Federal Government Public Housing Policies
Ms BEAMER (Mulgoa) [3.55 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the Minister for Housing about the lack of progress made by the Federal Government on the national homelessness strategy. In the time available to me I shall make a few brief points on the homelessness issue. Late last year the Minister asked me to review the program for the homeless during the Olympics and other issues relating to homelessness during the Olympics. A ministerial advisory committee was established which received submissions and heard evidence on the matter. Indeed, the honourable member for Hawkesbury made a submission to the committee. Amongst other things, the committee's brief terms of reference referred to temporary accommodation for the homeless during the Olympics. During the review the committee ascertained that homelessness presents this city with a number of complex problems. One problem is the lack of opportunity for homeless people to move from fully supported accommodation into less supported accommodation and the closing down of boarding houses.
Although some people did not need the supported accommodation available to them in the city, they still needed some support. However, they did not need the same level of support afforded them in public housing or in the private rental market. The lack of such accommodation was highlighted to the committee. I am pleased to congratulate the Government on looking at the model proposed by the committee. Since then, the Government has been trialling boarding house projects for people with low support needs. Properties are being managed by community housing associations to provide help for people who have problems with basic living skills, such as cooking and cleaning.
I am sure the honourable member for Bligh will agree that another complex issue relates to homeless people with a mental illness and the lack of support between housing initiatives and mental health initiatives. The Department of Disability Services and the Department of Housing need to work together to help people with a mental illness who are seeking accommodation. In the housing sector, particularly in relation to supported assistance program housing, there is an inability to deal with people with a mental illness whose need for accommodation is acute. Therefore, many problems arise because of what is occurring in the housing sector. Interestingly, the committee noted that this is the first time non-government agencies have worked with Government agencies. Non-government agencies have benefited from the links they forged with the Department of Housing and the Department of Health. That has enabled them to think not only that their clients will be with them for a specific period but also that their clients will move to another place.
In terms of boarding houses, the Government is talking about people moving to accommodation that provides a level of support but does not insist that people be in by 9.00 p.m., lights out, et cetera. Supported accommodation enables people to have a level of self-reliance; it does not mean that people must pay all the bills and do everything for themselves, because some people do not need that level of support. One result of the review was the extension of the normal operating hours of the Department of Housing telephone assessment and referral centre to operating 24 hours. That was not only for the two weeks of the Olympics; the extended operating hours covered the period just before and just after the Olympics as well.
The Government has now contributed $1 million to a two-year pilot program in the Hunter and Central Coast areas to co-ordinate approaches to address the needs of homeless individuals. Features of the program will be the provision of expert assessment of the needs of each homeless person and the provision of practical assistance to agencies dealing with homelessness as well as other agencies that support homeless people. That will be done to facilitate assessment of homeless people in a timely manner. There will also be ongoing case management to ensure that people do not slip through the system. Links need to be formed between housing and other agencies, particularly those dealing with mental health and drug and alcohol abuse.
A method that I must say works well, although it is still being reviewed by the Government, is a housing protocol that has been developed among the Department of Housing, security guards and the Police Service so that in Sydney homelessness is not treated as a crime. This approach will enable homeless people to make some choices and some of them are making the choice to sleep rough. I will be interested to see how the Government responds to retaining a protocol which provides scope for not treating homeless people as criminals but as people with dignity.
Ms MOORE (Bligh) [4.00 p.m.]: I wish to make the most of this brief opportunity to speak about a matter which was the subject of my question to the Premier yesterday about the budget. I strongly support this motion, which condemns the Federal Government for its lack of progress on the national homelessness strategy. The Federal Government has decreased funding for public housing and has set in place policies that increase homelessness. Notwithstanding the dramatic increase in rents and house prices in Sydney and the burgeoning public housing list, there is a growing homelessness crisis. Yet the Commonwealth Government has decreased its contribution to the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement [CSHA] by 1 per cent annually whereas the State Government has increased its contribution by 14 per cent.
The State's housing budget has been estimated to have increased by 10 per cent. I acknowledge that, and I support what was said in the media statement released by Shelter New South Wales: A national approach is needed to address the acute housing problems that we are facing in New South Wales and across Australia. It is time for the Federal Government to provide a lead. It is not enough for John Howard to merely launch programs. It is a matter of his Government making an ongoing and substantial commitment to resolving an important social problem. The reason I asked the Premier a question about this matter yesterday was that the Treasurer had not even mentioned housing in his Budget Speech. Because I represent an inner-city electorate, this is a matter that is very much in the forefront of my mind.
I was quite alarmed that there is no mention of housing in the State budget speech and that is why I welcome the opportunity of taking part in this debate. Notwithstanding the State Government's 10 per cent increase in housing funding, I take this opportunity to call upon the Minister for Housing, who is at the table, to lobby the Treasurer and strongly urge that part of the budget surplus be allocated to dealing with the problem of homelessness. I say that because I believe that the State Government has a responsibility to fund solutions to the problem of homelessness. It is Government policies of urban consolidation and the Government's successful promotion of Sydney as an international finance and tourism centre that has put tremendous pressure on the inner-city areas.
Cheap accommodation that used to be available now no longer exists. Indeed, the Government has reaped huge rewards in stamp duty from city apartment development and that revenue has been channelled into the consolidated revenue. Some of that income should be spent on the downside of the Government's policy, the casualties of that policy: the homeless and people on the Department of Housing waiting list. In 1999-2000, the State Government reaped a windfall of $600 million in stamp duty over and above the anticipated sum of $1.7 billion. That represented a 35 per cent increase and brought the total stamp duty revenue derived from apartment developments, particularly in the inner city, to $2.3 billion.
As a result of Government policy, a commensurate and dramatic increase of people who are living on the streets has occurred. The Council of Social Service of New South Wales [NCOSS] pointed out in its response to the budget that neither Prime Minister John Howard in his Federal Budget nor Treasurer Michael Egan in the State budget offered any hope to the 30 per cent of this State's population who rent through the private rental market or those whose names are listed on the State's public housing waiting list. I again call upon the State Labor Government, as I did previously, to allocate part of its budget surplus to fund solutions to assist the most disadvantaged people in our community: the homeless. I also call on the Government to fund the increase in the construction of public housing and reduce the shocking list of 100,000 names that are on the public housing waiting lists. I believe that that is what a compassionate government should do in a civil society.
While the Treasurer has been highly commended for paying off the State's debt, for paying for the Olympics and for producing a budget surplus, I believe that there is now an opportunity to allocate further funding to people who are in greatest need in our community. As well as the stamp duty windfall, I remind the House that gambling taxes, which increased by 2 per cent in 2001-02, will apparently blow out by 18 per cent over the next three years. Having identified a very serious problem with which I have to deal on a daily basis, I am also identifying areas of huge revenue for the Government, revenue derived from stamp duty and gambling taxes. I reiterate my call to the Treasurer and the Minister at the table to provide further assistance, notwithstanding the 10 per cent increase in housing funding. Given the increase in the housing crisis in the city area, can some of the budget surplus not be applied to resolving the problems of people who are the most disadvantaged in our community?
Mr ASHTON (East Hills) [4.05 p.m.]: In common with the honourable member for Mulgoa, last year I was a member of a ministerial advisory committee. I learned quite a lot about problems experienced by homeless people throughout the Olympics. The committee came up with some scenarios and plans. Funding has been provided to trial a program that is aimed at addressing the problem. But let us remember that this motion for urgent consideration is directed at condemning the Howard Government. The New South Wales Government is committed to doing everything it can for homeless people in this State, but it takes more than the State Government to solve the problem.
The Howard Government has been a disaster for the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement [CSHA] and an even bigger disaster for homeless people and people who are vulnerable to homelessness. Governments must have a commitment to helping homeless people. The New South Wales State Government has that commitment and I know that the honourable member for Bligh and some Opposition members have that commitment, but I am not convinced that the Howard Government does. I do not think anyone in the wider community is convinced of that either.
The Howard Government has shown no commitment to the CSHA. There has been a massive decline in the total Commonwealth funding for the CSHA since 1996, the year the Federal Coalition Government was elected. The most recent CSHA, which is effective from 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2003, continues the downward trend in housing funding. The only reason CSHA funding did not fall even further is that it was part of the Howard Government's deal with the Australian Democrats to pass the GST legislation. The Howard budget, which was released last week, is further confirmation of the decline in funding for housing. The Howard budget stands in marked contrast to the budget introduced by Treasurer Egan in this House last Tuesday.
The Howard Government's budget looks ahead to 2003-04. It projects that housing funds will decrease by $100 million from 2003. Unlike the Federal Howard Government, the Carr Labor Government recognises the need to provide affordable, low-cost accommodation for the people of New South Wales. At a time when the Commonwealth Government is cutting funds provided under the CSHA, the Carr Government is providing more housing assistance to those who are most vulnerable and at risk in the community. The Howard Government just does not understand, or does not want to understand, that homelessness requires a whole-of-government approach. That means a holistic approach to income support arrangements, the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program [SAAP], health policies, employment, education and training opportunities, as well as affordable housing strategies.
As I mentioned, the Howard budget, which was delivered last week, is cruel evidence of the Federal Government's lack of understanding of, and concern for, the homelessness issue. If members of the New South Wales Opposition are genuine in their concern for homeless people and for those who need housing assistance—and I remind the House that yesterday the Opposition walked out: Opposition members asked no questions about this matter, but the honourable member for Bligh did—they should try to persuade their Federal colleagues to restore adequate funding to New South Wales under the CSHA instead of trying to score cheap political points.
Perhaps the Opposition could convince its Federal colleagues to index the funding provided to New South Wales under the CSHA or, at the very least, to abolish the 1 per cent efficiency cuts. Despite the funding cuts to the CSHA, the Carr Government has been able to provide a greater level of housing assistance to those who need support. Most importantly, this Government has provided assistance to those people who may be vulnerable to homelessness. The Government recognises that the causes of homelessness are many and varied and that a range of strategies is needed to address the problem. While the Government recognises the need to house people, it also accepts the need to ensure that the housing assistance provided is both appropriate and sustainable. It is no good housing a person for a night or two, simply to make the statistics look good, if something cannot be done for the longer term.
The Opposition will continue to be irrelevant on this issue as long as it seeks to trivialise rather than understand these important issues and develop appropriate policies. The Federal Government's record on housing, as with most other issues, has been abysmal. The only homeless people that the Opposition in this place and the Howard Government care about are those who are likely to be made homeless when the royal commission finally gets to the bottom of the HIH collapse and has bankers, speculators and HIH directors led off to a special place—perhaps Long Bay Gaol or something of that nature.
Unfortunately we still have the legacy of the years of the Greiner-Faye Government when housing moved backwards, as did the Department of Community Services. Unlike the Opposition, the Carr Government is committed to building a strong and flexible social housing system in New South Wales that can respond to the many and varied needs of the citizens of this State. By contrast, the Howard Government's policy is often made on the run. It has to be dragged kicking and screaming before it will do anything on most social issues—and housing for the homeless is one of them. More insidious is the amount of money the Howard Government has cut from the sorts of programs that provide long-term solutions to homelessness.
In April 1999 a Howard Government-sponsored evaluation showed growing demand for homelessness services, and made recommendations about how the Howard Government could deal with this demand. Nothing has been done. In the 2000-01 budget the Howard Government allocated only an extra 18 per cent in real terms over five years. That does not even match the inflation figure. The Carr Government is committed to doing as much as it can for homeless people. The Federal Government has no interest in the issue whatsoever, and its budget delivered recently shows that it is failing in those areas.
Mr ROZZOLI (Hawkesbury) [4.10 p.m.]: It is of great distress and concern to me that I have had to listen to such hypocrisy from the Government benches with only a slim glimmer of some compassion and understanding from the honourable member for Mulgoa, who touched on some matters of significance. With a very slight change of words the text of this motion could equally apply to the State Government. Only a few weeks ago in this Parliament I, together with two of my colleagues, the Hon. Janelle Saffin and the Hon. Ian Cohen, sponsored a summit on homelessness. The summit drew together 180 delegates, who would represent the greatest bank of expertise on homelessness that could be assembled in this State. The Government blacklisted the summit, blackballed it, ignored it. It did not have one representative at the summit to report to the summit or participate in debate, and therefore obviously made no contribution of substance to the debate.
Had representatives of the Government attended the summit they would have realised that the people who genuinely support the homelessness debate in New South Wales are equally condemnatory of the Federal Government and the State Government. I can assure members that the State Government got no brownie points from the people who attended the summit. The summit clearly demonstrated that, although money is important in the homelessness debate, accommodation strategies and better mechanisms for addressing homelessness are equally important. Whilst we may condemn the slow progress of the Federal Government in developing a national homelessness strategy, we could also condemn the State Government for having no strategy on homelessness. Whilst it is a national problem, homelessness is very much generated out of local circumstances. There are very few generic national causes of homelessness in Australia. They arise out of the circumstances that exist on the ground. It is an extremely localised element in society.
When we talk about an increase in funding for public housing at the State level, that may be true in an actuarial sense. However, organisation after organisation complains about the decrease in funding by the State Government for organisations that, although run on the smell of an oil rag, are delivering real benefits to homeless people in this State. Whilst I am grateful to the Minister for Housing for allowing extra speakers in this debate so that the honourable member for Bligh and I could speak, I must say that in the Minister's contribution—no doubt carefully crafted by some speechmaker—there was very little hint of true compassion for homeless people in this State. Anyone who attended the summit over the three days and listened to the real-time experiences of people who suffer from homelessness, the real-time experiences of people who are trying to deal with homelessness on a day-to-day basis, would realise the desperation of the homelessness situation in New South Wales and the growing problem of homelessness in this State.
The third element of the motion, which condemns the Federal Government for its policies that increase homelessness, could equally apply to the State Government. Of all the issues raised at the summit, the rapid escalation of gambling addiction in New South Wales emerged as a major cause of homelessness. That is the result of not exclusively this Government's policy but of policies developed by governments over many years and exacerbated, accelerated and developed by this Government. Gambling addiction is now proving to be one of the great scourges of modern society in New South Wales and one of the greatest causes of homelessness. The homelessness problem is being stimulated by a policy of this State Government, for which it should be condemned. In passing, the Minister attacked the Commonwealth Government for not adjusting the Commonwealth rental assistance program. The summit rejected the concept of simply increasing rental assistance to adjust for cost of living differences between the States, on the basis that in the long run all it does is raise the rental levels in a particular State by the amount by which rental assistance is increased. It does not go towards assisting the people in need; it goes towards assisting landlords.
Mr Ashton: So the real estate agents knock it off, members of the Liberal Party?
Mr ROZZOLI: These days all the landlords are on your side of politics. We need a much more enlightened strategy in regard to the current rental assistance at both State and Federal level.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.