Close Search

‘I want to put a positive spin on it’: Homelessness minister’s comments cause outrage

10 July 2019 at 4:16 pm
Luke Michael
A federal minister’s call to put a “positive spin” on homelessness has been slammed by community groups, who warn this is a backwards approach to tackling the crisis.

Luke Michael | 10 July 2019 at 4:16 pm


‘I want to put a positive spin on it’: Homelessness minister’s comments cause outrage
10 July 2019 at 4:16 pm

A federal minister’s call to put a “positive spin” on homelessness has been slammed by community groups, who warn this is a backwards approach to tackling the crisis.  

The new minister for homelessness and community housing, Luke Howarth, told ABC Radio National on Tuesday that “parts of homelessness” in Australia had reduced over the past 15 years.

Howarth said it was important to look positively at homelessness figures given 99.5 per cent of Australians were homed and living safely.  

There’s half a per cent of the population that isn’t [homeless]. We want to make sure that that 0.5 per cent are in homes as quickly as possible and we’re doing what we can to go out there and talk to people in the sector and find out how we do it,” Howarth said.

“I want to put a positive spin on it as well and not just say Australia’s in a housing crisis when it affects a very, very small percentage of the population.”  

Despite a 14 per cent increase in homelessness between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, Howarth said the increase was “not ahead of population growth” ­­– even though the population grew only 8.8 per cent over this period.

His comments caused a stir on social media, with #positivehomelessness and #positivespin trending on Twitter yesterday.

Community groups were also dismayed by Howarth’s comments.

National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski told Pro Bono News there was no positive spin for those experiencing homelessness.

“We were inundated yesterday with messages expressing outrage at the minister’s remarks,” Pisarski said.

“I understand he was trying to say that by and large Australians are well housed, but that doesn’t mean you can put a positive spin on homelessness.”

Homelessness groups have long called on the federal government to provide more social and affordable housing to combat a shortfall of almost half a million properties.

But Howarth argued community housing and homelessness were “separate issues”, and said his priority as minister was providing more emergency accommodation, because Australians did not like the sight of homeless people on the street.

“There are a number of areas and I’ll be focusing on all of them, but I think people on the street is important because that’s what Australians see if they’re in a capital city,” he said.

“They can see people on the street, they want something done about that.”

Pisarski was not impressed with these comments, suggesting they displayed the signs of someone who has “only skim read” his ministerial briefs.

“He needs to dig a lot deeper into the housing and homelessness data to properly understand the magnitude of the problem that we face. And it’s clear from his comments that he hasn’t done that yet,” he said.

Pisarski said while there was a need for additional emergency accommodation, there wouldn’t be such a crisis if there was adequate social and affordable housing.

He added that Howarth’s comments looked at housing as a welfare issue which was a backwards step.

“We’ve been trying to create the shift from housing as a welfare issue to housing as an economic and infrastructure issue… and these comments take us backwards rather than forwards,” he said.

“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has called for ideas to stimulate the economy and we think the best idea is spending on social housing.

“Social housing would boost the building industry, create jobs, and provide the secure and affordable housing we need for the many people who require it.”

Anglicare Australia acting executive director Roland Manderson also criticised Howarth’s comments and called for further investment in affordable and social housing.

“People on the lowest incomes are being squeezed out of the rental market. That’s why it’s urgent that we invest in social housing. This would be the most powerful first step to tackling homelessness,” Manderson said.

“Our social housing shortfall is massive. We need 300,000 new social properties across Australia. There is no way to put a positive spin on that gap.”

Howarth has been in meetings this week with the lord mayors of the nation’s capital cities, who have urged the minister to create a national housing and homelessness strategy.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at or download our contributor guidelines.


Panel Discussion Webinar

Get more stories like this



  • Chris Knight says:

    I just love it when Community Speaks Out! People Power this is what will ultimately influence the politicians. Poor Luke is my local member for Petrie and won his seat against all odds so this is his ‘reward’ for hanging in their and retaining the seat. Nice guy and tries hard at a local level to support my own service club and many others however what he is about to realise is that he will be working for the real masters in government and that is the faceless bureaucrats within the Westminster system which are all about self preservation – they know what a trickled down approach is like and it will be interesting to see whether he can make a difference. My positive spin of his appointment is that we now have someone that we can hold this government accountable for regarding their policies and budget allocations to actually do some that reduces the growing number of people who are already homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

  • Whamstan says:

    seems nobody knows how to get traction on problem of the homeless (corelative to affordable social housing but needs ‘short term’ response as well)
    If the missions provided very low rent (25% of Newstart per week) secure boarding house accommodation (in old motel or equivalent ensuite room model) half hour train ride out from centre of city, so they don’t have to turn people away from the city based frontline centre, may help. When we see model of that at scale to address demand, then we can say we have started. Next step up of slightly better accommodation in longer term mansion house format may not then be too difficult. Affordable housing not getting traction either, but new housing difficult to be affordable in any age or place, and demographic factors may become more benign hopefully. We don’t have a problem with building stuff – it is just not affordable.

  • roma guerin says:

    Such an ignorant comment has been treated with scorn, and rightly so. It is a slap in the face to all those affected.

Your email address will not be published.


Orange Sky lights up the stage at FIA Conference

Danielle Kutchel

Monday, 6th June 2022 at 4:33 pm

How do you solve a problem like homelessness?

Danielle Kutchel

Monday, 23rd May 2022 at 4:26 pm

A journey to discovery: Learning how other countries ended homelessness

Wendy Williams

Thursday, 19th May 2022 at 8:48 am

Renovating the great Australian dream

Brugh O'Brien

Tuesday, 10th May 2022 at 4:09 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook

News for those with purpose.

Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Thank you - you have successfully subscribed.

Get the social sector's most essential news coverage. Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

You have Successfully Subscribed!