Speech by Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Launch of Homeless Persons’ Week 2014

Location: Melbourne City Mission Frontyard Youth Services


Thank you, Glenda, for that generous introduction.

And thank you to Caroline for the Welcome to Country, and Reverend Holland and Sheri Brounhout for giving me a tour of the Melbourne City Mission and showing me the great work you do.

The coffee was excellent, so please pass on my complements to the baristas!

I’d also like to acknowledge Jenny Smith of Homelessness Australia and express my appreciation to the City of Melbourne and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation for helping to sponsor this event.

Ladies and gentlemen adequate shelter is classified as one of the most fundamental requirements of a decent human life in Dr Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs.

Yet each night over 100,000 of our fellow citizens struggle to pass through even this most basic threshold of civilised existence.

On Census night 2011, this number included over 18,000 children under the age of twelve.

And 402 of those boys and girls were ‘sleeping rough’ on the street, under a bridge or in a park.

We’re right to regard homelessness as a moral blight on our society.

We’re right to think it morally unacceptable that fellow Australians in the year 2014 should unable to obtain safe and secure accommodation for themselves and their families.

Yet despite our furious agreement on this basic principle – the problem endures.

And it’s the very persistence of homelessness that’s a testament to its complexity.

It’s a multi-faceted conundrum that’s caused by the confluence of chronic social, educational and medical pathologies

It’s not a simple matter that can be resolved through grandiose political pronouncements issued from on-high Canberra.

In the end it comes down to a gruelling grind of day-in/day-out action by an amazing cohort of committed people who provide front-line services to those most in need.

In turn, those front-line service providers deserve sustained collaborative support from charities, not-for-profits and all levels of government – Commonwealth, State/Territory and Local.

Homelessness is not an issue that should be subject to bureaucratic siloing or ‘don’t tread on my turf’ empire building.

The stakes are far too high and too real for individuals.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle famously described synergy as a process in which:

“the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

And synergistic cooperation is precisely what’s required if we wish to address the homeless problem with any real hope of effective action.

I’m honoured to be launching this year’s Homeless Person’s Week with the theme: Philanthropy and Innovations in ending homelessness.

Homeless Person’s Week activities throughout Australia are an excellent vehicle for achieving several mutually reinforcing goals.

It provides a framework for fundraising activities that help to defray the cost of these important services.

It provides a platform for raising public awareness that is vital to keeping the fight against homelessness high on the list of policy priorities.

And it provides us with a chance to express our gratitude to the front-line staff who are doing the hard yards of work on the streets of our local communities.

Therefore it’s a privilege to be involved in this launch of Homeless Persons Week 2014 and to talk a bit about what the Commonwealth is doing to help.

When the Coalition won Government last September we were confronted by a looming crisis in homelessness services.

There was no provision in the Budget for homelessness program funding after the 30th of June this year.

This was clearly unacceptable and we stepped into the breach.

We allocated $115 million to keep the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness – NPAH – operational for another year.

NPAH is an inter-governmental agreement through which the Commonwealth allocates funding to the States and Territories for homelessness programming.

And in turn the states and territories use that money to support over 180 local initiatives throughout Australia that provide front-line services to the homeless or those risk of falling into homelessness.

I’m pleased to announce that all eight states and territories will be matching the Commonwealth’s contribution, meaning around $230 million will be delivered to homelessness services across Australia in 2014-15.

Here in Victoria, this translates into $22.79 in Commonwealth funding that will be complemented by another $29.1 from the State Government.

This means a combined $51.89 in NPAH funding for Victoria alone.

And you can add to that another $250 million in homelessness-related programme money throughout Australia from the National Agreement on Housing Affordability – NAHA.

In total it adds up to almost one half billion dollars spent on homelessness programming over the coming year.

This will give us a bit of breathing room to review and reassess the alphabet soup of problem-plagued housing and homelessness programmes we inherited from the previous government.

It will also provide some sorely needed continuity and stability to those doing vital work at the front-line of service delivery.

And allow me to take this opportunity to dispense some additional peace-of-mind.

You can rest assured that any reforms we institute in the area of homelessness programs will be made with a view to helping the sector do its job more effectively and more efficiently.

Less than a fortnight ago I had the privilege of visiting the Collingwood campus of HomeGround Services, a wonderful not-for-profit doing yeoman’s work at grassroots level in six locations throughout Melbourne.

They exemplify precisely the sort of innovative programming we will need if we want to make real headway on homelessness.

An important piece of the housing puzzle comes down to the simple issue of affordability.

We recognise that adequate growth in the housing market for all Australians is absolutely critical.

To this end the Australian Government is working across the public, private and community sectors to energise the housing construction and leverage investment.

We have set ourselves the goal of cutting $1 billion worth of obsolete and unnecessary regulation through our red-tape reduction programme led by Parliamentary Secretary Josh Freydenberg.

And my colleague Environment Minister Greg Hunt is working to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ process that will streamline the environmental approvals process by reducing duplication between the Commonwealth and the States.

We believe these initiatives will have a positive impact on housing supply in Australia.

While there’s much we know about the causes of homelessness, there’s always more we can learn.

And it today I’m pleased to announce a very important piece of new research from the the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

This is the fourth report of the Journeys Home project, a longitudinal study designed to shed light into personal experiences with homelessness and housing insecurity.

Focusing on social, economic and personal factors, Journeys Home tried to understand why some people might succumb to homelessness while others prove more resilient in the face of similar circumstances.

In particular this study has assessed:

  • the duration of homelessness for different groups;
  • the relationship between mental illness, psychological distress, substance use and homelessness; and
  • the relationship between childhood experiences of violence and abuse and later experiences of violence as an adult.

One of the most salient findings of Journeys Home is that the longer people remain homeless the less likely they are to escape that condition.

It also found that many people cycle routinely in and out of homelessness, particularly if they have a diagnosed mental illness.

This report also highlights the complex causal relationship between homelessness and mental illness.

It also presents evidence that exposure to the childhood trauma of parental neglect, physical violence or sexual abuse will enhance the likelihood of experiencing homelessness as adults.

Journeys Home adds new insights to our knowledge base that will help us to focus our efforts on early intervention.

The Government has been pleased to support the work of the Melbourne Institute in undertaking this study.

I’d like to congratulate Dr Rosanna Scutella, Senior Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute and Deputy Project Director of the Journeys Home, as well as her entire team.

I commend their work to you all.

So I’d like to conclude by expressing my gratitude for what you’ve done, what you do and what you’ll keep on doing.

More strength to your arm.

Thank you.