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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1267

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(3.02) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill authorises the Commonwealth to enter into a 4.5 year agreement with each State and with the Northern Territory for the provision of financial assistance by the Commonwealth to a State or the Northern Territory, to enable non-government organisations and local governments to provide a range of supported accommodation and related support services.

These services will assist men, women, young people and their dependants who are either permanently homeless, or temporarily homeless as a result of crisis, and who need such support to move towards independent living where possible and appropriate.

The joint Commonwealth/State program established by the Bill, which contains an Agreement in the Schedule, will be called the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program.

When this Government came to office in March 1983, homelessness was seen as a major priority for urgent attention. There were no clear cut policies or directions to remedy youth or older age homelessness, and there was no co-ordination of supported accommodation services for homeless women and their children.

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program arose from recommendations contained in a review of crisis and youth accommodation, on which a Joint Ministerial Statement was presented to the House on 17 November 1983 by the previous Minister for Housing and Construction, the Hon Chris Hurford, on behalf of himself, myself as Minister for Social Security, and the then Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Senator the Hon Susan Ryan.

In the Joint Ministerial Statement, the major objectives of the Commonwealth's involvement in crisis accommodation programs were stated to be-

'to provide a range of services to meet the needs of the homeless, and those facing other crisis accommodation situations such as eviction or domestic violence. Arrangements need to be logical and practical to assist non-government sector involvement, to ensure needs are met in a cost effective way, and to help the co-ordination of Commonwealth and State action.'.

This Bill is directed at achieving those objectives, and will provide an important Federal Government contribution to the United Nations International Year of Shelter for the Homeless in 1987.

The review of crisis and youth accommodation found that there were difficulties with administrative arrangements, where some programs were administered and funded by the Commonwealth and others administered by and cost shared with the States. There was no overall planning, programs were unco-ordinated and were unnecessarily complex. This meant that needs were not being met.

The review recommended that, following negotiations with States and consultations with women's and youth groups, Aboriginal organisations and service providers for other homeless people, all Commonwealth crisis accommodation programs should be brought together under a single Act of Parliament. The review recommended that this Act provide funding to the States and Territories, embody a 5 year Commonwealth/State Agreement, and be accompanied by the establishment of Commonwealth/ State co-ordinating committees which would also include representatives of relevant non-government organisations.

Since the presentation of the Joint Ministerial Statement, the Government has been negotiating with State and Territory Governments, service providers and appropriate non-government organisations and advisory bodies regarding the recommendations contained in the review.

The views of these Governments and organisations, and the recommendations of the review, have been taken into account in the formulation of the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, and incorporated in the Commonwealth/State Agreement which forms a schedule to the Bill.

The aims of the Program are-

to provide improved and more equitable funding of approved services, to fund new services in areas of high need, and to move towards improved wages and conditions for workers;

to move progressively during the Program to improve the assessment of the need for services, and to distribute funds on the basis of improved assessment within each State and Territory; and

to facilitate the involvement of service providers in advising on program needs and priorities.

The Program will provide funds for recurrent and capital non-housing purposes to non-government organisations and local government authorities. Such bodies may provide assistance to those in need of supported accommodation in the short, medium or longer term. Supported accommodation includes services provided in refuges, hostels, half-way houses, and other related support services.

Services funded under the Program would preferably seek to encourage self-help, on a non-institutionalised basis.

The Program is to be administered by the State and Northern Territory Governments according to Guidelines which will be jointly agreed by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers, and which will be published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. The Guidelines provide for service provider advice on program needs and priorities.

The operation of the 4.5 year Agreement in each State or the Northern Territory requires the formal consent of the appropriate State or Territory Minister.

Financial assistance to the States and the Northern Territory for the purposes of the Program shall be by way of grants. These grants will be matched in part by contributions from each State and the Northern Territory across the Program as a whole, according to a formula specified in the Agreement and agreed between Ministers. States and the Northern Territory will be required, as a minimum, to maintain their 1983-84 efforts in respect of services covered by the Sub-programs to which I shortly will refer. State and Territory matching funds will include moneys provided from their own resources committed and expended on programs conducted by the State or Territory, or by local governments and non-government organisations, that I consider provide services consistent with the Guidelines for the Program. Many of these services are already funded by States and the Northern Territory under their own programs.

The Program will incorporate projects currently funded under a number of Commonwealth, State and Territory programs. Under the Program these projects will be funded under one of three sub-programs specified in the Agreement: the Youth Supported Accommodation Sub-program, the Women's Emergency Services Sub-program or the General Supported Accommodation Sub-program. The sub-program structure recognises the different needs addressed by services operating in these areas.

The Youth Supported Accommodation Sub-program is designed to provide supported accommodation and related support services for young people aged 12 to 25 years and, where applicable, their dependants, who are homeless as a result of crisis and who need support to move towards more appropriate accommodation options, including independent living. It will incorporate all services funded in the past under the Youth Services Scheme, which was a joint Commonwealth State program first funded as a pilot scheme in 1979. The Sub-program will also incorporate youth projects funded under the Commonwealth's Homeless Persons Assistance Program, as well as a number of State-funded youth programs.

There is a dire need for improved facilities for homeless youth. In 1980-81, 15,000 young people requested help from refuges funded under the Youth Services Scheme. More than half of these requests could not be met, yet a large majority of these young people also were unemployed. The demand for youth refuge accommodation has not decreased. The problem is compounded in that youth are often given a low priority for public housing in some States, are frequently excluded from private accommodation in favour of other clients, and have low incomes relative to rents in the private sector.

The establishment of this Sub-program is particularly significant at this time as 1985 is International Youth Year. In recognition of the needs of homeless youth, the Government has allocated $830,000 for new youth services under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program in the current financial year, and $1.66m in 1985-86 (which is the full year effect of the 1984-85 allocation).

The Women's Emergency Services Sub-program is designed to provide supported accommodation and related support services for women and women with dependent children escaping from intolerable domestic circumstances or other crisis situations who need support to move towards independent living where possible and appropriate. It will incorporate women's refuges funded under the Women's Emergency Services Program in 1983-84, payments to child care workers in women's refuges previously funded through the Children's Services Program, and those women's refuges previously funded under the Homeless Persons Assistance Program whose services are consistent with the purposes of this Sub-program. A number of State-funded women's refuge programs will also be incorporated.

It is not the intention of the Government to restrict women to the Women's Emergency Services Sub-programs. Women will have access to all three Sub-programs, depending upon their needs.

Women's refuges will benefit from the Program because it rationalises and co-ordinates supported accommodation services for women (including child care in women's refuges), has the capacity to meet the needs of a broad range of women in crisis, and enables women's refuges to focus on services assisting women escaping from domestic violence and intolerable domestic circumstances. The scope of the program has been extended to cover non-clinical community-based rape crisis centres and incest centres.

It is recognised that women's refuges meet the needs of women in crisis situations generated by economic, social and physical circumstances which make their present living conditions intolerable, by providing non-institutionalised assistance for them and, where applicable, their dependent children.

Women's refuges also assist residents to gain the knowledge and skills they require to manage their own lives within the wider community, through self-help and mutual support for them after they have left the refuge. Women's refuges also promote public awareness so that health, housing, welfare and legal services are designed to be more relevant to the needs of women.

Both the Commonwealth and the States recognise the need for educational and preventative work on domestic violence as an important and legitimate function of women's refuges, and this work will be supported under the Program.

The third Sub-program is the General Supported Accommodation Sub-program. This Sub-program is designed to provide supported accommodation and related support services for men, women and their dependents who are permanently homeless, or temporarily homeless as a result of crisis, and who need support to move towards independent living where possible and appropriate.

Services which do not clearly fit within the youth or women's sub-programs or which need to cater for a variety of age groups or needs, could be funded under this Sub-program.

The Program will not fund services which provide emergency housing but not supported accommodation. Housing authorities are to maintain their responsibilities for emergency and other related housing programs.

The Program will also not provide funds for services which provide accommodation as an aspect of or as an adjunct to their major focus, for example, services specialising in student housing, rehabilitation of psychiatric services where the provision of accommodation is dependent upon undergoing rehabilitation or psychiatric treatment, clinical health centres, and migrant hostel accommodation. Services with the primary aim of catering for groups which are the particular responsibility of the Commonwealth or the States, such as State wards, are also excluded from the Program.

Under the Program, the Government is providing for a considerable increase over the level of funds available in the past. This is evidence of the Government's firm commitment to expanding present services for women, youth and the permanently homeless, and to improving wages and conditions for workers in such services.

For the period of 6 months from 1 January to 30 June 1985, estimated Commonwealth expenditure on the Program is $11.719 million. In 1985-86, the estimated minimum Commonwealth expenditure on the Program is $27.242 million. This will be increased as services under the Homeless Persons Assistance Program, initially excluded, are included in the Program.

The total Federal funding in 1985-86 is well in excess of 100% higher than comparable funding provided for services for homeless people in 1983-84 under various programs, including the Youth Services Scheme, the Homeless Persons Assistance Program, the Women's Emergency Services Program and grants provided to child care workers in womens' refuges. Actual Federal expenditure on programs and services for homeless people was $17.7 million in 1983-84, and projected expenditure in 1984-85 and 1985-86 is $25.9 million and $36.4 million respectively. These amounts include actual or projected expenditure in the Australian Capital Territory.

Funding provided for the Program will not remain static. Provision has been made in the Agreement to guarantee increases in the Program's salaries component to reflect wages growth. The Bill guarantees minimum levels of Commonwealth financial assistance by providing for annual appropriations, after the first full financial year, related to the total moneys expended by the Commonwealth in respect of the prior financial year.

Increases in operational costs and additional funds for new staff and services for the homeless will be considered in the annual Budget.

Any additional Program funds will be distributed on a per capita basis between the States, subject to minimum provisions to protect the smaller States. The Government and the States will be developing a needs-based system for funding over the life of the Agreement.

The increased Commonwealth effort in this area will be subject to matching requirements on the States. For the first time, Federal and State funding will be combined to ensure an ''adequate deal'' for one of the most neglected groups in our society-the homeless.

Capital housing funds for services funded under this Program will be available under a complementary program within the 1984 Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. Under the Crisis Accommodation Program, $12.6 million has been provided to the States and the Northern Territory in 1984-85.

The funds will be unmatched and represent an increase of approximately 30% over capital funding provided under various programs in 1983-84. The two Programs will be co-ordinated by one Commonwealth/State advisory committee in each State to ensure a true logical approach to the provision of supported accommodation services.

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program will build on existing State, Territory and Commonwealth programs for women, youth and other homeless people. It will enable the Governments to co-operate to provide for the range of needs of people who are permanently homeless, or temporarily homeless as a result of crisis, and who need support services, by improving the co-ordination, delivery and standard of service provision.

Through this Bill, the Commonwealth is firmly committing itself to the funding of supported accommodation services. In accordance with the Government's platform, this new Program will enable the provision of an appropriate mix of short and longer-term accommodation with related support services, and encourage self help.

I thank the State and Territory Ministers for their co-operation, and extend my thanks to Commonwealth, State and Territory officers, in the formulation of the Program provided for in the Bill.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kilgariff) adjourned.