Advocates hope homelessness report marks new era of Commonwealth engagement
9 August 2021 at 4:38 pm
Homelessness sector leaders say the federal government must urgently call a meeting of state and territory ministers to consider findings from the report
A parliamentary committee is urging the federal government to work with the states and territories on developing a national homelessness strategy, aimed at creating greater coordination and accountability in addressing the issue.
The Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs’ inquiry into homelessness in Australia found there was a clear need for a national approach, despite states and territories being primarily responsible for housing and homelessness.
Its final report recommended the Australian government, in consultation with state, territory and local governments, develop and implement a ten-year national strategy on homelessness.
This strategy would focus on inter-governmental coordination and funding accountability of state and territory governments, strengthening the role of local government, and identifying opportunities for community groups and the private sector to get more involved.
Committee chair Andrew Wallace MP said a coordinated national approach was needed to reduce the number of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“A national strategy would lead to better coordination, more accountability and a stronger focus on the policies that work – prevention and early intervention, providing housing as a priority, and encouraging more investment in social and affordable housing,” Wallace said.
“There is no quick fix to end homelessness in Australia, but the committee’s recommendations set out a way forward for all levels of government to work together, alongside community organisations and the private sector, to [effectively address homelessness].”
Sector leaders say action is urgently needed
Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH) CEO David Pearson has welcomed the report and the recommendation for a national strategy.
But he told Pro Bono News a strategy itself was useless without proper investment in areas such as social housing.
“The strategy is not worth the paper it’s written on if it’s not backed up by investment,” Pearson said.
“And Commonwealth investment is going backwards and we don’t have any commitment, or even recognition there’s a need for Commonwealth investment in housing.
“That’s the real starting point.”
Recent analysis from Homelessness Australia found that government spending cuts to social housing and homelessness over the past decade is set to exceed $1 billion.
Given this, Pearson said it disappointing there was no recommendation in the report for investment to build more social housing, a point also made by Labor members of the committee.
But he said he was pleased to see recommendations for a review of the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which hasn’t kept pace with rising rental costs.
He also welcomed the committee’s call to develop a needs-based funding methodology for future inter-governmental housing and homelessness funding agreements.
This recommendation, he said, recognised that homelessness services delivered in the Northern Territory or remote Western Australia were not the same as delivering homelessness services in metropolitan Sydney.
Pearson noted the report has called for many recommendations to be implemented before June 2022.
To achieve this, AAEH is calling on the Commonwealth to organise an urgent meeting of housing and homelessness ministers to consider the report’s findings.
The alliance is also urging the Department of Social Services (DSS) to form an interdepartmental task force with cross-sector representatives to help implement the recommendations.
“I’m hopeful that this will mark the beginning of a new era of Commonwealth engagement and maybe even leadership in homelessness policy, because we haven’t really had that to date,” Pearson said.
“What we don’t want is for this report to just sit on a shelf with the recommendations not considered. And they’ve set some pretty tight timeframes on [the recommendations] so we need to get on with it.”
Federal government responds to report
The federal Minister for Homelessness, Michael Sukkar, did not comment on whether the government would consider a meeting of state and territory ministers or creating a DSS task force when asked by Pro Bono News.
But he thanked the committee for publishing the report.
“The government welcomes the final report, which discusses factors contributing to homelessness in Australia, including housing affordability and poverty,” Sukkar said.
“The government notes the report’s findings and thanks the committee for their work.”