Speech to Hanover Welfare Services Annual General Meeting
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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
Thank you Jean (Ker Walsh, Chair, Hanover Welfare Services) for your kind introduction.
I would particularly like to acknowledge Brian Howe, Michael Duffy and Meg Montague who I understand were made life members of Hanover Welfare Services earlier today.
Australia’s community sector would not be as strong as it is today without people like Brian, Michael and Meg – and so I congratulate you all for your ongoing contribution.
Social inclusion agenda
Since the election of the Rudd Government, we have implemented a range of social policy reforms to address disadvantage in Australia.
These reforms are part of the Government’s social inclusion agenda – aiming to give all Australians the opportunity to share in our nation’s economic prosperity.
In May 2008 we appointed a Social Inclusion Board to advise the Government on ways to achieve better outcomes for the most disadvantaged people in our community.
The Board has already met four times, and has advised the Government on a number of issues.
This advice has initially focused on three priority areas: locational approaches to disadvantage, children at greatest risk of long term disadvantage, and jobless families with children.
My own portfolio of housing is a central to the Government’s social and economic policy agenda.
Our approach – which includes some really innovative, new programs like the National Rental Affordability Scheme and A Place to Call Home – starts to undo a decade of inaction in housing.
A Place to Call Home program
The Government recognises that urgent action is needed to build more homes for homeless Australians.
A Place to Call Home is our immediate, $150 million down payment to tackle homelessness.
This new investment will build a pool of at least 600 new houses across Australia for homeless individuals and families.
It replaces the traditional crisis accommodation model where people are moved from one house to another – and will instead provide safe, permanent and affordable housing.
There are already exciting plans underway for implementing A Place to Call Home in a number of States and Territories.
The Victorian, Tasmanian and South Australian State Governments have started to build Common Ground model facilities under the program.
This innovative model, pioneered in New York City, provides housing for a ‘mixed community’ of people on low incomes – such as students, young professionals, artists and the elderly – as well as the homeless.
South Australia will also be building a 40-bed Foyer model facility for homeless young people in Adelaide.
It will operate in partnership with Ladder, a charitable arm of the Australian Football League Players’ Association, and tenants will have the opportunity to receive mentoring from past and present AFL players.
These projects will make a real difference to the lives of homeless Australians.
Homelessness White Paper
Increasing the supply of dwellings is only one part of the homelessness conundrum.
To achieve any real results, our efforts need to be guided by a comprehensive, long term plan.
One of the Government’s first major commitments this year was to develop a Homelessness White Paper to provide a framework for tackling homelessness in Australia.
The White Paper will focus on three broad strategies to reduce homelessness over the next decade:
- Turning off the tap – we want to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.
- Breaking the cycle – we want to make sure people do not boomerang back into homelessness by helping them find a genuinely stable home – with the right support – the first time.
- Expanding and improving services – we want to improve existing services and make sure they work better to provide the support homeless people need to stay housed.
We are now finalising the White Paper with the States and Territories – through the Council of Australian Governments.
While I cannot promise a pot of gold at the end of the White Paper rainbow, I do think that this process is a once in a generation opportunity to drastically reduce homelessness in Australia.
National Rental Affordability Scheme
The Government recognises that one of the causes of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing – particularly in the private rental market.
That is why we are investing $623 million in a new National Rental Affordability Scheme, to build 50,000 new, affordable rental houses.
Rent for these properties will be 20 per cent below market rates, and tenants will still be eligible for Rent Assistance – making it even more affordable for individuals and families.
One and half million households will be eligible – obviously, anyone on a pension, but also key workers like police officers starting out, apprentices and part time hospitality workers.
If there continues to be demand, the Government will expand the Scheme by an additional 50,000 incentives over the following five years.
Sixty-nine applications to build 13,000 new dwellings were received as part of the first round of applications.
There has been good interest from institutional investors and community housing organisations who want to build their portfolios of affordable housing stock.
Now that enabling legislation has passed through the Parliament, I hope to announce successful applicants very soon so that they can get on with the job of moving people into their new homes.
Homelessness and child protection
The number of homeless families with children is increasing.
On the night of the 2006 Census, there were over 12,000 homeless children under the age of 12 in Australia – nearly 12 per cent of the total homeless population.
Homeless kids are much more likely to become homeless adults – so reducing the number of homeless children is a vital part of reducing homelessness overall and is an area we will be concentrating on.
National Child Protection Framework
The Rudd Government is delivering on its election commitment to develop a National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.
This Framework is a direct response to the increasing number of Australian children exposed to child abuse and neglect.
Following a broad consultation process with other levels of government and the community sector, a draft national framework has been developed and will be provided to tommorrow’s Council of Australian Governments meeting.
The national framework will outline a strategic approach to better protect children, including:
- A whole of system approach to improve the safety and wellbeing of children, rather than focusing solely on statutory child protection systems.
- Addressing child abuse and neglect via a public health model approach, placing a stronger emphasis on the role of universal services.
- Early intervention services to prevent child abuse and neglect, and better support vulnerable families.
Early childhood education
The Government is also acting to ensure all four year old children have access to high quality early childhood education programs.
These programs will delivered by degree-qualified early childhood teachers, for 15 hours per week, 40 weeks of the year, in public, private and community-based preschools and child care.
This initiative will be underpinned by the development of the Early Years Learning Framework and supported by National Quality Standards for Child Care and Preschool.
It will raise the quality of early childhood education delivered, regardless of setting, and improve access for disadvantaged children to early learning opportunities.
The Government is also establishing up to 260 additional Early Learning and Care Centres across Australia.
Where possible, the additional centres will be located on school, TAFE, university or other community land.
The May Budget included a $115 million investment to build the first 38 additional Early Learning and Care Centres – including six autism-specific centres.
These new measures demonstrate the Government’s commitment to giving our children the very best start in life.
National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women
Domestic and family violence is the single greatest reason for people seeking accommodation through Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) services across Australia.
In the last reporting period, more than one in five – or 22 per cent – of all people accessing SAAP services reported that this was their main reason for seeking assistance.
This shows that addressing violence against women is an essential first step to reducing homelessness.
The Government has appointed a National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
The Council will develop a National Plan to reduce the incidence and impact of domestic and family violence and sexual assault against women and their children.
It will focus on services for victims and survivors, legal issues, working with perpetrators and educating young people about respectful relationships.
Since its appointment, the Council has consulted widely – through service providers, interviews with victims and perpetrators, as well as public submissions.
The Council also visited a number of rural and remote areas in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, including the Torres Strait.
It held three specialist roundtables – focusing on working with perpetrators; Indigenous healing; and judicial and restorative justice.
Closing the gap
The Government is determined to provide real opportunities to improve the safety, health and wellbeing for Indigenous Australians.
On 13 October 2008 the Government released the report of the independent review of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).
The Review Board concluded that the situation in remote Northern Territory communities and town camps remains sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency and that the NTER should continue.
The Government has accepted the three overarching recommendations made by the Review Board:
- That the Australian and Northern Territory Governments recognise as a matter of urgent national significance the need to address disadvantage and social dislocation in remote communities and town camps in the Northern Territory.
- That government resets their relationship with Indigenous people based on genuine consultation, engagement and partnership.
- That government respects Australia’s human rights obligations and conform with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
The NTER will continue, and be strengthened – to protect women and children, reduce alcohol-fuelled violence, promote personal responsibility and rebuild communities in Indigenous communities.
The Government will respond in full to the Review Board’s recommendations in the coming months.
It is also important to assist people who have a home – but may be at risk of losing it.
That is why the May Budget doubled funding for financial counselling and support services for people experiencing financial stress.
This will increase the capacity of existing counsellors and establish new services in high need areas, helping more families who are facing financial stress.
In addition, $10 million will be provided to develop and distribute easy to understand and practical financial management information products, including on issues surrounding mortgages, credit cards, hire purchase usage and similar financial issues.
These products will be designed to assist people in, or at risk of, financial stress, and will be distributed through Centrelink’s Financial Information Service and other providers of financial information and counselling.
Working in partnership – the ‘National Compact’
While it is easy to talk about helping disadvantaged Australians, none of our new programs can work without the community sector.
We rely on you to deliver key services and social policy reforms, particularly in housing, child protection and Indigenous affairs.
The success of these reforms depends on a solid partnership between Government and the not-for-profit sector – a partnership based on mutual respect and trust.
The Government is exploring new ways to develop a stronger relationship with the not-for-profit sector.
One of the ways we can do this is through a ‘National Compact’.
This is an agreement between the Government and the not-for-profit sector – outlining how we will work together, now and into the future.
We have removed ‘gag’ clauses from contracts – giving not-for-profit organisations the independence to speak their own mind, and a better voice to represent their sector.
ACOSS is undertaking preliminary consultations to seek your ideas about what should be included in the National Compact.
These consultations have recently concluded and we are now compiling the information and feedback provided by those who participated.
The Rudd Government is committed to improving opportunities for disadvantaged Australians.
By working together, we can help build a society which includes even the most marginalised Australians.