Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

ABC Radio – Homelessness

Program: ABC Radio, Alexandra Kirk


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government doesn’t know if it’s on course to meet its target to cut the homelessness rate by 20 per cent in six years. In 2008 the then prime minister Kevin Rudd set the interim goal and promised to halve the problem by 2020.

The Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Brendan O’Connor, concedes Labor may need some new ideas if it’s going to deliver on its promise. Mr O’Connor is in Finland examining what it’s done. He spoke by phone to Alexandra Kirk.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: In the last 20 years they’ve managed to cut the rate of homelessness by more than half, providing the most effective reduction in homelessness anywhere in the world, and they’ve got a number of approaches that they take, which focus on removing that sort of churning of people through the system, who become heavily reliant on health services but never, ever get out of that state of homelessness for too long.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what’s the key to that?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well the key to that as far as those in Finland believe is that we need to give people long-term, sustainable or permanent accommodation first and then attach the appropriate services to assist them and you will see people better off as a result, both socially and indeed starting even to engage in things like employment and the like.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And why is that, do you know?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Without a sense of a place they can call their own home, without even their own space if you like, it’s not as palatable to stay in that situation where they’re sharing their space, where they’re dealing with other people’s issues, where they have no privacy.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So do you think it’s time now to change your approach?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well I want to have a full conversation with – the deliverers of many of these services of course are at the State and Territory level. There’s a meeting of the Ministerial Council on the 31st of August and I’m wanting to open up a conversation with the State and Territory governments about the best approach.

There’s no doubt, whilst there’s been such great efforts put in by people and people who work with those that are homeless are very passionate and compassionate and do great work, they tell me that we need to break the cycle and we’re not doing that effectively and we need to intervene early and we could do that better, and Finland provided certainly some examples.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now Labor promised to halve the homelessness rate in 22 years – by 2020 – with an interim goal of a 20 per cent cut in six years. That comes up next year, will that happen?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look that’s something that we’re looking to determine by looking at the data that’s just been collected by the ABS as a result of the recent Census and we’ll need to see how well we’re going.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But don’t you need a better measure to make sure that you’re on the right track – if you have to wait five years to get an update, could you be wasting a lot of money and effort doing the wrong thing?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well it’s even arguable that the information that we received, I mean you referred to the 2006 data, I mean it’s even arguable that that definition was accurate enough. And one of the reasons I’m here in Helsinki is it has shown as a country to have the best results in reducing the rate of homelessness and that’s what I’m really after.

I’m after the results and I’m after the methods others have used to get to those good results and see whether it’s adaptable to Australian conditions.

TONY EASTLEY: The Minister for Homelessness, Brendan O’Connor, speaking to Alexandra Kirk from Helsinki. And this week is National Homeless Persons’ Week.