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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11831

Mr MORRISON (7:57 PM) —As the shadow minister for housing I welcome this opportunity to participate in this debate on homelessness. In focusing on homelessness I want to stress once again the coalition’s bipartisan support for some $3.5 billion worth of initiatives that have been announced by this government since it came to office. In doing so I also generally commend the Minister for Housing, who I know has a very sincere and deep commitment to addressing this issue. We may disagree from time to time about some of the methods, but I have no doubt about her genuine conviction and sincerity on this matter. I commend her for it and for bringing the issue of homelessness to far greater public attention in this place and more broadly.

The coalition are supporting many initiatives in this area from the government. We also recognise that in the last census around 105,000 Australians were considered homeless and around 16 per cent were sleeping rough on the streets—and I am sure the numbers have increased since then. While there had been a decline in youth homelessness, which was the single biggest component of homelessness in the five years leading up to that statistic, what was equally disturbing and concerning was the significant increase in homelessness amongst families. I think all of us would shudder at the thought of parents struggling with kids without a home. As a parent I find that unthinkable, and it obviously demands our attention in this place.

In that period of time also the number of people on public housing waiting lists reduced by 30,000. During that same time, despite an investment by state and federal governments of around $4 billion, there was a reduction in the number of public housing dwellings by more than 10,000. What that says is that, in order to address issues of housing and homelessness, at least from an economic perspective, we have to address issues like ensuring they have a job, they have growth in their income and they have wages that can support them in private accommodation. At the end of the day, our goal should be to have fewer people requiring homeless services, fewer people requiring supported accommodation in the area of social housing and more people able to live sustainably in the private housing market. To do that we have to focus on the causes, not the symptoms, in this very critical area.

In the area of homelessness—and this is particularly where the coalition has lent its greatest support to the government—we have supported strongly initiatives such as A Place to Call Home. This is an excellent initiative which gives capital resources and support to not-for-profit organisations such as Mission Australia to go out and put beds in place. That is what they do. It is an excellent initiative. Equally, the Reconnect Program, which was a program of the previous government, and other programs which seek to connect homeless youth, in particular, to employment and other life circumstances are very good programs which deal with the root causes of homelessness.

Those who will always have to rely on homelessness services, rather than those who may need them from time to time for economic reasons, will be forced to do so because of fairly drastic life situations in their own journeys. These include mental illness, severe life disruptions caused by death, disability or things of this nature, juvenile justice issues, substance abuse and a range of other dramatic events which forever seem to disadvantage people from being able to achieve a sense of sustainability with their own housing needs. These are the people I want to make sure that we focus our attention on and provide services and support to. To do that, we need to ensure that as many people as possible are not competing for those services for economic reasons.

While I support elements of the motion put forward tonight—in particular, points (1) and (3)—and take on good faith the presentation made by the previous speaker about the work of the local community organisations, which I am sure is accurate and worthy of commendation, in my opinion, the government’s strategy focuses far too much on the public dimension of this problem and not enough on the private dimension. Ninety-five per cent of Australians live in private housing. The Reserve Bank governor has made it crystal clear that the affordability pressures that are built into our housing markets across the country are being caused by a chronic dislocation of supply and demand. We need to build around 190,000 dwellings each year to make up for the backlog and to cope with future population pressures. We are building fewer than 140,000. As long as that remains the case, because of blockages in supply—principally at a state and local government level—and we have a national affordable housing agreement which does not require one state or territory government in this country to release one block of land or approve one dwelling unit, we will have a problem. This is where the focus needs to be—on a comprehensive policy, not one that looks only at the public domain.