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Transcript of doorstop interview: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House: 24 November 2008



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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP Minister for Housing Minister for the Status of Women

TRANSCRIPT: SENATE COURTYARD - 1.15PM 24/11/2008

INTERVIEWEES: TANYA PLIBERSEK, FEDERAL MINISTER FOR HOUSING

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well thanks everyone for coming down today.

I just wanted to come down and say a few

words about the Government's

homelessness agenda. So far the Rudd Government has been in office for a year and in that year we've committed $150 million to building at least 600 new homes for homeless Australians.

These are permanent homes that people can

move into, where they will receive at least a year's support; so with any issues that they need in learning life skills, or finding employment, or education. And then those homes will be transferred to the common pool of public housing and a new homeless person will be housed in a new home. So there will always be an extra 600 homes, permanent homes to house homeless

people. That's through our Place to Call Home Program.

We've also doubled financial counselling in

the last Budget, in May. We've expanded the very successful RecLink Program, which is the program behind the Choir of Hard Knocks. And perhaps most

importantly, we're developing a plan to tackle homelessness in the long-term, from now to 2020.

That plan, the White Paper on Homelessness

will be released in coming weeks. And one of the reasons that it's been, I suppose, an involved and complex process, is because we realised very early on that to really tackle homelessness we have to work cooperatively with the states. So, instead of just releasing a federal government white paper, we've sought to involve the states at every stage. We've been working with them through the COAG Housing Work Group on the issues of housing affordability more generally and what we plan to do in the area of homelessness. I expect that this issue will be discussed at the COAG meeting on the weekend, and that we'll have some more details to share with people the following week.

Are there any questions?

QUESTION: Will there be any money on the table this

weekend at COAG?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well I think that the States and Territory Governments are expecting to have a lot of conversations with the Federal Government when it comes to money. Obviously, not just in the area of homelessness, but across the housing portfolio more generally. But also across a number of other portfolio areas; in health and education and so on. This meeting, on the weekend, is expected to be a meeting where a lot of finalised funding parameters are hammered out.

QUESTION: Six hundred houses, a drop in the ocean. I mean this group says you need 250,000 new houses. What are you going to do about increasing that number from 600?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well the 600 homes is a minimum number of homes. And states like South Australia have already come back to us and said; with the money you're giving us, we can build more than the number of homes that you've asked for. It's also important to remember that this is a constant 600 homes, above the number of emergency accommodation that was available.

This doesn't mean that only 600 families will

be helped, or 600 individuals. But that there will constantly be another 600 families being helped. So when those families move into - their situations are stabilised and they're in permanent housing, then the next person can be helped with the money that we've allocated for that housing. So it's a

constant pull of 600 extra homes that are permanent homes. It's a new way of

tackling homelessness, that these people can stay in for the long-term.

The other thing that it's worth saying, is that

it's not our only measure to increase the number of available homes. Of course, we've already committed $623 million to the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which will see 50,000 new homes built between now and 2012. We're expecting to be able to move the first families into those homes in coming weeks and months.

It's very important, obviously, to expand not

just emergency accommodation as we're doing with the Place to Call Home, but also the mainstream private rental market. We know that one of the big features in

homelessness at the moment, increasing numbers of homeless families and one of the big causes is very poor rental

availability.

The previous government did absolutely

nothing to increase the availability of rental stock over the whole term of their

government. The National Rental

Affordability Scheme, which will see 50,000 new properties built between now and 2012 is absolutely revolutionary in the Australian context. And the Prime

Minister's already said that if demand continues strong, that another 50,000

National Rental Affordability Scheme properties will be built in a second phase of the scheme.

So as well as emergency accommodation,

we're working on greater availability of rental accommodation and, of course, we're also helping many families buy a home of their own, by increasing the first home owner's grant to $14,000 for existing properties - $21,000 for new properties. And perhaps for many families, just as importantly, first home saver accounts that will help them save a bigger deposit over the long-term, so that when they do buy a place of their own, they've got a more substantial deposit and they won't get into trouble.

QUESTION: Minister...

QUESTION: Do you think problems will get worse as the economic crisis takes hold on [indistinct]

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well we're certainly doing our very best as a government to make sure that

unemployment doesn't grow too much. We do expect that there will be a slight increase in unemployment, but certainly our early and decisive action with the economic security strategy does mitigate against that. The $10.4 billion that we're injecting into the economy. Our bringing forward of infrastructure programs, will both help to

keep those rises in unemployment as small as they can be.

We don't have the same sort of housing

market in Australia as we've seen in the United States, with the meltdown we've seen there. They had some very serious housing problems there, because about 16 per cent of their home loans were in the sub-prime area. We have about one per cent of Australian home loans that were in that low doc, no doc area. And so our

fundamentals in the market are much better than those in the United States. But, of course, I'm always very vigilant when it comes to the possibility of people loosing their homes in an economic downturn.

QUESTION: Minister, the group Ending Homelessness says that you failed to live up to the rhetoric in your first year. Did you underestimate the severity of the crisis and is that what has caused the delays in the white paper?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, no. The reason that - the reason that the white paper hasn't been released yet is because it's very important to get the details right with the states. It became very obvious at the beginning of our process of writing the white paper that issues like where kids go, when they leave child protection. What happens to people when they leave hospital, if they've had a mental illness and been hospitalised for weeks a time? What happens to people who are evicted from

public housing and from private rental? In all of these areas the role of the States is quite a critical one and we decided to use the COAG process to negotiate about the white paper, so that it wouldn't just be commonwealth money and commonwealth effort on the table. But it would also be money and effort from the States and Territories, so that together we can really tackle homelessness.

QUESTION: Is there enough urgency in the Government's response? If it is a crisis, surely action needs to be taken more quickly?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Absolutely and that's why we introduced a Place to Call Home. We put $150 million onto the table in the Budget, in May. The first families have already moved into those homes. There are new facilities being built in Hobart, in Melbourne, in South

Australia. New common ground facilities that are based on the New York model where half of the block of units say will be people who've been homeless, moving into permanent accommodation, paying their rent, getting support if they need it. And the other half will be low income people so that you've got a mixed development - it's not like a crisis service, but a path into more permanent housing for those people who've been homeless on the streets and moved in.

We've got other models being built. The

Foyer model in Port Adelaide, in South

Australia is a terrific new service being built for young people that will have 23 individual units for young single people, and another 17 units for young parents. And they'll get not just a roof over their heads, but the support they need to turn their lives around. Help getting into

education. Help getting employment. Help with other issues in their lives. Learning the living skills that perhaps they weren't able to pick up in their family home,

because they've been forced to leave so young.

That model in South Australia as well, has

the AFL Player's Association, the Ladder Association involved as well. So you get AFL mentoring young people to help them make some of those critical life decisions about the educational paths they follow and the employment paths they follow. There's been an enormous amount of activity and investment from this federal Government. With a Place to Call Home, with expansion of RecLink, with expansion of financial counselling services. And with the extra work that we're doing in homelessness, sharing best practice across the country.

Just last month I opened a new Reconnect

Service, which is a homelessness prevention service for young people. An enormous amount of activity and the white paper will come out when the negotiations with the States are complete.

QUESTION: And when will that be?

QUESTION: Minister, the [indistinct] legislation is being discussed in the Senate right now. The Opposition are calling for the federal incentive to be met by the States. Do you think the States need to provide more?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: With the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the Federal Government's

providing $6000 each year, every year for 10 years. And the States are providing, or Territories are providing $2000 each year, every year for 10 years, as a minimum. If the States and Territories want to put more in, they can. If local government wants to contribute, they can contribute as well. We believe that the figures hold up as they are. We were very pleased with the response to the first round. We had applications for over 13,000 incentives in the first round. So obviously, there are people in the community who believe that this is a good proposition for them.

About half of the incentives were applied for

by not for profit community housing organisations and about half have been applied for by the private sector. So there's a lot of interest and a lot of support for this new government initiative.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Minister, you're a mother as well as the Minister for the Status of Women. Do you think the current economic crisis is a good

enough excuse not to implement a paid maternity leave scheme?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well I think that there are - there's enormous support in the Government for a paid maternity leave scheme. There's enormous support in the community for that. But we are in very difficult economic circumstances and all of these things will have to be worked through in the Budget context.

QUESTION: Is there any point in having women in

parliament if they're not prepared

[indistinct] legislation?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I think it's clear that having women in parliament has made an enormous

difference to our parliaments and our community. If you look at the 260 new child care centres that we're building on school grounds and other community land for example. You've pointed out Sue, that I've got kids and I've been one of those people who's had to drop the kids off to child care and to school, knowing that that double drop off is such a difficult thing for families every day of the week, every morning and every afternoon - is one of the reasons that we have that policy that, wherever possible, those centres will be co-located on school grounds or other

community land, just to make life a little bit easier.

Fifty per cent - the increase to the child care

tax rebate, from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, another example of the priorities that working mothers in the parliament are able to point out. The education tax refund, another example of the sort of results that we get, because we've got men and women - working mothers and working fathers in the parliament, who are able to identify with the needs of working families.

QUESTION: We're not seeing results...

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Thanks very much.

QUESTION: ...in the paid maternity leave. [Inaudible

question].

TANYA PLIBERSEK: There's a lot of support within the parliamentary party, within the caucus and the ministry for paid maternity leave. And when we were elected we didn't predict the global financial crisis and everything that we do and everything we've done

has to be in the best interests of the whole

community.

Thanks very much everyone.