24 May 2021

Housing is a human right. Without an address, getting a job is impossible. How can you turn up for an interview and look professional if you are sleeping rough? But too many Australians are currently experiencing rental stress or overcrowding, are couch surfing or have to sleep rough. The cost of renting was already on the rise before the pandemic. The pandemic has made the rising costs more obvious, particularly with the unemployment queue. It's also become more difficult for people that need secure housing unexpectedly. This crisis accommodation is for victims of domestic violence and homelessness. Last year 55 women were killed in the domestic setting. There are more people experiencing homelessness than ever before in Australia, and the forecast is that it's to get worse. This morning on the lawns of Parliament House there was a display of 150 dresses, each one representing a woman who has died at the hands of a current or former partner. This is a stark representation of what happens when there is nowhere safe to go.

There is a lack of affordable rentals in every town and city in Australia and, without affordable housing, you can't be safe. Homelessness services are seeing increased demand in response to the economic impacts of the pandemic. These specialist services provided support for more than 290,000 vulnerable people in the last two years. But, sadly, those same services have turned away nearly 100,000. That's almost 260 people a day. A recent report revealed only a third of people placed in temporary accommodation at the height of the pandemic have moved into permanent accommodation, meaning they've returned to their unacceptable situations from before the pandemic.

The government's answer to this is to cut $56.7 million from the equal remuneration fund, reducing homelessness services. This is a policy failure. The lack of a strong federal government housing policy demonstrates a lack of leadership. The Productivity Commission report revealed there are fewer public housing dwellings in Australia now than there were 10 years ago. Building and repairing social housing is what Australia needs to house people and to stimulate the economy and to provide jobs. By the end of the last year, and continuing into this year, 25 per cent of Australia's social housing needed urgent repairs and maintenance. That's more than 100,000 homes.

Labor bought this issue up during the last budget in October. It was a problem then and, six months later, not much has changed. More importantly, it's a problem that we can fix. Investing in social housing can rebuild our workforce through the pandemic. Investment in social housing would create thousands of jobs for all sorts of tradespeople. Repairs could start almost immediately, providing work for local plumbers, chippies, sparkies plasterers and painters. Our capable manufacturers would also benefit by supplying building materials and delivering resources. This would also provide opportunities for our apprentices and an abundance of work for the construction and manufacturing sectors. For every job created, there is a flow on for jobs in other sectors. That will be work in retail and hospitality and for teachers and nurses.

It's disappointing that the Morrison government continues to ignore Australia's housing and homelessness crisis, knowing the benefits of addressing it to our economy and to our most vulnerable citizens. In my electorate of Werriwa, there is a 20-year wait for social housing. This doesn't include the houses that people are living in right now in urgent need of repair. The GFC taught us that investing in ourselves is the way to break the chains of a recession and unemployment. As the then Treasury secretary Ken Henry said, 'Go hard, go early and go with households.'

The Labor government kept the nation out of recession by investing $5 billion towards 20,000 new social housing dwellings and repairing 80,000 others, keeping unemployment under six per cent, the second lowest in the OECD. Australia was praised on the world stage for our response, and many nations followed our approach. But social housing means much more than economics. It puts a roof over people's heads. It gives people dignity. It improves educational opportunities for their children and themselves. It helps them find jobs and stay in jobs. The pandemic has emphasised the need for everyone to have proper housing. You need that to be thought of well within your community. The government needs to show leadership and refusing to do so puts people at risk, with no safe and secure social housing in Australia.