Senator Lidia Thorpe dissenting report
1.1The evidence from this inquiry is clear. Under Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund legislative package, the current housing crisis will get worse. This legislation should not pass in its current form.
1.2This is not incremental progress, and this is not safeguarding funding for housing from future conservative governments, it is further entrenching inequality and impoverishment.
1.3The housing crisis has faced decades of neglect by successive governments, and this package is a drop in the ocean of what is required to reduce waiting lists for social housing and get people off the street.
1.4Furthermore, rather than directly funding the building of housing today, the government is gambling our housing system on the stock market, which operates on a financial system that is a root cause of inequality. If the fund makes no returns, then no money will be available for housing that year. This sort of risk should not be taken when it comes to providing a basic human right.
1.5The government should amend the Housing Australia Future Fund bills to ensure a minimum of $5billion is invested in social and affordable housing through the fund every year (indexed to inflation).
1.6The bills should be amended to remove the $500 million annual cap and ensure that all returns go towards housing.
1.7The current housing experience of First Nations people cannot be separated from historical experiences of dispossession, dislocation and exclusion.
1.8Deprived of our land, our lore and our customs, First Nations people have been made homeless by the colonial project in our own land for 250 years. We are currently 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than other people in Australia.
1.9This legacy of housing poverty and deprivation is a national shame, and our people deserve better.
1.10First Nations housing challenges are complex and culturally distinct. We deserve a housing system that is culturally safe, trauma informed and based on the principles of self-determination. Importantly, a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work and consultation with First Nations housing organisations in each state and territory is required.
1.11Housing experts and community leaders have called for a guaranteed minimum commitment for First Nations housing, highlighting the need for direct and prolonged investment in building the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled housing sector, in line with Closing the Gap priority reforms.
1.12A commitment of $1 billion be invested annually (indexed to inflation) in First Nations housing in urban, regional and remote areas, with a preference for housing to be owned and maintained by First Nations housing organisations where feasible. This funding commitment should be not only for new housing, but also for repairs and maintenance of existing housing, and in addition to the $200 million promised over 5 years for repairs and upgrades in remote First Nations communities.
1.13There should be a prioritisation for all new dwellings under the First Nations funding commitment to be owned and maintained by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community-Controlled Housing Organisations (ATSICCHO). Decisions around whether or not a First Nations housing organisation is capable of owning and maintaining properties must be co-decided with national, state and/or territory peak First Nations housing organisations, and not by the government alone.
1.14The government must commit to meaningful action for renters, including the delivery of culturally safe tenancy support programs for First Nations tenants in all states and territories (such as expanding the ‘More than a Landlord’ program in Victoria). This would also include putting rent controls on the agenda for National Cabinet and/or as a goal in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement negotiations, as well as moratoriums on no grounds evictions.
1.15There are First Nations housing organisations all over the country who understand the distinct housing needs of our people and hold a vision for a unified, strong and self-determining housing sector that will provide every FirstNations person with a home.
1.16$1 billion a year will ensure enough houses are built and that the First Nations housing sector grows so that this vision will be achieved in the long term.
1.17Additionally, the delivery of housing to First Nations communities must be coupled with training and employment programs where agreed, as well as funded ongoing maintenance programs that will equip communities with skills and resources to ensure housing remains at a high standard.
1.18While the number of First Nations people sleeping rough continues to rise, I will not support a bill that leaves behind those who are sleeping rough, stuck on waitlists for social housing, or struggling to pay rent.
1.19The delivery of housing to First Nations communities must be coupled with measures to build the capacity of the ATSICCHO sector, in line with Closing the Gap priority reform two around building the community-controlled sector. This should also include training and employment programs as well as a funded ongoing maintenance that will equip communities with skills and resources to ensure housing remains at a high standard. This ought to be done in partnership with First Nations communities, with the specific needs of communities being determined by the communities themselves (not just land councils and prescribed body corporates).
1.20Develop a specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing schedule of works to track, monitor and evaluate the impacts and outcomes of investments in First Nations housing. This should be overseen by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association (NATSIHA), who will establish a First Nations advisory group and ensure adherence to the principles of self-determination and data sovereignty, which is in line with Closing the Gap priority reforms around shared access to data and information.
1.21Increase funding for social housing maintenance and retrofitting to a level sufficient to ensure all dwellings comply with Liveable Housing Design Guidelines (LHDG) silver standard, and ensure all new social housing dwellings comply with the LHDG silver standard (as well as a specified number that are platinum standard). Similar provisions should be made in regard to minimum energy efficiency standards, with funding allocated for retrofitting and all new dwellings to meet seven star rating under National Construction Code 2022.
1.22Much more is needed to address rising rates of homelessness amongst First Nations people in this country and to fix a broken and discriminatory housing system, as well as address rental stress and high rates of evictions experienced by First Nations people.
1.23Increase funding commitment to culturally safe homelessness support services (this is not covered in this legislation and instead by the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, but we should still put it forward as a priority).
1.24Urgently review the narrow scope of the Closing the Gap target of reducing overcrowding to capture the diverse housing challenges of First Nations people.
1.25Ensure that no money under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement is cut (especially homelessness services), and link the Housing Australia Future Fund package to a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement that expands on the limited scope of the Closing the Gap target to reflect diverse housing experiences of First Nations people.
1.26The government must commence urgent negotiations with state and territory governments in relation to the implementation of key rental reforms. These include a moratorium on no grounds evictions for tenants who cannot pay rent; the expansion of culturally safe tenancy support programs for First Nations people in all states and territories, modelled on Aboriginal Housing Victoria’s ‘More Than a Landlord’ program; and a moratorium on the sale of public housing.
1.27As stated in the Antipoverty Centre’s submission, ‘the expertise and needs of tenants in social housing and those in housing stress must be centred in all activities related to planning for affordable and social housing, as well as in the oversight and regulation of community housing providers’. This includes people with lived experience of homelessness and housing stress, as well as FirstNations representatives.
1.28The Housing Supply and Affordability Council should be significantly restructured so that more people with lived experience of housing stress, including First Nations representatives, can have input. The council should be represented by a minimum of two First Nations members. These people should be selected in consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association, the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, and the First Peoples Disability Network.
1.29There should also be the establishment of a First Nations advisory group, overseen by National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association, with representation also from the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and the First Peoples Disability Network, to undergo nationwide consultations in all states and territories and advise the council on the diverse housing challenges faced by First Nations people.
1.30The First Nations members of the council would also be involved in this advisory group. The function and composition of the advisory group should be subject to consultation with First Nations experts and leaders in the housing, homeless and family and domestic violence sectors. This would ensure that the diverse housing experiences of First Nations people across the country are factored into decisions made by the council.
Ambitious housing reforms to ensure the right to shelter is upheld
1.31As stated in the Antipoverty Centre’s submission, housing must be returned ‘to its primary purpose: ensuring our right to shelter is upheld, not used as a tool of wealth creation that turbocharges inequality’.
1.32I urge the Labor government to show some ambition and make significant investments now that will reduce waitlists, ease rental stress and, in the long term, reduce the need for expensive landlord subsidies like the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which currently costs $5 billion a year.
1.33Acquire (through a buyback scheme) and build quality public housing to enable universal access to public housing over the long term.
1.34Establish a mechanism to support democratically controlled co-operative housing, including direct funding to assist people in acquiring or building housing under a co-operative model (this is not just in relation to Aboriginal housing co-ops, but more generally).
1.35Establish a co-investment scheme for community housing tenants to have the option of taking over ownership, possibly through the co-operative scheme, to convert community housing to supported co-op housing, giving tenants the option to select an alternative.
1.36I stand on behalf of all the First Nations people who will be left behind by these bills, and will fight to make sure that this Labor government does not forget them.
1.37I also represent the Blak Sovereign Movement, who assert the illegitimacy of the Australian Government and that sovereignty has never been ceded. We still do not have a treaty/treaties in this country, and there is unfinished business. Meanwhile, governments around the country continue to profit from the theft of this land by selling off Crown land.
1.38A moratorium on the sale of Crown land until a Treaty with First Nations peoples has been negotiated and agreed to.
Senator Lidia Thorpe
Independent Senator for Victoria
AHURI Final Report No. 383 Urban Indigenous homelessness: much more than housing, p. 1.
 Antipoverty Centre Inc, Submission 25, p. 9.
 Antipoverty Centre Inc, Submission 25, p. 11.
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15 Mar 2023: Canberra
House of Representatives