Federal Minister – homelessness not helped by cuts to tenant advice services

On September 6, the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Brendan O’Connor, opened the National Housing Conference in Melbourne.  In his opening address he commented that funding cuts to the Tenant Advice and Advocacy Services in Queensland was not helping to reduce homelessness.  See the post here from the Australian newspaper.


FEDERAL Homelessness Minister Brendan O’Connor will today declare Labor is committed to meeting its two ambitious goals — to halve the rate of homelessness and to provide supported accommodation to all rough sleepers by 2020.

In a keynote speech, Mr O’Connor will ease the fears of workers on the front line that a new statistical definition likely to revise down the homeless rate will not be relied on exclusively by the government to shape its future work.

“While the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate will be an important piece of data to help us measure our progress, it will not be the only piece of data we use,” he will say in Melbourne.

The new definition will be applied to homeless figures for the 2011 census, to be released in November, as well as retrospectively to the 2001 and 2006 censuses, in revisions to be released next week.

The ABS considers a person homeless if they live in an inadequate dwelling or one that has no tenure; if the tenure is short and not extendable, or does not allow space for social relations. The ABS change is to exclude instances such as when people are camping on a friend’s floor while on holiday or living in a shed while building.

Mr O’Connor says the government will use information collected from frontline services by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and from Journeys Home, the first national longitudinal study of homelessness in Australia.

“Combined, these facts and figures will give us the most accurate picture of homelessness we have ever had. We will lead the world with our sophisticated understanding of homelessness. The ABS’s work is just a component of this,” he will say.

There has been widespread speculation in the sector that the government may dump its ambitious promise made under Kevin Rudd. But Mr O’Connor will reaffirm the goal. “We are committed to those goals.”

He said that last week he had a very productive meeting with the states and territories about what to do about housing affordability and homelessness for a new national agreement that must be signed by next July 1.

“We remain, however, committed to realising our ambitious goal of halving homelessness and the government will settle on our position as soon as we possibly can,” he will say.

“Can I remind you, however, that this is a partnership and we expect the states and territories to do their part as well.”

Mr O’Connor said the task had not been helped by the conservative governments in Queensland and NSW, respectively, cutting the Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service and increasing rents in public housing.

“We also need evidence about which programs have worked best and what approaches are required for different situations,” he said.

He will launch the final report of a series conducted by the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University and three Hanover Research services: Finding Work: Homelessness and Employment.

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