they can be safe, so they have a roof over their head and there are appropriate services – it’s not just the infrastructure here – appropriate services to attend to their needs.

And, you know, look, we are a week from Christmas. We are going to be spending time with families and our friends and we should spare a thought for those thousands of Australians who won’t even have a roof over their head or won’t have a place they feel secure and safe.

And that’s why we really must, as a nation, not just as a government, as a nation dedicate ourselves to cutting the rate of homelessness, providing support, particularly for women and children because it’s such a shame.

MELISSA DOYLE: Brendan O’Connor, we’re glad you are doing all you can. It certainly needs to be done. Thanks for your time.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Thanks very much, Mel.