Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Launch of the South Port Social Housing Development

Location: South Melbourne

Thank you very much Maurie. Can I firstly acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

I acknowledge also Wendy Lovell, Minister for Housing, and formally recognise both an old friend, but also the local member for this area, Martin Foley, who we’ve already heard has done so much to bring this about. Georgie Crozier and other distinguished guests, can I acknowledge them too.

It is a great honour to be here today to see what I think is very important work by the Commonwealth working in hand with South Port and other partners.

Janet and her team have, I think, done a magnificent job, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Father Bob Maguire, not only a tenant, one who deservedly finds himself in this magnificent community of housing, but also of course his effort to bring this about.

From the Gillard Government’s point of view, this is a manifestation of a commitment by that Government to invest $12 million. It is part of the announcement, some years ago, to invest $5.6 billion across the country to build 20,000 social houses.

It was in response to economically, the global financial crisis. We had to make a decision to make sure we supported jobs and businesses to prevent this country going into recession when confronted by the biggest recession globally since of course the late 20s of last century.

But that was the economic decision to respond rapidly, and emphatically, to make sure that this country did not go into recession, and literally support hundreds of thousands of jobs and small businesses.

But the value behind that decision, the social value, was where were we to spend that money? Where were we to divest taxpayers’ money to support those jobs or those businesses? And the Federal Government made a choice to spend that money in education and social housing.

And it’s true to say it ultimately takes the local player South Port – Martin, the founding members of this great organisation, Berys and Heather, to really drive what may happen at a local level. At the federal or national level it does take a decision by Government to invest.

Now, as I understand it the land has been leased for 80 years from the Catholic Church. I do acknowledge the Catholic Church’s efforts in that regard to provide the land much needed, particularly in inner suburbs of large urban centres so that we can construct such housing.

I had the great fortune, of course, along with others, to check out Bob’s new dwelling for him and his dog Franklin, and we also saw JJ’s apartment as well and he’s got a magnificent vista of the CBD. But more importantly than that he has a place he can call home. He, like many others who actually will be living in this fantastic complex, will be living in a place that they can call home. Not a bedsit, not a boarding room, but accommodation that they deserve.

I won’t refer specifically to the tenant, but Janet did provide me some of the commentary and some of the responses by the tenants in the very short time they’ve been here.

And one said “this is definitely like winning a million dollar jackpot”, and indeed as Minister I’ve travelled around the country and you meet tenants who have been churned through a system where there is not sustainable accommodation. There’s no better experience, I can assure you as a Minister for Housing, than to meet those people who have found themselves precariously accommodated, without a place they can call home, without a place from which they can either go to work or access education and training, where they can just have their own quiet time.

And so, I’m very happy to be here today. I thank everybody that’s been involved including State Government, but again as I say, the Commonwealth made the decision some years ago. It’s fantastic to see the results. I pay tribute to South Port in particular, a tribute to Martin Foley for his drive at the local level, and indeed those who were directly involved in what has become clearly a fantastic exemplar, a template for what we should be doing for some of the most marginalised Australians in this country.

So without any further ado I thank you and I look forward to meeting up with tenants before I leave.

Thank you very much.