Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Speaking notes for launch of Common Ground

Location: KPMG, 10 Shelley Street, Sydney

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I would like to begin by respectfully acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

Thank you for your kind introduction Chris (Jordan, Chair of KPMG NSW).

I also acknowledge:

  • Therese Rein, Patron of Common Ground;
  • Daniel Grollo, Chief Executive of Grocon Pty Ltd; and
  • NSW Housing Minister David Borger and NSW Community Services Minister Linda Burney
  • Councillor Marcelle Hoff and Monica Barone from the City of Sydney.

It is fabulous to be here for the launch of Common Ground Sydney.

When I visited Common Ground in Adelaide with the Patron of the Common Ground movement in Australia, Therese Rein, one of the residents – lets call him Peter – made us a delicious sponge.

He also took me onto the balcony of his immaculately tidy little unit and pointed across the street to an abandoned old petrol station.

He told me he had slept there every night for three years.

From street to home; that is what Common Ground is about.

The other people I met on that visit were the business owners and community leaders who contributed their money, their time, their goods and their skills to Common Ground Adelaide.

They were almost as grateful as Peter for the chance to be involved: to give something back to the community that had been so good to them and to see the real changes their contributions made every day to the lives of some vulnerable Australians.

Common Ground is a great platform for government and business sectors to combine to help homeless Australians reverse their fortunes.

Homelessness in Australia

New data from the 2006 Census that was released last week found that on any given night in Australia, 105,100 of our fellow citizens are homeless.

This represented an increase of 5,100 people compared to five years earlier. At a time when the economy was growing steadily, so were the numbers of homeless Australians.

There was a 16 per cent increase in the number of people who sleep rough between 2001 and 2006: from 14,000 to 16,000 people.

In New South Wales on any given night, there are more than 27,000 homeless people.

That is more than the total population of major regional centres like Grafton, Broken Hill, Nowra or Taree.

More than 3,500 people in NSW sleep rough, in tents or cars, or under bridges.

In Sydney you do not have to go much further than Martin Place, or across the road from my old place in Woolloomooloo.

In inner Sydney alone there were 380 rough sleepers on census night.

There are another 275 people in inner Sydney sleeping on the couch of a friend or relative and others are just getting by in boarding houses.

In 2006-07, homeless services in New South Wales helped almost 32,000 people.

Nearly a third of these people were Indigenous Australians and the big change in the face of homelessness is we are seeing more children and more families who have become homeless.

White Paper on Homelessness

In recent months our Government has been working on our White Paper on homelessness.

Submissions from services here today – such as the Mercy Foundation, Common Ground Adelaide and HomeGround services all highlighted the need for affordable housing and flexible support for homeless people.

We are grateful for the effort that individuals and organisations put into those submissions, which we have been reading carefully.

They will inform the White Paper which will go to Cabinet later this month and be publicly released in October.

The White Paper will include a comprehensive, long-term action plan to reduce homelessness to 2020.

It presents an opportunity for governments at all levels to commit to tackling homelessness, and I was thrilled to hear the new Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees, nominate homelessness as an area of special attention for his administration.

I see the White Paper as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and am determined to make changes that last.

Common Ground

One way of breaking the cycle of homelessness is Common Ground.

Common Ground is based on the principle that people need both stability and support to address the issues that led to them becoming homeless.

Common Ground provides people with permanent, affordable housing first.

The model then adds tailored support that allows a person to get well and gain independent living skills.

Common Ground recognises that people need services ‘under one roof’ and that people with high and complex needs benefit from ‘wrap around support’.

An innovation in these models is their use of private and community sector partnerships – as Daniel and Stephen spoke about earlier.

The Australian Government is a strong supporter of the Common Ground model.

I can announce today that the Government would be delighted to work with our NSW colleagues to establish Common Ground here in Sydney.


Homelessness is a very complex problem.

But the Government is confident we can reduce homelessness over the next decade by taking action now.

I salute Common Ground Sydney for joining the fight.

You will be a valuable partner on the long road ahead.

Musical director Jonathon Welch once described his Choir of Hard Knocks as giving other homeless people ‘a voice out of the dark’.

Through this choir, the value and worth of street people was seen in a whole new shade by the Australian community.

If you had pitched that idea: a choir of people who mostly had not sung a note, many of the choristers homeless or suffering mental illness, who go on to play the Opera House, meet the Prime Minister and tour the country singing, people would have thought you madly ambitious.

It is not naive, in a country as wealthy and as generous, as fair and egalitarian as Australia to believe we can do much better than we have in fighting homelessness.

It is logical to see permanent accommodation like Common Ground as part of the solution.

With the commitment of Common Ground Australia, their dynamic patron Therese Rein, the support of three levels of Government, the community and the business sector, I believe we can make enormous gains.

I hope each of you here today will consider what contribution you or your business can make to the great project of housing Australians.