QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS - Housing Affordability, Homelessness

This week is Homelessness Week, and in northern Australia we have probably the highest level of homelessness that exists. It's a good time to remind ourselves that housing is not a privilege; it is a right that human beings have. It seems to have become more of a tradeable asset, with little concern for the human needs and pain of those who are homeless. It is a right under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to enjoy an adequate standard of living—a shelter, a home, a house—to enable families to continuously improve their lot in life.

This right is not fully enjoyed equally by Indigenous Australians. Especially, it has not flowed equally to Indigenous Australians living in remote parts of Australia. Improving housing outcomes in Indigenous Australia is a challenging and important public policy issue. There is a huge discrepancy in the Indigenous housing experience compared to that of the general population. This has been a policy issue of some concern to governments of all kinds for some time, and I know this year there's been a gathering of all ministers to try to come together around a policy position, but we've not yet heard the report; we've not had that delivered to us. However, the existing inequalities in the housing sector for Indigenous Australians are becoming entrenched, and the current government's policy response is not achieving change. Inequality across Australia is deepening. The experience of this inequality in the housing space for Indigenous Australians is deepening as well.

Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows Indigenous Australians are 10 times more likely to be homeless, half as likely to not be homeowners, twice as likely to be renters. Poor housing conditions and overcrowding are widespread. That connection to life quality is clearly understood. Over a third of the Indigenous population depends on social housing. Only if social housing works well can there be a chance for some sense of equality in health, education, home safety and economic opportunity. A child in an overcrowded house is more likely not to eat well, not to sleep well, not to study or to get up to go to school on time. They are more likely to suffer from diseases that go with overcrowding, such as scabies.

In remote discrete communities across Australia, Indigenous residents have been almost wholly dependent upon social housing. Home ownership and private rental markets largely do not exist. This government has been slow to bring forward the next stage of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing. We are still awaiting a long-promised review into the national program. The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness has been in place since 2009. It refers to closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage but does not explicitly address Indigenous homelessness. Nevertheless, a number of reforms of the services funded under the agreement, including those targeted at addressing rough sleeping and service integration, have established new and enhanced services in areas of high Indigenous homelessness. Many of these initiatives are directed to improving linkages between homelessness and housing services in order to achieve sustainable housing outcomes and prevent recurring homelessness.

The 10-year National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing has been in place since 2008. Over a 10-year period it was planned to provide $5.5 billion for the construction of 4,200 new houses in remote communities and upgrades and repairs to 4,800 existing dwellings. It also introduced new public housing-like tenancy management arrangements that have substantially increased the housing conditionalities. The money that is now being spent to meet this postal opinion poll—spending of $122 million—could well be provided to housing in the north and, certainly, given to legal services like the Kimberley Community Legal Service that deal with tenancy problems on a daily basis when people face evictions, rent arrears or are likely to be thrown out onto the street. (Time expired)

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