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Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Launch of the Nepean Regional Taskforce on Homelessness, Penrith NSW

Location: Penrith City Council Civic Centre, Penrith, New South Wales

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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Dharrug people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I also acknowledge:

  • Felicity Reynolds, CEO, Mercy Foundation;
  • Doug Taylor, CEO United Way;
  • Mary Waterford, Executive Officer, Western Sydney Community Forum;
  • Nick Sabel, Wentworth Community Housing;
  • David Bradbury, Federal Member for Lindsay; and
  • Phil Koperberg, State Member for Blue Mountains.

Late last month the Prime Minister – who had just flown in from Perth and attended his last event for the day – made a private visit to Melbourne City Mission, an outstanding youth homelessness service.

There he met three young people who had been homeless.

With the help of Melbourne City Mission’s Frontyard – a one stop shop for young homeless people – they were now housed and getting back on their feet.

The Prime Minister spent quite some time listening to Russell – an upbeat young man in his early 20s – who usually leads Melbourne City Mission’s youth homelessness walking tours.

He heard about the barriers and struggles Russell has faced and, now that his life has turned around, his aspirations for a long and happy life.

The Prime Minister does not usually let me tell others about his visits to homelessness services around the country.

But I think it is an important way for me to reinforce the importance of the work you all do – every day and every night of the year.

It should also tell you why this Government is making the most significant investment in housing and homelessness programs in Australia’s recent history.

On the ABC’s Four Corners program last week we heard the heart-wrenching stories of homeless families from this part of Sydney.

Viewers saw and felt what many of you see and feel every day on western Sydney streets.

These families and many others are the clients you work tireless with every day.

In a rich country like Australia, it is just not right that the Lightbody, Sabjan, Phillis and Sosaice families are in such a desperate situation.

Four Corners highlighted that homelessness can happen to anyone and for different reasons – something which the Government recognised through the Homelessness White Paper that was released in December last year.

The White Paper is a road map – to achieve ambitious, but achievable targets to:

  • Halve overall homelessness by 2020; and
  • Offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.

These goals are ambitious but achievable.

Other countries who have sought to reduce homelessness have focussed their efforts on rough sleepers and people who are chronically homeless.

Our commitment goes further – and includes people who are marginally housed and living in insecure accommodation.

This makes the Australian Government’s commitment the most comprehensive commitment to tackling homelessness made by any developed nation.

Our goals are backed by a record investment in homelessness services and the biggest one off investment in social housing ever made.

Under the National Partnership on Homelessness, the Australian, State and Territory Governments are investing $1.1 billion in a new range of services to meet the goals of the White Paper.

The new approach focuses on preventing homelessness, reducing its duration and impact, and on ending homelessness permanently – not just alleviating it temporarily.

The White Paper makes it clear that responses to homelessness must be tailored to local conditions.

Services need to come together better at a local level.

That is why the Nepean Regional Task Force on Homelessness is critical.

The Taskforce will oversee a whole-of-region effort to reduce homelessness.

It is an initiative which has brought together the four local Councils, the critical government agencies, representatives of over 600 community organisations and the business community to plan to end homelessness.

No doubt there have been many hurdles and pitfalls along the way.

Today, though, I want to congratulate all of you on this fantastic achievement.

Since the release of the White Paper, all States and Territories have now launched their own Implementation Plans.

These plans set out how they will tackle homelessness.

These Plans are detailed documents that will evolve over time – as we learn more about the most successful ways of preventing and responding to homelessness.

For instance, here in New South Wales – over 200 more women and children experiencing domestic and family violence will get help to stabilise their housing in the Illawarra, western Sydney and Hunter regions through rental subsidies and access to long term accommodation and support.

Six hundred people will get help through rental bonds and advanced rent payments from Rentstart to access the private rental market.

Up to 700 people in the Richmond/Tweed and mid north coast regions will be helped to maintain their tenancies, avoid eviction and the need to use crisis accommodation.

Under its Implementation Plan the NSW Government will work with the non-government sector to draw up regional plans to address homelessness.

Clearly the findings of the Nepean Regional Taskforce will be a fantastic source of information for the NSW Government in putting together the Greater Western Sydney Regional Action Plan.

As you all know – we will never reduce homelessness until we start providing more houses.

These new homes must include more social housing – and more specialist accommodation that comes with targeted, wrap-around support so that people, once housed, can stay housed.

Our new building programs include additional housing for people at risk of homelessness as well as specialist accommodation for rough sleepers.

Recently I announced that under our new housing programs, we will build 40 new specialist homelessness projects across the country.

The new projects will provide over 1,600 new homes for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness linked to services.

These new projects are innovative forms of accommodation which combine permanent accommodation with intensive support to meet their often complex needs.

A large share of the 1,600 new specialist dwellings will house homeless families – like the families we saw on Four Corners.

Here in New South Wales, 65 new homes will be built for families who are homeless and another 30 homes will be built as long-term accommodation for women and children leaving violence.

In total over the next four years – Australian Government housing programs will increase affordable housing stock by 80,000 homes – 50,000 affordable rental homes and 30,000 social housing dwellings.

$5.7 billion is being invested in the Social Housing Initiative – making it the single largest investment in social housing ever undertaken by an Australian Government.

This program will build 19,200 new homes with the assistance of State and Territory Governments and the not-for-profit sector, and refurbish more than 60,000 existing properties.

Already over 35,000 homes have had repairs and maintenance work completed; and a further 15,000 homes benefiting from work on common areas.

Our plan was for this work to return 2,500 homes to stock – homes that might otherwise be uninhabitable within two years without this investment.

But we now know that the repairs and maintenance program will return over 10,000 homes to stock – four times what we expected.

Of the 6,110 new homes that will be delivered in New South Wales – I expect around a third will be here in western Sydney.

Around Australia, construction has already commenced on 1,508 new homes – with 28 homes completed and the first families moving in.

The Government is also investing more than $1 billion in the National Rental Affordability Scheme over the next four years to increase the supply of new, affordable rental homes across Australia.

This innovative new program will help build up to 50,000 new properties across Australia by 2012, which will then be rented out at a minimum 20 per cent below market rate.

Across western Sydney, the Government has already awarded incentives to create nearly 1,500 new affordable rental homes.

More than 200 of these are in and around Penrith itself – with 130 more at Bankstown and around 100 in the Fairfield area.

I am not going to pretend that these new programs will help every single person who experiences homelessness in this region – but what it does show is that we take this problem very seriously.

None of this can be achieved unless we have people on the ground in our communities doing the heavy lifting.

People like Stephanie Brennan who put their heart and soul into their work for people who are homeless – every day and night of the year.

The Nepean Regional Taskforce on Homelessness is a wonderful initiative to bring together a strong and united front of organisations with government to develop a plan to tackle homelessness in the region.

It is my great pleasure to launch the Nepean Regional Taskforce on Homelessness today.

With this unprecedented level of cooperation we can break this vicious cycle of homelessness in the western Sydney region.

Again thank you to Stephanie Brennan and everyone else who has contributed to this inspiring campaign.