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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1475

Senator POLLEY (2:56 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, Senator Arbib. Can the minister inform the Senate about the progress of the Australian government’s investment in homelessness and housing constructed to address homelessness? How is this investment helping to make a long-term impact on homelessness, particularly for people who are considered to be chronically homeless?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Minister for Sport and Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness) —I thank Senator Polley for the question. As the Senate knows, the government is extremely serious about tackling homelessness. We are passionate about this. We have set some very ambitious goals to reduce homelessness—halving homelessness by 2020 and offering supported accommodation to all those rough sleepers who seek it. We are working hard, but the government cannot do it alone. We need support and we are working closely with our state and territory colleagues and also with community organisations, the private sector and the Australian community to make long-term and sustainable changes.

Homelessness is something that has been neglected by Australian government for far too long. I am happy to say that, under the guidance of Minister Plibersek, there has certainly been a significant investment already: almost $5 billion from the Gillard government of new funding to homelessness services since 2008—the greatest amount ever committed in Australian history. In addition, more than half of the social housing dwellings being built under the Nation Building and Jobs Plan will go to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I also recently announced an extension of funding for early intervention programs such as Reconnect and Home, which do wonderful work in helping young people and families avoid homelessness.

The government wants to continue to drive the momentum and continue the reform in this area, and that is why we will continue to work with our state and territory colleagues and the ministers responsible. We are not after short-term solutions; we are after long-term changes. We are interested in sustainable strategies that will deliver, particularly for those who are at risk— (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I have a supplementary question because this is indeed an enormous issue for all Australians. Can the minister advise the Senate how housing models such as Common Ground are being supported by the Australian government? What is the importance of investing in permanent housing such as through the Common Ground program to tackle homelessness?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Minister for Sport and Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness) —There are certainly some very good programs underway across the country. Last week I had the opportunity to visit Common Ground in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, in which the Australian and Victorian governments have invested around $46 million for development. Mr Stephen Nash, the chair of the Common Ground alliance and CEO of HomeGround Services, and Mr Rob Leslie, CEO of Yarra Community Housing, showed me around the site. I have to say it was hugely impressive. It was established using the model of New York’s Common Ground, which is based on the principle that you need to put people who are experiencing chronic homelessness into stable, permanent housing, coupled with onsite, wraparound support services, including health, counselling and vocational training.

As we know, tackling homelessness is not just about providing housing; it is also about critical support services. That is why Common Ground is such an important program. It certainly will make a long-term difference not only to those people suffering from homelessness but also to those people requiring low-cost, affordable housing. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise what other partners have helped make Common Ground a reality in Australia? Can the minister inform the Senate of other Common Ground developments around Australia?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Minister for Sport and Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness) —I said earlier that governments cannot do it alone and that we need the support of the community sector and business. Common Ground is one such development which has received a great deal of support from the corporate sector. Grocon has played a huge role and invested in the program. It has been absolutely crucial. I am told that Grocon, by donating resources and constructing the site at cost, has enabled the cost of the project to be significantly reduced, by more than $10 million. On behalf of the government, I congratulate Grocon and thank Daniel Grollo for his and his company’s generosity. I understand that Grocon has also committed to doing the same work for the Brisbane and Sydney Common Ground sites. It is also worth mentioning that Grocon recently won the Mercy Foundation’s Social Justice Award—the first time the award has gone to the private sector. I know that there were many other partners in this initiative, including the Rotary Club of Melbourne, the John T Reid Charitable Trusts, HomeGround Services and Yarra Community Housing. (Time expired)