Housing and Homelessness in Lalor

I rise to discuss an issue I have spoken about a number of times in this chamber—that is, housing stress and homelessness. I do this because it is an issue that is not going away and that is profound in its impact.

As I have mentioned before, my local community is particularly affected by this issue. With the recent Toyota announcement, the so-called 'end of the age of entitlement' and the Abbott government's cuts to social services, it can only get worse. We already have the highest rate of tenancy eviction in the state, with 684 homes ripped apart between 2010 and 2013. But this figure does not include those who are homeless or those who are desperately waiting for public housing, those who are relying on the support of family, friends and neighbours to ensure a roof over their heads or those who have to choose between paying the rent or for the groceries. This is not only happening in Lalor, it is happening everywhere.

The Productivity Commission's recent report on government services provided some revealing statistics on this issue. For example, 244,176 people received support from homelessness services agencies in 2012-13. As always, it is affecting those who are already the most marginalised in our communities: young people, Indigenous people, those facing situations of domestic or family violence. While that figure shows that more than 244,000 people are at risk of homelessness, that figure also means that 244,000 are accessing the support they need.

These housing services can make all the difference. For example, 93 per cent of people accessing homelessness services had achieved some or all of their case management goals at the end of their support period. Of the clients who needed assistance with obtaining independent housing, 61.2 per cent were successful. This was up from 58 per cent in 2011-12. With integrated employment and training support, as well as a guaranteed bed at the end of the day, an additional 4½ per cent were employed full time, and an additional 8.1 per cent part time. While that may not sound like much, the lives of these people have been profoundly transformed.

These changes, these profound transformations, are the result of good Labor government policy that undertook significant reforms in housing. That established the National Rental Affordability Scheme and delivered record investment in social housing. That established the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness in 2009, a $1.1 billion partnership between state, territory and federal governments to support more than 180 initiatives providing support services for people who would otherwise have been homeless. It was Labor who extended this partnership agreement in 2013 and invested an additional $159 million to ensure service delivery was maintained and a long-term solution to homelessness was reached. We also established the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness to provide advice to the government on progress and emerging issues affecting homelessness and housing support. Labor took the time to understand the needs of the most vulnerable and took action.

But what did Prime Minister Abbott do as one of his first acts? He axed the council, just as he axed the National Housing Supply Council, the SchoolKids Bonus and the Low Income Support Bonus. He abandoned the council, just as he abandoned our automotive industry and just as he abandoned Australian jobs. I could go on forever because, after all, this government do not care about the vulnerable. Instead they have decided to turn their backs on the hundreds of thousands of Australians who need housing support and add to the potential numbers of those who may face critical mortgage or rent stress due to unemployment. But this is not a luxury they can afford; the clock is ticking.

The government needs to affirm its commitment to addressing this issue as part of COAG, because while Labor's changes have improved the lives of many, the work is not yet done. The Productivity Commission reported that across Australia clients with unmet needs accounted for 22.1 per cent of demand. In my home state of Victoria, this was over 30 per cent. I know from speaking to local community housing agencies that within my community more is always needed. They are passionately committed to doing what they can for the people who need it most. But they cannot do it alone.

I call on the Abbott government to step up on housing stress and homelessness, to open their eyes and ears to the most vulnerable Australians and to commit to continuing Labor's proud legacy of reform in this area.

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