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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 32

Senator KNOWLES (2:46 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Patterson. Would the minister please update the Senate on the status of the new five-year Supported Accommodation Assistance Program with the states and territories? Is the minister aware of any misleading statements that have been made in relation to the Australian government’s offer?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I thank Senator Knowles for her question and I thank her for the opportunity to correct the misinformation and myths that are being perpetrated regarding SAAP. The Australian government will be maintaining its funding commitment to SAAP over the next five years to assist the states and territories to meet their responsibilities in addressing homelessness. In fact, the Australian government has offered $175 million more in overall funding for the next five years of the program as part of the $931 million package. Of this, $75 million, which was a one-off GST compensation, will be converted to base funding for the next agreement.

Homelessness is basically the priority of the state and territory governments and it is their responsibility. The Australian government has consistently put more funding towards SAAP than the states have. For example, in Victoria the government is currently putting less than 40 per cent of the funding towards SAAP and the Commonwealth is contributing about 60 per cent. The situation is worse in South Australia—the South Australian government is putting less than 38 per cent of the funding towards SAAP. Another state recently wrote to me asking me to roll over the uncommitted funds from the year 2000. What we have is a state with uncommitted funds going back to 2000 whingeing about homelessness in their state! They have failed to spend the money they had in 2000.

The Australian government is now asking the states and territories to stop shirking their financial commitment and shoulder more of their responsibility for this important program for homeless people. We have asked them to contribute the same amount as the Australian government—that is, on a fifty-fifty basis. We are aware that the states are in a position to take on more responsibility for crisis accommodation for homeless people and to contribute 50 per cent for SAAP 5. The states and territories are now receiving record GST windfalls—much more than was originally expected. They are receiving a boon from stamp duty and also from gambling taxes.

I have recently seen claims by the state and territory ministers that the Australian government is cutting its funding towards SAAP. Again I say—and I will repeat it very clearly—we are not cutting our funding to the SAAP agreement. We are increasing it by around $175 million. Our offer is contingent upon the states and territories matching the Australian government’s funding contribution. As part of the Australian government’s total offer, we have also included an amount of $106.7 million, which will be invested in easing unmet demand and improving the delivery of SAAP. This contribution will develop initiatives to improve SAAP. These initiatives were indicated through the review of the SAAP program and are in three key strategic priority areas: precrisis intervention; improving linkages with other services, especially for women and families; and better postcrisis transition support. I have already been in discussion with one minister in particular who was interested in undertaking some innovative programs within one state on that program.

In addition to our SAAP funding, the Australian government also funds the states around $202.6 million over five years to deliver a crisis accommodation program as part of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. This program has traditionally funded the construction, acquisition or maintenance of buildings for Supported Accommodation Assistance Program funded services. The Australian government also has several additional programs targeted at homelessness which the states do not match. That is not to mention the $2 billion per annum in rent assistance, which assists approximately one million families each year. I am meeting with state and territory ministers this week to discuss the next SAAP agreement. I would expect the states to acknowledge that an equal contribution to SAAP 5 is a very realistic expectation and one they can now definitely afford. I ask them to desist from putting around the myth that we are not increasing support of SAAP. (Time expired)