Speech by Senator the Hon Doug Cameron MP

Launch of National Homeless Persons’ Week – UnitingCare Wesley, Adelaide

Location: Adelaide, SA


It is a pleasure to join you today to launch National Homeless Persons’ Week 2013.

This week is a very important event in our calendar, helping to raise awareness about homelessness, and challenging stereotypes in our community about homelessness.

This year’s theme of hidden homelessness is an important reminder that while rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, it’s not the only one.

Far too many people are couch surfing or sleeping in the back of their car.

Too many women and children fleeing family and domestic violence are staying in temporary or crisis accommodation.

Teenagers running away from home to escape abuse.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still at much higher risk of being homeless right across Australia.

Families whose lives are turned upside down because of unforeseen circumstances, such as illness, an accident, or the loss of a job.

Suddenly, there is no money to pay the rent.

It can be as simple as a lease running out, and a family finding themselves with nowhere they can afford to go.

Families who, a few weeks prior, would have never imagined being without a roof over their heads.

As you are well aware, homelessness can become a cycle that can be incredibly difficult to get out of.

This is why building our understanding of homelessness is essential to addressing the issue – how can we resolve homelessness if we aren’t conscious of its many forms?

I’m pleased the government has contributed $25,000 to Homelessness Australia for National Homeless Persons’ Week 2013.

The Government remains steadfast in its commitment to halve the rate of homelessness and provide supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.

In recognition of the importance of housing and homelessness policy we have invested in a record $31 billion to help make housing more affordable and assist people to move out of homelessness.

We all know that without affordable housing, we’re fighting a losing battle.

Increasing the stock of housing is one of the most important things we can do to help make housing more affordable.

That’s why we’re delivering 21,000 new social housing homes and refurbishing another 80,000 through the Social Housing Initiative and the National Partnership Agreement on Social Housing.

About 15,000 more affordable rental homes have been built under our National Rental Affordability Scheme. This innovative and important scheme will deliver 50,000 rental homes by June 2016.

The government is helping low-income Australians meet the cost of their housing through Commonwealth Rent Assistance. This scheme helps more than 1.2 million families and individuals – reducing the proportion of recipients in rental stress by 28 per cent.

Housing, of course, is critical.

A safe, stable and affordable home is one of the most important steps in getting a life back on track.

A home is a central element to achieving a stable life.

It gives people the opportunity to belong, to be a family, to make a life.

It’s what enables us to participate effectively in society including achieving employment, social stability and a safe haven.

To give our kids a stable environment, keep them in a daily routine, and send them to school every day.

For many who have lived on the margins for so long, just handing over the keys will not be enough.

It will not resolve the underlying issues faced by so many who have been on the street or lurching from crisis accommodation to friends’ couches.

Issues like alcohol and substance misuse, gambling addiction.

Chronic physical health issues that have gone unattended for far too long.

Mental health issues that have been left to worsen, to become overwhelming.

Of course, many simply lack the skills to keep their rent and their bills under control.

Without ongoing support, the likely result is that they will soon end up right back where they started.

This is why I’m proud to be part of a government that, for the first time, put homelessness at the top of the agenda.

A government that doesn’t look at homelessness as just a lack of housing, which we all know is far too simplistic.

Behind the statistics are individuals, each facing their own challenges, and each with very specific needs.

To truly make a difference, we must provide people with ongoing support that meets their individual needs.

We must work together – all levels of government, service providers and the community.

That’s exactly what we’ve been doing under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

This partnership has broadened our policy response, so that we better target our support to people facing increased risk and who have specific needs, such as Indigenous Australians and people escaping family violence.

We’re providing targeted, individual support and services that go beyond housing, and to the core of the issue – addressing the underlying causes of homelessness.

These services help women and children fleeing domestic and family violence.

They reconnect young people with their families.

They help people overcome alcohol and drug misuse.

They make sure people with physical and mental health issues have access to the care that they need.

They help people get into education and training, and find work.

Of course, they help people find affordable, sustainable housing.

Last financial year, this partnership supported 180 initiatives across Australia – 31 of those in South Australia.

This included 44 initiatives to addressing domestic and family violence – 13 of those in South Australia.

It included 50 initiatives specifically aimed at Indigenous Australians – seven in South Australia.

And it included 16 initiatives to help tenants struggling to pay their rent – 10 of those in South Australia.

So I’m pleased that all jurisdictions have committed to a transitional National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness for this financial year.

This will provide $320 million in joint funding to enable critical homelessness services to continue – of which $17 million in joint funding is for South Australian services.

It includes $43 million in Australian Government funding – to be matched by the states – for capital projects across Australia that will provide urgently needed accommodation to help move people out of homelessness and into safe and sustainable housing.

Projects range from supported accommodation for vulnerable people, support for young people exiting care or detention, and supported accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence.

South Australia has secured $6.75 million in Australian Government funding from this Development Fund to build a Common Ground facility in the Adelaide CBD.

Having this one-year transitional agreement in place gives us time to work towards a longer-term response to homelessness with the states and territories.

Not just to assist people move out of homelessness for good, but prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Because catching vulnerable people early – before they get caught in the homelessness cycle – is the most important thing we can do to give people a better future.

That’s why the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness has such a strong focus on prevention and early intervention.

It’s only one part of a broader approach to help vulnerable Australians build a better future.

This government is putting a lot of effort into tackling entrenched disadvantage, by providing vulnerable people extra support to get back into work – through training, tackling barriers to employment, and subsidised childcare.

We’ve made unprecedented investments in our historic $2.2 billion mental health reform.

Through the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, we’re working with the states and territories to reduce violence against women and their children.

Since 2009, the Australian Government has invested more than $86 million on National Plan initiatives, with a strong focus on prevention.

We’re investing heavily to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, including in health, education and employment, and in making communities safer.

In remote Indigenous communities, our $5.5 billion National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing has delivered more than 1,815 new homes and more than 5,589 rebuilds and refurbishments since 2009.

We are listening to local Indigenous people and building the kinds of houses they want, and in a way that recognises the unique environmental conditions and requirements in remote areas.

Each house means a family with a roof over their heads, a place to call home, a place for children to grow up safely.

We know we still have a lot to do, but we are making progress.

The 2011 Census showed we are making inroads into reducing severe crowding in locations where there has been investment under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.

We are also making progress with the general population, with the last Census showing the rate of people sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings had fallen by 13.5 per cent.

At the same time, the number of people in supported accommodation had risen by 23 per cent, which shows that there is greater access to this important transitional accommodation.

It shows we are better responding to the needs of people struggling to maintain secure and stable housing – we are helping them break out of homelessness.

We know there is no simple fix.

It is only with the support of organisations like UnitingCare, Homelessness Australia and the myriad of hard working, committed groups who are on the ground every day giving people a hand up, that we can truly achieve tangible results.

Your work is changing lives every day.

If we continue to work together, we will make a huge difference in so many ways.

I’d like to thank you again for inviting me here today to launch National Homeless Persons’ Week.

I hope you will all have time in your busy schedules to take part in some of the great activities organised to mark this hugely important week.

Thank you.