Homelessness in Australia is a national crisis. There are today more Australians experiencing homelessness than ever before.
On Census night in 2016, more than 116,000 people were estimated to be homeless in Australia – a 14 per cent increase between the 2011 and 2016 censuses.
There are more people on social housing waiting lists than ever before, and wait lists continue to grow. There is less public housing today than there was ten years ago and the percentage of social housing as a proportion of all national housing stock also continues to decline.
In some parts of Australia, there are more people sleeping rough now than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, 10,000 women and their children fleeing family and domestic violence were turned away from refuges because there wasn’t an available bed.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), over the 2019-20 financial year, around 95,300 people were turned away from Specialist Homelessness Services – that’s 260 people a day.
There is no simple or single solution to reduce homelessness, but it does require leadership from the Australian Government. This includes the development and implementation of a National Housing and Homelessness Strategy. Housing industry experts have been calling for this for years, but the Morrison Government has refused to act, saying this is the responsibility of state and territory governments.
Labor welcomes the Committee’s recommendation (recommendation 35) that the Australian Government develop and implement a ten-year national strategy on homelessness.
In March 2021, at the Australian Labor Party Special Platform Conference, Labor committed to developing a National Housing and Homelessness Strategy in government.
Labor notes that the Committee received evidence about the urgent need to increase investment in social housing and concerns that the availability of social housing has not kept up with demand, however, there is not a single recommendation in this report to deliver new social housing stock.
The Morrison Government refuses to show leadership and take responsibility for increasing investment in social housing. This is a government that is tone-deaf to the dire circumstances of so many Australians who need a safe roof over their heads. The chronic shortage of social and affordable housing is forcing record levels of homelessness, but the Morrison government says, “not our problem”.
In contrast, during the Opposition Leader’s Budget-in-Reply speech in May 2021, Labor announced that a future Albanese Labor Government will create a $10 billion off-budget Housing Australia Future Fund to build social and affordable housing.
Over the first five years the investment returns will build around 20,000 social housing properties. Four thousand of the 20,000 social housing properties will be allocated for women and children fleeing family and domestic violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
Over the first five years 10,000 affordable housing properties will also be for frontline workers.
In addition to this, a portion of the investment returns will be available to fund acute housing needs in perpetuity. This funding will be used for additional crisis, transitional and long-term social housing in parts of the country with the greatest need.
In the first five years these investment returns will:
invest $200 million for the repair, maintenance, and improvement of housing in remote Indigenous communities.
invest $100 million for crisis and transitional housing options for women and children fleeing family and domestic violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
invest $30 million to build more housing and fund specialist services for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or are at-risk of homelessness.
The combined 4,000 social housing properties and this $100 million for crisis and transitional accommodation represents a total of $1.7 billion earmarked for women and children fleeing family and domestic violence and older women at risk of homelessness.
Finally, Labor Members wish to put on record our serious concerns about the inclusion of recommendation 34 in this report. We note that the efficacy or otherwise of the so-called “three strikes” policies and legislative amendments intended to facilitate termination proceedings and eviction of social and affordable housing tenants was not part of any evidence received by the Committee.
Labor Members further note a recent study undertaken by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) that specifically warns against the use of these policy approaches, which stand in conflict with the objective of sustaining tenancies for vulnerable persons and families. As noted by AHURI:
… these are aspects of law, policy and practice that do not appropriately address vulnerable persons and families: women who have experienced domestic and family violence, children, Indigenous persons and families, and persons and families with members who problematically use alcohol or other drugs. These aspects of social housing law, policy and practice insufficiently reflect, or are contrary to, leading policy principles and frameworks regarding those vulnerable types of persons and families.
To be clear, social and affordable housing landlords’ legal responses to misconduct are governed by states’ and territories’ residential tenancies laws, so the Australian Government has no jurisdiction over the “three strikes” approach.
Instead of cheering-on an already flawed approach from the sidelines, Labor Members recommend that the Australian Government work collaboratively with state and territory governments towards implementing consistent national best practice guidelines for the eviction of social and affordable housing tenants on the grounds of criminal offending and repeated anti‑social behaviour.
At the very least, the Australian Government should take a lead on better integrating social housing policy with other national policy frameworks and principles, specifically the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, the principles of self-determination for First Nations peoples, and the principle of harm minimisation in the National Drug Strategy. That’s the public policy work that is required of the Australian Government.
Ms Sharon Claydon MPMs Peta Murphy MP
Dr Mike Freelander MP