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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1313


Senator KEMP (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Security)(3.45 p.m.) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill authorises the commonwealth to formulate and enter into a new Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA) with the states and the territories, for the purpose of providing housing assistance so that people may achieve housing that is affordable, secure and appropriate to their needs.

Through this bill, the government is demonstrating its stated commitment to the CSHA as an important instrument in guiding national housing policy. We also wish to signal clearly our commitment to a process for further reform of the commonwealth and state roles and responsibilities in the housing area. The government is keen to implement longer term reforms as soon as possible to build on improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of government housing assistance commenced in the new CSHA.

The government believes that housing is not simply about bricks and mortar. As a policy goal, we are interested in providing people with greater choice in housing which is appropriate to their needs. We will be seeking to offer low income Australians a real choice between different forms of assistance and different providers of assistance. In achieving our aims, we will encourage private sector involvement in the supply of affordable rental housing for people on low incomes.

Continuing changes in lifestyle, household and family structures and demographic shifts in Australia call for innovative housing responses. Such changes set a challenging agenda for housing reform.

In tackling the agenda for housing reform, it is necessary to take a national, strategic approach to meeting the future housing needs of Australians in partnership with state, territory and local governments and the private sector.

The intention of the new CSHA is to enable the states and territories to get on with the job of delivering quality housing programs and enable the commonwealth to clearly monitor performance.

This is a direction which is strongly supported by the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) micro-economic reform agenda. COAG has agreed that the "overriding objective" of the reform of commonwealth and state roles and responsibilities should be to "improve outcomes for clients and value for money to taxpayers". To this end, COAG has endorsed the need for clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities for housing provision and has noted that significant progress has been made with respect to these reforms in the housing area.

Indeed, the agreement enabled by this legislation will lead the way in measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of government programs by rigorously measuring program outcomes.

Let me now turn to some of the key features of the new agreement being negotiated.

It is intended that the next Commonwealth State Housing Agreement will operate from 1 July 1996 and will continue to be targeted to meet the needs of people who are most at risk of housing related poverty. It will be an interim agreement for up to 3 years aimed at achieving a number of fundamental reforms. As such, it will provide a basis for further significant longer term reform to achieve even greater improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of government housing assistance.

The agreement will be funded by a special appropriation in 1996-97 of approximately $1,068 million. Funding for subsequent years will be determined as part of the commonwealth budgetary process and in light of progress in implementing longer term reforms and the report of the National Commission of Audit.

The new CSHA will acknowledge that the states and territories will be responsible for managing both the delivery of services and the assets and resources associated with service delivery. It will also offer states and territories greater flexibility in the provision of housing assistance and make them better able to exercise a broader range of options in ensuring a target level of housing stock. Ultimately, this will provide for greater housing choice, better-performing housing assistance programs and a greater focus on the quality of the housing assistance products provided to the consumer.

It is intended that the new CSHA will set out a number of broad principles in relation to the rights and responsibilities of consumers, and will address consumer expectations about consultation in relation to planning and service delivery. It is the government's intention to encourage the development by states and territories of Codes of Practice, in line with agreed national Guidelines, which will set out in a clear and consistent manner the respective rights and responsibilities of service providers and consumers.

While conferring increased flexibility on the states, the new agreement will also acknowledge that the commonwealth has strategic national policy interests in relation to housing assistance. It will be the commonwealth's responsibility to ensure that the agreement is part of a coherent housing policy which is supported by, and responsive to, the commonwealth government's overall policies.

The commonwealth's primary roles will be to specify the national housing objectives of the commonwealth government and to evaluate the performance and outcomes achieved by states and territories which are to be funded under the new CSHA.

It is intended that the new CSHA will introduce nationally agreed measures of performance in relation to the achievement of consumer outcomes and administrative efficiency outcomes. states will be required under the agreement to report annually on their performance against key performance measures, thus providing an unprecedented level of accountability and transparency in housing operations.

I would like to turn now to an overview of the legislation before us today.

The Housing Assistance Bill provides a new framework for the provision of housing assistance by enabling the commonwealth to enter into common-form agreements with states and territories for the purposes of providing housing assistance.

The bill is based on two basic premises:

   •   that the Australian community holds housing and shelter to be a fundamental human need; and

   •   that the majority of Australians are able to secure housing of an appropriate standard within their means.

This bill is based on the principle that all Australians, regardless of their economic or social status have the right to affordable, secure and appropriate housing. This government is concerned with building an Australia that is fair, that offers all its citizens opportunities to prosper, to enjoy fulfilling lives, to participate in their communities—in short, to exercise the rights of citizens and to fulfil the responsibilities which go with those rights.

However, it must also be borne in mind that a significant number of Australians do not have the means to secure adequate housing or to exercise a choice in their accommodation. Nor is affordability the only barrier to achieving an appropriate standard of secure and affordable housing.

People who experience, or who are at risk of, housing related poverty are more likely to experience economic and social disadvantage. They are also more likely to experience discrimination in their efforts to obtain housing and to experience adverse effects of inadequate or inappropriate housing. These include adverse effects on health, employment prospects, quality of life and life opportunities. Discrimination in housing markets affects many in the Australian community, in particular, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, women, single parents and their children, young people, people with a disability, people with a mental illness, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people who are homeless.

The bill acknowledges that the commonwealth should work in cooperation with the states and territories to assist people to access appropriate and affordable housing stock in accordance with their needs.

It also acknowledges that the commonwealth and the states and territories should work cooperatively with local government, in view of its regulatory and other functions, as well as with non government providers of housing assistance.

The Preamble to the bill also highlights the importance of encouraging private sector involvement in the provision of appropriate and affordable housing.

In giving effect to these intentions, housing assistance funded under this legislation should be planned and delivered so as to take full account of the range of factors which contribute to the quality of life of the people receiving assistance, including the liveability of communities, the promotion of opportunity and choice, and respect for the dignity and self-esteem of people receiving assistance.

The legislation also includes an authority to make payments for research, development, demonstration and evaluation activities in relation to housing. The bill enables these payments to be made to organisations which possess relevant expertise.

The commonwealth government is committed to improving housing access for people on low incomes and to working with states and territories through a new commonwealth State Housing Agreement that is authorised by the bill. Public housing and other forms of housing assistance provided under current arrangements meet real needs. They contribute to a fairer society by addressing a basic human need.

The reforms embodied in the new interim agreement will significantly enhance our public housing effort and position the commonwealth, with the states and territories, to perform even better in the future.

I commend the bill to the Senate and present the Explanatory Memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Senator Carr) adjourned.