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Thursday, 24 November 2016
Page: 4450

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (11:59): Homelessness in Australia is increasing rapidly. In 2011, the census found that over 105,000 Australians were homeless—an increase of a massive 17 per cent since the previous census. As we await the results of the most recent census, all signals are pointing to yet another increase in the figures. And yet there are real faces and personal stories of heartbreak behind the statistics; it is almost impossible to contemplate how there can be over 100,000 homeless Australian men, women and children—many of them families. How can so many Australians be on the streets, surfing couches and sleeping in cars? How can this happen in a prosperous society such as Australia's? How can we be failing so many people?

We all know about the growing crisis of housing affordability in Australia. Fewer and fewer Australians are able to start down the path to home ownership. As home ownership rates decline, we are also seeing the rise of a property-owning class. Let me be clear: there is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of Australians striving to own investment properties. However, this needs to be balanced with the need to ensure that there is adequate housing available to all Australians. For us to continue to be the land of opportunity, Australians need to be able to have a fair go at buying their own home.

The current structure of the housing market is concentrating Australia's housing wealth in the hands of a few people, accelerating wealth and income inequality in Australia. And yet, although it is a large piece of the puzzle, housing affordability is by no means the only story behind the tragedy of rising homelessness in Australia. Alongside the rise of a propertied class there is also the rise of the precariat: workers who find themselves in insecure employment—assuming they can find employment at all. The great decline of manufacturing in Australia is only exacerbating this trend. Decreasing stable employment opportunities for semi-skilled, unskilled and entry-level workers are combining with underemployment to create a swelling underclass.

Domestic violence is another piece of the homelessness puzzle. The St Vincent de Paul Society indicated that domestic violence is a factor in 36 per cent of homelessness cases. To echo their recent report The ache for home:

If Australia wants seriously to deal with domestic violence effectively then it is necessary to address the crisis in supply of social and affordable housing.

The leading cause of homelessness in my electorate is family violence. There are 48 people per 10,000 head of population without homes in Mayo compared with 38 per 10,000 across South Australia. More Australians than ever before are becoming homeless, or are at imminent risk of homelessness. Every dollar spent now helps prevent more Australians from falling out of secure housing.

According to Swinburne University of Technology, youth homelessness alone costs the community more than $600 million per year in additional health and criminal justice services. Not just is preventative spending on homelessness an investment in the future of vulnerable Australians; it is an investment in the sustainability of federal and state budgets. That is why certainty and continuity of funding to address homelessness is so critical. The current National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which runs out next July, is yet to be renewed by the federal government, which is causing great concern. I am increasingly concerned that the federal government intends to walk away from its funding commitments to address homelessness. I urge the government to allay my concerns and renew the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness as soon as possible.

I also urge the federal government to provide longer-term funding in any partnership agreement that it negotiates. The short-term funding agreements we are increasingly seeing create regular valleys of death for the sectors they affect, with good quality staff moving on because their jobs cannot be guaranteed until continued funding is announced. This stop-start funding reduces the efficacy of the money that the government does spend. Given the critical importance of early intervention with services that support homelessness, we cannot afford to give piecemeal funding. Australia cannot afford to resort to last-minute, short-term deals if it wants to address this problem as effectively as possible.

To the government I say: the thousands of Australians who are either homeless or facing homelessness are relying on you to act, and act with urgency. Please do not dismiss this issue as a matter for individual states to carry alone.