Minister Collins doorstop interview to discuss the Government’s ambitious housing reform agenda


TOPIC: Homelessness funding; the Albanese Government’s ambitious housing reform agenda, stadium in Hobart; Tasmanian ALP.

DANNY SUTTON, COLONY 47: We’re delighted to be standing here with the Minister announcing these investments in housing and homelessness in Australia. It is very challenging times for people out in our community and Housing Connect, the part that we run, we see these people that are in need of support every day. As I often say to Ministers and others, when people walk in our door they're looking for a set of keys. They're looking for a key to a house that they can have that will be safe, secure, affordable and fit for purpose for their needs. So for us, it's fundamental that we look at both, looking after that person today - which is often where our homelessness services play - but we also keep our mind on the supply of housing, which is the major issue for us to resolve. We deal with a whole range of people in that space, and the increase has been dramatic in the last two to three years. So this investment by the Minister is very welcomed in making sure that we don't lose sight of the people, and those are the people that are walking through our door every day.

JOURNALIST: Is this funding set to enable you to address more of that demand, or is it more about sustaining your current operation?

SUTTON: Look, I think it will be both, but the investment is welcomed. You know, we have people walking through the door today who may be avoiding, fleeing from family violence. These people walk in the door with nothing. They're looking for an emergency accommodation tonight. They're looking for someone to meet their needs when they may have no possessions, no money, and they need support today. So these services are the ones that we provide, and they're the ones that we feel that we need to continue, and the Minister has now made a commitment to.

JOURNALIST: What were your thoughts on the Census figures revealing a sharp increase in the range of homelessness?

SUTTON: Look, I think there is - one of the big issues in the sector is that we're seeing this demand every day. The Census happens every five years or so. So what happens is we tend to focus back five years and say what the difference is. We've got to keep walking the walk in this in terms of looking at what's in front of us today as well. So while it's dramatic, I think we still need to make sure that we don't lose sight of the people.

JOURNALIST: I don't know if you want to comment on this or not, but in State Parliament David O’Byrne raised an issue around Housing Connect reforms that were proposed in 2019. I understand there's been an extension on implementing those reforms. Is that significant? Is that a delay, or is it just about making sure you can really get the reforms right?

SUTTON: Look, I think there's two things happening at the moment that certainly the Minister has some involvement in. There's a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement being formed. That will invest in those services for the long term, and that's our expectation. So the Housing Connect reforms are about providing some input and advice to that, but also providing the data about who the people are, where they are, what their needs are, which is so fundamental to getting even the supply side right at the moment. And we've really welcomed the initiatives of the Minister such as the national supply council, which is starting to look at both the people and the housing issues across the country. And we really welcome these initiatives.

JOURNALIST: So you don't mind that there's been a delay?

SUTTON: Look, I think the main thing is that we need to walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to be looking at these issues and dealing with them today. But we also need to be planning for the future. The major thing I think is to be very aware of where we are today. So some delays in trying to get those reforms done if they add to that better support, better supply are probably welcomed.

JOURNALIST: How many people are having to be turned away from support services because there's just too much demand?

SUTTON: Look, there is high demand, we see it in certain areas. So Housing Connect’s open to everyone, every day. Anyone can come in, and they're not turned away. But there's supply issues. We see it in terms of access to emergency shelters, for instance, which may be full. We also see it in terms of when people want to access private markets. We have a very low vacancy rate at the moment, so it's not easy to find the private rental. So we might provide bond support for them through Housing Connect, but it doesn't guarantee they're going to get a rental. So these are the issues ultimately that we need to solve, and certainly the Minister is really weighing into at the moment.

JOURNALIST: So earlier on, you said you've seen a dramatic increase in people accessing the service in the last few years. Are you able to quantify that?

SUTTON: Yeah look, the major way that we focus on that is looking at the waitlist. For social housing, it's probably the area that we've seen significant change. In my time in Housing Connect, it's been around for 3000 range, it's currently at over 4,500. So for us, we see this as a material change that we really need to lean into.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Thank you. After the Census data this week, I think we know that it's more important than ever to invest in homelessness services and also in housing supply. What the federal government has announced today is an additional $67.5 million that we will provide to states and territories for the next 12 months from 1 July towards homelessness services. This comes on top of the $91 million that I announced just a few days ago for the Reconnect youth homelessness services, which is about reconnecting young people who are at risk or who are homeless today.

What we have done as the federal government is, of course, invest significantly since we came to office in terms of housing and homelessness.

What we're talking about today, of course, is the 12-month extension to the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement that will be $1.7 billion almost going to each state and territory. Here in Tasmania is a total of $38 million that the state government will receive from the federal government for the 12 months from July onwards whilst we work on a longer-term plan, a five year Housing and Homelessness Agreement and the National Housing and Homelessness Plan. And what we want to do, of course, is line that up with the National Housing Accord, so that we have in alignment the National Housing Accord, the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, and the next Housing and Homelessness Agreement.

So this is a sign of goodwill towards the states and territories to work together, because we have said repeatedly no one tier of government is going to solve this housing issue alone. We are showing commitment by working together with the states and territories, with the other tiers of government, but also of course with community housing providers and homelessness service providers on the ground.

If we all work together, we might be able to turn some of this around. But no tier of government is going to solve this alone. We also of course currently have in the federal parliament the Housing Australia Future Fund, a $10 billion fund - the single biggest investment is social and affordable housing from the federal government in more than a decade.

In the first five years of that fund, we anticipate 30,000 social and affordable homes will be built around Australia: 20,000 social, 10,000 affordable rentals. As I mentioned the Accord on top of that from 2024 is another 10,000 affordable rental homes from the federal government and the states have agreed to match that so another 10,000 from the states and territories. That’s 20,000 social and affordable homes coming through the Accord, on top of the 30,000 social and affordable homes from the Housing Australia Future Fund.

JOURNALIST: So just to clarify the funding that you're talking about today that's going towards the agreement, and what's the guts of the agreement? What is its key aim?

COLLINS: What we're doing with the agreement is we're extending the current agreement for 12 months while we work on a new national agreement. What we want to do is work with states and territories. We want to make sure that the investments that we are making together get on the ground and go to the people that need it most.

The Census data shows that we have 123,000 Australians who are homeless. We need to do better than that, and we all need to be working together to do better than that. This is the federal government saying in terms of the two announcements this week; we're doing our part, particularly in terms of homelessness funding.

JOURNALIST: The Census data shows a little more than 40 per cent rise in homelessness in Tasmania. Is that a shock to you?

COLLINS: Look, I think we're all concerned about what we have been seeing and hearing. Sadly, the Census data shows that so many Tasmanians, and so many Australians are homeless. I think what it shows is that we all need to do better and we need to rise the tide and try and turn this around.

JOURNALIST: Do you think for the increase, it's because of population growth, or is that the state government isn't doing enough?

COLLINS: I think what we need to do is, we need to see three tiers of government working together, I think we need to not lose sight that these are not figures, they are people. They all have a story to tell, and we need to listen to that story, and we need to provide supports along the way. But we also need to add to supply, which is what the Housing Australia Future Fund is about, what the next Housing and Homelessness Agreement and the National Plan and the National Housing Accord will be about. What we've got in our federal government, in the Albanese Government, is the federal government at the table, showing national leadership for the first time in more than a decade, how we want to work with other tiers of governments to try and turn this around.

JOURNALIST: So how does Tasmania's homelessness crisis compare to the rest of the nation?

COLLINS: What we're seeing around the country is, of course, is far too many Australians finding it difficult to get a safe, affordable roof over their head, whether that be Australians paying mortgages, or whether it be Australians trying to find somewhere to rent. Or of course, as we've heard today, young homeless people who are finding it tough to stay in school and connect with their families. Whether it be women and children fleeing family violence, we are seeing this all over the country.

When you look at the data from 2016 to 2021 nationally, you're talking about a 6000 increase in the number of people who are homeless. We do all need to be working together to try and turn this around. We know of course that here in Tasmania, like in other pockets around Australia, the situation is incredibly challenging and we all do need to do better.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the stadium, there's a parliamentary committee hearing happening today and one of the issues that's been raised is how the federal government keeps the money from the stadium? Does that impact our GST share? Is that something that you can shed any light on?

COLLINS: Look, I've been upfront at the beginning. I’m a proud Tasmanian, I'm a supporter of an AFL team. But we've been very clear that the AFL could issue a licence for Tasmania tomorrow with or without a stadium. We've also been very clear as a mature federal government when a state government puts a priority funding proposal to us we'll consider it carefully. We're going to do that.

What I'm focused on as a federal minister, Federal Minister for Housing and the Federal Minister for Small Business is dealing with the day to day issues in my portfolios, such as the housing situation that I'm here today to talk about. I am focused on trying to make sure that more Tasmanians have a safe, affordable place to call home. I’m talking about today significant more investments in homelessness services. I'm talking about the single biggest investment by a federal government in more than a decade, with the Housing Australia Future Fund. $10 billion going into a fund with returns each and every year going into social and affordable housing. What I'm focused on is making sure that I deliver as a federal minister for Tasmania and the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, the Federal Minister for Small Business.

JOURNALIST: The state government has said that having a stadium would mean that there's more money to put into essential services like housing (inaudible). Do you think that that is truly viable?

COLLINS: The state government have a business case. We’ve said the federal government will look at that. What I'm focused on is making sure that we have essential services like housing.

JOURNALIST: Are we're going to have to wait until the federal budget to hear the outcome (inaudible)?

COLLINS: We'll go through due process and it will take as long as it takes in terms of us to make a decision. We're not going to be rushed on this. As I said, the AFL could come out tomorrow and make a decision about a licence for Tasmania.

JOURNALIST: Have you asked Guy Barnett if he can give you assurance that funding the stadium wouldn't impact on the money spent on housing?

COLLINS: What I want to make sure as the Federal Minister for Housing is that every state and territory is lifting to make sure that we have more Tasmanians and more Australians that have a safe, affordable place to call home. I'm doing that by getting significant investments like the $575 million we unlocked late last year. We've already made announcements on the ground here in Tasmania and North West Tasmania, up to 181 new homes are being built because of the federal government decision here in Tasmania. That's what I'm focused on.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, does state Labor need to make a decision about whether or not to welcome David O’Byrne back into the caucus? And where do you stand on the issue?

COLLINS: That’s a matter for the administration of the ALP.

JOURNALIST: So you don't have a personal view?

COLLINS: It’s a matter for the state ALP to decide.

JOURNALIST: Do you think they should decide it soon?

COLLINS: I'm not going to make any further comment on that. That is really for the administrators of the Tasmanian branch of the ALP.