Transcript by The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Press conference

Location: Melbourne


MINISTER MORRISON: In March of this year – on the 23rd of March I announced that the Abbott Government would be entering into a new agreement with states and territories on homelessness. The previous agreement that had been in place and expired on the 30th of June of this year – a decision had been taken by the previous Labor Government through the budget process through the forward estimates that there was no funding to continue that agreement. The agreement that we have been seeking to put in place with the states and territories represents new funding, essentially, for homelessness support around the country. We committed $230 million over two years, commencing from the 1st of July of this year to support important homelessness projects around the country. In addition to that we said that the new homelessness agreement needed to focus on two key priorities; firstly homelessness associated with family domestic violence and secondly homelessness associated with youth homelessness and that now includes, through discussions we have had, for people up to the age of 25.

This does not exclude the ability of states and territories to continue to support programmes as a part of this arrangement in other areas of priority but it was very clear to us as a Commonwealth Government that these two areas require particular attention. New funding being put into this area – and I stress it is new funding because there was no funding from the previous government for a renewal of this agreement, this new funding needs to focus on key priorities and that is what we have been seeking to put in place as we have worked together through the states. Now this $230 million comes in addition to the some $5.8 billion a year that the Commonwealth invests in assisting people in terms of housing. There is the more than $4 billion which is spent each year on Commonwealth rental assistance and in addition to that there is the $1.3 billion a year which is provided through the National Affordable Housing Agreement which is an annual amount. So the Commonwealth is heavily invested in seeking to ease the burden on renters around the country who are in need of social services support when it comes to housing. This arrangement in relation to homelessness funding is an important part of how we have been seeking to do that. The other point we made at the time was that it was a two year arrangement to enable us to work together with the states and territories through the federation review process to come to a new architecture for how we work together to address the issue of housing and homelessness. There is great ambiguity between the states and the territories and the Commonwealth, this is a point of great frustration I have learnt in this portfolio for those working in the area across the social services portfolio to deliver important support to Australians all around the country.

These issues need to be resolved, they haven’t been resolved for a long period of time and it is important that we provide this essentially bridging funding through this arrangement to enable us to get to a new architecture for how we support issues relating to housing and homelessness around the country.

Now I am very pleased to say that today that the Coalition states have all either signed up or agreed to take part in this new arrangement. So we are very pleased to see that Western Australia was the first of the states to come forward and be part of the new agreement together with the North Territory and we are also pleased to have the commitment from New South Wales and Tasmania. I am though concerned that the Labor states having all almost to each of those Governments called on the Abbott Government to provide this new funding – as yet have not agreed to the new arrangements. Now that funding was available from the first of July and I note here in Victoria in particular Minister Foley was very vocal in his criticism of the Abbott Government in relation to this issue, he demanded funding certainty by the end of March and he received it on the 23rd of March. It has now been some months and we still have no agreement from the Victorian State Government to ensure that funding for these arrangements, which totals in Victoria some $23 million a year over two years – a total of $45.58 million of the next two years, as yet we still do not have an agreement with the Victorian State Government. Now I am hopeful that we will reach an agreement on these issues. Our officials are working together but having been so vocal on these matters I would have hoped that the Labor states having been so vocal in their criticism of the need for this funding to be in place may have been, once that funding was provided as it has been, the first to sign up. But we haven’t seen that take place.

So I look forward to continuing to working with those states to see if we can come to a position of agreement at the earliest possible opportunity. It obviously won’t be the last word on these matters because I have said we are working through the Federation review process and if there are matters to be discussed and worked through with the states and territories over the next few years then that is the place to do it. Right now I want to see those funds flow to the states to support the very important homelessness projects that otherwise had it not been for the commitment of the Abbott Government would not have been able to proceed because the previous Labor government federally had cut the funding to zero in the forward estimates. So moving forward these are the priorities and we will look forward to what arrangements we reach hopefully in the next few days if not the next few weeks and I would encourage those Labor states to get on board with the new agreement and work with us to ensure a better architecture through the Federation review process. Any questions?

QUESTION: Minister what’s Victoria holding out for, what’s your understanding of why they haven’t signed up yet?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well it is a little unclear to me to be honest – it is a little unclear to me. I mean the increase in funding that is effectively represented here given that there was no funding in the forward estimates is $22.79 million a year over two years. Now they would have preferred three years of funding arrangements, these are things that we can work through the Federation white paper process. But the money is there and on the table – $22.79 million is there for this year and next year. It simply requires the agreement of the Victorian State Government. Similarly in Queensland there is $28.71 million per year over two years for a total of $57.42 million. In the ACT it is a total of $1.52 million per year and in South Australia it is $8.87 million per year over two years. So this is important funding for those projects and we would simply encourage them to complete the process with the Commonwealth as the other states have been doing so we can get on with the job of delivering those services in those very, very critical areas.

QUESTION: Is the two year agreement, in this instance a bridging to an agreement, do you think in the future it would be best to have a sort of four or five year type programme to give those people who need this money a bit more certainty?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think they are important questions and that is why it is important that if you were to come to such an arrangement you do so in a way where the responsibilities of the states and the Commonwealth are far clearer than they are today. I think the ambiguity around the responsibilities of the states and the Commonwealth on the issues of housing and homelessness at the moment are quite ambiguous and if you were going to commit longer term arrangements than these matters need to be addressed once and for all. I have appealed to the sector – the social services sector to be the honest brokers in this process. They are the ones who have to work with both levels of Government and they can see the problems of this ambiguity. I want to see that resolved over the next two years so that we can get ourselves to the longer term arrangements that you are talking about. I think it is important we do that.

QUESTION: Does the Commonwealth have an – do you see the Commonwealth having an ongoing role in the future of homelessness funding or is that something for the states?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well housing and homelessness is principally the responsibility of the state and territory governments. But as I said through Commonwealth rental assistance, over $4 billion a year, and through the National Affordable Housing Agreement, over $1 billion a year, we are already making an enormous investment in easing the housing affordability burden for renters who are particularly in distress all around the country. Now that Commonwealth rental assistance responsibility has been there for generations that is something the Commonwealth has been involved with for a long period of time. So I think it really is about aligning where the Commonwealth can best play a role, where the states and territories can best play a role and local government can indeed play a role. There has been much talk about housing affordability in the private housing market and there are issues that obviously need to be addressed there particularly at the state and territory and local government level that can free up the housing supply – whether it is here in Melbourne and Victoria and my home state of New South Wales or elsewhere where there are pressures in those markets that we have particularly seen over the last few months. But those issues need to be connected with the issues around crisis accommodation needs; particularly in family domestic violence where you can have the situation where the immediate shelter support is at a level which can meet the unfortunate level of demand – which sadly is there. Then the transitional housing support which enables people to move out of those shelter type accommodation situations into some transitional accommodation for those families and others affected and then hopefully the goal is that over time people can re-enter the private housing market unsupported. But they are the challenges we have to face in this area and the Commonwealth is very committed to working through the issues that can help us address those with the states and territories.

QUESTION: Minister on another matter will you go on Q&A?

MINISTER MORRISON: Just before we get on to those other superfluous issues why don’t we deal with the serious issues of housing? Anything else on housing today? I have no plans to go on there I haven’t since we have come to Government.

QUESTION: Do you think it is right for the Prime Minister to tell all the frontbench that they can’t go on the show?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well that is not actually what the Prime Minister has said. There is a review process underway currently with the programme as I understand and it is important for the ABC to work through those issues. But frankly there are far more important things happening in Australia today. In terms of Q&A I know that those at the ABC seem particularly focused on this. Today in Sydney we have very important constitutional issues being canvassed in relation to Indigenous recognition I would have thought that was, along with the issues I’m talking about today, far more important than who does and doesn’t go on a television show.

QUESTION: How far away do you think they are from consensus on getting how we do Indigenous recognition?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well the meeting in Sydney today I think is very important. I think it is great that we have both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition engaged in those discussions in Sydney today. I think this is something that many Australians want to see happen. But there is an important process to work through with changes like this for them to be successful then it does have to bring the nation along with it and I think the good faith that we are seeing in those discussions in Sydney today are a very good sign about the spirit with which this matter is being progressed by the Government and the Opposition.

QUESTION: What do you think the referendum question should be?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well that is a matter that is being working through by those very important processes.

QUESTION: Do you support the prohibition on race discrimination in the constitution?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well look all of these matters are being handled by other Ministers and they are being done collaboratively with the Indigenous community, the broader community, across party lines and I think what is important is that we allow that process to follow and to arrive at a position. That is certainly what I would like to see happen because I think if you do that then it has the best chance of success. No more, nothing? Great.

QUESTION: On marriage equality, there are different opinions throughout the party. Is it still possible for the party to have a rational debate about this issue?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well the party is to that extent but frankly the issues we are focused on today are the ones that I have outlined in relation to housing and homelessness, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are engaging together on another incredibly serious question that goes to the constitution and I think they’re the issues that we are progressing as matters of priority, together with economic and national security. My views on these topics are well known and I don’t intend to add anything further to those and the Government will get on with the job of Government and addressing the priorities that we outlined to the Australian people. Thanks very much.