Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

ABC Newsradio – Revised ABS estimates on homelessness

STEVE CHASE:    The Bureau of Statistics has just released official estimates of the prevalence of homelessness in Australia for the first time.  Now the Bureau’s apparently using a new expanded definition of homelessness based on figures from the 2001 and 2006 Census figures.

To tell us all about it we’re joined on the line by the Housing Minister Brendan O’Connor.  Good morning to you Minister.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Good morning.

STEVE CHASE:    Can you explain why this has been done?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Well the ABS is an independent body and it’s sought to release official estimates of the prevalence of homelessness in Australia at the time of the two Censuses to which you referred – 2001 and 2006.  That is something that they determined to do.

There’s no doubt that we have lacked, I think, sufficient information to calculate and estimate the closest proximate numbers when it comes to homelessness in this country. Therefore it’s important work and of course it’s just part of the information that governments use and indeed the Federal Government uses to dedicate resources to cutting the rate of homelessness in this country.

STEVE CHASE:    So you’ve got an estimate based on the 2001 and 2006 figures of the extent of homelessness in Australia, what was the figure that the ABS gave to you?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  In relation to 2006 the figure has been revised down from 105,000 to 89,728 or almost 90,000.  In 2001 it’s been revised down from 99,000 to 95,000 or just over 95,000.  Now the facts are these are based on their changes to methodology.  As I say they do this independently of government.  But I think the most important thing to make clear here is this very clearly indicates that we have a significant challenge in dealing with our most vulnerable Australians and that’s why we have to continue to pursue our objectives of cutting the rate of homelessness by half by 2020.

STEVE CHASE:    But reading between the lines here, is it true for me to say that the only estimate that you’ve got for homelessness relies on figures which are getting on for seven years old?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  No, the ABS will be releasing on the same methodology the 2011 Census data very soon, in fact in November this year.  So we’ll have that.  We need the next mile-post if you like between 2006 and 2011 and we’ll have that shortly.  That will give us the capacity for measurement between that time.

But it’s not just the ABS data we rely upon.  We’ve actually invested more than $11 million in research, we have longitudinal studies because we need to understand not only the scale of homelessness but the variations how, you know, in what ways people find themselves homeless, how does it happen, how do we address it. And it’s a much more complex issue than I think many people might first understand and that’s why we need to have sufficient resources.

So the ABS will always be just part of the research and of the information that the Government relies upon to develop and fashion policies to redress the problem.

STEVE CHASE:    Finally does it surprise you where the prevalence of homelessness is worse?  The ABS has given us a statement here saying that’s it’s the Northern Territory and Tasmania.  Does that fit in with your anecdotal evidence?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  It certainly does.  Certainly in relation to the Northern Territory.  The relatively high figure I think is explained by the high proportion of indigenous Australians.  We have a shameful proportion –

STEVE CHASE:    That’s – sorry, 792 per 10,000 persons.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Yes, and that is a shameful proportion of course.  I mean look, there are too many, there are thousands of people that are homeless.  We need to address that.  There are some specific areas and certainly if you look at the indigenous Australian population, we need to do more.  You see so many indicators showing the disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  But this is a national challenge, it’s something that the Federal Government in partnership with States and Territories can redress and we need the not-for-profits and indeed the corporate sector to fulfil our goal by cutting homelessness by 2020 by half.

STEVE CHASE:    Brendan O’Connor, time’s beaten us.  Thanks for being with us.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Not at all.  Thank you very much.

STEVE CHASE:    That’s Brendan O’Connor, the Federal Housing Minister.