Housing and a sense of home is a basic human need, and housing is fundamental to the wellbeing of all Australians.
We know that access to safe, affordable and sustainable housing has a profound impact on a person, improving their social, health, employment and education outcomes – I’m sure many of you have seen that in your work, I know I have.
As you know, last week was National Homelessness Week.
This annual event puts a firm spotlight on the impact of homelessness in Australia.
This year’s theme was, ‘To end homelessness we need a plan’ – a very apt theme indeed and one this Government takes to heart.
We certainly do have a plan – it’s an ambitious one – I’ll be talking about that more a little later.
As highlighted last week, homelessness continues to be one of the greatest social and economic challenges we face in 2022.
The situation has only been exacerbated by events including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.
Homelessness has many faces and comes in many forms, from overcrowding and couch surfing to living in emergency supported accommodation or sleeping rough.
And the reasons why people become homeless are as diverse as they are complex.
Some of the leading causes of homelessness (or people being at risk of homelessness) are women and children impacted by family and domestic violence, people with mental health conditions, drug and alcohol issues or financial difficulties.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census, over 116,000 people were homeless on Census night in 2016, up from over 102,000 people in 2011.
Indigenous Australians are over seven times more likely to experience homelessness, largely due to severe overcrowding in remote Australia.
Older women experiencing homelessness are the fastest growing homelessness cohort, increasing 31 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
Older men experiencing homelessness increased from around 9,300 in 2011 to just under 12,000 in 2016 – an increase of around 26 per cent.
Men accounted for 63 per cent of older people experiencing homelessness in 2016.
These are shocking statistics.
One community in my home state of Tasmania is providing a unique housing solution for older Australians.
I recently visited Wintringham’s new development at Wirksworth in Bellerive, which is the first of its kind for Tasmania.
Wirksworth will provide affordable high quality care and accommodation to 50 older Tasmanians who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
This great project is advancing very well, and I look forward to hearing more as it progresses.
Newly arrived migrants and young people continue to be overrepresented in homelessness estimates.
Both cohorts are far more likely to experience severe overcrowding and ‘couch surfing’.
The Reconnect Program is one of the ways we’re seeking to address and reverse the trend of more young people becoming homeless.
Reconnect is a community based early intervention and prevention program for young people aged 12 to 18 years (or 12 to 21 years in the case of newly arrived youth) who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The aim of Reconnect is to prevent homelessness by intervening early with families and young people to stabilise and improve the young persons’ housing situation and improve their level of engagement with family, education, training, employment and their local community.
The program helps around 7,700 young people each year to improve their relationships with their family, stay at school and participate in their local community.
I had the pleasure of visiting Roseberry Community Services in Gladstone in mid-June to see the wonderful work they are doing with young people through our Reconnect program.
It was a very positive visit and I had some meaningful conversations with General Manager, Michelle Coats about the Reconnect program and homelessness more broadly.
I commend the work Michelle and the team are doing there in Gladstone with Roseberry Community Services conducting over 3,500 sessions with 142 clients last year alone.
Moving back to the numbers, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Specialist Homelessness Services Annual Report paints a picture of who is using services.
In 2020-21, 28 per cent of homelessness services clients were Indigenous, 38 per cent had a mental health issue, and 39 per cent were experiencing family and domestic violence.
Over three-quarters of clients accessing services for family and domestic violence were female and 60 per cent of all clients were female.
Women were the main recipients of specialist homelessness services, and financial difficulties and family and domestic violence continue to be among the most common reasons for seeking assistance.
I recently visited the Hobart Women’s Shelter in Tasmania, and saw first hand the great work being done to help provide safe, emergency accommodation and support to women and children who are impacted by family violence and those who are homeless.
The Hobart Women’s Shelter will be celebrating 50 years in 2024 and is the second oldest women’s shelter in Australia – a great feat indeed.
However, it still has to turn away significant numbers of women and children, which is an indication of how challenging the situation is and just how many people are accessing homelessness services.
The Albanese Government has committed to a comprehensive housing agenda, bringing national leadership and a strong focus on stable and affordable housing for all.
It’s one of the reasons the portfolios of Housing and Homelessness have been once again been elevated to Cabinet.
I’m no stranger to this position. As some of you will remember, I was also Minister for Housing and Homelessness in 2013.
Homelessness is an ongoing challenge for this Government, one that we take very seriously.
That’s why, in 2022-23, to improve housing and homelessness outcomes, we expect to invest:
- around $5 billion in Commonwealth Rent Assistance to help eligible Australians pay their rent in the private market or in community housing; and
- around $1.6 billion to the states and territories through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
Collaboration is key in addressing the homelessness challenge in Australia, whether it’s with the states and territories, or the sector.
Events like this national conference provide a forum for people to come together and share fresh ideas on how we can tackle the issues before us, and provide opportunities for us to listen to each other.
We are also committed to working collaboratively across all levels of government to make it easier for all Australians to access safe and secure housing.
That’s why I have already held my first housing ministers meeting with the states and territories, the first in almost five years, to discuss how we can work together on the housing and homelessness challenges Australia faces.
At this meeting, we set out the Commonwealth’s key housing and homelessness priorities, and sought early input from the states on their work and investments.
The states welcomed this early engagement and we are keen to foster a positive and collaborative relationship.
This meeting was the first step to designing and delivering the Albanese Government’s housing and homelessness reform agenda to address the significant challenges across the housing spectrum, from homelessness to housing and rental affordability.
My state and territory colleagues also discussed the priorities, challenges and housing strategies in their jurisdictions, providing key insights, including how the Albanese Government’s initiatives will boost and leverage their recent investments to increase social housing.
The states and territories have made major investments into housing in the last two years.
It is estimated that some 15,500 social housing homes will be added between 2021-22 to 2023-24. This is great progress for the community and will help many of those at risk of homelessness – but we can do even more.
States hold many of the supply levers, therefore a strong relationship across all levels of government is critical to achieving the Albanese Government’s commitment to build 30,000 additional social and affordable dwellings.
The meeting with the states and territories was also a key opportunity to seek states’ views on the National Housing and Homeless Plan and the establishment of the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.
National Housing Supply and Affordability Council
The Albanese Government has committed to establishing a Council to support the Commonwealth leadership role in increasing housing supply and improving housing affordability.
The National Housing Supply and Affordability Council will be comprised of experts from a diverse range of relevant fields that could include finance, economics, urban development, residential construction, urban planning and social housing sectors.
The Council will also play a key role in the development and implementation of one of the key pillars of our housing and homelessness agenda – the National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
National Housing and Homelessness Plan
The Albanese Government has committed to developing the Plan, in collaboration with key stakeholders.
These stakeholders include state and territory governments, local government, not for profit and civil society organisations, industry bodies, superannuation funds and other experts in housing, finance and urban development.
I hope many here will be engaged through this process.
Close collaboration between the Albanese Government and state and territory governments will be critical to the development of the new National Housing and Homelessness Plan, and Ministers have agreed to further meetings to progress this reform.
The Plan will be informed by advice provided by the new Council, and will set out the key short, medium and longer term reforms needed to improve housing and homelessness outcomes across the spectrum.
And a key aspect of addressing the availability of housing for vulnerable Australians is to boost social and affordable housing.
Housing Australia Future Fund
The Albanese Government has committed to establishing the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which will build 30,000 social and affordable housing properties in its first five years.
Each year, investment returns from the Housing Australia Future Fund will be used to fund social and affordable housing projects.
Over the first five years, the Albanese Government will use the investment returns to build around:
- 20,000 social housing properties – 4,000 of which will be allocated for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
- And 10,000 affordable homes will also be allocated to frontline workers like police, nurses and cleaners.
In addition to this, a portion of the investment returns will be made available to fund acute housing needs on an ongoing basis. In the first five years, the investment returns will fund:
- $200 million for the repair, maintenance and improvements of housing in remote Indigenous communities.
- $100 million for crisis and transitional housing options for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
- $30 million to build more housing and fund specialist services for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
Help to Buy
Our Help to Buy program is a shared equity scheme and will allow 10,000 home buyers a year to buy a new or existing home with an equity contribution from the Albanese Government.
We have committed to providing an equity contribution of up to a maximum of 40 per cent of the purchase price of a new home and up to a maximum of 30 per cent of the purchase price for an existing home.
This will benefit eligible home buyers with a smaller deposit and will result in a smaller mortgage and smaller mortgage payments.
Regional First Home Buyer Support Scheme
We have also committed to a Regional First Home Buyer Support Scheme (the Scheme) to help 10,000 first home buyers a year in regional Australia to buy a home.
The Scheme will provide a government guarantee of up to 15 per cent of the purchase price of a home for eligible first home buyers.
This will enable eligible applicants with a 5 per cent deposit to enter the housing market sooner.
If I can leave you with one thing today it is a clear commitment that things have changed for the Government here in Canberra.
The last decade of drift and disinterest in housing and homelessness policy under the former Liberal Government is over.
Almost a decade of housing policy inaction at a federal level has left the new Government with serious challenges, which I have highlighted today.
The work of fixing these challenges will not happen overnight.
But this is not an excuse for inaction or an excuse to not be ambitious.
The Albanese Government recognises that the task of ensuring every Australian has a safe place to call home is not someone else’s job.
This task is not a job just for the state and territories.
This task is not a job just for community housing providers or local government.
This task is not just a job just for the private real estate market.
The task of ensuring every Australian has a place to call home is a job for all of us and it is important that leadership starts at the very top.
The Albanese Government is ready to provide this leadership and I look forward to delivering on the policies I have talked to you about today.
But I don’t see this as our Government’s only leadership role.
Real leadership on this issue will require us to reframe the conversation about Australians that are facing housing challenges.
These challenges are happening in the suburbs and neighbourhoods of cities and towns across the country.
This is no longer for just a few in our society.
This is not an issue that is happening in someone else’s backyard, so we cannot afford to be resistant to solutions that are in our backyard.
As the Albanese Government goes about implementing our policies, including delivering more social and affordable housing across the country, I will keep reminding Australians of this.
Safe and affordable housing is central to the dignity of all Australians.
It is critical to ensuring that opportunity is shared equally in this country.
It is a springboard to a better life for so many.
The Prime Minister knows this because he has lived it.
And I know this because I have lived it.
In a wealthy, prosperous nation like Australia no one should be denied this opportunity.
There are too many people who don’t have a stable and secure home and struggle to keep a roof over their head.
Too many people who are on the margins of our society and our communities.
The Government has an ambitious agenda to make a difference to Australians struggling with housing.
I’ve outlined for you today, just some of the activities we intend to undertake as it relates to national leadership, collaboration and housing supply to shift the dial on experiences of homelessness in Australia.
For now, I’d like to wish you well for the next couple of days as you come together and share your insights and expertise and seek to learn from each other on one of society’s biggest ongoing challenges.