Media Release by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Revised ABS figures won’t change commitment to halve homelessness

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will today release revised estimates of homelessness in Australia from the 2001 and 2006 Census figures, using its new, expanded definition of homelessness.

The new definition builds on the trailblazing work of Professor Chris Chamberlain and Associate Professor David MacKenzie, who were first in the world to use Census data to estimate homelessness.

It recognises that a person could be homeless if they have no choice but to live in a dwelling that is not fit for human habitation; or to reside in a place without tenure; or to stay somewhere where they have no privacy or personal space.

It will also be applied to the 2011 Census figures when they are released later this year. By applying the new definition to the all three sets of Census data, we can make an accurate assessment about how far we’ve come over the last decade.

The ABS, an independent body, informed the COAG Reform Council that it was undertaking this work in 2009. The Government did not ask the ABS to do this work, nor did we seek to influence how it defines and counts homelessness.

Whatever the estimated numbers turn out to be, the Gillard Government remains committed to halving the rate of homelessness by 2020.

While the ABS estimate will be an important piece of data to help us measure our progress, we will also use the more dynamic and timely information collected from specialist homelessness services by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), and Journeys Home, the first national longitudinal study of homelessness in Australia and possibly the first of its magnitude in the world.

Combined, these facts and figures will give us the most accurate picture of homelessness we have ever had, and a better understanding of how homelessness comes about, and how we can help people get back on their feet.