Speech to Shelter SA Annual General Meeting
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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Kaurna people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
Thank you Gary (Wilson, Executive Director Shelter SA) for your introduction, and thank you all for inviting me to your meeting today.
Housing, housing affordability, finding a home and keeping a home are important issues for us all.
Many of the things we all take for granted would be impossible without safe and secure housing.
If you do not have secure and affordable housing, you miss out on so many of life’s opportunities.
You become disconnected from job opportunities, health services, education and social networks.
This is why affordable housing is such a critical component of the Government’s economic and social participation agenda.
I have said all of this often enough, but sometimes I think the problem is bigger than any of us realise.
There has never been a more critical time to work hard and work together to build a national housing agenda.
That is why the Rudd Government’s approach – which includes some really innovative, new programs like the National Rental Affordability Scheme, a Housing Affordability Fund and A Place to Call Home – starts to undo a decade of inaction in housing.
I will start by giving you a number – one hundred and five thousand.
You probably recognise that number, because that is how many Australians were homeless on census night in 2006.
I do not need to tell you that this number is a national shame.
Yet there are also frightening signs – despite our relative economic prosperity – that the number of homeless Australians is increasing.
The overall number of 105,000 was an increase of 5,000 compared to 2001.
If you break that figure down, there was a 16 per cent increase in the number of people who slept rough, or ‘on the street’ between 2001 and 2006 – to 16,000 people.
In South Australia on any given night, there are almost 8,000 homeless people.
Again, this number had increased – by 7.6 per cent – between 2001 and 2006.
On census night in 2006, 11 per cent of homeless South Australians were sleeping rough.
South Australia is to be congratulated though, in being the only jurisdiction to achieve a 5.5 per cent reduction in rough sleeping since 2001.
The numbers of Australians accessing services under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) provides further evidence that homelessness is a growing problem.
In 2006-07 South Australia Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services provided support to 12,200 people and 9,400 accompanying children.
Many of you are well aware of these figures, and you may also know that over half – 51.8 per cent – of people using SAAP services surveyed said that housing affordability issues were the reason.
So what to do?
How will we address housing affordability and therefore attack homelessness as well?
And what affect will any action have on the range of complex issues –other than housing supply and affordability – that contribute to homelessness, for example, poor health, domestic and family violence, lack of finances and lack of skills, education or job prospects?
I can tell you that both the Prime Minister and I are passionate about reducing homelessness.
This is why one of the Government’s first acts this year was to commission a Homelessness White Paper.
Homelessness White Paper
Our approach to tackling homelessness is bold and ambitious.
In January 2008, the Prime Minister and I announced that the Government would develop a Homelessness White Paper to set the agenda for reducing homelessness over the next decade.
The White Paper will include a national action plan to reduce homelessness – including by addressing the individual and structural barriers that lead to homelessness in the first place.
It will focus on three broad strategies to reduce homelessness over the next decade.
- Prevention and early intervention, which will reduce pressures on crisis services.
- Breaking the cycle of homelessness so people do not experience repeated homelessness.
- A connected, quality service system to achieve long-term sustainable outcomes.
These strategies stem from feedback in response to the Homelessness Green Paper, ‘Which Way Home‘, which was released in May.
Over 600 detailed public submissions were received from across the country.
I thank Shelter SA and others here today for taking part in the Green Paper process, identifying what needs to change and the way forward.
I note from Shelter SA’s submission that the South Australian Government’s Street to Home initiative has been extremely successful in assisting clients to maintain housing, and has significantly improved the health and wellbeing of its clients.
As in this initiative, the Australian Government acknowledges that a ‘housing first’ approach, followed by intensive and long term case management, is an effective method for assisting rough sleepers into stable, long term accommodation.
As with all the submissions, yours was carefully analysed, to identify key findings and innovative ideas to inform the White Paper.
We are still negotiating the key elements of the White Paper with the States and Territories, and will release the White Paper later this year.
I believe that the White Paper is a once in a generation opportunity to make serious inroads into Australia’s homelessness problem – we owe it to 105,000 of our fellow citizens to get this right.
A Place to Call Home
The Homelessness White Paper is not the whole story.
The A Place to Call Home program is an early down-payment on the Government’s broader response to homelessness.
A Place to Call Home is a $150 million investment by the Australian Government to deliver at least 600 new dwellings for people and families who are homeless.
This program is an immediate response to the complex problem of homelessness – helping ensure people can get the support they need to break the cycle of homelessness and establish a stable home.
They will not have to move when they no longer require support but will be able to stay in their houses.
Importantly, A Place to Call Home is a joint initiative with the States and Territories.
The States and Territories will make the program work on the ground by providing funding for land and support services.
Each State and Territory will use the funding differently, according to individual needs and circumstances.
I have already jointly announced A Place to Call Home projects with the Victorian and Tasmanian State Governments, and will have something to say about the initiative here in South Australia tomorrow.
Other housing initiatives
I mentioned earlier than over half the users of SAAP services said that housing affordability issues were the reason.
The need for more safe, secure, affordable and appropriate housing was a loud and clear message from submissions in response to the Homelessness Green Paper.
The May Budget included $2.2 billion worth of new programs to improve housing affordability – the first major Commonwealth investment in housing in many years.
Our housing reform agenda includes:
- A $512 million Housing Affordability Fund to improve the efficiency of the housing market itself, lower the cost of entry-level homes for new home buyers.
- A National Rental Affordability Scheme that will invest $623 million to help build 50,000 new affordable rental dwellings. Rent for these properties will be 20 per cent below the market rate for eligible tenants.
- Increasing the supply of land for housing by releasing surplus Commonwealth land for residential and community development.
- A National Housing Supply Council to improve the evidence base for housing policy development and forecast future housing need.
- First Home Saver Accounts to help aspiring first home buyers save a bigger deposit through low tax savings accounts that attract Government contribution of up to $850 per year.
Implementation of all of these measures is progressing well.
In recent weeks:
- The Prime Minister and I launched the first expression of interest round for the $512 million Housing Affordability Fund – 91 applications have been received from around the country.
- Enabling legislation for the National Rental Affordability Scheme has passed through the House of Representatives – and 69 applications to build 13,000 new dwellings have been received as part of the first round of applications.
- 25 financial institutions have either started offering new First Home Saver Accounts, or signalled their intention to offer them in future.
- The National Housing Supply Council has been appointed and met on four occasions, with work on the inaugural State of Supply report progressing well.
National Affordable Housing Agreement
At the same time as implementation of our new programs is underway, the Government is also working with State and Territory Governments to develop a new National Affordable Housing Agreement.
The new Agreement will provide a framework for all levels of government to work together to improve housing affordability.
The Agreement will incorporate the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement, the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, the Housing Affordability Fund, the National Rental Affordability Scheme and Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
One of the important aims of this new Agreement is for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to achieve sustainable housing and social inclusion.
It will also enable people to rent housing that meets their needs and it will also allow people to purchase affordable housing.
The Agreement will set out the reform direction to be pursued, such as:
- Better integration between the homelessness service system and mainstream services.
- New supply of affordable housing.
- A nationally consistent approach to social housing to create a more transparent and efficient sector.
- Ensuring Indigenous people have the same housing opportunities as other Australians.
- The new Agreement recognises that all levels of government can contribute to improving housing affordability for Australians.
These new measures are not the end of the story.
After a decade of funding cuts, one of the big challenges in housing remains ahead of us.
That challenge is to refashion the place of social housing in the modern Australian economy.
Better – and more – social housing is really important if we are to have a lasting impact on poverty.
Stable housing – at price people can afford – allows people to participate in work, education and training.
It also gives the next generation of children a better start in life – helping to end the cycle of poverty that I spoke about earlier.
I think we need to be honest and accept that our social housing system no longer does the job that it was set up to do.
Too much of our social housing stock is highly concentrated.
Suburbs that were built to be communities of low income working people, now concentrate ill health, unemployment and poverty into the same physical location.
We need to recreate a vision of social housing that is beyond the residualised model of shelter for the disadvantaged that it has been allowed to become.
Change is needed to improve the quality of the homes, achieve a greater social mix, to provide the transport and infrastructure that will link communities to the rest of society and to provide job opportunities.
We will continue to work hard to develop the White Paper and ensure that our ambitious housing programs are implemented.
But that does not mean we will stop listening to all Australians when it comes to affordable housing and homelessness.
These are important issues and as the environment changes I want to make sure we remain on the right track.
I cannot promise that everything can be fixed overnight – but I am confident that the Government is heading in the right direction.
By showing national leadership on housing reform, we can help to make housing more affordable again.
I commend the work you all already do, look forward to working closely with you in the future.