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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 545

Senator CAROL BROWN (6:35 PM) —I rise tonight to talk about an event I attended recently representing the federal Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, Senator Mark Arbib. Last Friday the Tasmanian state government launched their plan to tackle homelessness. This launch was held at the recently refurbished Bayview Lodge, a supported residential facility. When we attended the launch of the plan, Bayview Lodge was in the final stages of its refurbishment, ready to open its doors for its first clients on 4 October—this Monday. The supported residential facility will provide 30 medium- to long-term spaces for those people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Anglicare will manage the facility, and the Reverend Chris Jones also spoke at the launch of the event. I thank Reverend Jones for his hard work on this project and many others and look forward to working with him in the future.

The homelessness plan is an important part of Tasmania’s approach to tackling homelessness, because the best available data tell us that over 2½ thousand Tasmanians are homeless every night. Of these, 385 were sleeping rough, which is about 15 per cent; 25 per cent were in SAP and crisis accommodation; 50 per cent were staying with friends or relatives; and 10 per cent were staying in boarding houses. Some figures which perhaps are even more distressing is that 69 per cent of the homeless population in Tasmania are aged 34 or younger. Thirty-one per cent are aged between 12 and 18 years; and 14 per cent, 12 years or younger.

Being homeless includes people who do not have conventional accommodation—that is, people living in the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting in derelict buildings or using cars or railway carriages for temporary shelter. Sometimes homelessness can be difficult to identify and people can often move between primary, secondary and tertiary homelessness, depending on their sleeping arrangements. Homelessness is not as visibly prominent in Tasmania as it is in other major cities. This is because the number of people who move between temporary accommodation arrangements is higher than the national average.

Whilst homelessness can come in many forms and degrees, it has debilitating effects on those who are homeless. Living on the streets makes homeless people far more vulnerable to both physical and mental abuse. It also takes a terrible toll on families—it can tear them apart—and experiencing homelessness as a child makes adult homelessness more likely. Being homeless often involves a mental illness or poor health, and it can be the result of unemployment, gambling, domestic violence or drug addiction. Being homeless or sleeping rough can happen to anyone. It disconnects people from their family, friends and communities, and it results in significant social and economic costs to individuals, families and communities. That is why it is so vital that we take action to reduce the levels of homelessness.

The Tasmanian Homelessness Plan 2010-13: Coming in from the Cold, is a key part of the Australian government’s historic white paper, which sets the agenda for tackling homelessness to 2020. The Australian and Tasmanian governments share a vision: to address the causes of homelessness, as well as provide housing and support services, through sound economic policies and programs. The federal government’s white paper commits the government to halving overall homelessness by 2020 and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it by 2020. These are very ambitious targets, but we remain absolutely committed to them.

There are three fundamental goals of the white paper, part of our National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which are: to turn off the tap—ensure services intervene early to prevent homelessness in the first place; to improve and expand services—so services can be geared to help end homelessness; and to break the cycle—so people who do become homeless will move quickly through the crisis system to stable housing, with the support they need to prevent homelessness recurring. Importantly, the white paper recognises that it is as vital to address the causes of homelessness as it is to provide housing and support services. Homelessness should be prevented wherever possible. Those people who experience homelessness should be supported to move quickly through the crisis system into long-term housing and, at the same time, get help to re-engage with society through education or employment.

To achieve the white paper goals, we are collaborating with all levels of government as well as with community organisations that provide services. It is not one level of government’s problem, and it is not one sector of the community’s problem; it is a challenge that everyone needs to address. And indeed in Tasmania we are already addressing the problem. The Australian government has provided $148 million as part of its allocation to Tasmania to construct new dwellings and refurbish existing social housing dwellings as part of the nation building stimulus plan, and $9.8 million under the national partnership agreement to increase the supply of social housing.

The federal government has welcomed the Tasmanian Homelessness Plan 2010-13: Coming in from the Cold. Coming in from the Cold is one of the six key initiatives the Tasmanian government is undertaking as a part of our National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. The plan shares the three fundamental goals of the white paper which are: to ensure services intervene early; to improve and expand services; and to break the cycle.

Nationally our social housing programs are also essential elements in our strategy to reduce homelessness. There is an unprecedented level of funding the government is investing in this area—almost $5 billion of new funding focusing on assisting people who are homeless. The Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan: Social Housing Initiative is providing $5.6 billion over 3½ years to build more than 19,000 of these homes. We are looking to ensure that at least 50 per cent of houses built under the social housing initiative will be tenanted by people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. More than 500 social housing initiative homes are being built in Tasmania. Building has begun on more than 450 and some 106 have been completed.

The $700 million National Rental Affordability Scheme, an innovative program giving institutional investors and community housing groups financial incentives to build affordable rental homes, will provide a further 50,000 new affordable rental homes. Under the National Rental Affordability Scheme, Tasmania will receive 729 affordable homes, with more than 100 already up and tenanted. Importantly, the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness provides $1.1 billion in new and expanded support services to further support homeless people and those at risk of homelessness to achieve sustainable housing and social inclusion.

Five new supported accommodation facilities are being built under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. There is a very exciting combination of crisis accommodation, on-site support, training and education, which makes an enormous contribution to reducing homelessness. But we know that homelessness is not just the result of too few houses; its causes are many and varied. Domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to the level of homelessness in Australia. That is why the federal government is implementing programs and policies that make a practical difference. Since earlier this year we have introduced weekly Centrelink payments for people at risk of homelessness. Ninety Centrelink Community Engagement Officers deliver outreach services to homeless people, and $80 million nationally over three years has been dedicated to emergency relief services and financial counselling in recognition of the global financial crisis on vulnerable people.

I would just like to go back to the state government’s report. I would like to congratulate the state government and the Secretary to Cabinet, Cassy O’Connor, on producing the state government’s plan to tackle homelessness. I know Ms O’Connor has had a longstanding interest in tackling homelessness; she is indeed very passionate and committed to this issue. So I look forward to watching the progress of the implementation of this plan over the coming years. I would also like to thank and congratulate the many Tasmanians who share that determination, especially those of you who were part of and who have produced the plan, Coming in from the Cold.