Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Opening of The Road Home: Progress and Lessons Exhibition

Location: Parliament House,Canberra

I would like to pay my respects to the Ngunnawal people on whose land we are meeting, and to their elders past and present.

It is wonderful to see so many of you here today.

I welcome you all – particularly Tony Nicholson, Chair of the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness, and Jess, Emma, Kathy, Alan and Renae – five people who know what it means to experience homelessness.

US President Franklin Roosevelt said in his second inaugural address in January 1937 that:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

When the Prime Minister and I launched the Government’s Homelessness White Paper in December 2008, we set ambitious goals and a daring agenda.

We did it because for too long Australia’s homelessness problem had been ignored.

By Roosevelt’s measure – Australia was failing the test of progress.

The fact that 105,000 of our fellow Australians have no place to call home reveals the extent of our failure.

These Australians have not shared in the nation’s prosperity.

The Government is determined to provide more to those who have too little.

Through the White Paper, we have set ourselves the twin goals of halving homelessness, and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it, by 2020.

It is a long term plan – but looking around here today gives me great confidence that over the past year and half we have made a good start.

Today’s exhibits show the range of practical, on-the-ground support being developed across the country – for housing, mental health, employment, domestic violence, for Indigenous Australians, young people and rough sleepers.

I am proud that the Rudd Government has backed up its words in the White Paper with action.

We are delivering new homes, new funding and significant reforms to service delivery.

In total we are investing $4.9 billion in new programs to reduce homelessness.

This funding will result in many thousands of new homes for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness:

  • Under the Stimulus Plan – construction has commenced on more than 15,500 new affordable rental homes, and nearly 2,000 are completed.  Almost 20,000 homes will be built in total.
  • A further 2,000 homes are being built under the $400 million National Partnership on Social Housing.
  • We are also building around 725 new homes under the $150 million A Place to Call Home program – well above our original target of 600 homes.

Across all of our housing programs we will deliver 41 specialist homelessness projects across the country.

The new projects will provide around 1,700 new homes for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness linked to services.

Yet despite these achievements – the Government also understands that we cannot do it alone – we need the community, business and other levels of government to come with us.

That is where you all come in.

We need your support to get the job done.

I know that what I see here today is just a fraction of what is being done on the ground in our cities, towns and regional areas.

I also know that people who work in your sector do truly remarkable work.

I have been to services all around Australia and it never ceases to inspire me when I see just how dedicated you are – often working on the smell of an oily rag for the good of others.

There are so many dedicated and committed people who put their heart and soul into their jobs – jobs that exist to look after other people.

There are exhibits from many great services here today.

I particularly want to recognise the efforts of the major not for profit groups who have exhibits here today – Mission Australia, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Uniting Care.

I also acknowledge the countless other smaller organisations around Australia for their work on each and every day of the year.

And the peak group – Homelessness Australia – for all the work that they do to keep homelessness on the agenda.

We can learn something from each and every one of you.

We should never stop trying to find better ways of doing things to help homeless Australians; we should always be on the look out for better solutions.

Today, I am announcing that the Commonwealth is funding the States with $3.1 million for ten one-off proposals to trial new ways of service integration.

Funding will be provided to build on models like the Staying Home and Leaving Violence Program in New South Wales and the Anawim Aboriginal Women’s Service in Western Australia.

Other funding will help implement and examine integrated service planning across rural areas of South Australia

In Queensland – in Brisbane and Townsville – there is funding to develop integrated services for homeless youth and Indigenous rough sleepers.

In Victoria, the integration of services for women and children experiencing family violence will be assisted.

And there is funding in Tasmania for initiatives supporting family services, and two Common Ground sites.

The progress we have made can not be viewed in isolation.

Beyond our efforts to tackle homelessness, the Government has taken other important steps to help the most disadvantaged Australians.

We have delivered a $100 a fortnight increase in the single pension – the most significant change since the pension was introduced 100 years ago.

We have reformed employment services to better assist the unemployed and help them address barriers to getting a job.

We have made Centrelink payments available weekly for those people at risk of homelessness.

We have enhanced access to justice through better funding for legal aid, community legal centres and Indigenous legal services.

We are delivering new programs to close the gap for Indigenous Australians – in health, housing, education and justice.

And we have started the process of reforming our health system.

After 18 months – I am pleased that we are on track.

The White Paper is a long-term project – and we need to maintain momentum to meet our targets.

I look forward to hearing your views on how we can move forward with confidence.

Thank you one and all for coming to Canberra today.