Thursday, 1 March 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill of 2017. I want to make a quick note about the last comment of the last speaker before I get into this. Whilst I agree we do need housing for women who are victims of domestic violence, I actually believe it should be the other way around: rather than the victim having to leave the home, there should be better state laws to move the person who's doing the victimising to move out of the home. So there is a bit of flip on that circumstance, and that's a state government thing and they need to get their act together.
The government is introducing a new housing and homelessness agreement with state and territory governments to increase the supply of new homes and improve outcomes for all Australians across the housing spectrum, particularly those most in need, those who will find it hardest to buy their own home, those who are looking at being turfed out of a rental home. The 2016 COAG report on performance confirmed that three of the four benchmarks that had been originally set and were being adopted by the National Affordable Housing Agreement had not been achieved despite the government providing the states with over $9 billion since 2009. From that period up until 2016, growth in the size of social housing stock didn't change and the numbers on the waiting lists have actually increased. This causes any commonsense politician to question why there has been no change in the number of houses built or why there isn't a reduced number of people on the waiting list.
Clearly, there is a need to change the foundation stones of this particular funding. The government aims to deliver more affordable housing and build more homes—unlike the previous funding model, where only one of those four benchmarks was actually achieved. Originally, there was an expectation of a 10 per cent reduction in the proportion of low-income renter households who experienced rental stress. There is no evidence that that progress has been made. The trend actually shows an increase of more than seven per cent of people who are experiencing rental stress. There was supposed to have been a seven per cent reduction in homelessness, but there has been a 17.3 per cent increase. There was supposed to have been a 10 per cent increase in the proportion of Indigenous Australians who own their own home. There is no evidence of any increase there. The one benchmark that is on track for a positive outcome is the 20 per cent reduction in the proportion of Indigenous households living in overcrowded conditions.
The new agreement makes sure the funding level is maintained and ongoing. It is being kept at the current funding level of over $1.3 billion per year, provided under the National Affordable Housing Specific Purpose Payment—which clearly didn't work; it only met one target out of four. The new national agreement will have a requirement for concrete outcomes to build more homes, and make sure there are housing outcomes across the entire spectrum. It will include specific funding for homelessness and provide greater certainty to providers on the front line of those who provide homelessness services directly to those people. I know that those in my community who have been working so hard with this group of people will be very welcoming of that comment, that statement, that connection so that they have got funding that's guaranteed all the time.
This bill reforms housing related payments to the states and territories by establishing a requirement for greater accountability and transparency for the Commonwealth funding received by the states and territories. In the end, the states and territories are responsible to every tax-paying Australian to make sure they get the best bang for their buck when they are building these houses for the people who need them most and for trying to keep the homeless off the streets.
These amendments provide for certainty and clarity around the conditions for payments in relation to the primary and supplementary housing agreements. They reflect concerns raised by stakeholders, including all the states and territories. None of the amendments change the original intent or effect of the legislation. The amendments to the National Housing and Homeless Agreement will allow the states and territories to receive funding provided they are party to the agreement for that financial year, and allow some administrative flexibility when there are genuine reasons for the states not meeting the strict requirements for payments. An example might be where a website outage means the state's strategy is not publicly available. On all other matters, they should be accountable.
It will also clarify the expectation that state housing strategies must not only contribute to meeting the aims but wholly meet any housing supply to meet the projected demand. We know we are going to have an increasing demand. We know we need to meet this. We know that there are people out there living rough, and we need to address it. It's not just the federal government who should be parking their energy here. The states and territories are equally responsible, and so they should be meeting that demand.
Currently, funding is provided under the Transitional National Partnership Agreement on Homeless, and this is due to cease on 30 June this year. Last year, when the bill was introduced, the states and territories raised concerns about some of the applications. The amendments that are provided here add additional certainty and clarity concerning the conditions for payments in relation to the primary and supplementary housing agreements.
The legislation enables payments to be made to the states and territories under the conditions set out in the bill, and the agreement will move the states and territories to a tied funding agreement, which is a source of sensitivity, as funding under the previous situation was not tied. Personally, I can't fault this aspect of tied funding. In fact, it was that statement alone that made me feel so strongly about this legislation. We must have financial responsibility from the states and territories to account for the Australian taxpayers' dollars which are being invested in this field. To have $9 billion invested over a seven-year period and very little to show for it is pathetic. So if we actually get some tied funding here which says to the states and territories, 'We're going to give you this much, and we expect you to do this, this, this, this and this, and we expect outcomes from you; if you don't get your act together, you're not going to get any more taxpayer dollars,' to me that is absolutely essential. Too often the federal government disburses taxpayer dollars to the states and territories and there is little or no real accountability.
The publication of housing and homelessness strategies will increase public awareness and confidence that all levels of government are making a sincere effort to help solve these problems. The establishment of a single new agreement will provide ongoing and indexed funding. This will give certainty about the funding for many frontline homeless service providers, as I said before, and they need that. They need to know that they've got a certain amount of dollars coming in every month and every year so they can do projected ideas and budgets, get the right staff in, get the right volunteers organised and provide good service.
A series of roundtables have been held with the key stakeholders, including these very same homelessness services, plus community housing providers, plus housing industry representatives and also academics. I do hope they also have some of the people who are the very aim of this project, who are those who don't have a roof over their head at this moment. Too often, I've been told that a person on the street can't be put into a single-bedroom unit because they've got too many other things going on, or that a young mum who has three children and is living rough in the car can't have the three-bedroom house that's vacant three doors down from my office because each one of those children, according to the rules, must have their own bedroom. What that mother wouldn't give to have that house! She's quite happy to put double bunks in one of those bedrooms.
We need to be realistic and have common sense. There needs to be a really good solution strategy for this, because too often I have people coming into my office who need fuel for their car so that they can go from place to place. They can't get into a house because the rules say there are not enough bedrooms, but all they want is a roof over their head and security. I spoke to two girls who were camping up at the showground. One of them had an opportunity to get into the backyard of another person's house and live in their garage, which had been made into a makeshift flat. She couldn't go because she had a dog. So she was living rough up at the showground.
Unfortunately, women in those circumstances are more vulnerable than they are in any other space or place. These girls were both victims of domestic violence. They both had a roof over their head and the perpetrator was still living in the house! For goodness sake, states and territories, get your act together. Stop victimising the victim and making it worse for her. Leave her in the home and move the perpetrator out of the house. That's all part of the problem of homelessness. We need to get our act together. This is a good foundation and a great start—and tied funding is absolutely essential.