Thursday, 8 October 2020
Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee; Report
I want to acknowledge the Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services, the member for Petrie, and acknowledge the announcement last week that included $4 million for safe places for DV in my electorate in Darwin. DV is a scourge, and we need safe places for the victims to be safe and cared for.
Homelessness is a threat. It's a human health issue. As you well know, Deputy Speaker Gillespie, it's a social determinant of health. It's also a threat to human dignity and human happiness and wellbeing. It is a threat and, except in a small number of cases, it is not a choice. In the Northern Territory alone, the problem is grave and worsening. An NT government report indicates that 8,000 to 12,000 additional dwellings are required across the territory by 2025. We have 12 times the national average rate of homelessness. This is compounded by the risk factor that over half of all Territorians rent, which is more than any other Australian state or territory. Outright ownership is at 15 per cent, which is approximately half of the national rate of 31 per cent. Thirty per cent of all Territorians are also Aboriginal, compared to four per cent nationally. Nationally, severe overcrowding is at 21.8 per 10,000 people. For the NT, the rate is an astronomically high 483 per 10,000 people. In the NT—I don't need to remind members of this House—we have chronic overcrowding as well as homelessness, which the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says contribute to ill-health effects like eye infections, skin conditions, gastroenteritis, respiratory infections and an exacerbation of family violence and mental health issues. I know that you understand these social determinants of health very well, Deputy Speaker. We understand homelessness in the Territory. We understand the urgency of this growing national scourge. We understand it because we see it every day in the Northern Territory. It's a massive issue for us.
Whilst the assistant minister's funding for safe houses for DV victims is welcome and very important, we've just seen the federal government bring down a trillion-dollar budget and yet no commitment to build the social housing that we, for example, need in the Territory when 8,000 to 12,000 additional dwellings will be needed in just a matter of years. Rather than increasing the Commonwealth and building homes for vulnerable Australians, the government, those opposite, seem to be more intent on giving money to existing property owners to undertake very expensive renovations to their homes. I ask those opposite to reflect on that: wealthy Australians make their homes more valuable and have a grant process, whereas vulnerable Territorians and other vulnerable Australians are not given any social housing. The priorities are un-Australian.
I commend to the House to the assistant minister the Northern Territory Housing Strategy 2020 to 2025. It's called A home for all Territorians. It's more than an announcement. It's actually a plan, but it's backed by resources. I'm not asking the federal government to deliver more tired talking points—'wilted word salads' and stale announcements—about homelessness. What we want to actually see is real funds delivered to not only provide a house, a home, for Australians but also stimulate the economy by providing the construction. Australia wanted to see that in the budget but was let down. As the assistant minister himself mentioned, we did good things after the GFC in terms of stimulating the economy and funding community housing, social housing, affordable housing, and I see the benefits of that every day in my electorate. Labor prioritises it and backs it with funds. That's how we'll beat the scourge of homelessness. That's how we'll provide homes for more Australians.
It is disappointing, but, as the assistant minister said, we could work together as one, and that's good, if he's working with the states and territories, but he's got to convince the powers that be: the Treasurer, Inner City Melbourne; the Prime Minister, Sydney. You've got to convince them that there is a problem with homelessness around the country and that they need to put real funds behind it. We all know that it could drive work. We're going to have a lot of unemployed Australians for many months to come, and we know that it would drive work to fund repairs to social and community housing. We suggest an immediate contribution of at least half a billion dollars, in partnership with the states, and that investment would be a win-win situation. It would be a win for Australians without a home or those who are couch surfing, those who are in insecure housing, but it would also be a win for the construction industry and for the economy more broadly.
Ahead of the next election, Labor will bring forward a comprehensive plan for the repair and construction of social housing. Australians can be sure of that. We don't back away from the responsibility for this national crisis. We don't say, like the Prime Minister might, 'I don't build the house, mate. I don't hold the hose, mate. When the country's on fire, I don't hold a hose, mate. I don't hold a hose or build houses. I don't fly the planes to get Australians who are stranded overseas home.' Yes, Prime Minister, we know you don't do any of those things, but it is within your power to fund those things, to bring Australians back from overseas, and to get a roof over the head of Australians who are homeless and on the street. That is within your power. And, when the country is burning, it's within your power to stand up and lead, to be a leader. That's what Australians want. We're in a pandemic. There is a lot of need in our community. What we've seen is priorities that are set in ways that are confounding. They are confounding if you're over the age of 35 and you are unemployed. You might have a mortgage to pay. You might have kids. You might need child care. It's confounding for you. You pay taxes. You're going to be on $40 a day looking after your family come Christmastime.
And what about those stranded Australians overseas? I digress, but I digress for a reason. I'm really worried about this Sydney-centric Liberal coalition government that doesn't understand what places like the Northern Territory need in terms of social housing and proper health services. We in the Northern Territory are not second-class citizens, and it's about time that those around Sydney Harbour—I point at Sydney in particular but I also point at the Treasurer and his priorities, which see people in Melbourne, in his electorate, get to work four minutes earlier, at the cost of 260-something million dollars, when you've got people in the Northern Territory living under tin. More funding for social housing, more care about Territorians, more care about Australians that are vulnerable—let's see it, Prime Minister.