Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Address to the Community Housing Federation victoria

Location: Exhibition Room, Melbourne Marriott Hotel

Program: Address to the Community Housing Federation victoria Lunch



I acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Thank you John for that warm introduction.

I welcome this opportunity to recognise the importance of community housing as a part of Commonwealth social housing policy.

Community housing plays a vital role in boosting Australia’s stock of affordable housing – and I’m happy to say that this role is increasing.

By mid-last year there were more than 900 mainstream community housing organisations managing nearly 60,000 homes.

This was an increase of nearly 12,500 homes in one year.

But have we got as far as we can in progressing the role of the sector?

Mainstream community housing now represents almost 15 per cent of all social housing dwellings.

However, we still have a long way to go to meet the agreement of Housing Ministers in 2009 to transfer up to 35 per cent of all social housing would be transferred by 2014 and up to 75 per cent of Social Housing Initiative housing to the community sector by that same year.

The federal Labor Government believes that a strong community housing sector is worth investing in. Unlike public housing, the community housing sector can leverage their existing homes to grow more social housing. I believe this is vital if we are to make a dent in the 190,000 Australians on social housing waiting lists around the country.

While stock transfers account for some of the growth in the community housing sector, the National Rental Affordability Scheme provides further opportunities for growth.

Just last month I opened 27 new apartments here in Melbourne that took us up to 10,000 completed homes under NRAS.

These were delivered by Common Equity Housing Limited.

Your chair, John McInerney, is of course also the managing director of CEHL.

CEHL is another stand out community housing association taking a lead on innovative affordable housing.

And I was very pleased to see their latest NRAS homes.

NRAS is a substantial commitment by the federal Government, combined with state governments to stimulate the supply of new affordable rental homes.

We remain strongly committed to the scheme and are keen to maintain its growing momentum.

While I have been concerned about the pace of delivery in the past, there have been notable improvements more recently.

As well as the 10,000 homes that are currently tenanted or available for rent, an additional 30,000 NRAS incentives have been reserved for homes to be built or already under construction.

And I am focussed on making sure we deliver the homes we have already promised.

The Government appreciates the support and contribution the community housing sector has played in NRAS to date.

And I would welcome any thoughts you may have about the Scheme or suggestions that could facilitate more timely delivery of homes.

We need to do everything we can to secure more affordable housing.

As you know, the Government is simultaneously streamlining regulation for the charities and not-for-profit section which of course includes community housing.

I want to assure you that the Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury is working to make sure that the new charities and not-for-profit commission does not add to red tape.

We want to create an environment in which our charity and community housing sectors grow stronger.

I am also well aware of the concern about the Government’s examination of the tax treatment of charitable organisations. I am monitoring this closely and note that you will have further opportunities to provide feedback when the exposure draft of the legislation is released.

We value the innovation you bring to social housing, and it’s important that our regulatory framework doesn’t inadvertently curtail it.

For example, here in Victoria, the Port Phillip Housing Association met a shortage of affordable city land by working with local government to build in “air space” – with affordable housing being built above council-owned car parks.

And at Heidelberg, the Eco-Housing development by Common Equity Housing Limited not only meets high environmental standards, it encourages community inclusion. Residents occupy their own self-contained homes, but share meals and the garden, laundry, workshop and recreation rooms.

This kind of innovative thinking is invaluable.

The community housing sector is also setting important benchmarks in both the quality of the homes it builds and finding the best location for the homes to suit the needs of tenants.

This means locating homes near transport and other amenities.

And it also means providing high quality, caring and responsive tenancy management.

I know the sector strives not only to maintain the physical environment of properties but also, importantly, to look after tenants and show them they are valued.

The federal government believes that if the community housing sector is to continue to grow, it is important to maintain confidence in the sector. That is one reason why all tiers of government originally agreed to introduce a National Regulatory system for community housing providers.

We reached an important milestone in August when the New South Wales Parliament passed the national law that all other states and territories can adopt or apply to create the national framework.

Further, all jurisdictions apart from Victoria and Western Australia have signed the intergovernmental agreement for the National Regulatory System for Community Housing.

I am looking forward to seeing all jurisdictions signing on and carrying their fair share of the costs of implementing the national system.

This reform is too important to miss out on.

We are setting up an independent advisory council to oversee the new system – and I am committed to seeing that the community housing sector is represented.

The National Regulatory System is a key reform under the National Affordable Housing Agreement, which you have also asked me to update you on today.

I think it is fair to say that there is a range of views about the future of the NAHA.

I would like to emphasise the NAHA is a continuing agreement and the terms can only be renegotiated with the unanimous agreement of the First Ministers and the Council of Australian Governments.

It’s no secret that I am keen to look at how we can achieve better outcomes under the National Affordable Housing Agreement.

I want to make sure that taxpayers are getting the best possible value for the $1.3 billion the Commonwealth hands over to the States and Territories under the agreement and I want to make sure that those payments are actually delivering the agreed outcomes.

Under the current arrangements, I’m not sure I can be confident that Australians who are in need of housing support benefit as much as they might from the Commonwealth investment.

For these reasons, I think it is timely to revisit the NAHA.

It is also timely to revisit the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which is in its final year of operation.

Too many Australians are without a home on any given night.

And while the stereotype might be of the middle-aged man with the brown paper bag sleeping on the park bench, we know that homelessness affects many more people.

Almost 60 per cent of people seeking help from homelessness services are women. Almost 50 per cent are under the age of 25. A staggering 17 per cent are under 10 years old.

Reducing homelessness requires investments in housing as well as in specific homelessness services.

That is why our $20 billion package on housing and homelessness extends right across the market – from building and repairing social housing to comprehensive facilities for the homeless like Common Ground and the Foyer model centres.

Under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Australian Government and the states and territories have committed $1.1 billion over five years.

This has seen 180 new and expanded initiatives established around the country for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

It is a very significant additional investment in homelessness and has given the states and territories the opportunity to undertake strategic reforms and position themselves to reduce homelessness into the future.

And at our next meeting in Brisbane on 16 November, Ministers will build a realistic picture of what is working and what we would want to continue into the future.

We need to be in a position to examine the extent of the impact the Agreement has made on reducing or intervening early to prevent homelessness and we need a demonstrable indication of what has changed since 2009.

The Gillard Government remains committed to its targets to reduce homelessness.

We want to work closely with states and territories.

There is no quick fix to homelessness and housing affordability.

They are complex areas.

As a Government we have not shied from the challenge.

We believe all Australians deserve the security and safety of a home.

As I have said, the community housing sector has a very important role in our efforts to meet our goals to reduce homelessness and provide safe, secure and affordable homes for Australians.

I look forward to continuing to work with you.