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Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Queensland Shelter Conference Keynote Address

Location: Hilton Hotel, Elizabeth St, Brisbane

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Acknowledgements

  • Ms Wynn Hopkins Chair of QLD Shelter
  • Clare Martin ACOSS
  • Professor Julian Disney
  • Cr Anna Grosskreutz, Sunshine Coast Regional Council
  • Andrew Bartlett

I would like to acknowledge the Turrbal and the Jagera people, the traditional custodians of this land and pay respect to their elders, both past and present.

Thank you Adrian (Pisarski, Executive Officer Queensland Shelter) for your introduction.

I would particularly like to acknowledge Adrian’s tireless efforts in advancing the national housing policy debate.

Not a week goes by without Adrian writing or ringing me with ideas and comments on the developments in housing policy.

National Shelter, QLD Shelter and the other state Shelters have been of great assistance to me and our Government over the last fourteen months. And during my time in Opposition.

QLD Shelter plays a critical role in the provision of social housing in Queensland.

It constructively engages with government on housing policy – providing input and expertise. This in turn delivers better housing outcomes for Australia’s most disadvantaged.

So it is a great privilege to speak with you today and I thank you for your invitation.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all of you for your hard work and input – staff in homeless services, tenancy workers, government bureaucrats and community housing providers.

Your hard work and commitment will help build a fairer, and more just, housing system – boosting access to housing for disadvantaged Australians.

As all of you would know – many Australians find it hard to keep a roof over their heads.

In QLD, there are nearly 4,000 aged pensioners in the private rental market, who after receiving Rent Assistance, are spending more than 50%of their income on rent.

And there are nearly 30,000 homeless people across Queensland on any given night.

Once renting was a temporary tenure for many families; now some families expect to be in the private rental market for most of their lives.

Rental vacancy rates are still below two per cent in most capital cities.

These difficulties have only been compounded by the global financial crisis.

Our housing vision

Being here today gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in meeting these significant challenges.

In the fourteen short months of government we have been determined to build a national housing agenda. We have been focussed on making housing more affordable particularly for low and middle income Australians.

As a Government we want people at risk of homelessness to achieve sustainable housing and social inclusion.

We want people to be able to rent housing that meets their needs.

We want people to be able to purchase affordable housing.

We want Indigenous people to have the same housing opportunities as other Australians, to have better housing amenity and reduced overcrowding, particularly in remote areas.

And with record levels of investment nationally – including here in QLD – we are well on the way to achieving it.

As the result of your collective work over the past 14 months – and the considerable work many of you did in the decade without a federal Housing Minister – we are now in an enviable position.

Queensland will receive a record $1.9 billion additional funding for housing over the next five years.

This is an unprecedented level of investment in housing in QLD.

This new funding will build new public and community housing as well as Indigenous housing in remote communities. It will also deliver additional services and specialist accommodation for homeless people.

It contrasts with the $3 billion cut out of social housing across the country over the previous decade. No Federal Housing Minister. No focus on housing policy at a federal level.

We now have a growing housing policy expertise at a federal level.

And a government – including a Prime Minister and Treasurer – who are strongly committed to a Federal housing agenda and to halving homelessness by 2020.

I now want to talk about some of our achievements in a little more detail.

The National Affordable Housing Agreement

As many of you know we now have a National Affordable Housing Agreement – agreed to through the Council of Australian Governments.

This agreement marks a new era in Commonwealth-State relations.

The agreement establishes a framework for all levels of Government to work together to tackle housing affordability and availability.

The agreement links all our housing measures and is the mechanism by which we will deliver them.

Like all the five agreements across Government – the National Affordable Housing Agreement (or NAHA) makes it clear that States and Territories are responsible for the day-to-day delivery of services.

Housing needs are different for people in Mackay and St Kilda.

State governments should be better at delivering measures and programs which address the needs of people in their own State, because they should have specialist local knowledge.

But with more flexibility in delivery mechanisms comes a great responsibility to deliver results.

This new approach brings looser controls on inputs but much tighter controls on the achievement of long term housing outcomes.

Through this agreement, all governments have committed to a range of reforms to address housing affordability.

These include changing the way we help people who are homeless and expanding services we offer to people across housing tenures.

The reforms will also make the housing market more efficient.

The National Rental Affordability Scheme

As part of our vision for an efficient and affordable housing market the Australian Government established the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

We have the Housing Affordability Summit Group and Professor Julian Disney to thank for their initial efforts in helping to design the Scheme.

At a cost of $623 million, the Scheme offers tax incentives to providers of affordable housing to build new rental homes for rent to low income families at 20% below market rates.

Over the next four years the Scheme help build up to 50,000 new affordable rental dwellings – with another 50,000 to follow if there is a sufficient demand.

This demonstrates the Government’s long term commitment to affordable rental housing.

We have already allocated more than 2,600 incentives to projects across the country.

448 of these dwellings are now being built across Queensland – in places like Ningi, Southport, Gimpie and Newstead. The first tenants have already moved in to dwellings under the Scheme.

And more homes are to come soon – with strong interest in Round 2.

The White Paper on homelessness

The Australian Government has also made reducing homelessness a national priority.

I was very proud to launch the White Paper on Homelessness with the Prime Minister just before Christmas.

As you would know Queensland has the highest number of rough sleepers in the country.

Queensland also has a high rate of rural homelessness: 73% of people who are homeless in Queensland are in rural and remote areas.

The White Paper lays out a plan for tackling homelessness until 2020.

The Government has set ambitious goals and I am confident that they can be achieved.

By 2020 we aim to halve overall homelessness and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it.

To achieve these goals the White Paper lays out three strategies:

  • Firstly we will turn off the tap – through early support and intervention to prevent homelessness.
  • Secondly we will improve and expand services so that they are better connected and more responsive; we want services to be able to deliver better housing outcomes and improve economic and social participation for their clients.
  • Finally we will break the cycle of homelessness by assisting people who become homeless to move quickly through the crisis system and into stable housing with the support they need to end their homelessness. We’ve set some interim targets to 2013 to make sure we can track our progress.

For example we aim to:

  • reduce overall homelessness by 20% by 2013;
  • reduce the number of people existing from care or mental health setting into homelessness by 25%; and
  • boost the number of families who stay safely in their homes following domestic violence by 20%

The COAG Reform Council will monitor state and territory government performance.

To drive the broader agenda on homelessness the Prime Minister will appoint a Council on Homelessness. We expect this to happen later this year.

The Council will report to the Prime Minister annually – to keep a national focus on reducing homelessness.

This year we will also begin consulting with homeless service providers and homeless people themselves about new legislation to replace the SAAP Act. New laws will guarantee that homeless people receive quality services.

For me, success will mean fewer people becoming homeless and if they do they will be moved quickly to permanent housing that is affordable or has specialised support.

And it will mean the underlying causes of homelessness will be dealt with and that we will do more to intervene early to prevent homelessness.

We will be holding information sessions on the implementation of the White Paper across the country at the end of March and I would encourage you all to come along to discuss our plans with us.

The Nation Building and Jobs Plan

A few weeks ago Adrian Pisarski, described by Adele Horin in the Sydney Morning Herald as ‘perenially cranky’, found himself with something to smile about.

As part of the Government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan – the second of the Government’s stimulus packages – we committed a record additional $6.4 billion to public and community housing.

In fact I had National Shelter’s press release calling for a $2 billion investment in public housing in front of me when I called Adrian to tell him.

This is the single largest investment ever made by any Government in social housing.

This injection of an additional $6.4 billion over four years will be spent on social housing construction and repairs and maintenance.

It will keep the building and construction industries strong and support up to 15,000 additional jobs.

The Government will construct 20,000 new environmentally sustainable social housing dwellings. This includes bringing forward the construction of about 2,300 social dwellings which were already planned and approved.

This substantial investment in social housing will deliver around 4000 new social housing homes in Queensland alone.

The program will also fund urgent maintenance to existing dwellings.

In this year alone this new funding will deliver upgrades to social housing dwellings – including homes that would otherwise be lost. This will ensure that tenants can stay living in them.

National Shelter’s media release endorsing the announcement said:

  • This is the biggest post war public housing investment this country has seen, and is one that the Rudd Government should be proud of.
  • After 10 years of reduced funding from the Howard Government, this is an unbelievable result for the people doing it toughest in this country.

ACOSS agreed saying:

  • The economic stimulus package will see extraordinary investment in social housing, ensuring more low income families have a secure place to call home.

We are spending this new money in three stages.

First we are fixing homes to keep them liveable and fast tracking those that need maintenance.

Secondly we have allocated nearly $700 million for planned and approved projects delivering 2,300 homes which can be brought forward. These will be decided by April after which building will commence.

Thirdly, states and territories will run a Commonwealth Government-approved tender for new construction, including the spot purchases of house and land packages for use as public and community housing.

We want to see a range of builders in this stage – builders from the private and community housing sectors, although title will be with either community or social housing agencies.

This will be open tendering process – and we expect to made final decisions by September 2009.

To have the stimulus effect that our economy needs and support critical jobs in the construction industry – we need to approve and build most of these new homes by the end of the next year.

And that’s not all – the $6.4 billion investment comes with strings attached.

We have set out significant reforms to public housing that we would like to see in return for this new investment.

For one – we want to grow the things that work – like community housing.

This will introduce greater contestability into the housing system – which in turn brings innovation.

You are lucky enough to have two of the best community housing providers in the country right here in Queensland – Brisbane Housing Company and Gold Coast Housing.

Brisbane Housing Company is in fact the largest community housing provider in Australia – and was seeded by the Queensland Government in 2002 with a capital grant of $50 million.

It has grown substantially now managing over 600 dwellings.

It is these sorts of organisations – which provide quality dwellings, innovative housing models and 5 star tenancy services – that we want to grow through our historic housing investment.

We also want states and territories to have simple, single entry points into their social housing systems.

The reforms we are driving nationally will deliver innovative, nimble, responsive systems that improve social and economic outcomes for tenants and allow tenants maximum choice and agency.

As you can see there is no time to rest – we need all shoulders to the wheel to make this work.

This package helps us meet our targets on homelessness.

It helps us assist the most poor and disadvantaged Australians.

It contributes to the growth and reform of the social housing sector in this country and it supports jobs in construction and maintenance.

Conclusion

The Government is committed to making housing more affordable and providing more choices for Australian households.

We have worked hard over the past 14 months and – with your advice and help – we have made great headway implementing measures to help make housing more affordable.

We must continue to build on the work we have already done.

While we must be mindful of the difficult financial times, we should not be deterred from our great housing challenge.

It is in fact in these difficult economic times that we should pursue – with vigour – our nation building agenda.

We need to work together to provide all Australians with safe, stable and affordable shelter from where they can raise a family, work and rest.

I am always encouraged by the genuine enthusiasm and commitment of people in the housing sector willing to work together to address the national housing challenge.

I trust we will all continue in this spirit to maintain the momentum over the next few critical years.

Congratulations to Queensland Shelter and I trust you will all enjoy the rest of the day.