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Australian government criticised for ‘hands off’ approach to pandemic policymaking


15 February 2021 at 6:00 pm
Luke Michael
Researchers say Australia’s COVID-19 housing and homelessness response lacks the multi-level coordination of other nations                  


Luke Michael | 15 February 2021 at 6:00 pm


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Australian government criticised for ‘hands off’ approach to pandemic policymaking
15 February 2021 at 6:00 pm

Researchers say Australia’s COVID-19 housing and homelessness response lacks the multi-level coordination of other nations                  

There has been a “fundamental absence of national coordination and leadership” shown during Australia’s pandemic-triggered housing and homelessness policy response, a new report says.

The UNSW Sydney and Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) report examined the impacts of the nation’s pandemic policymaking, and found that efforts to combat homelessness were hindered by Australia’s social housing shortage. 

This was a key reason why only 32 per cent of the 8,000 people given temporary hotel accommodation during the crisis were transitioned into longer-term affordable housing.    

Another issue identified was a lack of involvement in the housing and homelessness response by the federal government.

Emergency accommodation (EA) was provided by various state governments, and in contrast to countries such as the UK and Canada, Australia’s federal government offered “no coordination or funding input to homelessness EA programs”.

Researchers questioned claims from a recent Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report that said there was multi-level coordination from all tiers of government in the COVID-19 housing and homelessness policy response. 

“Our evidence informs scepticism as to claims that any of the extraordinary homelessness policymaking seen during the pandemic has been in any significant way instigated, shaped or co-ordinated by the Commonwealth government,” the report said.

“For some [report] interviewees, the Commonwealth’s reluctance to become involved in – or contribute to – emergency action on homelessness was striking.”

Report author, UNSW Sydney Professor Hal Pawson, told Pro Bono News that while the federal government’s boost to income support during the crisis had been useful, there was more it could be doing.  

“What we’ve demonstrated very clearly is that the Commonwealth has maintained a completely hands off attitude to this aspect of housing and homelessness policy,” Pawson said.

“And whenever that issue is raised with ministers or officials, the answer always comes back, ‘oh, well, it’s not our responsibility’. 

“But what our report argues is that’s a very superficial argument. And the international comparative aspect of our research illustrates that Australia is unusual in that the national government didn’t play any effective role in the homelessness response.” 

The report noted that while EA was more centrally directed and monitored in New Zealand and the UK than in Canada and the US, the national governments of all four countries contributed to the funding of these programs – unlike in Australia. 

Pawson said the UK government was actively involved in coordinating and funding local governments and NGOs in the homelessness response, and was more successful in finding people long-term accommodation.                                     

“In the UK program, which was called Everyone In, they managed to re-house two-thirds of people in temporary accommodation,” he said.

“The fact that they have a substantially larger stock of social housing and a more [generous] housing allowance – a bit like the Commonwealth Rent Assistance that we have – means it’s easier for governments to help people into private rental accommodation or public housing.”

Pawson said greater multi-level coordination between governments would have strengthened Australia’s homelessness response through mutual learning and more interaction.

He said he hoped authorities would heed the lessons from 2020 and use them to improve their COVID-19 response going forward.

“I think governments will certainly have learned some lessons, just as they have with the outbreak of the disease itself – I mean we’re managing that so much more effectively now than a year ago,” he said.

“And a report like this should be part of the process of trying to document what took place and what was effective and what was less effective. And that’s something that governments themselves ought to be interested in knowing.”

The full report can be seen here.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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

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