Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Opening of the NSW Shelter Conference, Sydney

Location: NSW Teachers Federation Convention Centre, Surry Hills, Sydney

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

  • The Hon. David Borger MP, NSW Housing Minister
  • Mr Mike Allen, Director-General, Housing NSW


A few weeks ago I went to Yennora to visit the Sada family.

The Sada’s had just moved in to the first house to be completed as part of the Australian Government’s investment in social housing.

The building is a quality house – a secure home for Mr and Mrs Sada and their three children who have spent years on the public housing waiting list.

One of the children has a serious disability.

The house is fit. Fortunately the house has been built with wider hallways and doorways that will easily accommodate his wheelchair.

It also has a water tank and is fitted with energy efficient devices that will keep running costs lower.

While I was there I was pleased to meet a number of staff from Degree Constructions – the small building company that had just finished the house.

The supervisor told me that 52 people had worked were involved in building the house – including three apprentices.

One of those apprentices had been put on for the first time because Degree Constructions had won so much work as a result of the Government’s investment.

I tell this story because it is a great illustration of how the Government is responding to the current global financial crisis.

The Government’s plan is to support jobs today by investing in the infrastructure Australia needs for tomorrow.

Housing – particularly housing for lower income people – is infrastructure Australia needs.

The Australian Government is investing $6.4 billion to build 20,000 new social housing dwellings and repair over 47,000 existing dwellings.

In New South Wales, we are investing almost $2 billion to construct around 6,500 new social housing dwellings.

The State Government will be able to repair 31,146 dwellings many of which would have fallen into disrepair had nothing been done.

This is a long term legacy that will make a huge difference to people in our community for many years to come.

Government’s housing agenda

The Federal Government was elected with a comprehensive housing agenda.

Since we came to government we have committed $20 billion to housing initiatives.

This includes

  • Our stimulus measures – the First Home Owners Boost and investment in social housing.
  • Funds for the National Affordable Housing Agreement that supports the ongoing operation of homelessness services as well as public and community housing.
  • New programs such as the National Rental Affordability Scheme and that National Partnership on homelessness that will fundamentally change the housing landscape in Australia.

Alongside new funding, the Australian Government is committed to a major reform agenda in housing.


We have committed to halve homelessness by 2020 and offer accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it.

The Road Home – the Government’s White Paper on Homelessness – set out the reforms that we need.

We need to focus more on preventing homelessness.

Last month I visited the Staying Home, Leaving Violence program in Bega – an excellent example of a service that is helping to keep women safe from domestic violence and stay in their own home.

Staying Home Leaving Violence has shown that well planned models that bring services together can make a big impact and prevent homelessness.

The NSW Government had made the decision to roll out the model across NSW – a decision I strongly support.

This is exactly the kind of approach I want to be taking to homelessness prevention.

In the midst of the current economic crisis, both levels of Government have expanded legal and financial services to help people to negotiate their finances so that they can stay in stable housing.

The White Paper commits Governments to creating a more connected service system.

The evidence is clear that to end homelessness for people accommodation providers need to work with health, employment and community services to help people to both get a house and keep it for the long term.

The White Paper calls for services that break the cycle of homelessness.

Too many people cycle through our hospitals, shelters and police stations without finding someone who will sit down and help them get on a path to long term stable housing.

For too long we have not focused on the 12,000 children who become homeless – creating a cycle where homeless children become homeless youth and then homeless adults.

Right now the Australian Government is working with State and Territory Governments to finalise implementation plans under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

These plans will agree how new funding will be spent as well as how the service system will work together to reduce homelessness.

In NSW, over $283 million in Commonwealth and State matching funds are available to 2012-13 for NSW.

Last week, I was extremely pleased that the House of Representatives Committee on 16 June began an inquiry in the legislation that covers homelessness in Australia.

During the White Paper development, many people told us that it was important to update the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act that has governed homelessness services for many years.

I have asked the House of Reps Committee to conduct an inquiry into the values and principles that should be in a new Homelessness Act and how legislation can set quality standards for services to homeless people.

The Inquiry will report in December 2009, with submission open until 14 August. I would encourage you to think about making a submission on your views.

National Rental Affordability Scheme

Reducing homelessness requires more affordable housing – particularly in the social housing sector.

That’s why the Government has invested so much money into building new homes.

In addition to the 20,000 new social housing dwellings we are building, the National Rental Affordability Scheme will lead to a further 50,000 new affordable rental properties.

The Government created NRAS because we wanted to increase the number of affordable rental properties and guarantee that they will be leased to people on low incomes including key workers.

Interest has been extremely strong.

In Round One of NRAS, NSW received 1,074 new homes – 476 are in the inner city, 273 in outer metropolitan areas, 188 in regional towns and 134 are being built in rural communities.

In Round Two, we received applications for some 28,000 homes.

I have been fortunate to visit a number of NRAS projects over the last few months.

St George Community Housing, for example, is offering 100 affordable rental housing dwellings in Bankstown (50) and Leumeah (50) under Round One of NRAS.

I am happy to say that all 100 units are tenanted.

The 50 Bankstown units are within one development of 150 units, and are located close to transport, a major shopping centre, job opportunities and schools.

Two of the Bankstown units are fully wheelchair accessible, with a family caring for a disabled child occupying one of these units.

St George has told me that 100 dwellings would not have become available to tenants if it were not for NRAS.

Across the country organisations are using NRAS in different ways.

In Western Australia the Scheme is building independent accommodation for older people near an aged care facility that will give tenants better access to services.

In Melbourne, Mission Australia is building a number of studio apartments linked to social enterprises to create employment options for residents.

This week in Queensland, I inspected a new development that will provide accommodation for families.

This is a long term change to affordable rental housing in Australia.

For the first time we are starting to see interest from banks and institutional investors in residential housing as an asset class.

NRAS homes will be available for 10 years, providing greater security of tenure for tenants that many areas of the private rental market.

NRAS is a new way to finance affordable rental property and I encourage you all to think creatively about how to make use of this opportunity.

Community Housing Sector

The Government’s investment in social and affordable housing comes with a long term reform agenda.

Success for me will mean that social housing tenants and their children have better outcomes in life; social housing providers will be innovative, responsive and creative; and our housing system will be efficient and nimble.

I want some future Minister for Housing to hear from young families with kids who spent a few years in public housing when times were tough, and then, when they are able to get more hours at work, were able to purchase a small share of equity in their own home and eventually move to home ownership.

I want her to hear from older couples in public housing who live next door to young couples who are working to pay off their first home in the same apartment block.

And from a young person whose mental illness has stabilised and who is living in an affordable housing close to his family who provide crucial support.

The centrepiece of my agenda is to support the growth of a small number of sophisticated not for profit housing organisations that will operate alongside existing state run housing departments.

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

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

There are about 1,000 community housing providers in Australia.

Many are relatively small and have developed excellent expertise in managing tenancies often for specific groups of clients such as people with disabilities or older people.

A few – about 11 organisations nationally – are larger not for profit organisations that are building bigger balance sheets and becoming property developers in their own right.

Many are partnering with banks and private builders to increase the amount of affordable housing.

Many are also partnering with smaller tenancy managers in local communities or with particular population groups.

We will expand the number of not for profit housing organisations through a significant proportion of the new social housing dwellings being owned by the community housing sector.

And in some States – including NSW – it will be achieved by the transferring the title over existing stock to not for profit organisations.

Right now Governments are working on national regulatory systems that will guarantee that these organisations are well governed and a safe investment for government.

A stronger community housing sector offers a means to deliver the innovation, flexibility and commercial nous we need to transform our social housing system.

I also think it means a better deal for tenants.

Tenants in not for profit housing consistently report higher levels of satisfaction.

Not for profits are free to provide a range of housing products for low and moderate income Australians including social housing, subsidised rental homes for key workers, rent-to-buy programs and shared equity schemes.

Overseas not for profits housing associations are key players in renewing urban areas to create housing and jobs.

City West Housing is a good example of a organisation playing that role here in Australia.

Housing Ministers are currently working on a number projects that will underpin the new system.

They include:

  • A national regulatory system for not for profit providers
  • Prudential requirements for all social housing providers
  • Single waiting lists for people wanting social housing.

National Shelter

The Governments housing agenda is for long term reform beyond the immediate stimulus we are providing to the economy.

We need to get the details right and that means working closely with the organisations like Shelter.

That is why I am extremely pleased to announce that the Australian Government will be funding National Shelter to assist us in these reforms.

We will provide $200,000 over the next two years to National Shelter to provide advice on the rollout of our reforms, particularly from the perspective of tenants and consumers.

I have asked National Shelter to work with the State organisations and with tenants organisations as they do this work.

National Shelter has not received funding form the Commonwealth for many years and I am pleased that National Shelter will be able to participate in this process alongside other peak bodies such as the Community Housing Federation and Homelessness Australia.

I would now like to officially open the 2009 NSW Shelter Conference.

Thank you.