Speech by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Address to the Kids Under Cover Building Industry Lunch, Sebel Citigate Hotel, Brisbane

Location: Sebel Citigate Hotel, Brisbane


Thank you for having me here today.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

And I would to thank Zachariah for his courage and his candour in sharing his heartfelt personal story.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Mr Ken Morgan OAM, Founder and Patron of Kids Under Cover
  • The Honourable Mr Justice Martin Moynihan AO, Patron
  • Mr Bill Wallace, Chairman of the Kids Under Cover Queensland Advisory Committee and General Manager of the Building Employees Redundancy Trust, who are our hosts today
  • Also, Ms Jo Swift, the National CEO of Kids Under Cover
  • And four businesses that provide support for homelessness – Divine, Grocon, Australand and Mannheim.

I am pleased to be here today to take part in this important fundraiser for Kids Under Cover. Earlier this year, I was privileged to present Kids Under Cover with one of our inaugural National Homelessness Services Achievement awards. Together with their longstanding partners, Hocking Stuart Real Estate, Kids Under Cover won the award for the most outstanding business or philanthropic commitment to addressing homelessness.

And that commitment to address homelessness is one which the Gillard Government shares. Everyone deserves a safe and secure home.  A home is the foundation on which a person builds their life.  Without a stable home, young people struggle to stay in training or education, or find and keep jobs. That’s not good for them, for their families, or for this country.

We don’t just want to give people a roof over their head; we want them to be part of our community.

CEO Sleepout

Next week I’ll get a tiny glimpse for myself into the challenges for rough sleepers. I’ll be rolling out my sleeping bag and sleeping rough in Canberra as part of the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. This is a great effort by Vinnies to raise funds for homelessness services and to raise awareness of the challenges. In every capital city, business leaders, politicians and community leaders will be sleeping rough next Thursday night to support Vinnies. And looking at the weather forecast, I wish I was doing the Sleepout here in Brisbane, not in Canberra.

I would encourage everyone here to get behind Vinnies and either register to sleep out yourselves or donate through their website.  It’s a great cause and one that is central to the heart of this Government.

Government Action

As a government we have made addressing homelessness a national priority because it is not acceptable in this country, in this wealthy country, that we have 100,000 Australians homeless. It is unacceptable that a widowed pensioner can’t find a bed.  It is unacceptable that a teenager is sleeping rough.  It is unacceptable that a mother and her children are living in a car.

The Australian Government’s White Paper on Homelessness, The Road Home, makes it clear we want to halve the rate of homelessness across the country and provide accommodation for all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020. To achieve this we have invested an unprecedented $5 billion into support for services and programs since 2008. Last year more than 180 new or expanded services to tackle homelessness were delivered across the country, including 29 in Queensland.

What does that mean for people? It means that last financial year in Queensland, an additional 21,000 people were provided with help – help to find and secure a property in the private rental market; accommodation for young people so that they can go back to school, or continue their education; outreach support to people who are homeless and suffering from mental illness, to connect them to support services and housing.

What our White Paper stressed was the need to improve and integrate services so we can intervene early and prevent people becoming homeless in the first place – to break the cycle of homelessness.

Youth homelessness

This is particularly important when it comes to young people. The face of homelessness around the world is changing – it is becoming younger. Indeed, here in Australia the latest figures show that roughly half of the clients assisted by our homelessness services are under 25. That is a confronting statistic.

It is why the Gillard Government is a strong supporter of Reconnect services around Australia, including 18 services in Queensland. As many of you would know, Reconnect is a community based early intervention program for young people aged between 12 and 18. There is no doubt it is an effective program to engage young people with support and prevent homelessness. Since its inception more than 50,000 young people have been reconnected with their families, and with school or training.

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to meet the hardworking staff and inspiring young people at Career Employment Australia Inc., a Reconnect service here in Brisbane, and saw for myself the difference it has made to their lives. One young man I met there came to Australia from Africa as a refugee. After a difficult start, he’s settled into school and aspires to one day represent Australia at the Olympic Games as a long distance runner.

Kids Under Cover

Reconnect is an example of what Government can do to reduce homelessness. However, I don’t believe reducing homelessness is just an issue for Government alone, we all need to tackle the complex challenges that homelessness poses. Homelessness is everyone’s business. But I don’t need to tell you that. That’s why you’re here. Each and every one of you has come here today to support the good work of Kids Under Cover. You are supporting an organisation which is working to prevent homelessness before it happens.

Kids Under Cover provides safe, stable and spacious accommodation in the form of studios or bungalows in a family’s back yard for young kids who would otherwise be in very difficult and sometimes dangerous situations, including on the streets. But the support doesn’t stop there.  Kids Under Cover looks at the many dimensions of homelessness. As well as providing kids with a safe place to sleep, they are helped to deal with personal issues, finish school and reconnect with their families, which is vitally important.

In this respect I would like to congratulate Kids Under Cover on its scholarship programs to assist kids into training and tertiary programs, and the mentoring programs it is developing in Melbourne with a view to extending them here in Queensland as soon they can. Mentoring helps kids find their self-esteem so they are in a better position to make life-changing decisions.

The stories of the children Kids Under Cover has helped speak for themselves. Jo introduced me to a grandmother and two of her three grandchildren who had been helped by Kids Under Cover. The children were living with their grandmother because sadly, drug addiction had affected their parents and it had led to instances of domestic violence, which no child should ever have to witness. However, room was tight at the grandmother’s place and the three kids had to share one small bedroom.

As you can imagine, three growing young children enclosed in a tiny space, with no privacy, having experienced and seen the things they had, caused them to become very agitated and stressed. There was no room for them to do school work, have friends around to play or just escape to be by themselves. This was having a detrimental effect on their school grades and their social interaction. That was until Kids Under Cover was able to assist by providing a studio in the backyard, which provided much needed space for the children. I saw how much it meant to the kids and to their grandmother. What a great outcome!

Kids Under Cover rightly says that being homeless is more than not having a home; it’s about not having a sense of belonging. I know that Kids Under Cover aims to create that sense of belonging missing from so many young lives. This reflects the sentiments of our White Paper. In the interests of too many of our fellow Australians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, it is vital that we reach our goals.

Programs like Kids Under Cover are an essential part of the answer, and I would like to thank and congratulate the hardworking people of the organisation. It is important to recognise and support our smaller services. It is essential that we continue to develop innovative ways of tackling the complex issues of homelessness and I know that smaller service providers can drive that innovation.


In concluding I would also like to congratulate our hosts The Building Employees Redundancy Trust, who have their own outstanding record of helping fellow Australians. It is pleasing that so many people have come along today to support this event and raise awareness of the complex issues associated with homelessness.

Again, thank you for having me here today.