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Launch of 'Which way home? A new approach to homelessness': speech at the 5th National Homelessness Conference, Adelaide.



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Prime Minister of Australia

Speech

Launch of Which Way Home? - A New Approach to Homelessness, 5th National Homelessness Conference, Adelaide

22 May 2008

E&OE

Introduction

I’d like to thank Homelessness Australia for the invitation to speak at the 5th National Homelessness Conference.

Let me also say that it is a pleasure to be in Adelaide. This city has long been a centre of innovation and creativity, not just in the arts, but also in business and in public policy.

That is why it is fitting that we gather here to work towards finding creative solutions to tackle one of Australia’s most complex and pressing social challenges.

Today, I’d like to begin by acknowledging the many people in this room who work tirelessly to provide support for people who are homeless.

I’d like to thank you, I commend your hard work.

But today I’d like to enlist your support for a great new enterprise: how we as a nation can begin to turn the homelessness crisis around for the long term rather than just apply band-aids in the short term.

As a Government, we have committed to begin the process of finding a new approach to prevention where possible, and where prevention fails, then breaking the cycle of homelessness.

And we know that some of the best experience, information and advice will be found outside of Government.

That’s where you come in.

As a government and as a community, we need to learn from your experiences.

That is what the Green Paper I am releasing today is all about.

This is the first national Green Paper on homelessness ever.

And the policy that will follow will be the first national White Paper on homelessness ever.

The Green Paper, and the broader consultation process of which it is part, aims to promote discussion, draw out bold new ideas and to identify evidence-based approaches to reduce homelessness.

This process began at the 2020 summit when Tanya Plibersek and Tim Costello led the discussion on the future of housing and homelessness as part of the future of sustainable local communities.

This Green Paper takes that process of consultation forward.

I would like to thank the Steering Group appointed to oversee the Green Paper: Tony Nicholson, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence; company director and philanthropist, Anna Buduls; and Heather Nancarrow, Director of the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research.

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Together with the Department of Families and Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs the Steering Group have done a remarkable job and I appreciate their efforts over the past few months.

With the release of this Green Paper I encourage all of you to play a role in developing an improved long term national response to homelessness by giving us your views on the challenges raised in the paper.

Over the past year, I have visited several homelessness services around Australia and witnessed the reality of Australian homelessness that many of you deal with every day of your professional lives.

I’ve spoken to people experiencing homelessness in its various forms.

I’ve shared a joke with them. I’ve had a cup of tea with them, and I’ve learned something of their experiences and how they came to be homeless.

In the Mission Australia Centre in Surry Hills in Sydney I met a man who just six months before seemed to have his life on track.

He had a good job, a relationship and a solid income.

He found himself homeless after being knocked off his feet by financial and personal events beyond his control. His experience, like many others, demonstrated how easy it is to have the rug pulled from underneath you.

At the Hanover homeless shelter in Southbank in Melbourne I spoke to some of the 50 men and women staying there for the night.

They were mainstream Australians who had been knocked sideways by unexpected circumstances.

What I learned from these people is that there is no one path into homelessness.

Every person has a different story and a different set of circumstances which brought them to homelessness.

The immediate reasons for homelessness lie in family breakdown, job loss, sickness, drug addiction, gambling addiction and domestic violence.

Homelessness is also a window into the wider debate on Australian disadvantage - the rising costs of housing, the rising cost of living, and the particular challenges facing many young people and senior Australians on the fringes of our society.

Yesterday, with the Deputy Prime Minister, I launched the Australian Social Inclusion Board which is tasked with dealing with the overall challenge of tackling disadvantage in Australia.

The board met for the first time yesterday and agreed to devote attention to homelessness but also to responding to joblessness in families and to the needs of disadvantaged children.

Importantly their focus will be on devising ways to intervene early to prevent homelessness.

The facts of homelessness are well known to most in this room:

z Each night, around 100,000 Australians are homeless. z 46,000 of these are young people under 24 years old. z 10,000 are children under the age of 12. z 17,000 are indigenous. z 6,000 are senior Australians over the age of 65.

The cost of homelessness to individuals and their families is large.

It’s not just an economic cost.

It’s also an acute social cost.

For children, homelessness affects school routines and friendships, education and employment.

Worse still, experiencing homelessness as a child makes adult homelessness more likely.

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That’s why we need to turn the corner.

The Rudd Government's Approach to Homelessness

The new Australian Government is committed to working towards long term solutions to address homelessness.

But we do want to build a strong economy that delivers for working families, working Australians, and those that are doing it tough - In other words, an economy that extends opportunity to all Australians.

As a Labor government we are committed to a principle of social solidarity that includes private philanthropy, community action, and public responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.

But let me also say this: we don’t have an old-fashioned approach to these challenges.

This means adapting a philosophy of mutual partnership and mutual responsibility.

We want to support people who have decided to make a change in their life to continue on that path. But we don’t want to create a culture of dependency.

That means finding creative solutions to complex problems.

It means investing in solutions which deal with the causes of homelessness.

The new Australian Government has already made a start. We have begun to address several parts of the complex challenge of homelessness.

One of our first commitments in this area was to provide $150 million over five years to build 600 homes across Australia for families and individuals who are homeless.

We have also committed $100 million for long term supported accommodation for people with disabilities.

These are modest but important steps in the right direction.

Other important wheels of change have started to turn.

In March 2008, COAG agreed to reform the Special Purpose Payments, including those that relate to housing and homelessness.

St Vincent de Paul reported recently that nearly 50 per cent of people coming into homelessness services across Australia are private renters in difficulty.

The Government will establish a new Agreement between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories - the National Affordable Housing Agreement which will include homelessness as a key area of focus.

It will incorporate both the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program and the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement.

The National Affordable Housing Agreement will provide greater flexibility for states and territories to allocate housing and homelessness resources to produce the best outcomes for homeless people.

In addition to our commitment to build new housing, in last week’s budget we provided $2.3 million to RecLink to roll out their sporting and cultural programs like the Choir of Hard Knocks in every State and Territory.

Beyond homelessness directly, the Government has also initiated action across a number of fronts to tackle disadvantage in its first five months in office:

z As part of the Government’s additional $5.9 billion over five years to kick start the Education Revolution election commitments, the Government has committed $534 million to provide universal access to 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year of play-places learning for all four year olds by 2013;

z The Government has committed $1.2 billion over five years for Closing the Gap Initiatives including $56.4 million over four years for literacy and numeracy programs and $122.7 million over four years for child and maternal health programs.

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z We are delivering 275,000 additional training places for unemployed Australians and reforming employment services to better assist those facing barriers to work. z We have delivered seniors $400 more than they received in the last Coalition Government Budget and Carers $500 more. z We have tasked the Henry commission of inquiry to report on long term reforms to payments to retired people by

February next year. z The Government is investing $290m over the next four years to re-establish the Commonwealth Dental Health program to support up to one million additional consultations and start to tackle public dental waiting lists z The Government is also investing $0.5 billion to provide a Teen Dental Plan to help families meet the costs of

dental check-ups for teenagers.

Each of these measures will help us in our task of delivering opportunities to those Australians currently at risk of being cast to the margins

Which Way Home - The Green Paper of Homelessness

Through these initiatives the Government has begun work on the challenges of disadvantage, but we fully acknowledge that there is a lot more work to do - especially in the area of homelessness.

If we take a hard honest look back over the last decade or more - as a nation we have not done enough to address homelessness.

That is why I asked MPs in the Government to spend time visiting shelters and refuges in their local electorates.

Many of them came back to me and told me that our efforts to reduce homelessness were failing.

They told me that homelessness services weren’t able to meet the level of need.

Perhaps more distressing than the number of homeless people in Australia is the fact that on any given night seven out of 10 homeless people are turned away from shelters because there's simply no room at the inn.

We lack the scale or strategic focus to address the multiple causes and effects of homelessness.

We can’t guarantee that every homeless person who comes to a homeless shelter will get the best possible outcomes - be it in education or employment.

Put simply, our homelessness policies aren’t sufficient to deal with the scale of the problem.

That is why in January, the Government announced that we would seek to develop, in consultation with stakeholders, a new approach to homelessness.

I am pleased to be here today to release what is the first step in developing this new approach.

Which Way Home - the Green Paper on homelessness - is the Government’s first Green Paper.

And its release marks the beginning of a period of widespread public consultation.

We will be holding public consultation sessions in 12 locations across Australia.

These sessions will start next week in Perth.

We are consulting widely because we believe that the best information is held by the people who see it everyday - those who provide support and assistance to homeless people.

Responses and any other ideas will feed into the Government’s White Paper.

The White Paper will include a comprehensive national action plan to reduce homelessness by 2020.

Principles for Reform

The new approach to homelessness begins with renewed national leadership - to bring a strategic focus and drive a

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coordinated effort.

We need better access over the long term to stable and affordable housing.

The 2008 Budget has made an important start on tackling the housing affordability crisis with a $1.4 billion package of practical policies.

The Budget includes a $500 million Housing Affordability Fund to drive housing construction activity.

It also established First Home Saver Accounts to help young people get onto the ladder of home ownership. Over the next four years, the Commonwealth will invest around $1 billion in these special accounts to help people save a deposit for a house.

The Government will also provide $622.6 million over four years for the provision of 50,000 affordable rental properties across Australia for low and middle income earners.

But we need to look beyond just providing housing.

We need to increase opportunities for homeless people - to participate in the economy and the community.

To have the opportunity to learn and gain new skills and to get back into work.

We also need to strengthen the homelessness service system.

Contact with the homelessness service system should provide a gateway into safe and appropriate accommodation, and then a pathway to social and economic participation.

We need a partnership - at a national level - between mainstream services and homelessness-specific services.

This is a big part of the solution - it means many of us cooperating and working better together.

It means all levels of governments working better with organisations who work on the front line - like hospitals, mental health crisis services, Centrelink, employment services, courts and police working more closely with women’s shelters, youth refuges, hostels and soup vans.

In our efforts to improve outcomes in this area we are guided by the principles of evidence-based policymaking.

Put simply, that means we want to build on what works.

In Australia we have seen several successful initiatives at the state and territory level.

Here in South Australia the Government has brought together the efforts of government with the non-government and business sectors to make a substantial difference.

South Australia set a target to halve rough sleeping by 2010.

The Plan is monitored by Commissioner for Social Inclusion - David Cappo - who has joined our national Social inclusion Board.

Preliminary data from the ABS show that the plan has led to a reduction in the number of homeless people in South Australia.

This along with many other ideas are worth considering if we want to stop people cycling in and out of homelessness.

We have also seen significant and successful programs outside the immediate sphere of government.

Last year in Sydney, Tanya Plibersek and I visited a homeless shelter run by Mission Australia.

Recently Mission Australia made a deliberate shift to use their funds to provide high quality crisis accommodation to 40 people not 100.

Under the new model clients received a range of services - in fact 32 different professional services and training and

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educational services delivered to these 40 people on site at this homeless service based on their individual needs and strengths.

Services like medical, dentistry, optometry and chiropractic services, TAFE training, life skills - and the list goes on.

The objective is simple - to equip people with the skills and support necessary to reach their potential.

In conclusion, the new Australian Government recognises that homelessness is an area where we as a community simply must do better.

I said before that homelessness is a window onto Australian disadvantage.

And similarly, the way we as a nation respond to homelessness is a window onto the heart of our community.

The launch of today’s Green Paper is a first step on a long journey that I hope will involve input at some level from everyone in this room.

Together, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference to homelessness in Australia.

We owe it to those 100,000 homeless Australians to get this right.

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