Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Homelessness, Launch of Coming in from the Cold Mid-term Review – Doorstop, Launceston

Location: Launceston



BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well can I firstly acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders both past and present. I acknowledge the Minister for Human Services in Tasmanian Government, Cassie O’Connor, and of course my parliamentary colleague, Geoff Lyons, from his fantastic electorate of Bass.

It’s wonderful to be in Launceston. And it really is wonderful as Minister for Housing and Homelessness to be at this event. As the Minister said this magnificent amenity has already been formally opened by the state minister with Geoff Lyons in attendance late last year.

But I’m very happy to be here today because this is important. This amenity is very important for those people in Tasmania that are doing it tough. And there are three supported amenities that are being constructed – two in Launceston and one in Ulverstone – as a result of the initiatives and the partnership between the federal and state government.

We’ve put $4.2 million into this state-owned property, that is the Commonwealth did, in combination with the asset already owned by the Tasmanian Government. So we provide accommodation for up to 30 young people in this community.

Each one of those 30 people have families, they have aspirations, they have major challenges as the community groups that are here in attendance know only too well.

And Governments have an obligation to provide better support for those people in need.

And the reason why it’s really important that I’m here – and I say this on a personal level – is because the only way I think you can truly understand the dedication of taxpayers’ resources to amenities like this is to be here, speaking to those that undertake the care of young people confronting challenges; speaking with young people themselves about what it’s meant in terms of them having some security.

And it’s really important that we continue to strive to fulfil our aspiration to halve homelessness in this country by 2020.

That’s not enough. But that is a very ambitious milepost that we seek to undertake.

That’s why this mid-term report, this report in the efforts by the Tasmanian and Gillard government is so important because we want to be transparent about our progress in order to be accountable to those in the community that want to see better from governments, and certainly want to see governments do the right thing for those people who’ve been marginalised through no fault of their own in their own communities.

And that’s why it’s important that I’m here today. And that’s why it’s important that the Government – indeed, both governments – continue to ensure that we find better opportunities for people that are struggling to ensure that we have less likelihood that people are at risk of being homeless, and indeed make sure that we respond to those people that are homeless.

In a wealthy country like Australia, there is absolutely no reason why people should be homeless. There’s no good reason why that should happen. And there’s no good reason why a mother and a kid should live in a car.
There’s absolutely no justification for us not providing better support for those people.

And so every time I get an opportunity not just within this sector, but beyond to large and small businesses, to colleagues in Government, public service, I remind them that whatever challenges they may confront in dealing with the difficulties of a long day working hard as an employee or a business person, whatever difficulties they confront, in making sure that they have to pay their mortgage,       I say to them look to those who actually have no home, no employment, no prospect of a good life. Because in doing that you do two things – you ensure that you focus on those that are at more need than you. And you actually realise that whatever challenges you have, it pales into insignificance in some cases with the challenges that others confront.

So it’s an uplifting thing to do but ultimately it’s an important thing to do for any community.

So I’m very happy to be invited here today, I’m very happy to be here with the State Minister for Human Services, and I’m very happy to be here with a fantastic local Federal Member, Geoff Lyons, to be here to celebrate the effort so far, but also to assure you in this room, and beyond, and to the community in northern Tasmania, Tasmania, indeed Australia, that the Gillard Government will continue to focus on our aspiration to realise that those people that are homeless now will not be homeless in the future, that those people that are at risk of being homeless are in fact supported so they will not become homeless.

And I’m very happy to be here of course because in the end whatever I read on a brief, whatever I might see in Canberra, nothing beats being here, on the ground, with those people who put their heart and soul into looking after those people most in need.

So thank you for listening to me. I’m very happy to have a good look around this magnificent amenity, and thank all of you here for being part of what is a very important social contribution to the most marginalised Australians.
Thanks very much.


GEOFF LYONS: Thank you Minister for those lovely words, probably from all of us here it’s great to see someone with the passion you’ve got obviously in this space in Canberra representing those constituents, and those [indistinct] said, so… said, and we look forward to rivers of money coming our way…


… [indistinct] but it’s really, it’s great to see the passion you have in this area. And certainly our Minister as well in, you know, O’Connor. Maybe it’s the Irish blood or something but we’ve certainly got two very passionate advocates for vulnerable people with the greatest need for some care.

As the federal Minister said, there are a couple of rooms available to have a look around today. Belinda and Leonie [indistinct] will show people around the facility where we can, and feel free to have a look around. Today also, the person who’s turned up as well as Paul Cockburn – he might put his hand up just to show who he is. He’s actually the architect behind this facility, and he’s happy to as well, probably show people some of the things that have changed, and what it was before, and maybe explain some of the design features that have been built into this great facility.
So look, thank you everyone for coming along today. Thank you to both Ministers for coming and invited guests. And have a great look around and let’s look forward hopefully end of term report, or whatever in Coming in from the Cold being as something as well we’re very proud of so thank you once again.


QUESTION: [Break in transmission] it’s encouraging to be down in Launceston wanting this report?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, it’s fantastic to be here with Geoff Lyons launching the mid-term report on Coming In from the Cold. This is a very important partnership between the Gillard Government and the Tasmanian Government about responding to what are some complex challenges in regards to homelessness. And this accommodation that I’m at, of course, is supported accommodation looking after 30 young people, making sure that they’re off the streets, that they’re at school, and they’re providing – they’ve been provided with the most secure support you can provide young people.

QUESTION:  How encouraging is it – I guess it is a halfway report sort of thing. Has it achieved what you hope it would?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR:  Look, there’s no doubt that progress has been made. We set ourselves a very ambitious target of halving homelessness in Australia by 2020. We will have more empirical data to determine how close we’ve got to that in due course when the ABS data comes through. But what we do know is there’s already been great progress in relation to responding to the complex issues of homelessness.

By building these accomm…these types of amenities, we get young people off the streets. By making sure we have affordable housing and spending millions of dollars on affordable housing, it means we stop people being at risk of being homeless.

As I say, a complex issue that needs to be dealt with in a variety of ways, and the Gillard Government have those approaches to ensure that we don’t see more Tasmanians on the streets, but instead we see young people, and people in general having a roof over their head.

QUESTION: Can you say whether Tasmania will be able to – confident in getting any more money in the Budget for homelessness issues?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well we have actually dedicated more than $20 billion to housing and homelessness since we were elected to office. That is an unprecedented amount of money – of so… money that goes into social housing, which is – of course reduced rent for people. We have, for example, the National Rental Affordability Scheme which ensures that people can get into rental accommodation far less than the market rate. We’re ensuring that we have amenities like this. And we’ll continue to ensure that there is more houses.
For example, there are about 350 houses that have been built under the – under that Government – that Commonwealth Government initiative. But there’s – you know, there’s about 1000 to come. So 1000 more that will be built in Tasmania in the next two years.
So to answer your question, will there be more by – delivered by this Government, you will see more than 1000 homes built in the next two years in Tasmania as a result of the initiatives of this Government.

QUESTION:  A lot of that money was from economic stimulus. As you try and get towards the targets for 2020 and you’re trying to get the Budget under wraps, will that taper off do you think? Or are you going to be able to keep up that kind of intensity…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: [Interrupts] Well as you say, some of the reasons why have this resource is that we responded to the global financial crisis by investing in education and housing. What did that mean? Well it meant that we ensured that thousands of small businesses in Tasmania didn’t hit the wall. It meant that employees in this state were not sacked because we responded and therefore unemployment did not rise in the way it rose around the world.
Europe and United States have almost double. In fact, in the case of Europe, it’s more than double the unemployment rate of Australia. So we invested in housing. But what did that also mean? That meant that there was accommodation for people that needed social housing; that needed help in relation to homelessness. And therefore, look, we’re looking at ensuring that we return the Budget to surplus; that is the fiscally responsible thing to do. That will ensure that we create the environment where the Reserve Bank is more likely to reduce interest rates if it chooses to do so. So I make no apology for that. And as I’ve said, because we made decisions some years ago, you are going to see through the pipeline, an extra thousand homes in Tasmania in the next two years.

QUESTION: I just wanted to actually talk to you about the HMAS Choules is in Hobart at the moment. It’s an ex-British Navy ship that Australia bought from England rather than buying from a local – or Australian company here. Do you think Australian business gets a fair enough consideration when Canberra spends its money?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look we’re always looking at how we can provide opportunities for local businesses, whether they be large or small, to be involved in contracts with the Commonwealth. In fact, we have a very high proportion of SMEs – Small and Medium Enterprises – that actually are parties to Commonwealth contracts when we invest. There will also be times when of course when a position to purchase things overseas, remember, we are in bilateral agreements with other countries, and indeed we export to other countries, so there’ll be occasions in which we will import.
But we’re very focused on the fact that when we have large contracts, we have to ensure that small businesses and large businesses in this country – in Tasmania, have access to those contracts. And we’ve actually improved the proportion of larger businesses and smaller businesses, contracting to the Commonwealth than was the case previously.

QUESTION: Australia’s manufacturing business is doing it tough though. Should the Government be supporting local businesses and helping them?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: And we do support local businesses. That’s why from 1 July, we’ll be cutting the company tax rate from 30 cents in the dollar to 29 cents for all small businesses in Tasmania. That’s why we’re actually introducing instant asset tax write-off so that people can purchase assets and have the full 100 per cent depreciation in one year, which provides great cash flow for small businesses in Tasmania.
These are the things we’re doing to create the environment for these businesses to su… not only to survive, but to thrive. And indeed we do that because we’re very mindful of the fact that they’re confronted with challenges, particularly because of the high Australian dollar.

The reason why we introduced the Minerals Resource Rent Tax was so that we can spread the mineral wealth to small and large business by giving them a tax cut this year and next year. And the reason why did that was to make sure that workers in this state get better superannuation. So we are providing greater wealth through distributing the mineral wealth if you like, as a result of the introduction of that legislation.

QUESTION:  I’d be keen to get your thoughts on Peter Slipper. Obviously Tony Windsor has come today and said he should stay aside until the allegations against him are dealt with. What’s your view?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well Mr Slipper has made the right decision to stand aside while these matters are under investigation. These matters are now, as I understand it, before a statutory independent body such as the Australian Federal Police, and may possibly be before other independent bodies.

And I won’t be commenting further on those matters because it would be improper for me to do so. Other than to say there’ve been allegations made, the allegations are serious, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives made the right decision to stand aside for those matters to be considered.

QUESTION:  Wouldn’t these matters take years to – I mean look at Craig Thomson. If Slipper stepped while there’s an investigation carried out, wouldn’t he be out of the House for a long time into the future?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well that’s a hypothetical question. My point is this, that the decision by the Speaker…

QUESTION: But you’re saying he should stay outside of the House…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: The Speaker has made a decision to stand aside while those criminal matters are under investigation and are resolved. I think that’s the right decision. I will not be commenting or playing commentary on this matter while it’s before independent statutory bodies, and may well be before a court at some point. It’s not proper for any Minister of the Crown to do, and I have to say Tony Abbott’s behaviour in this has been absolutely disgraceful. You do not try a man and convict them before they’ve had due process, and that is I think the view of most reasonable people. But of course we know Tony Abbott is playing politics, as he always is: negativity, self interest and playing politics with these matters.

QUESTION: So Slipper should not resume his role as Speaker until all these matters are sorted out?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well as I’ve said, he did the right thing to stand aside. I won’t be commenting any further.

QUESTION:  Do you support that decision?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: I support his decision to stand aside.

QUESTION: Why should he step aside but not Craig Thomson?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well as I say, the allegations have been made by Mr Slipper, oh sorry, of Mr Slipper, have been serious. He holds the most important parliamentary office in the House of Representatives. He is not stepping aside as his role as a Member of Parliament. He’s standing aside as the Office of the Speaker, and that is an entirely different thing. The Member for Dobell stood aside as Chair for the parliamentary committee, and I support him for that, and that is consistent with Mr Slipper’s position.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t he go to the cross bench?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well as I say, the Member – Mr Slipper has stood aside from the position of Speakership, which is proper, and indeed he’s done no more and no less than others. I fact there’ve been others, including two Liberal Senators, who did not stand aside, even when they were charged with criminal offences. So let’s get this right. We have a situation where the Speaker has stood aside as he should, and we have a situation where people who’ve been also – there’ve been allegations made against them, of a criminal nature, and they’ve not stood aside, and they’re in Tony Abbott’s team. Thanks very much.