Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Launch of South Port Social Housing Initiative; Father Bob Maguire; Licensing of Rooming Houses – Doorstop, South Melbourne

Location: South Melbourne

QUESTION: Minister, tell us about this new complex.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, this is a fantastic complex, providing 40 separate dwellings for some of the most vulnerable that live in Melbourne.

This is a $12 million spend by the Gillard Government in partnership with South Port and, indeed, the Archdiocese, who have allowed the land to be leased for 80 years. It is a combination of work that allows for people to have their own accommodation, a place that they can call home.

This means rather than being churned through the system using crisis accommodation, finding themselves in bed-sits and boarding rooms, they actually have a place from which they can either learn or find or keep a job.

It’s very important that we have these types of accommodation in Melbourne and across the country. And it is part of the Social Housing Initiative that the Gillard Government has been rolling out now for some time.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed that the State Government didn’t chip in any money for this venture?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, this is a Federal Government initiative. We do partner with state governments in other ventures. On this occasion, this is direct Federal Government investment with the not-for-profit sector. And it means, in the end, 40 people will find sustainable accommodation, a place they can call home.

There are occasions where the State Government does put in. And, indeed, we will be looking at our current housing arrangements with state governments to make sure there’s sufficient money going in at every level of government.

QUESTION: And what was Father Bob’s role in getting this happening?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, Father Bob is not just a local identity, of course. He’s someone who has been in the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul for 38 years. And in the last couple of years, he’s still involved in the community. He was one of the driving forces for the construction of this.

Yes, we put in the investment, but without the local drive of people like Father Bob Maguire, and indeed South Port, this would not have happened. And I pay tribute to all of those involved, including the local state Member Martin Foley.

QUESTION: What was his direct role, Father Bob’s? Was he lobbying for it [indistinct]…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, he’s had a very long relationship with South Port. Of course, he believes that people who are struggling deserve some support. I think he is in the finer traditions of Christian activism. He’s someone who’s known not just for being outspoken, but for actually putting in when it matters. And I think he is a testament to those people who really serve the public. And you can’t really find a better example of community activists than Bob Maguire. And look, as it happens, he’s going to be a tenant of this dwelling. So I think his work will never stop because he’ll keep engaging with his fellow tenants. And he will keep, I’m sure, pushing for more accommodation for people who need it.

QUESTION: Do we need minimum standards for heating, running water and electricity in rooming houses?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, rooming houses are regulated by state governments. There is, of course, a need to ensure that there is a level of safety and, indeed, a standard when it comes to ensuring that we are not wasting energy.

The great thing about this new complex is that there are energy ratings between six and seven-and-a-half stars, which is a very high level, which is not only environmentally sound, but it reduces the costs for tenants, those that are on very low or modest incomes, and I think that is both important economically, as well as environmentally. And, of course, we should be looking to apply that approach across the board where we can.

QUESTION: Why don’t we have these minimum standards?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, as I say, there are standards in place. We can always argue about the level of them. We can also argue about how they are enforced. But I think it is important if you’re going to save money for the taxpayer over the longer term but also ensure that people that are in these dwellings can afford to pay for energy bills, then we need to make sure we have things such as solar heating and very high energy rating stars. This dwelling does. Certainly, from the Federal Government’s point of view, we believe in high standards and that is why this investment has led to a very high standard of ensuring very good energy use.

QUESTION: Should rooming operators be licensed?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, again, this is something you may want to put directly to the government responsible for those, the State Government. I think that we always should have a standard. You don’t want to over-regulate sectors, but you do need to have a standard of safety. There are obligations for boarding room proprietors and others to make sure that they have got a sufficient level of care to those tenants. We would not want to see a mishap due to a lack of a standard that would actually provide safety.

And so I think there is no doubt we should always be constantly reviewing whether in fact the current arrangements in place are sufficient for boarding rooms or indeed other dwellings that might look after some of our most vulnerable Australians.

QUESTION: Would you be encouraging the Government to go with a licensing system?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, as I say, it’s really up to them to make a decision. They must regulate boarding rooms as they see fit, but they should have regard to the safety of those that are in those types of accommodation. It’s very important that they do that. I’m very happy to engage with state ministers about what they’re doing for boarding room housing but in the end, ultimately, they must make that decision. They are responsible to make that. And I don’t want to be intervening unduly on a decision in a jurisdiction that is not the federal jurisdiction.

QUESTION: No worries. Thank you very much.