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Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Opening address to Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research and the Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference, Haymarket

Location: Citigate Central, 169-179 Thomas Street, Haymarket

****Check Against Delivery****

Introduction

  • I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
  • Thank you for your kind introduction, Rod (Fehring).
  • Thank you also Bill (Randolph) for inviting me to open the Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference.
  • I would particularly like to welcome the international guests – I hope you enjoy the conference in my home city of Sydney.
  • I understand this is the first opportunity for a direct link up between Asia Pacific and Australian and New Zealand housing researchers.
  • There are great benefits in bringing the Antipodeans together with their Asia Pacific colleagues.
  • I note that you have a special session on comparative housing research and I would be especially interested in what you learn from this session.
  • I am very pleased to be here today because I see research as integral to the success of the Australian Government’s housing policy agenda.
  • The Australian Government believes strongly in policy reform that is both research-led and evidence-based.
  • As many of you would know, since being elected to government 20 months ago we have developed an ambitious housing reform agenda.
  • An agenda with initiatives that span housing tenures – from home ownership to homelessness.
  • We are now busy delivering housing programs and implementing our housing reforms.
  • And we are doing it with vigour and rigour.
  • Some governments ignore problems hoping if they refuse to measure or quantify them they will go away – much like ostriches with their heads in the sand.
  • We had a substantial housing affordability problem when we came into government.
  • We lifted up some rocks to look underneath, asked the hard questions, test out hypotheses and assembled an evidence base.
  • We are that kind of government.
  • We are pragmatic not ideological.
  • We are interested in outcomes not input controls.
  • We want to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
  • The Australian Government’s interest in and commitment to using quality data to inform housing policy began early.

National Housing Supply Council

  • Four months before the 2007 election we held a Housing Forum – where we brought 120 of the best housing minds to Canberra to paint the Australian housing picture for the then Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd and the then Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan.
  • Some of you presented or attended this forum and my colleagues and I spent the day listening to the existing evidence.
  • That day we also made our first housing election commitment.
  • We committed to set up the National Housing Supply Council to monitor and report on housing demand, housing supply and housing affordability in Australia.
  • After winning government the Council was soon set up and I was proud to receive their first State of Supply report in March this year.i
  • It was the first step towards establishing a national picture of housing supply and demand in Australia.
  • The report provides analysis and evidence on construction rates and land supply for the next 20 years.
  • The report also looks into urban development factors which constrain housing supply and affordability.
  • The State of Supply report is critical for effective policy development in the area of housing and land supply.
  • This evidence is cumulative – building a rich data picture of the Australian housing market and the effects of our housing policies.
  • So I expect the 10th State of Supply report will be an even richer and more valuable source of information.

National Rental Affordability Scheme

  • In the lead up to the election we knew – again from research – that there were critical supply shortages in the private rental market – especially at the low end of the rental market.
  • Much of this research was undertaken by people in this room.
  • We learned that levels of rental stress for people on low and moderate incomes was unacceptably high – especially in some pockets of Australia – Brisbane and Sydney and regional Queensland for example.ii
  • On that basis – we established the National Rental Affordability Scheme – which provides grants and tax incentives to organisations who build new rental dwellings and rent them to low and moderate income households at 20% discount to market.
  • This Scheme – at a cost of $1 billion – will help build 50,000 new affordable rental dwellings over the next 3 years.
  • Under Round 1 of the Scheme we have allocated almost 4,500 incentives to successful applicants across Australia.
  • The first family moved into a National Rental Affordability Scheme property at Leumeah in south west Sydney back in March.
  • There are 600 homes across the country already being rented out.
  • We are currently finalising Round 2 – and have been overwhelmed with applications for 28,000 incentives.
  • Again – as an example of the government’s continued commitment to evidence led policy development – we are about to start a Post Implementation Review of the Scheme before moving to a 3rd round.
  • We want to see what worked and what didn’t before we continue – again using research to improve the Scheme.

Social housing under the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan

  • From the evidence we know that high rental stress and homelessness are partly caused by a decade of underinvestment in social housing.
  • Evidence also tells us that concentrated housing estates can lead to social disadvantage.
  • International evidence tells us that a strong sophisticated community housing sector is more flexible, and can deliver support across housing tenures and can contribute to our broader urban renewal agenda.
  • This evidence strongly informed the development of the social housing reform agenda – which I am working on with my State and Territory colleagues.
    • Key reforms I am driving nationally include:
    • Reducing concentrations of disadvantage.
    • Growing the capacity of the community housing sector.
    • Working to boost employment outcomes for people living in social housing.
  • Through the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan, the Government is investing $6.4 billion to build 20,000 new houses and repair more than 60,000 dwellings around the country.
  • Maintenance work has already been completed on more than 31,000 homes throughout Australia.
  • We’ve already started building more than 1,000 new properties – and the bulk of 20,000 homes will be built by the end of December 2010.
  • Some of these new homes are now complete.
  • Ten days ago, when I visited Anthony Cook and his children who were moving into the first completed new property in Victoria, they said it felt like they had won Tattslotto.
  • Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI)
  • Of course much of the rich evidence on the housing market has come via the engine room of Australian housing research – the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).
  • All of you would know AHURI – it is the first class research institute which works with nearly 300 researchers across the country.
  • As further demonstration of the Australian Government’s commitment to research, in partnership with the State and Territory Governments, I am pleased to announce that we have increased funding to AHURI by almost 30 per cent.
  • This will continue over three years.
  • AHURI’s reach is so wide – I suspect many of you would have at one time or other been involved with an AHURI research project.
  • We are all fortunate to have it led so ably by Dr Ian Winter as Executive Director and Rod Fehring as Chair.
  • Many of you would agree that AHURI’s expertise has been greatly under-utilised in the past.
  • Well we are certainly making up for that now.
  • In fact I doubt Ian gets much sleep.
  • AHURI’s increased government funding will allow it to move beyond social housing research to a whole of housing system research program.
  • Building a broader evidence base across the housing system is critical to the development and implementation of the Government’s housing policies and the quality of the national housing debate.
  • So I look forward to keeping Ian and many of you very busy over the next few years.

Homelessness

  • Across our housing policy agenda – research is ingrained in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of our policies.
  • But nowhere is research-based and evidence-driven policy more critical than in our efforts to reduce homelessness.
  • Homelessness may be one of those ‘wicked’ policy problems.iii
  • It takes detailed evidence to understand the causes and drivers of homelessness.
  • They are complex and result from failures in many interacting services and systems.
  • And responses to homelessness need to be coordinated and interrelated; they must come from every level of government and the NGO sector.
  • The solutions are not simple.
  • Despite these challenges – the Australian Government has made reducing homelessness a national priority.
  • In December 2008, we released a White Paper on homelessness – The Road Home.
  • It is the most comprehensive attempt to tackle homelessness in Australia in a generation.
  • In the White Paper we set a goal to halve homelessness by 2020.
  • We have also set targets to 2013 to allow us to track our progress.
  • The White Paper brought an additional $800 million for new services to reduce homelessness.
    • Over the last week I have been launching Implementation Plans with my State and Territory colleagues – which set out the new programs and services to be delivered for homeless people across the country.
    • In order to meet our goals and targets – we need to know what works and what doesn’t.
    • We need innovative service models – whose outcomes are well researched and quantified.
    • If it doesn’t work to end homelessness for the client then we should stop doing it.
    • If it does then we should keep doing it or adapt it to make it even better.
    • Research is the partner to this innovation.
    • Paul Plsek describes this as the difference between throwing a stone and throwing a live bird: we can work out the trajectory of a stone using the laws of physics.iv
    • Well I can’t – but no doubt many of you can.
    • So we can work out the trajectory of a stone but, when we throw a live bird, its trajectory is far from precise – it is unpredictable.
    • As part of our efforts to reduce homelessness – I hope we will be throwing a few live birds.
    • And it is crucial that we measure the trajectory to see what helped the bird to fly or see what stopped it from flying.

A National Homelessness Research Agenda

  • So today I am pleased to announce that the Australian Government will invest $11.4 million over 4 years in a National Homelessness Research Agenda.
  • This research agenda will fund wide-ranging and innovative research into homelessness.
  • We want to improve access to existing unit record data and invest in new data.
  • There will also be a focus on research which improves our understanding of the factors that can prevent homelessness.
  • Some hypotheses I want to test include:
    • How do we best invest in the future needs of children to avoid the long term economic and social costs of homelessness?
    • What makes families resilient to crises such as homelessness?
    • What models improve employment and education outcomes for homeless people?
  • The strategy will enhance research efforts on homelessness and significantly improve our knowledge and understanding of homelessness.
  • It will also enable us to monitor our progress against the White Paper goals and targets.
  • As researchers you will play an important role in critically assessing how our response to homelessness is working and provide evidence on which actions have the greatest policy impact.
  • Yesterday I was at a fantastic homelessness service in Melbourne – Sacred Heart Mission – launching the Victorian Implementation Plan – how Victoria will reduce homelessness over the next four years.
  • I heard about an outstanding new project being piloted by Sacred Heart Mission – they call it Journey to Social Inclusion.
  • It’s essentially a randomised control trial – 80 homeless clients – 40 in the pilot group; 40 in the control group; randomly selected.
  • The control group will receive existing services.
  • The pilot group will get a significantly enhanced, ground breaking service – targeted assistance from linked up services as well as intensive therapeutic intervention.
  • The project will be comprehensively evaluated – looking at the impact of the service model on clients and the economic benefits included costs savings which flow.
  • Sacred Heart Mission is working with the Melbourne Institute – a great example of research partnering with innovation.

Housing Minister’s Early Career Researchers’ Award

  • This year, for the first time I have joined with AHURI to establish the Housing Minister’s Early Career Researchers Award.
  • The Award acknowledges an Australian researcher with five or less years experience in housing research.
  • I am delighted to announce that this award goes to Dr Louise Crabtree from the Urban Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney.
  • Dr Crabtree is an urban geographer specialising in urban sustainability and housing affordability.
  • Her research focuses on the social, ecological and economic sustainability of housing developments in Australia.
  • Her research lies at the intersection between affordable housing and environmental sustainability – two critical issues facing our nation and being tackled by the Australian Government.
  • I understand Dr Crabtree’s formal certificate and prize will be presented at the Conference Dinner on Thursday night.
  • As I will not be able to attend the Conference Dinner this year, I have taken the opportunity to meet with Dr Crabtree this morning and offer my personal congratulations.
  • Louise, I hope this award represents the beginning of a long and successful career in housing research.
  • Please join me in congratulating Dr Louise Crabtree on her award.

ENDS

  1. National Housing Supply Council; State of Supply Report; March 2009, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
  2. Miranti R and Nepal B; Housing Stress in Australia 2007; NATSEM, University of Canberra, February 2008.
  3. Australian Public Service Commission; Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective; Contemporary Government Challenges; 2007
  4. Bentley T and Wilsdon J; The Adaptive State – Strategies for Personalising the Public Realm, Demos, London, 2003, page 26