Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Vinnies CEO Sleepout; Homelessness, ABC 666 Canberra, Ross Solly


ROSS SOLLY:  Yeah. As much as I do love that song and Mumford and Sons, I do believe we have made contact now with Brendan O’Connor.


ROSS SOLLY:  Oh for goodness sakes. Thank goodness for that.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yeah. Good song though, Simon and Garfunkel.

ROSS SOLLY:  It is a good – well it’s – in its reworked version.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yeah, I prefer the original. But that was okay.

ROSS SOLLY:  Of course.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yeah. It was alright.

ROSS SOLLY:  Yeah. I’m glad you got a chance to hear it. Brendan O’Connor, I don’t know whether you’ve heard the weather forecast for tonight. It’s not so bad.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  It might be a bit wet.

ROSS SOLLY:  Okay. If you think that, that’s fine.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  I think it’s cold but it’ll be wetter.

ROSS SOLLY:  If you think that, I’ll leave you to believe that.


ROSS SOLLY:   Sean Carson, our weather bureau bloke, in one word, described the weather for today and tonight as feral.


ROSS SOLLY:  Feral. Ten millimetres of rain and strong winds, strong gusty winds and as a result chilly, very, very chilly.


ROSS SOLLY:  Yeah, sorry. Sorry about that.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: And the Gallery is very close to some water surface.

ROSS SOLLY:  Yes, it is. So you’ll probably –

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Won’t help the wind chill factor.

ROSS SOLLY:   – blow off the lake. Now how many homeless are there in Australia?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well that’s hard to identify. But there are far too many. And as you know, the Government committed to halving the rate. We’ve got the Australian Bureau of Statistics looking at identifying that more

precisely. We’ve got also other sources of information to collect the data properly. There are so many different forms of homelessness. We need to identify it more precisely.

But what will happen is the ABS will release its data very soon this year. Of course, as you also know, we’ve dedicated an enormous amount of resources recently, in the last few years, to not only assist those that are homeless but prevent the cycle of homelessness and prevent people being at risk.

ROSS SOLLY:  You know, we’re coming up to the anniversary – I think it might even be this weekend – of Bob Hawke’s famous promise to eliminate poverty by 1990. Would it be foolish, Brendan O’Connor, to make a similar promise regarding homelessness? Could we ever eliminate homelessness in Australia?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  I don’t think so. I think to use such absolute terms of ridding the country of homelessness or, as the Prime Minister back then said, ridding children in poverty is I think too ambitious. There will always be circumstances where I think our fellow Australians will find themselves on some occasions homeless. But that’s not to say –

ROSS SOLLY:  But we’re a wealthy country.


ROSS SOLLY:  And we have – you know, we have great resources. We have great ingenuity. Why can’t we realistically one day aim to have no-one sleeping on the streets?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Well it can be an ideal of course. It should be an aspiration of, as you say, a very wealthy country, to not have our fellow citizens in that situation. But I think a more realistic and still very ambitious goal is to halve the rate of homelessness. It’s a blight on this country. We do have too many people that don’t have accommodation, that are not really fully engaged with their family, community. And for that reason, for social reasons and economic reasons, it’s absolutely proper that we dedicate resources to tackling this challenge.

And that’s why I do pay tribute to Vinnies for having the Sleep Out tonight, because it’s not just about raising some money – and it raises some millions – but it’s really about getting the corporate sector fully engaged, because it’s not just a government issue. This is a societal issue and it should be dealt with by as many people in our country as possible.

ROSS SOLLY:  Minister, would you be able to just stay there for one moment. I need to go to some news headlines.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  No problem.

ROSS SOLLY:  But when you come back, I’d like to ask you, I’d like you to tell us, before tonight, what was the roughest night’s sleep that you’ve ever – the roughest place you’ve ever slept. Of course, no names, no pack-drills. But we’ll come back to you with that one. Brendan O’Connor, the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness.

ROSS SOLLY:  Twenty-eight to eight.  Tim Gavel in just a moment but we’re chatting to Brendan O’Connor the Minister for Housing and Homelessness who will be braving the wintery conditions tonight for the CEO Sleepout here in Canberra.

I think they’re sleeping out in the Sculpture Garden.  Certainly nice surrounds, Brendan O’Connor if you forget about the weather.  It will be quite pleasant surrounds down there, won’t it?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Yeah, absolutely.  It’s a beautiful area of Canberra.

ROSS SOLLY:  So have you ever slept rough before?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  I’ve probably slept rough when I travelled around Europe about 30 years ago.  I remember rolling out a sleeping bag on a park bench in Kristiania in Denmark.  That was pretty cold.  So I guess I’ve – you know, as a young person I’ve – I’ve slept rough.

But I think what I did then when I was a young man is a lot different to, of course, seeing not only just you know I guess the archetypal homeless person, Ross, being sort of, you know, a middle-aged man who might have some challenges and issues but increasingly and disturbingly there are more women and more children that are homeless.

And you’ve got too many mums and her kids living in a car for long periods of time.  You know, teenagers sleeping rough.


BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  So it’s a real problem.

ROSS SOLLY:  And you must meet – in your role as the relevant minister you must meet homeless people, you must talk to them?


ROSS SOLLY:  I mean, what’s the most common wish that they – obviously they all would love a home but what do they say to you?  What do they want?  Money?  Do they want a –

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  No.  Well, it’s a generalisation I guess to ask what do people who are homeless want, but I think it’s fair to say that the ones I’ve met talk about their experience.  Usually when I’ve met them they are in a situation where they are seeking some support but I think they just want to be, you know part of something, more included.

It’s very isolating to be homeless.  You’re without support, you’re without a sort of sense of family, you’re without a sense of purpose in some ways and what I think they need and what they tell me they need is a purpose and a connection.

And I think government services can provide that, not-for-profit organisations, philanthropic sectors of our society can provide some support.  Ultimately though we need to do more and that’s why I really appreciate the fact that the CEOs are sleeping out.

I mean it can be seen as very trite, you know, to pretend that you might know something about homelessness because you sleep out, but to engage that many people that are in very important positions in the private sector is more about – it’s not the raising of the money, it’s actually getting those important leaders in the corporate sector engaged with the not-for-profit organisations and governments.

ROSS SOLLY:  Indeed and well done to all of them who are involved in it and yourself, Brendan O’Connor for braving the conditions tonight.  We’ll be crossing down tomorrow morning to the Sleepout so maybe we’ll catch up with you then and find out how it went.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Sure.  No problems, Ross.

ROSS SOLLY:  Good to talk to you, Brendan O’Connor.  Thank you.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Thanks, Ross.

ROSS SOLLY:  Brendan O’Connor is the Minister for Housing and Homelessness.  The CEO Sleepout is tonight.