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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5266

Senator LUDLAM (7:38 PM) —I rise tonight to make a couple of brief comments on the statement that was made earlier today by the Minister for Housing and Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP, who updated us in the other place this afternoon on homelessness and where the government is at with the homelessness white paper and progress in rolling out some of these programs. I would like to say at the outset that I certainly welcome the statement. I think it is greatly appreciated that the minister took the time to update us because we are of course used to prominent announcements and huge amounts of money notionally to be spent and then sometimes the details can fade from view and it can be very difficult to track what is going on. So we certainly welcome the statement and the amount of detail that has been provided today.

The Greens join and wholeheartedly support this commitment to wanting to end homelessness in Australia. The aim of halving homelessness in all its forms by 2020 is something that we need to do for everyone, particularly for young people, for women escaping domestic violence and for other groups in Australia at risk of homelessness. So the commitment is certainly welcome and the Greens are very supportive and very willing to work with all parties on advancing this agenda.

I also appreciate the stated desire of the government that the implementation plans will evolve over time as we learn more about the most successful ways of preventing and responding to homelessness. As a first step in this process it is particularly important that we see these implementation plans in full. Some details on the state plans have been released and obviously this is greatly appreciated, but the full plans would give a sense of what research is informing each state’s thinking because each state and territory is obviously at a very different place in how they are grappling with homelessness, what links states may have made with other government initiatives and how states will ensure that no-one is exited from the care of the state into homelessness, which is obviously a very big issue. Different jurisdictions will have prioritised different measures in their plans already and I think it would be extremely helpful to the parliament if the full plans were released to the public so that we are able to assess why these decisions are being made and how the funding is tracking.

Generally, the announcement was very positive, particularly the fact that initiatives that are rolling out today are part of long-term planning that is a mix of housing people permanently but also looking after crisis accommodation. The $11.5 million homelessness research program is also extremely welcome.

Not by way of critique but certainly as a point of caution is the fact that the details on Western Australia are pretty sketchy. In the minister’s statement there appeared to be only inner-city rough sleeping focus. I am presuming the agenda is much broader than that but the details were fairly sketchy. There did not really seem to be any focus on long-term housing and on housing targets, and of course we know that Western Australia has the worst turn away rates in the country, which is a statistic of which none of us is proud.

It has yet to be seen exactly how the funding proposals are going to hit the ground in a meaningful way. I want to talk a little bit about the funding because obviously there is matching funding between the states and territories and the Commonwealth that will total just over $1 billion over five years. But these figures are then stacked up next to the $6 billion social housing proposal that went through in the stimulus package passed through this place earlier this year, which we discovered is roughly the same amount that the federal government hands out to people every year who already own more than one property. It was one of the key instruments for inflating the housing bubble that we are now grappling with and it has created this degree of housing unaffordability in the first place through negative gearing.

I went back to the Senate Select Committee on Housing Affordability in Australia, which did quite a good job of canvassing the issues and proposing alternatives, and found that the combined total of capital gains tax arrangements, land tax exemptions and negative gearing arrangements is estimated to be in the order of $50 billion per year. This is set against one $6 billion funding commitment for social housing and the relatively much smaller amounts that have been set aside annually for homelessness. That reflects against the $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth-state housing agreement at the time that the report was released; it is now a couple of years old. So the tax concessions that we are making to allow people to get into their second and third properties are actually costing the Australian economy, as of 24 months ago, in the order of at least $50 billion per year, which is set beside the $1 billion over five years that we are providing for homelessness. So amidst the welcome news that the government is making some serious inroads into homelessness—and we hope to see the practical implications of that over the next few years—we are still spending vastly more money assisting people who already own one property to purchase more. That is something that it is about time we had a proper look at.

All in all, however, I welcome this announcement and future progress in homelessness in Australia. I think it is absolutely long past time that we made a proper attempt with substantial funding commitments to address homelessness in Australia.