Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Launch of ‘An Icon for Exit’, Mission Australia Centre, Sydney

Location: Mission Australia Centre, Sydney

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I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting this morning, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and to their elders past and present

‘An Icon for Exit’ is a testament to the dedication, innovation and foresight of Mission Australia.

A willingness to try new ways – to take the right kinds of risks.

Most of all it is about bringing people back from the edge.

People like Sean brought down by gambling; then brought back by the patience, dedication and care of Mission Australia staff at the Centre.

Or David, for whom the journey through many challenges, including drugs, was even harder, but who now, too, has found work and a home.

The Mission Australia Centre program has helped people turn their lives around range from – from detox to studying Shakespeare.

Even putting on a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’!

As the comprehensive picture painted by ‘An Icon for Exit’ shows, homelessness is not just a housing problem.

This too was our message when the Prime Minister and I launched the Homelessness White Paper right here at Mission Australia just before Christmas last year.

The White Paper set out the Government’s vision for tackling homelessness in Australia, and the strategies for achieving that vision.

In it we set ambitious but achievable goals to halve homelessness and provide accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.

With the White Paper came a commitment – by the Australian and State and Territory Governments – of an additional $1.1 billion for new support services and more specialist accommodation.

These new services are starting to be rolled out now.

I admit to a certain impatience to see these new services up and running and to hear how they are making a difference to people who are homeless.

So it is with great pleasure that I am here today for the release of a report that documents – and evaluates – groundbreaking work.

Behind the successful stories of Sean and David is an army of skilled and dedicated workers implementing an innovative service model.

Once the many issues that have contributed to a client’s homelessness have been identified, case workers can plan a holistic, wrap around response.

But navigating the service system to get all the services a client needs in a coordinated way remains one of the greatest challenges in homelessness.

The work at the Mission Australia Centre shows us all the way.

Spectrum Apartments, for example, provide a worker to help men gain or regain basic living skills, as well as providing educational, training, employment and health services.

In fact, as the Prime Minister himself noted in previous comments about the Mission Australian Centre – more than 32 different professional and educational services are delivered at this site.1

These services are based on an individual’s needs and strengths.

And evidence.

The White Paper noted that there was ‘an urgent need to improve the evidence base to inform the delivery of high quality services’.

Again, this report shows this principle in practice.

The changes to the service delivery model are based on research and reflective practice, with the client placed at the centre of all services.

I hope that with the additional funding and reforms now being delivered through the White Paper – that the Mission Australia Centre model can be delivered in other sites.

The Australian Government is delivering a number of other measures to assist homelessness people.

A few weeks ago I announced that Centrelink has set up a network of 90 Community Engagement Officers who will take services to the homeless, rather than leaving them to find their own way to Centrelink offices.

Centrelink will also set up weekly payments for vulnerable clients to help them better manage their income.

But perhaps the greatest impact on homelessness will be made by the Australian Government’s huge investment social housing.

This includes $5.64 billion under the National Building Economic Stimulus Plan – the biggest single investment in social housing ever made by an Australian Government.

This funding will deliver more than 19,000 new homes around the country – including more than 6,000 here in New South Wales.

Work has already started on more than 2,200 new homes around Australia.

We are also investing $1 billion over the next four years to build 50,000 affordable rental properties across Australia through the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

Incentives for more than 10,500 new homes have already been awarded under the first two rounds of this program.

The steady increase in the supply of affordable housing will help to reduce homelessness.

An integrated response to homelessness will mean that people can be provided with housing and the support they need to remain in that housing.

This is the model the Mission Australia Centre has developed.

A quote from one of your Cooinda participants is testament to your achievement:

“Wow, that class was incredible, my mind is full of information. This place is saving me right now.”2

What a superb alternative to homelessness.

I am pleased to formally launch of ‘An Icon for Exit’ – a truly wonderful testament to the success of the Mission Australia Centre.

I congratulate you and wish you every success in the future.

  1. Mission Australia, An Icon for Exit, Sydney, 2009, p 1.
  2. Ibid., p 28.