Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Catholic Health Australia – Catholic Agencies Forum

Location: Catholic Agencies Forum, Sydney

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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects the elders both past and present.

I would like to thank Martin [Laverty, CEO, Catholic Health Australia] and Frank [Quinlan, CEO, Catholic Social Services] for their introduction.

Thank you all for coming along today – I appreciate your interest in this critical issue – the future of social housing in Australia.

In 2009, we are facing a vastly different global economic environment to the one we knew even just a year ago.

As you are aware we are in the worst economic crisis since the Second World War.

It’s a crisis which has delivered recessions in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan and the European Union.

The impact of this global recession is now hitting home.

It has begun to impact on the everyday lives of many Australians.

As workers in critical front line agencies you are the canaries in the coalmine.

More than anyone – you work tirelessly each day with families and individuals affected by poverty and chronic disadvantage.

I know that you are seeing people coming to your services who have never before had to rely on emergency relief, request a cash payment or seek shelter.

In these difficult economic times – the first, and hardest, to be hit are our most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians.

As the Prime Minister and Treasurer have made very clear – Australia more than most other developed nations – is well placed to weather the global financial storm.

But the scale, intensity and global nature of this financial crisis means that its impact is impossible to escape.

With your emergency relief budgets stretched more than ever before – we know it is making service provision even more difficult.

Of course individuals and their families are hardest hit: in February, unemployment across Australia rose by 47,000 people.

Decisive and immediate action is required to meet the triple challenges of strengthening the economy, supporting employment and supporting vulnerable Australians who are the victims of this crisis.

We need to cushion the impact of the crisis by carefully coordinating the use of our economic and social policy levers.

Our Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan – $10.4 billion stimulus in October and a $42 billion stimulus in February – has delivered direct assistance to households, it has stimulated the housing and construction industry and it has delivered historic investment in critical social infrastructure.

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister announced a Jobs and Training Compact.

It aims to prevent today’s school leavers becoming tomorrow’s long-term unemployed – by making sure every young person has access to school, training or employment.

It will assist Australians who have been retrenched – making it easier for retrenched workers to access Newstart Allowance by changing the eligibility criteria so it is twice as easy to meet as it was before.

And we will invest a further $300 million to help retrenched workers to get immediate access to appropriate employment assistance to help find training or a new job.

We are also supporting communities where unemployment has hit hard – to support jobs and prevent social exclusion.

On top of this we have established a $650 million Local Jobs Fund.

This fund will help create job and training opportunities for people in communities most affected by the downturn. It will also provide for start-up capital for innovative social enterprises.

This could provide many of your organisations with opportunities to get your clients back into work – through supported work place programs and social enterprises.

But despite evidence that our decisive action – on economic and social policy fronts – has successfully stimulated the economy – these difficult economic times are not over.

The crisis continues – and its effects will continue to play out even when the global economy begins to recover.

Which is why we look to critical agencies and services like many of you here today.

As the Prime Minister said at one of the many community jobs forums he has been attending across the country over the past week: it doesn’t matter what part of the country you’re from – whether you’re from business, the community or church sector or from federal government, state government or local government – we are all in this together.

If we work in tandem together – our jointly coordinated actions, our work in partnership and in cooperation will be more effective.

In this spirit – I want to talk with you about some other opportunities – particularly in housing – for us to work together.

After more than a decade of inaction and reduced investment – housing is once again a national priority for the Australian Government.

We have put in place $20 billion worth of policies and measures right across the housing market – from home ownership to homelessness.

Our initiatives are assisting Australians in all forms of housing tenure.

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National Rental Affordability Scheme

Firstly as many of you are aware we are significantly increasing the supply of affordable rental homes for low and moderate income Australians.

The Government is delivering 50,000 new affordable rental properties across Australia over the next four years under our National Rental Affordability Scheme.

The Scheme provides tax incentives to those who build new rental housing that it is rented to low and moderate income households at a 20 per cent discount to market.

At the end of last month I announced the first successful applicants under the Scheme – who have already begun building the first 4,000 new affordable rental homes.

About 600 of these dwellings – one fifth – include special features which make them accessible and suitable for older Australians.

Some specifically target low income renters over 70 years old.

Others include specialist rental homes for people with a disability.

Many other projects – across Australia – include affordable rental homes which can be modified over time for people with disabilities and people who are ageing.

Round Two of our Scheme closed three weeks ago and my early advice is that we have applications for more than 20,000 incentives.

There is a growing interest from the aged care and charity sectors to build rental homes under our Scheme.

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The Australian government has also made homelessness a national priority.

The Prime Minister has made a very public, and personal, commitment to reducing homelessness.

One of the Government’s first acts at the beginning of our term was to commission a White Paper on Homelessness.

The White Paper – The Road Home – was launched just before Christmas last year. It sets out a national action plan for reducing homelessness

In the White Paper we set goals to halve homelessness by 2020 and to provide accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it.

These are bold goals and I am confident that they can be achieved.

We’ve also set interim goals to 2013 to make sure we can track out progress.

As part of the White Paper, the Australian Government, in partnership with the states and territories, have committed to an additional $1.2 billion to help homeless Australians over four years.

This is a 55 per cent increase in funding and will enable new support services to be created for people who are homeless, as well as new houses to be built.

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Social housing – Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan

On top of this – in February the Australian Government made the single biggest investment in social housing.

Over the next four years the Australian Government will spend $6 billion to build 20,000 new social housing dwellings.

This will provide much needed accommodation to many disadvantaged people, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

As we know this includes people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

States and territories have agreed that the tenants to be housed in these new homes will come from the high priority public housing waiting list.

This will greatly assist us to meet our goal to halve homelessness by 2020.

A further $400 million will be spent over the next two years for repairs and maintenance on more than 45,000 social housing dwellings across the country.

As many as 10,000 of these homes would have otherwise been lost to the public housing stock if the repair work had not been done.

The repair and maintenance work includes internal and external painting , bathrooms and kitchen renovations, new windows, roof repairs and fencing to name a few.

This work began a month ago.

The new social housing dwelling s will be delivered in two stages – Stage One is for houses which were already in the pipeline that were brought forward.

This funding under Stage One was allocated to the States and Territories two weeks ago.

NSW received $225 million as part of the Stage One construction – and building can now begin.

The bulk of the new social housing dwellings will be built in Stage Two.

States and Territories have begun to put in place tendering arrangements for organisations – including not for profit and private developers – who want to be part of this historic opportunity to deliver new social housing.

75 per cent of the dwellings constructed through this initiative will be completed by December next year.

These dwellings will meet the needs of people on public housing waiting lists, including age and disability pensioners, Indigenous people and women with children escaping domestic violence.

These new dwellings will reduce the public housing waiting list time for people with high housing needs by 50% – particularly for those who are homeless.

This is the most ambitious plan to improve housing in decades.

This package will provide an immediate stimulus to the building and construction industry, sustaining an estimated 15,000 jobs.

It is also a massive opportunity to reform our social housing system – a system that now takes in community, not for profit and cooperative housing agencies as well as the State run public housing departments.

A month ago, in a speech to the Sydney Institute I laid out the Government’s social housing reform agenda.

The centrepiece of our agenda is to facilitate the growth of a number of sophisticated not for profit housing organisations that will operate alongside existing state-run housing authorities.

In 2007, community housing organisations held 34,700 properties nationally.

This compares with 340,000 held by state housing authorities.

It is my strong view that growing a range of sophisticated housing providers will offer a means to deliver the innovation, flexibility and commerciality we need to transform our social housing system.

Over the next five years, I would like to see more large, commercially sophisticated not for profit housing organisations emerge and operate along side the existing state and territory housing departments.

These not for profit housing organisations could come for the existing ranks of community housing organisations, aged care providers or other large not-for-profits.

I would like to see these housing providers operate in different markets – including across State borders – and provide a range of housing products and housing support for low and moderate income Australians.

This conference is all about ‘housing opportunities’.

So I say to you: the Australian Government has made a historic investment in social and affordable housing.

We will build 50,000 affordable rental homes through the National Rental Affordability Scheme and another 20,000 social housing dwellings through the social housing part of the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan.

That is a total of at least 70,000 new homes.

These significant funding streams will develop the social housing system we need for the future.

And this social housing system must include new providers, at scale, to bring contestability to social housing for the first time.

I expect a significant proportion of the 20,000 new social housing dwellings to be transferred to community housing providers over the next five years.

As part of this, we will introduce a national regulatory and registration system for not-for-profit housing providers.

For those of you who are interested in seizing this opportunity to be involved in this historic opportunity – I would be pleased to talk with you further about how you could be involved and any perceived barriers to your involvement.

As the Prime Minister said – we are all in this together.

I am committed to deliver the new housing quickly – to provide safe and stable housing for people who need it most.

You are experts in delivering support for some of the most disadvantaged Australians – so I would welcome a further discussion with you about how we could best work together.

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The Australian Government recognises that we need urgent action to build more homes for all Australians, including low income families and homeless Australians.

For the disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians finding and keeping a home is critical.

Many of the things we all take for granted would be impossible without safe and secure housing.

The Australian Government is taking action, and with the States and Territories, we are confident our ambitious social housing building and reform program can be delivered.

I look forward to working with you on these critical, national priorities.

Thank you.