Housing and Homelessness Forum Darwin

Everyone gathered here today would be well aware that Australia is facing a significant number of housing and homelessness challenges, with real consequences for individuals and families.

Too many Australians are struggling to access secure, safe, and affordable housing.

On Census night in 2021, more than 122,000 Australians were estimated to be experiencing homelessness. That is one in every 200 Australians.

This statistic is deeply upsetting in itself, but these are not just numbers. Every one of them is a person struggling to find somewhere to live, or somewhere safe to sleep at night.

What we want to see is more Australians have a safe, affordable place to call home.

We believe all Australians should have access to the opportunities a safe and secure home provides.

Secure housing can affect so many parts of a person’s life.

It can make all the difference. It can allow the space and security needed to allow a person to look after their health and personal wellbeing.

To pursue educational and employment opportunities they need to achieve greater financial stability.

To access and make full use of community services and supports so that they can reach their full potential and achieve their goals.

As I mentioned earlier, on Census night more than 122,000 Australians were experiencing homelessness.

While the rate of homelessness has been relatively steady over time, between 2016 and 2021, the number of Australians experiencing homelessness has increased by 5.2 per cent.

The Government has announced an additional $67.5 million as part of the one-year extension of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to tackle homelessness challenges not long after these figures came to light.

We know that homelessness services provide a range of amenities and supports, such as shower and hygiene facilities, nutritious meals that someone might otherwise not have access to, and health and medical care.

These services treat people with the care and dignity they deserve.

These services show people that they have not been left behind, that we as a country see them and want to help them build a better future.

The extra funding we announced in March will support these vital services through 2023-24, while we continue to work on a new agreement between the states and the Commonwealth, as well as a new National Housing and Homelessness Plan.

We want a plan that will deliver lasting change for Australians facing housing challenges.

We want a plan that will have short term, medium term and long-term reforms that will improve outcomes across the entire housing spectrum, from homelessness right through to homeownership.

While we’re working on the Housing and Homelessness Plan, one of the key elements of our housing reform, we are also moving quickly to strengthen the supports available for people experiencing housing insecurity and to deliver new initiatives to improve access to safe and affordable housing.

It is only through collaboration across all levels of government that we can effectively tackle homelessness in Australia and the stressors that drive it.

We need everyone increasing their efforts and pulling together.

We want governments at all levels to share the responsibility of improving access to safe and secure housing for all Australians, and we are committed to leading from the front and working together to drive these reforms.

Another key aspect is of course investing in boosting housing supply.

You may have seen in the newspaper today the chair of our interim Housing Supply and Affordability Council Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz talking about supply, supply, supply.

We don’t have enough homes of any type in Australia today.

Indeed, our council is comprised of a diverse range of experts from across the housing sector, including urban development, community housing, economics, and government housing policy.

The interim Council is already providing us with advice on how the Commonwealth can increase supply and improve housing affordability nationwide.

We want to make this Council permanent. We want it to provide us with the evidence and data on what interventions and policies that are working.

We currently have a legislative package before the Parliament that includes making this Council permanent.

The centre of this legislation package though is the Housing Australia Future Fund.

Once established, the Fund would be the single largest investment into Australian affordable and social housing from a federal government in more than a decade, and importantly has the potential to help tens of thousands of Australians.

The returns from the $10 billion fund will provide an ongoing source of funding for housing.

The Fund will add through its first five years 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes for those in need, with 4,000 of the homes reserved for women and children fleeing violence, and for older women at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

It will also help address acute housing needs by providing $200 million for the repair, maintenance, and improvement of housing in remote First Nations communities, $100 million for crisis and transitional housing options for women and children experiencing domestic and family violence and older women at risk of homelessness, and $30 million towards housing and services for veterans experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.

That’s a lot for our Fund to do in its first five years.

But let’s be clear – we think the Fund will work and deliver this. We know it’s ambitious, but it can be done.

It is backed by housing experts, community housing providers, Housing Ministers from each state and territory, every single crossbench MP in the lower house - except for the Greens political party - and multiple members of the Senate cross bench.

We even had a Liberal in the lower house cross the floor to support the bill.

I want to assure everyone in this room we will continue to make the case for this critical legislation.

What we need is that Fund there in perpetuity, making returns to provide secure investment over the long term. That is why the Fund is structured the way that it is.

Building on our election commitments - which include the Housing Australia Future Fund, the Supply and Affordability Council, and of course the housing and homelessness plan - last year the Treasurer and I announced the National Housing Accord, which brings together states and territories, the Australian Local Government Association, investors, and representatives from the construction sector.

It will help support the housing supply pipeline beyond next year and into the future.

It includes $350 million in additional Federal funding to deliver a further 10,000 affordable homes over five years from 2024. And we have an agreement with the states and territories to match that.

The Accord also sets a shared aspirational target of one million new, well‑located homes to be delivered over five years from 2024.

We know that reaching that target will depend on everybody working together to identify bottlenecks and resolve delays.

The National Housing Accord will align with the new National Housing and Homelessness Plan and the next Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement to ensure we’re all working together to deliver more homes.

As I said, our agenda is ambitious – because we want to make a difference.

And we’re not done yet. In last week’s budget, we’ve gone even further.

We announced an additional $2 billion in financing to support more social and affordable rental housing through the National Housing and Finance Investment Corporation.

This will allow NHFIC to support more social and affordable rental homes by providing lower cost and longer-term finance to community housing providers.

We’ve also announced a significant expansion of the criteria for the Home Guarantee Scheme, to support people into home ownership.

This is in addition to our earlier moves to increase the number of places available under the Scheme.

The Government is expanding eligibility for the Home Guarantee Scheme to provide more people the opportunity to own a home sooner.

From 1 July, the First Home Guarantee and Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee will be available to any two eligible borrowers, beyond spouse or de facto partners, and to non-first home buyers, where they have not owned a property in Australia in the past ten years – because we know so many people get locked out of these schemes.

The Home Guarantee Scheme will also be available to eligible borrowers who are Australian Permanent Residents, in addition to Australian citizens.

The Family Home Guarantee will be made available to eligible borrowers who are single legal guardians of children, in addition to single natural and adoptive parents, because we’ve had cases where people where the guardians of their niece or nephew and were unable to access the scheme.

We’ve made these changes to align with what a family is in Australia.

In total, 35,000 places are available per year across the First Home Guarantee; 10,000 places per year to 30 June 2025 under the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee; and 5,000 places per year to 30 June 2025 under the Family Home Guarantee.

As part of last week’s Budget, the Government has also announced tax incentives to increase investment in build to rent projects.

This will help boost institutional investment in new rental stock and increase the supply of new homes.

And as we announced in the 2023-2024 Budget, the Albanese Government is raising the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 15 per cent, the largest increase to this payment in over thirty years.

National Cabinet recently agreed to work on a range of reforms to support a national approach to the growth of our cities, towns and suburbs.

As part of the agreement, planning ministers, working with the Australian Local Government Association, will report back to National Cabinet in six months with a proposal to increase housing supply and affordability.

Housing ministers have also been tasked to report back on potential reforms to strengthen renters’ rights across the country, and look at more national consistency.

I have no doubt that all of you here with us here today share the same passion and drive I do when it comes to providing safe and affordable homes for all Australians.

Maybe some of your, like me, have experienced public or community housing firsthand. Or you may have needed to squeeze as much out of every dollar as you can to make rent.

Maybe you have experienced this second-hand, through someone close to you, whose life was improved immeasurably through access to housing or homelessness services.

Whatever your reason, we know we must work together to do all we can so as many people as possible realise the security and stability of having a place to call their own.

To live in shelter, to live in community, and to live in safety.

As the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, I am honoured to do what I can to make the goal of secure housing for Australians a reality, and I sincerely look forward to working with all of you to achieve it.

Thank you.