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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 6832

Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Mental Health and Ageing, Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Minister for Social Inclusion and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform) (16:52): This package of bills is aimed at increasing recognition and awareness of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This government has made homelessness a national priority. Our white paper The road home outlines how we intend to reduce homelessness through a program that will require sustained effort by governments, business and the broader community. We have set clear targets to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020 and to provide supported accommodation for all rough sleepers who need it. We are progressing these targets through a significant boost in spending, new agreements with the states and territories and an overhaul of the existing legislative framework. Already we have seen progress, including through early intervention to prevent homelessness.

The homelessness legislative framework was the subject of a comprehensive inquiry during 2009 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth. The committee's report Housing the homelesshas been vital in shaping this legislation being debated today. With the exception of the legislative right to housing, which is outside current government policy—and, in practice, would be significantly dependent on the actions of states and territory governments, which are responsible for housing—the committee's recommendations have been incorporated into the Homelessness Bill 2013 to the best extent possible. The bill complements a broader reform process to reduce homelessness, incorporating substantial co-investment with states and territories to expand and implement a range of practical measures to support and improve outcomes for Australians facing homelessness. The bill underpins the need to sustain this effort into the future.

The Homelessness Bill 2013 draws national attention to the experience of homelessness and voices the aspiration that all Australians have access to appropriate, affordable, safe and sustainable housing. This ensures consistency with the objective of the National Affordable Housing Agreement between the Commonwealth, the states and territories and local government. This ensures consistency with the objective of the National Affordable Housing Agreement between the Commonwealth, states and territories and local government. The bill acknowledges the direct relationship between addressing homelessness and social inclusion. It sets out a range of service delivery principles to which the Commonwealth is committed and the strategies we see as necessary to reduce homelessness. The bill also confirms the Commonwealth's commitment to cooperation and consultation in reducing homelessness and promotes the human rights of people facing homelessness. This legislation has been strengthened through a two-month public exposure period in mid-2012. We express our gratitude to those many people who lodged written submissions on the exposure draft of the bill.

The new legislation will replace the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act of 1994 which set out important principles and guided the Commonwealth's response to homelessness in Australia for many years. The 1994 act was primarily a vehicle for providing funding to states and territories to implement the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program. However, new arrangements were introduced in 2009 under the Federal Financial Relations Framework, superseding the funding mechanism under the 1994 act. This current funding framework for Commonwealth, state and territory efforts to reduce homelessness with funding provided through Commonwealth-state mechanisms such as the National Partnership on Homelessness and the National Affordable Housing specific purpose payment will continue.

The Homelessness Bill 2013 is therefore complementary to the comprehensive funding arrangements already in place and is not a funding instrument in itself. Accordingly, the Homelessness (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013 repeals the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act 1994 to make way for the new legislation. It also makes a consequential amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918 to make sure existing provisions that encourage civic participation and voting by people experiencing homelessness will continue to apply. The Homelessness Bill 2013 is just one part of a bigger policy program of support to people who are homeless or at risk of it. The issue of service quality is also being pursued by working with states and territories to develop a non-legislative Homelessness National Quality Framework. The framework will be the primary strategy for the white paper's goal of ensuring quality services.

The welfare and safety of our fellow Australians matter a great deal. There can be no more worthy cause than doing all that we can to help reduce homelessness. This new legislation is a clear statement of our commitment and our values in this vital policy agenda and underlines and complements the substantial practical measures already in place.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.