NATIONAL YOUTH HOMELESSNESS CONFERENCE

SENATOR THE HON DOUG CAMERON.
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2 years ago
NATIONAL YOUTH HOMELESSNESS CONFERENCE
SENATOR THE HON DOUG CAMERON
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we meet today on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be here with us today.
 
I wish to extend my thanks to Keith Waters, CEO of Youth Development Australia and Co-Executive Officer of the National Youth Commission, for the invitation to address the conference this afternoon.
 
And I’d also like to acknowledge the other speakers you’ve heard from this morning and thank them for their contributions, including:
 
  • The Hon. Richard Wynne, Victorian Minister for Planning, Housing and Multicultural Affairs;
  • Professor Brian Burdekin AO, Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner;
  • Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner – Australian Human Rights Commission, and Dr. Tammy Hand.
 
It is my pleasure to join with you all today at Melbourne’s Town Hall for the first day of the National Youth Homelessness Conference.
 
It’s great to be surrounded by individuals and organisations that are advocating and working to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our country.
 
I particularly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about Federal Labor’s understanding of issues related to youth homelessness, and to outline our priorities in housing and homelessness.
 
I have to admit that I was extremely surprised to learn that this week’s conference is actually the first national conference dedicated solely to the issue of youth homelessness to take place in Australia in some 20 years.
 
So I applaud all those who have helped organise this event for their hard work in putting such an impressive conference program together – including those who have helped contribute to developing the National Youth Homelessness Report Card and the research that underpins it.

I’d like to begin by making some broad remarks about youth homelessness and the related issue of inequality.

For Labor, there are very few social outcomes that so unambiguously and shamefully expose our failure to live up to the promise of being a fair and decent society than the persistently high number of young Australians either at-risk of, or experiencing homelessness.

I have said this many times before in the context of the rising rates of homelessness in this country – but I am fundamentally of the view that in a nation as wealthy as ours we not only have the resources and capability, but also bear a social responsibility to do much, much better for Australians in need.

Frankly, the high numbers of young Australians who are sleeping rough, or living precariously in inappropriate, overcrowded, unhealthy and insecure accommodation is an indictment on our economic and social model.

The tragedy of youth homelessness is actually just one outcome of a systemic market failure and wrong-headed public policy under the current Coalition Government, particularly in relation our housing system.

This failure has resulted in a housing affordability crisis right across the spectrum of need in Australia.

A function of this crisis has been higher rates of homelessness for many of the most vulnerable in our community. Labor has made a consistent point of calling this a housing affordability and homelessness crisis.

The mounting academic evidence, including some of the startling facts presented by earlier speakers this morning, both affirms our view and increases our determination to meaningfully address it.

That’s because we fundamentally appreciate the profound and life-changing impact that housing stress, housing insecurity and homelessness has not only on individuals but our communities at-large.

These damaging impacts run directly counter to the mission of social justice, fairness and equality for all Australians that defines what we seek to achieve in the Labor Party.

Homelessness is both an outcome, and key factor in perpetuating, economic inequality.

Homelessness, in particular, is a key driver in entrenching intergenerational inequality – exacerbating poor outcomes in physical and mental health, severely limiting educational attainment and economic outcomes, and increasing social isolation across generations.

I have been concerned that too many politicians argue that “equality of opportunity” is the key to resolving social and economic disadvantage. This rhetoric belies the massive difference in opportunity available to the children of the wealthy compared to the children of working class and disadvantaged Australians.

So I believe that this conference, and the Report Card that has been launched today, could not be more pertinent or timely.

It brings much needed attention to the unacceptable circumstances facing far too many of our young people, and succinctly quantifies the very sobering challenge they face.

While the 2016 Census revealed that more than 116,000 of our fellow Australians were experiencing homelessness – the Report Card rightfully draws focus to the fact that young Australians remain disproportionately represented in those figures.

In fact, the Report Card highlights that there has effectively been no progress in reducing the numbers of young people experiencing homelessness in recent years.

We know from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that these official figures undercount the true extent of young people experiencing homelessness.

This contention is strongly supported by data collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) presented in the report card that reveals there were in excess of 43,000 young people aged between 15–24 who presented to a specialist homelessness services (SHS) agency in 2017–18.

The Report Card also highlights the systemic factors that contribute to youth homelessness.

Here, I am particularly referencing the growing economic inequality, and the role of government policy which is compounding the wider crisis in inequality and housing affordability.

An example of the growing inequality in our society contributing to the crisis in youth homelessness is to be found in falling rates of home-ownership.

Last year’s HILDA survey revealed that here has been a significant deterioration in the measures of inequality it tracks related to young Australians, and there is a strong case to be made that this is inextricably linked to housing outcomes.

For example, between 2001 and 2004, 13.5 percent of renters between the ages of 18 and 24 became home owners. Yet from 2013 to 2016, just over 7% were able to afford to make the same transition.

HILDA also found that the income diversity of those who managed to purchase a home also reduced, with markedly fewer people from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds represented.

In summarising the results of the survey HILDA’s lead author Roger Wilkins said:

“I think decline in home ownership is a very big concern that has a very strong link to growing evidence of intergenerational inequality”.

This marked increase in housing inequality greatly concerns Labor, but it is also just one indicator of a broader decline in the economic inequality that is impacting young Australians and contributing the problem of youth homelessness.

Young people under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government have faced high rates of unemployment and underemployment, wage stagnation and penalty rate cuts, underinvestment in vocational education, and increases in the proportion of young workers relying on the minimum wage.

Taken in totality, all these factors led the Australian Council of Social Services in its report entitled Inequality in Australia produced in conjunction with the University of NSW in 2018 to assert that – and I quote:

“All things being equal, growth in wealth inequality among younger households suggests that wealth inequality is likely to continue to increase, especially if home ownership rates among younger cohorts continue to decline.”

When Labor was last in Government, we understood the profound challenge of homelessness and housing affordability and the related challenge of inequality:

We commissioned the White Paper, The Road Home – setting out a national approach with strategies and targets to reduce homelessness.

We delivered new affordable rental housing through the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

NRAS continues to provide housing for more than 19,000 Australians under the age of 18 in more than 36,000 dwellings across the country.
The Scheme has also delivered for those most in need – with more than 50% of NRAS households on incomes of less than $40,000.

Furthermore, we made a $5.6 billion investment through the Social Housing Initiative which delivered around 20,000 new homes, and funded repairs and maintenance to 80,000 more.

An independent review of the SHI by consultancy KPMG found that in addition to the economic benefits of the program – and I quote:

“Homeless people, people with a disability and elderly persons were most typically the beneficiaries of the new dwellings.”
 
More broadly, our understanding that inequality is a key driver of homelessness led us to pursue other equity-focused reforms.
 
This recognition is apparent in the Gonski school funding reforms, our establishment of the NDIS, and record funding for tertiary education.
 
In stark contrast, since coming to office the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has only made decisions that have worsened housing affordability, exacerbated homelessness and contributed to rising inequality.
 
Within housing and homelessness policy the Coalition has:
  • Refused to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax – maintaining the world’s most generous tax concessions for wealthy investors and property speculators at the expense of helping renters, first‐home buyers and vulnerable young Australians.
 
  • Axed the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) that has delivered for Australians in need.
 
  • Failed to appoint a dedicated Federal Minister for Housing for more than 5 years and abolished the National Housing Supply Council and the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness.
 
  • Defunded peak advocacy bodies, including Homelessness Australia, National Shelter and the Community Housing Federation of Australia.
 
  • Cut $44 million a year in capital funding that was delivering transitional housing options for women and children escaping domestic and family violence, young people exiting out‐of‐home care and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
 
  • Cut funding for specialist homelessness providers funding under the National Partnership Agreements.
 
  • Sought to walk away from any future Commonwealth involvement in remote Indigenous housing, which will make it impossible to achieve progress on the Closing the Gap targets.
 
This is an absolutely appalling decision when you appreciate that according to the AIHW around 1 in 4 young people accessing specialist services are Indigenous.
 
  • Scrapped the First Home Saver Accounts Scheme which was helping people save for their first home.
 
  • Scrapped the Housing Help for Seniors trial, announced in Labor’s 2013‐14 Budget.
 
  • Announced a grab bag of contradictory “housing affordability” measures in the 2017/18 Budget about which John Daley of the Grattan Institute said, “You would need an electron scanning microscope to see any effect on house prices”.
 
In fact, the singular priority of this Government in housing is to maintain the world’s most generous tax concessions for wealthy investors and property speculators at the expense of helping renters, first-home buyers and young Australians in need.
 
It’s equally important to note how the Coalition Government has consistently sought throughout its time in office to undermine the pillars of our egalitarian social compact.
 
They have sought to, or enacted policies, that both harm the most vulnerable Australians and have contributed to worsen inequality.
 
The 2014-15 Budget typified this damaging and regressive approach:
 
  • The attempt to force young jobseekers to wait 6 months before receiving income support;
  • The dumping of their commitment to Gonski school funding and subsequent cuts to primary and secondary education;
  • The $7 Medicare co-payment and attacks the universality of our health system – among so many other injustices.
 
Fortunately Labor refused to accept these austerity based budget attacks on the weak and disadvantaged.
 
It is horrifying to imagine the youth homelessness crisis we would be confronting today if the attempt to force young people to wait 6 months to access social security payments had not been blocked by Labor.
 
Labor is determined to take an entirely different approach, informed by our belief that affordable and secure housing is essential to the dignity, wellbeing, participation and social inclusion of every Australian.
 
We believe housing is essential social and economic infrastructure, and increasing homelessness and deteriorating housing affordability is a significant social and economic challenges that requires national leadership.
 
We will not abdicate responsibility like the current Government.
 
That is why we have developed a comprehensive plan to tackle the housing affordability crisis, reduce homelessness, increase housing supply, combat growing intergenerational inequality, support jobs and skills, assist Budget repair, and improve financial stability.
 
A Shorten Labor Government will reform unfair and unsustainable negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions.
 
Astonishingly, as it stands, these concessions provide more assistance to wealthy investors buying their 5th, 6th, or 7th investment property than to young person struggling to buy their first home.
 
A future Shorten Labor Government will also increase the stock of affordable rental properties by addressing the funding gap for 250,000 new affordable rental homes, with at least 20,000 in Labor’s first term, through a reformed and improved National Rental Affordability Scheme.
 
Our investment will be the largest federal investment in housing since the Second World War.
 
All dwellings will be owned or managed by a registered community housing provider – adding substantially to the stock of social housing in Australia over the coming decade and helping to scale up the CHP sector.
 
Eligible Australian tenants on low and middle incomes will benefit from at least 20% below market rent.
 
Dwelling design will need to meet energy efficiency standards to ensure that renters aren’t hit with higher energy bills through poor design.
 
Consistent with the ask of the Federal Government in the Report Card launched today, Labor has committed to develop and implement a national plan to reduce homelessness through the Council of Australian Governments, restoring much needed national leadership in this space.
 
Labor will also reinstate a Minister for Housing and Homelessness, and re-establish the National Housing Supply Council.
 
We’ve also committed to providing $88 million over two years for a new Safe Housing Fund to increase transitional housing options for women and children escaping domestic and family violence, young people exiting out‐of‐home care and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
 
I invite your ideas on innovative policy that provides direct assistance to homeless youth. As you are aware when last in government we facilitated the building of a number of youth foyers that provided safe and secure accommodation and the acquisition of skills and qualifications.
 
We have also announced a series of other measures including:
 
  • Facilitate COAG processes to introduce a uniform vacant property tax across all major cities.
 
  • Limit direct borrowing by self-managed superannuation funds. Limited recourse borrowing in SMSFs has exploded in recent years – from about $2.5 billion in 2012 to more than $42 billion today.
 
  • Increase fees for overseas investors buying Australian real estate, and increase penalties when they break the law.
 
  • Achieve better results from National Housing and Homeless Agreements, including increased rights for renters, planning reform, inclusionary zoning, and accelerated land release.
 
Looking more broadly, Labor will not ignore those systemic factors driving homelessness. We will not ignore inequality.
 
We have developed a comprehensive agenda to combat inequality, particularly for young people, through our commitments on Medicare, on penalty rates, on restoring funding to schools and universities, to our planned investments in skills and TAFE.
 
Additionally, Labor will not ignore the issue of income support. We will conduct a root and branch review of the adequacy of NewStart and related payments.
 
Only Labor has engaged comprehensively with NGOs, academics and industry to develop comprehensive policy on housing and homelessness.
 
Only Labor can deliver significant, effective change that supports homeless youth.
 
Only a Shorten Government will have the policies, vision and determination to reduce inequality and assist the disadvantaged in our community, especially young homeless and vulnerable youth.
 
If we are given the support of Australians and returned to government at the upcoming election we commit to working with you to reduce youth homelessness and build a good society.

ENDS
Housing