Senate debates

Monday, 27 March 2023

Matters of Urgency

Pensions and Benefits

4:51 pm

Photo of Linda WhiteLinda White (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It's true that the current rate of homelessness in Australia is too high. We saw in the census data reported last week that almost 123,000 Australians are experiencing homelessness. We also know that women on low incomes in the age group of 55 and older are the most at risk of homelessness and have been for at least the last five years. We know that women and children who are fleeing family and domestic violence don't have enough secure housing. So it is often those who are the most vulnerable that are forced to turn to the street or to live in their cars. We also saw, just a few weeks ago, in the Closing the gap statement that First Nations Australians continue to struggle with long-term and stable housing. Issues of overcrowding, a lack of supply and housing that doesn't meet the needs and requirements of these communities are still problems. Put together, these facts are a concerning snapshot of the current state of homelessness in Australia.

Our government wants to ensure that every Australian has the security that comes with having a roof over their head, because when you have stable and secure housing you have a better chance economically and getting a job is way easier when you have a home.

Having safe and stable housing is a gateway to better social outcomes across a whole range of life's important measures, and the Albanese government knows that this is the case. That is why we introduced the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. The legislation backs in a long-term funding strategy to build social and affordable housing and homes in Australia. Its $10 billion will deliver tens of thousands of better homes for those who need them—30,000 homes in fact. And 4,000 of these will be allocated to women and children, as I mentioned before, who are most at risk. They are the women who are fleeing family and domestic violence and need a place to call home, and they are women who are over the age of 55 and are living dangerously close to the precipice of homelessness.

On top of that, the future fund will build 10,000 homes for frontline workers. There will also be $200 million to improve and repair housing in remote Indigenous communities. These are the people who are at risk of becoming homeless and the people who are homeless. They are the Australians who live on the edge, and they are people that Labor's housing fund will help, if only the Greens in this place would support it.

We know that there is a huge demand for social and affordable homes in Australia, but no single level of government can solve these problems on its own. We need to work together—local, state and federal governments. That's why the Albanese government is committing a fund of $67 million to boost states and territories through the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, which will secure hundreds of homelessness support jobs. These are the social workers and housing support workers that we need to attract and retain in the homelessness sector, because often it is only those workers who stand between a young family and that family becoming homeless.

At the Australian Services Union, I work with these workers. The jobs they do are vital and important, and they daily work with those most at risk. What they tell me is that they need more housing stock. For them, there's nothing more demoralising than being forced to give someone facing homelessness a tent and sending them on their way. This is just not a story from one location; it is a story I've heard across Australia from many homelessness services for a very long time. So I'm proud of what the government is doing to make housing more secure and affordable for Australians and to tackle the issue of homelessness by getting more homes built more quickly. The Greens political party have been out campaigning against the government's plan to ease this problem, but if the Greens want to see more investment in social and affordable housing, if they really want to achieve something rather than just attempting to wedge the government, then they should support the Housing Australia Future Fund. If they wanted to make a difference, the Greens political party would stop politicising Labor's $10 billion investment and act. I can't imagine standing in the way of this legislation.

It's a similar story for the coalition. We have experienced a decade of inaction on homelessness policy and we've seen the problem get worse on the coalition's watch. There was no leadership for the states and no long-term plan. Now, when the Liberal and National parties have a chance to do something about it and support these reforms, they say no. I believe it's time to support the largest contribution to social and affordable housing by a federal government in more than a decade and to celebrate it for the massive reform that it is. The Greens political party and the coalition would do well to put politics aside and remember these lines from a poem by John Howard Payne:

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.


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