Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

National Homelessness Summit – Menzies Hotel, Sydney

Location: The Menzies Hotel, Sydney

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Last Wednesday night, 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 homeless 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.

Our Prime Minister has made reducing homelessness a national priority.

A little more than 15 months ago, back in May 2008, at an event much like this one – a national homelessness conference – the Prime Minister released the Australian Government’s Green Paper on homelessness.

The Green Paper sought to begin discussions with the broader Australian community on how we might tackle this challenge.

It was with great pride that together with the Prime Minister, just before Christmas last year I launched the Australian Government’s White Paper on Homelessness – The Road Home.

The White Paper set out the agreement of all governments to two long term goals.

We aim to:

  • halve the rate of homelessness by 2020, and
  • offer shelter for those 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.

But Australia’s commitment goes further – our goals also include those people who are marginally housed and living in insecure accommodation.

Our commitment is the most comprehensive commitment to tackling homelessness made by any developed nation.

Our goals are backed by a bold and coherent strategy, with substantial reforms to programs that assist homeless Australians.

Our goals are backed by a record additional investment in homelessness services and by the biggest investment in social housing in decades.

For all of us in this room it has been a busy time.

Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness held its first meeting.

As some of you would know the Council is being chaired by Tony Nicholson, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence who led our work on the White Paper.

The other seven members of the Council, like Mr Nicholson, are formidable and accomplished advocates for disadvantaged Australians.

Individually and collectively, they bring an unrivalled wealth of insight and experience to the Government’s homelessness reform agenda.

The Council confirmed its forward plan to provide the Government with independent advice on the progress, risks and emerging issues as we implement our White Paper on Homelessness.

National Partnership on Homelessness

As most of you would know I have now agreed to the Implementation Plans with all states territories under the National Partnership on Homelessness.

Under this Partnership, the Australian Government will provide $550 million over five years, to be matched by the States and Territories, to deliver a new range of services to meet White Paper goals.

This total of $1.1 billion of new funding for homelessness services and specialist accommodation allows us to take a new approach to homelessness.

This new approach focuses on preventing homelessness wherever possible, reducing the duration and impact of homelessness, and on ending homelessness permanently – not just alleviating it temporarily.

We find homeless Australians in cities and towns across our nation, but homelessness has many faces: children escaping domestic violence with their mums in our suburbs; families who can’t pay the rent; chronically homeless older men and women; Indigenous Australians.

The different faces of homelessness require different supports, and our approach has been to work with states and territories to find the approaches that work best for their populations.

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

The Plans set out how each state and territory will tackle homelessness.

For example 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 Areas through rental subsidies and access to long term accommodation and support.

Some 600 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 areas will be helped to maintain their tenancies, avoid eviction and the need to use crisis accommodation.

In Victoria, intensive psycho-social support packages will be provided for 50 people with mental illness and to help them to stabilise their lives and prevent recurrence of homelessness.

New Housing Support Workers will be located at major Victorian prisons to help prisoners transition to stable housing on release.

Each year a total of 500 children under 12 in Victoria will get help to maintain contact with school and to overcome the trauma of homelessness.

In South Australia, a legal and financial clinic for homeless people will provide free legal advice for about 250 people a year.

In Western Australia three new outreach teams supported by specialist mobile clinical units for mental health, drug and alcohol assessment, treatment and referral, will provide intensive help and accommodation for rough sleepers in Perth and Fremantle.

Eight specialist housing workers will help people leaving mental health services to find and maintain stable housing; five housing workers will give similar help for people leaving correctional facilities.

Women and children experiencing domestic and family violence will get help to stay in their housing, where it is safe for them to do so.

More houses for people who are homeless

I am very pleased to see these new initiatives which, alongside the already well established and successful existing mainstream and homelessness services, will go along way in helping us to meet our goals.

But, as you all know, we will not be able to reduce homelessness unless we build more houses for people who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness.

These new homes must include extra affordable public and community housing as well as specialist accommodation delivered together with targeted, wrap around support so that people, once housed, will stay housed.

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

Today I am pleased to announce that across 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.

Funding for the new services comes from a number of Commonwealth housing programs including the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan and the National Partnership Agreements on Social Housing and Homelessness.

I am delighted that many of these new projects are innovative forms of accommodation which combine permanent accommodation with intensive support to meet their often complex needs.

These projects also reflect the priorities that we identified in the White Paper.

For people who have been chronically homeless – eight Common Ground style developments will be built across the country – with at least one in each state. Tasmania and WA are building three or more of these facilities in their states.

Three new Foyer projects will be built – in NSW, SA and WA. As many of you know the Foyer model provides accommodation on the condition that young people participate in education and training and has been successful in the United Kingdom and Europe.

South Australia is also building three purpose built houses – each for five young people – where these young people will over time and where it is safe be reconnected with their families.

Victoria will get another Wintringham facility – a 43 unit development in Shepparton for frail homeless aged people.

Here in Redfern, Mission Australia will refurbish a home to provide residential aged care beds for 72 frail aged homeless people. South Australia are matching up 48 of their new social housing dwellings with intensive Home and Community Care packages for the frail aged at risk of homelessness.

A large share of the 1,600 new specialist dwellings will house homeless families. In South Australia, a cluster of 10 units will be built for families escaping family violence.

In NSW 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 kids leaving violence.

I am very pleased that State Governments and the not for profit sector – many of whom are in this room – have made such good use of the capital funding that is available to support kind of services that we need to reduce homelessness.

These services will complement the increase in public and community housing that will occur across so many of the Government’s programs.

Over the next four years Australian Government housing programs will see a net increase in the social and affordable housing stock of 80,000 homes – 50,000 affordable rental homes and 30,000 social housing dwellings.

State and Territory Governments have told us how many homes being built under the Nation Building and Economic Stimulus Plan they expect to be occupied by people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Early signs are extremely positive and I am expecting several thousand homes to be immediately occupied by people who are homeless.

A whole of government effort to reduce homelessness

The Australian government’s response to homelessness also links in many other areas of government endeavour. Through Centrelink, the Australian Government will employ 90 Community Contact Officers to provide enhanced Centrelink services to people who are at risk of homelessness.

The Australian Government will also fund more support and assistance for people living with severe mental illness – with the next round of the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program focussing on areas with high rates of homelessness.

The Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women will work to reduce domestic violence related homelessness.

The Australian Government has also doubled emergency relief funding to around $70 million in 2009-10 and 2010-11. This will provide significant assistance to charities to meet the needs of disadvantaged Australians – many of whom will be at risk of homelessness.

We have doubled financial counselling – providing an additional $10 million over 4 years for financial counsellors and increased legal support to help people who experience hardship to hang on to their homes.

The Australian Government has also agreed with the banks to negotiate postponing mortgage payments for up to 12 months for borrowers who have lost their job.

The new Job Services Australia framework and projects announced yesterday under the Australian Government’s Jobs Fund will boost employment outcomes for people who are at risk of homeless.

These significant initiatives will all contribute to the broader effort to reduce homelessness and greatly assist us to meet our goals and targets.


The Rudd Government’s housing programs represent an unprecedented injection of commitment and funds to tackling homelessness.

It is a down payment on a twelve year reform agenda.

We understand that we will not end homelessness overnight. But we believe that with sustained effort and an ethic of service we can reduce the number of Australians who ever experience homelessness, and better serve those who do, helping them to end their homelessness permanently.