Speech by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

National Homelessness Services Achievement Awards, Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

Location: Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

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When it was released in late 2008, the Government’s Homelessness White Paper was a turning point.

It put homelessness firmly on the national agenda and made it a reform priority.

The Government made a $538 million funding commitment to the $1.1 billion National Partnership on Homelessness, jointly funded with State and Territory Governments.

More than 180 new or expanded services have been rolled out across Australia under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

An example is one of today’s nominees, the Maroondah Halfway House, which is in the Victorian electorate of Deakin.

The Halfway House provides a comprehensive response to support women and children with a disability experiencing homelessness due to family violence.

I know my colleague; the Member for Deakin, Mike Symon is here today to support that magnificent initiative.

We also jointly funded, the $310 million A Place to Call Home program, and made a $6 billion investment in social housing construction that will deliver around 21,600 new affordable rental homes.

These programs are now delivering important results on the ground.

Already more than 19,000 new homes have been completed through our social housing construction programs, with the remainder to be built by the end of this year.

Yet even with these new programs, progress would not be possible without the dedication, innovation and creativity of the homelessness sector and the staff and volunteers who work within it, many of whom are here tonight.

Recently, I saw this first hand at the Salvation Army’s St Kilda Crisis Centre, which was funded under the Government’s social housing stimulus program, and at the Melbourne City Mission.

As I walked around these facilities and met some of the clients, it was wonderful to see not only the commitment that people such as Rob and Brad and Sherri had to their respective organisations but importantly to listen to their ideas and methods as we all strive to reduce the levels of homelessness.

And I will look to do that as often as I possibly can throughout the country, getting to where it is happening and being inspired by the people who work on these amazing initiatives.

The work of finalists for the National Homelessness Services Awards demonstrates the level of dedication and innovation by homeless services across Australia.

As part of the Homelessness White Paper the Government called for bold, fresh approaches to improve outcomes for homeless and vulnerable Australians.

The sector responded, combining innovative housing programs with equally innovative programs tackling the problems that cause and accompany homelessness.

That’s why the Government established these awards – to publicly recognise the outstanding achievements of the sector.

There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the call for nominations – more than 130 nominations in seven award categories.

I would like to recognise the huge effort by busy agencies to contribute to the nomination process. I think it shows the pride the staff take in their services and the outcomes they achieve, and I would like to thank everyone who nominated.

The judging panel, I’m advised, had a mammoth task.

They reviewed and assessed many great examples of both small and large programs being undertaken in local communities.

Many are designed to meet the needs of special client groups: children and teenagers, young parents, Indigenous Australians and the increasing number of older people who are becoming vulnerable to homelessness.

These awards also give the broader Australian community the chance to learn more about the great lengths organisations go to in working to prevent and break the cycle of homelessness in this country.

Most importantly, the finalists have shown that for people who receive the right support, from services working together in the best ways, there is a pathway out of homelessness.

As Minister for Employment Participation, someone said to me – and I never forgot it – that if you can see a line of sight between where you are or where you stand and where you want to be, that in itself provides the inspiration for people to want to help themselves.

This is really about providing support for people to help themselves.

These initiatives have shown that while the Government’s aim to halve the overall rate of homelessness by 2020 is ambitious, it can be done.

So I congratulate all of today’s winners, as well as all the services who were nominated for their quality and innovative programs.

This Government remains strongly committed to significantly reducing the rate of homelessness in our country, and I know all of you here share that ambition.

As the Minister for Homelessness, I want to assure you that I will consult and engage with the sector wherever possible to achieve the best outcomes we can have for all of those struggling to make ends meet and those experiencing homelessness.

Thank-you all again for being here today and thank-you for the incredibly important work that you do.

Your contribution to your local communities is invaluable and I am very proud to serve as a Minister working in such an important area in Australia.

Once again, thank you for inviting me here this morning and good luck in your very important endeavours.