National Housing Conference 2005
- Mr Bob Thomas, Chair , WA Department of Housing and Works
- The Hon Francis Logan – (previous speaker) WA Minister for Housing and Works)
- Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for your introduction.
Thank you also to Wannamarr Noongar Dance Group.
I am delighted to be here to speak at the start of this important, two-yearly event.
I am pleased that the Australian Government has provided significant funding towards this conference.
As the Australian Government Minister for Family and Community Services, and a Cabinet Minister, housing is a major element of my responsibilities and a government priority.
Over the next two days, you will be discussing a number of housing and related themes, including planning and design, urban renewal, sustainable housing, industry issues, and the role of local government.
While these are all important issues for housing, today I want to focus on three areas which I believe, represent the diversity of housing issues in contemporary Australia.
- Meeting the needs of Indigenous Australians, and
- Connecting housing to community.
These are complex issues, and no doubt there will be a lot more discussion about them in the next two days.
The Australian Government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable people in our community.
This includes people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Current policies and programs acknowledge the multiple challenges that homeless people may face.
This can include the difficulties of finding stable housing or accommodation, and at the same time, coping with personal issues like family breakdown, mental health problems, or unemployment.
The best approach is to help homeless people deal with the immediate crises, and then provide them with opportunities to move forward with their lives by providing them with support to re-engage in community life, and take up education and paid work.
This approach underpins the Australian Government’s homelessness programs.
Under our National Homelessness Strategy, the Government’s response to homelessness has several, inter-linked elements.
Expressions of interest from relevant bodies for new funding have recently been called and applications close on Friday 4 November 2005. Further details are available at www.facs.gov.au.
Although funding for homelessness is primarily a state responsibility, under the new Supported Accommodation Assistance Program Multilateral Agreement – which I’m pleased to say was recently signed by every state and territory – around $1.81 billion will be spent on a range of support and transitional accommodation services over the next five years.
Of this amount, the Australian Government is contributing more than half.
A significant part of the new agreement is a $120 million Innovation and Investment Fund.
The fund will be used to identify ways to reduce the high rates of return to SAAP services by improving pre-crisis intervention, post-crisis transition and links to other services, including mental health and employment services.
Despite some resistance from the states, I insisted on the establishment of this fund to be able to look at alternative models of delivering SAAP services. I intend to follow closely its progress so that we can achieve a more joined up and seamless service delivery model for people with high and complex needs.
The Australian Government also funds –
- the Innovative Health Services for Homeless Youth program – which works to achieve better health outcomes of homeless and otherwise at-risk young people and their dependents
- the Reconnect program – which improves the level of engagement of homeless young people or those at risk of homelessness with family, work, education, training and the community.
- the Job Placement, Employment and Training program – which supports homeless and disadvantaged young people to stabilise their accommodation and address any barriers they may face to employment or education.
- the Personal Support Program – which provides individual support for people facing difficult circumstances like homelessness, drug and alcohol problems, psychological disorders, domestic violence or other significant barriers to participation in the workforce.
- the HOMEAdvice program – which offers early intervention assistance to families who have trouble maintaining their tenancies or home ownership.
I am the first to acknowledge that for many homeless people, the system of support is disjointed and deals with issues in isolation rather than looking at the person as a whole.
This leads to situations where, for example, a housing provider may not be aware of a history substance abuse or mental health problems. These issues make it hard for a person to keep up a tenancy.
A picture of the “whole person” may take some time to emerge, if it ever does.
It can also be extremely difficult for a homeless person, who may need to “repeat their story” countless times to several different service providers.
This can be very distressing for the person involved, especially young people who may have no experience with the service system. Many avoid asking for help because of the bureaucratic and other processes they have to go through.
In my role as minister, I also hear complaints about the lack of coordination between the different tiers of government.
While on the ground many community organisations are working together to develop joined-up systems of service delivery, they often encounter barriers because of the institutionalised way in which government departments tend to work.
The challenge, as the organisations see it, is for governments and departments to change the way they operate, so that they can better support local organisations to deliver more holistic services to homeless people.
Let me give you an example of how my department is working with Australian Government departments, other governments and community-based organisations to break down some of these insitutionalised barriers.
In Victoria, the YP4 project includes four Victorian community organisations – Hanover Welfare Services, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Melbourne Citymission, and Loddon Mallee Housing Services.
In partnership with my department, the Australian Government Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Centrelink and the Victorian Government departments of Human Services and Victoria Communities, YP4 is taking an integrated, or “joined-up” approach which puts employment outcomes at the apex of outcomes sought for homeless clients.
The two-year project involves around 240 homeless jobseekers aged between 18 and 35.
YP4 is designed to offer people a single and consistent point of contact to address employment, housing, educational and personal support goals in an integrated way.
The ultimate goal is to reduce red tape and deliver integrated, faster, more responsive and effective support services, across the service delivery spectrum.
Later today, I will be announcing a plan for my own department to cut red tape to make it easier for community organisations to do business with the Australian Government. This will result in crucial volunteer time not being spent dealing with bureaucrats, but rather more time being spent helping people in the community.
I would hope that the State and Territory Governments can now also start looking at how they can reduce red tape for these organisations and follow our lead.
Turning now to meeting the housing needs of Indigenous Australians.
The latest data show that Indigenous people and communities are among the most disadvantaged in Australia against all indicators of health and wellbeing.
A recent report called ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage’, produced for the Council of Australian Governments, confirmed this.
In the area of housing disadvantage it found that more than one-quarter of Indigenous people live in over-crowded houses and that this significantly contributes to poor health, family violence and poor educational performance.
As well, the proportion of Indigenous home ownership was 27 per cent compared to 74 per cent for non-Indigenous people.
On a happier note the report said that there are: ” … many positive initiatives at the local level, often at the instigation of Indigenous people themselves, and involving constructive new relationships with government and private enterprises”.
These new relationships are reflected in the new Shared Responsibility Agreements, which have been negotiated between Indigenous communities and governments as part of a Council of Australian Government joint initiative to help build the capacity of eight Indigenous communities.
Endorsed by the Prime Minister and all State and Territory government leaders, the idea behind the initiative is to find the best ways of delivering government programs, based on priorities that are agreed with the communities.
For example, at the Wadeye community in the Northern Territory this involves the Australian Government and the Territory Government, the Thamarrurr Regional Council, service providers, community elders, and any one else in the community who wants to play a part.
Early on, the community highlighted severe overcrowding in houses as a problem and identified housing construction as a priority.
Since then, with all the players working together, we’ve seen some very practical progress at Wadeye.
The Australian Government has funded the construction of a factory in Wadeye to manufacture the concrete slabs used in the building of housing. These slabs were previously brought in from Darwin resulting in a high percentage of them cracking in transit.
This new process, not only provides jobs in Wadeye for the local community, but also provides for skills retention and training within the community.
In August I also announced an extra $9.5 million to build 25 new houses. These additional houses will help to ease overcrowding and also provide apprenticeships and other employment opportunities for the Wadeye people.
This is on top of work over the past 18 months, which has seen funding for 34 other houses and for renovations to 14 existing homes.
In the area of Indigenous home ownership, the Australian Government has recently announced initiatives to increase home ownership on community title land.
The proposed new land tenure arrangements, a joint initiative of the Australian and Northern Territory Governments in the Northern Territory will help Indigenous individuals and families to purchase their own homes.
I also announced that we will provide up to $5 million this year, which will be used toward discounts on the purchase price of homes for people with good rental histories.
Together with the complementary Home Ownership of Indigenous Land Program, managed by Indigenous Business Australia, these initiatives will assist Indigenous people who want to buy homes on Indigenous land in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia.
My department has been working closely with state and territory government agencies to finalise Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Agreements to take us through to June 2008.
These agreements set the scene for a streamlined and more effective approach to delivering housing and related services to Indigenous Australians.
Of course, there is much more to do, and my view is that the solutions lie in a community-wide approach that:
- addresses discrimination against Indigenous people in both the private rental and public housing market
- strengthens the capacity of Indigenous housing organisations to finance, manage and maintain housing
- develops innovative solutions to support Indigenous families and individuals to own and maintain properties.
I hope people at this conference can help, by looking at how we might best achieve these objectives.
While governments play a key role in providing housing assistance, particularly to people who need a permanent place to live, governments cannot do this alone.
There are equally important roles for individuals, communities, non-government organisations and business in the area of housing.
And we need to keep at the front of our minds that it is not just people who are homeless that are disconnected from their communities.
The growth in sole-person households – due in part to an ageing population, as well as higher separation and divorce rates – poses an additional challenge for all of us in this auditorium today.
Older Australians, people with caring responsibilities (including those with adult disabled children), people with disabilities, and sole-parent families may find the “house” is not enough.
To address issues of social and economic isolation, innovative solutions are needed involving a range of players. This includes people like architects, urban planners, community service providers, community leaders, health workers, volunteers, charities and clubs, through to the corporate sector and the different levels of government.
When people are asked about housing in surveys they often rate “neighbourhood” and “community” as important factors in positive feelings of housing satisfaction
While my department is working on better connecting services for homeless people, I believe more needs to be done to actually connect housing to the community.
Because housing is not just about bricks and mortar – for homeless people, as I said earlier, it is also about helping them to find a place to call home, and giving them opportunities to engage in community life, and in education and employment.
Many community-housing organisations are committed to providing their tenants with opportunities like this outside of the “house”, including helping them to develop “life skills” such as financial literacy, budgeting and housing maintenance.
Other community-based housing organisations provide links to health services and assistance with personal relationships.
However, perhaps one of the most meaningful things we can do, is to listen to what they have to say.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak this morning.
People from my department will be here for the whole conference and I have asked them to come back and give me a rundown on your discussions and your ideas.
I hope the conference goes well and that you have a very productive and stimulating two days.
I look forward to seeing many of you again this evening at the awards’ presentations.