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National Homelessness Conference, Melbourne Town Hall, Wednesday, 19 May 1999: speech to open conference.

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I am very pleased to be here this morning to open this National Homelessness Conference.


The Prime Minister regrets he could not be here with you today. As you know, he has a keen interest in the plight of homeless people in Australia which has been evidenced by his support for innovative youth homelessness initiatives.  He has asked me to pass on his personal best wishes to you all for a stimulating and productive three days


Thank you also to the Koori people of Victoria for your warm welcome. I respect the welcome you have given for this important conference to take place on your lands.


I want to acknowledge the great efforts of the people who made this conference happen. This includes the Council to Homeless Persons of Victoria, the Australian Federation of Homelessness Organisations, and National Conference Advisory Committee members.


I believe national forums like these are one of the most effective ways we can help combat the problems of homelessness. That’s why we agreed to $100,000 in Commonwealth Government funding to support this event. You have a great opportunity here to really share your expertise and to learn from each others’ experiences.




The video we saw earlier is a poignant reminder of what having a home means to us, whatever our circumstances.


For most Australians, the home is where we grow up and grow old. It is where we celebrate a variety of important occasions, where we work and relax. It also provides a strong focus for our lives, whether we live as part of families, couples, with friends or individually. Unfortunately, this attachment to a home is not shared by all of us.


The Government considers adequate housing should be available to everyone in this country. It is fundamental to a decent standard of living that governments must aim to provide healthy and safe housing for its citizens. To support this, we allocated nearly $2.4 billion in 1997-98 on help for low income renters, on public housing and on other types of housing - such as community and Indigenous housing.


But I’m the first to admit that government s cannot solve Australia’s housing problems alone. And all of us here today know that there are still too many homeless people who slip through the social safety net.




The themes you’ll be looking at over the course of this conference are the central issues we need to examine if we are to tackle homelessness effectively.


These themes of early intervention and prevention and sustainable communities underpin what the Prime Minister calls a “modern conservative” approach to social policy. Earlier this month he spelt this out when he said:


Our aim is to build a modern social safety net which is not founded on expanding the welfare state but on lessening welfare dependence and broadening the choices available to individuals, fami lies and communities. Our focus … is on tackling problems at their source rather than simply living with and trying to ameliorate their consequences.


While we are absolutely committed to a social safety net that supports those in need, we must also concen trate on preventing dependency and providing other kinds of support and services that help to strengthen families and communities. And I’m very pleased the Opposition, in their new family policy, has finally caught up with Government thinking about this.


I must say I was delighted when I was given the Family and Community Services portfolio after the last election. With the breadth of these new responsibilities, I believe the Government now has an unprecedented opportunity to respond much more strategically to social issues - and to homelessness, in particular.




There’s little doubt that the families in today’s society face increased financial pressures and emotional stresses. And, the Commonwealth Government has a strong track record in providing income payments to people in genuine financial need. But apart from helping financially, we are also trying to target families at risk - at the stage that often leads to homelessness.


We are taking an early intervention and prevention approach across the Government in a renewed effort to prevent family break-ups, domestic violence, crime and drug abuse. These are universally known as pathways to homelessness. We have committed:


•   over $37 million each year to the Family Relationships Program , with 83 community organisations on contract to the Government to deliver a range of family counselling and mediation services. I see efforts to avoid family break-up as a long-term Government investment in our communities. I'm sure you would agree it's in the best interests of this country to have a society based on healthy, happy and stable families

• $25 million for the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence strategy, together with another $25 million in the Budget. This goes to working in partnership with the States and community organisations to prevent domestic violence and to develop better ways to respond to it.

• Over half a billion dollars in the fight against drugs . Drug abuse can have devastating consequences on the community and the funds are directed to law enforcement, education, research and treatment.

• $13 million on a National Crime Prevention Program that oversees local prevention and communication activities, national research and pilot projects, and training for crime-prevention professionals, and an additional $8 million  over 4 years to support early intervention approaches to crime prevention, particularly focused on youth crime and support for their families. We know that early life experiences can have a long-term impact on crime and other social problems. And that interventions, such as home visiting, family support and parenting education, can have a positive impact on the future of at-risk families and their children

• $60 million for programs to prevent youth homelessness - in response to recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Youth Homelessness, headed up by Captain David Eldridge. And I understand he will be speaking here on Friday. To break the cycle of homelessness, which can begin at an early age, the focus is on support for the whole family, when young people leave home - for example, to encourage young people to reconcile with their families, to re-engage in community life and to take up education, training or employment.

• more than $600 million over the next five years to continue the SAAP program , plus an extra $45 million, over the life of the next SAAP.  I now want to talk in more detail about SAAP.




I know that Lisa Paul from my Department and David Eldridge will be talking in detail about SAAP later on in the conference.  However, it is important that I set out for you the extent and nature of the Commonwealth government’s commitment to this important program.


Firstly, I am both pleased and relieved to note that all States and Territories have agreed with us to commit to a new SAAP, as a joint program, for another 5 years.  I envisage the Commonwealth continuing to offer SAAP national leadership and coordination, and I also acknowledge strongly the commitment by all Ministers to develop together a workable framework for the new SAAP.


I am pleased to be able to say to you that we have been able to at least maintain SAAP at current funding levels rather than face decreases faced by other programs.  In addition, the government has committed additional funds to the new program in this Budget, which will cover the increased costs SAAP has faced in recent years.  I acknowledge that the Budget will not answer all areas of unmet demand but I think it will set the new program on a strong foundation and is a genuine demonstration of strong commitment.  But I just want to make some important points about how I see the future directions of SAAP.


As you know, the National Evaluation named many successes in SAAP III such as case management, and has made many useful observations which we will build on for SAAP IV.


When I met with the State and Territory Community Services Ministers in April we all agreed with the evaluation findings that there is unmet need in this area. 


All State and Territory Ministers for Community Services and I have noted the National Evaluation and agreed to move forward, in consultation, to develop a stronger new program in areas such as making sure SAAP has better linkages with other programs and between agencies and with communities. In my view, SAAP needs to maintain the integrity of the safety net when there is a genuine need while at the same time finding ways to help prevent the crisis that is homelessness by working closely with others.




We must stop thinking of SAAP as a solo program and start thinking much more creatively. I repeat - we need to explore further the great potential to link SAAP with other the types of human services, beyond those I’ve mentioned today. If we set up good linkages, we will certainly get improved client outcomes and more seamless service delivery


But we also have to think more broadly about the capacities of the communities in which we live. This emphasis on capacity-building is reflected in the agreement I reached earlier this month with State Housing Ministers. This new, four-year, $4 billion agreement sets down the very great importance we place on building sustainable communities.  My government’s vision for sustainable communities places a strong vision for housing right at its core.  To mention just a few aspects, one part of our vision is for a diverse and innovative housing sector that supports people where they want to live; fosters sustainable communities and links housing well to other programs.  As a key part of the “social safety net” the Prime Minister talks of, housing support is also a part of the “social coalition” the Prime Minister talks about between different parties and government, community and business.


In helping foster such a “social coalition”, we are moving more to community involvement in developing and delivering the services we provide. As with SAAP, my department contracts community organisations to deliver family relationships and disability employment and other services. We think that local organisations have the grass roots’ knowledge to understand what their communities need and want. In many cases, with your local networks, you are better equipped to deliver services on our behalf. You can also give us invaluable advice on how to ‘humanise’ these services.


This ensures that government services go beyond merely supporting individuals. With this community-based approach, we can help to develop the capacity of families and communities to sustain and support themselves. This is a vital part of the shift away from a remedial focus of the past to a focus on prevention, early intervention and capacity building.


At the local level, we are also encouraging businesses to put something back into their communities, through the $13.4 million Business and Community Partnerships program. This promotes to business and communities the benefits that both partners can reap from working together to help their fellow Australians and to enrich community life.


One successful example of this is a partnership between Freehill, Hollingdale & Page and the Sydney City Mission, which was nominated as a finalist in the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Business and Community Partnerships. This joint venture runs a shopfront that gives free legal support, advice and representation to more than 200 homeless and disadvantaged clients each year.


Promoting partnerships like these, however, in no way represents a diminution of the Government’s responsibility to provide the modern social safety net to people in genuine need. What it does do, though, is recognise that all sectors - businesses, communities and governments alike - have a role in building the capacities of families and communities to support themselves, and to help prevent problems, rather than just focusing our efforts on direct intervention.




Thank you again for the opportunity to speak here today. I think this conference gives you the chance to really explore and question existing approaches to homelessness by thinking beyond the current responses.


I do acknowledge that we might have some differences about funding and delivery of support and services to homeless people. But I believe we all share a common goal - to assist homeless people to participate as fully as possible in our Australian community.


It gives me great pleasure now, to officially open this conference.





jy  1999-05-20  11:25