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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2452


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (11:05): I commend the government's commitment to continue housing and homeless funding through the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, but let's be real: we can do more. This core funding will provide a critical floor for housing and homelessness services across Australia, and it is funding that the states could not have easily replaced. The funding will provide support for emergency and transitional housing and homelessness services across my electorate.

Services delivered in my electorate that provide homelessness support include Centacare in the Adelaide Hills and Junction Australia, which provides support on Kangaroo Island and across the Fleurieu Peninsula. Centacare and Junction Australia do great work in my electorate with our most vulnerable people. Junction Australia provides support to people who are experiencing or facing homelessness, including adults who are living in the southern Adelaide region. People possibly don't think when they look at my electorate that we would have homelessness, but we most certainly do. The Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island Homelessness Support Services are outreach services operated by Junction along the southern Fleurieu. It's quite an isolated community. If people find that they are without a home and they don't have a car, they have very little option to move or go. These services are available to anyone aged 15 years or over who is experiencing homeless or facing potential homelessness, and they really help people pick up the pieces.

The certainty of continued funding is critical to this sector and to organisations like Junction and Centacare. As somebody who has worked in the sector before, I know that, when we get close to funding deadlines, staff naturally start to move; they need to be able to pay for their mortgages too. So funding certainty is essential for multiyear interventions to be sustained and also to ensure that we can keep good staff in this sector, because it is a very difficult area to work, and people are very passionate and committed to it.

I do not rail against the conditions contained within the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 in relation to the federal component of funding. Some level of conditionality on how the money should be spent and tying funding to outcomes does provide increased accountability and transparency for taxpayers' money. We've got to remember this is not our money; this money belongs to the taxpayer. However, I do not want to see conditionality meaning that funding could be withdrawn from core services, as it's supposed to really be about managing and creating genuine outcomes. In this vein, while I appreciate that the federal and, particularly, state governments might prefer greater flexibility, I can also understand where the federal government is coming from. I do believe, however, that the parliament should have greater insight into the funding conditionality that may be applied and, at least, a framework of expected outcomes fleshed out in this place under the proposed legislation. I can't see any excuse or reason for why more detail is not provided in this legislation.

I've spoken at length before in this place about housing affordability, or lack of affordability, and homelessness, but I want to take this opportunity to elaborate a little further about my concerns around youth homelessness. We've yet to receive the data series on homelessness from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from the 2016 census; however, the 2011 census showed us that an estimated 2,397 young Australians—people under 24—were homeless and, of those, 944—nearly 1,000—were children aged under 12 who were homeless. Nationally, as at 2011, there were 44,000 young people under the age of 24 who were homeless and, of those, nearly 18,000 were children. They had no place to call home. They were sleeping in cars. They were in a room, normally with mum, on a blow-up mattress. Perhaps they were getting a cheap dodgy hotel for a couple nights from an organisation. How can we expect children to learn and have the foundation of a happy childhood under these circumstances? This is a national shame. This is our shame.

In my state of South Australia 1,400 teenagers and young people from 12 to 24 will be homeless tonight. We often talk about numbers in this place, but every number is a person. Those young people are tired, afraid and hungry. They have a sense of hopelessness. They're sleeping on couches. They are normally young women. They are often trading their body for those couches, doing things that they never thought they would need to do just to have a place to sleep.

I know that often it is young people coming from absent, neglectful and abusive parents—homes that they just can't stay in. Sometimes there is drug and alcohol addiction involved as well. That is not so much a cause of homelessness but certainly an effect of homelessness. I do not seek to detract their share of responsibility from families, who really should be taking a greater role of support; however, we know that not all families have that capacity. Young people shouldn't be penalised because they don't have parents who provide a loving home.

Too often these people come from households where there is domestic and family violence. There can be many different kinds. It can be intimidation, coercion, isolation, emotional, physical, sexual or financial. We know that young women aged 18 to 25 are twice as likely as older women to experience physical or sexual violence. Estimates show that the likelihood of young women aged 14 to 19 experiencing physical or sexual violence is quadrupled. The great challenge is often people don't see that as domestic violence—'That's something that happens to mum; that's not something that happens to me'—but it does, indeed, happen to them.

I think our society's role is about ensuring that we have a safety net that can help pick up the pieces, particularly for our most vulnerable people, because it benefits all of us. That is what our society is about. I was fortunate to recently attend a briefing by the Home Stretch initiative. The Home Stretch campaign is backed by a variety of not-for-profit social services organisations. One of the key lessons for me is that the research in Home Stretch shows that two-thirds of homeless young people have a state care history—that is, they have been guardians of the minister for a period in their life.

The Home Stretch initiative seeks to make a national partnership to extend out-of-home care for young people from 18 to 21 years of age. This is something America does. America has a national partnership between the states and the federal government that ensures that this group of incredibly vulnerable young people continue to receive the support of the state in a parenting role until they are 21 years of age. We know that young people's brains don't even finish developing cognitively until they're in their mid-20s, so the idea that we would push young people out at the age of 18 and assume that they have all the capacity of an adult is really just a furphy. We know young people who are former guardians of the minister of state will in the first 12 months after leaving state care generally have about five places where they sleep at night.

So that is something I will be very keen to pursue in this parliament. We note that, if we can address that issue, we can largely address the issue of homelessness for young people in Australia. It goes without saying that we need to do more about youth homelessness and the prevention of it but, equally so, we know that, while young people make up the largest cohort of the homeless, the fastest growing group of homeless people is actually older women who do not have superannuation and assets behind them. They are in an incredibly vulnerable state, particularly because very often they have a very limited likelihood of finding employment.

I will close by saying that I do support this bill, but I think we need to provide greater leadership in this place on meaningfully addressing homelessness. This is not something we should push to the states. This is a national issue and we should all take responsibility for the problem because we have a great opportunity in our nation. We're a nation of great wealth and we can address homelessness meaningfully.