Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Launch of Lifecourse Research

Location: Barnardos Auburn, Sydney

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Thanks very much John (Murphy).

I’d too like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders both past and present. I thank Barnados for allowing us to be here today to make reference to a very important report, some very important research in homelessness.

The Federal Government some time ago set what some argue are very ambitious goals to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020 in this country. In my view, it is ambitious but it is realisable if there is effort by the Federal Government, by State and Territory Governments, by the not-for-profit sector and indeed, even the corporate sector because this is not a Government challenge, this is a national challenge and it’s one I think that we are up for.

Today I, again, have been I think overwhelmed by the fine and compelling words of Mary (Haiek) here who really just went to a number of the very important services that are here.

I get a lot of information provided to me as the Federal Minister responsible for this area of public policy but nothing is more inspiring or indeed more compelling than coming to centres such as this where such fine work is done, and particularly when you talk to clients and people who’ve been beneficiaries or recipients of services and the types of services they actually need to rebuild their lives.

Why we need research is because I don’t think this country fully understood the true picture of homelessness and fully understood the complexities. The archetypal sort of definition of a homeless person in many people’s minds is a middle-aged man who may have drug and alcohol issues who might be sleeping rough, and that indeed is a challenge in itself but that is not the proper description of homelessness.

There are many forms of homelessness. It might well be people sleeping rough, it might well be young people couch surfing place to place, it might well be a woman and her children sleeping in a car, it may well be women being placed in very dangerous situations forming unhealthy relationships just so that she can put a roof over her children’s heads at night. So, there are many, many forms.

The research that has been launched today, I think, really underlines the problems that occur when governments and when a country tries to focus on symptoms not cures. And what we’ve seen in this research is in fact enormous amounts of money being spent in the areas of justice, human services – all so many social services, which in many ways are providing support but then we’re not getting to the heart of the problem.

We’re not intervening early enough to prevent people being at risk of being homeless or indeed homeless, and we’re not preventing the churning that goes on because we’re not attending to and tailoring the services to those people in need.

This research makes it very clear or affirms what we might have known instinctively – that we have not dedicated the resources at the right time in the right way to make sure we look after our most vulnerable citizens. And for that reason, this research will inform the Federal Government’s approach.

Now, we have a very important partnership on homelessness with State and Territory Governments. That agreement in itself is expiring at the end of this financial year. I am meeting with ministers – the Ministerial Council next month and of course, research like this must inform future decisions of governments so we do things in a better way, so we have a sustainable approach, so we provide, for example, sustainable accommodation for people that need help and that there are holistic services being provided when we place people in sustainable accommodation.

We cannot just allow people to continue to be recycled through the system, if you like. And that’s not a reflection at all on the people who actually might be in those services, it’s just really a reflection on not the most effective approach that we could take to help people.

So, I’m very happy to be here. Thank you very much for hosting the event today. Thank you Mary for your insights and thank everyone.

I thank certainly of course, the author of this research; remarkable work it is and I can assure everybody here that this research will inform our thinking as we go forward and look at ensuring that we do realise the goal of reducing the rate of homelessness in this country by half by 2020, and indeed providing accommodation available to rough sleepers by that time.

Thank you once again. Good luck and as I say, it’s been fantastic to be here. What a magnificent centre you have and it’s the sort of place I’d like to see replicated across this country.

Thank you.


JOURNALIST:     Minister, Kelvin Thomson has said that the baby bonus is bad policy and should be scrapped. What do you think?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Well look, the Government’s made some very important decisions. It is important that we return the Budget to surplus. We want to see that we are being fiscally responsible but we also want to make sure we have sufficient resources for families and that’s why, if you look at what we have done with the family payments or whether it’s with the school bonuses that we do have sufficient support for families.

We’ve made a decision regarding the baby bonus and there has been some reduction for a family that might have a second child, that’s – there is no impact if there are multiple births but certainly there’s been some reduction because we are wanting to ensure we are fiscally responsible, as I say, but also dedicating the resources where it’s most needed.

And I think most people would expect us in these times to be fiscally responsible.