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Community Housing and Homelessness

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 4 Mar 2011


Senator PAYNE-I appreciate the difference. Back to the social housing stock and community housing. I am not suggesting that this should be on some speed process to a point, but it is a huge agreement that the housing ministers made in 2009-75 per cent of the social housing stock to be transferred. It would be funded under the nation building and jobs package. I think it would be interesting to examine it at this point, almost two years down the track, because that is a big number. How is that going?

Senator Arbib-Minister Plibersek put out a very good discussion paper on it, and I support the recommendations out of the discussion. We are working very closely with the community housing sector to try to introduce measures to assist them.

Senator PAYNE-Thank you.

CHAIR-Senator Ludlam.

Senator LUDLAM-I have a few questions, although Senator Payne has asked some. I was going to start with that 75 per cent target. Can we trust that the target is still in place, that the deadline might slip, but the intention is still to transfer that title?

Mr Tongue-The intention is still that that stock transfer will occur. It is in part about the ability of the sector to absorb. It is in part about the nature of the stock to be transferred. All jurisdictions are working through the process and are active.

Senator LUDLAM-Are we amending the target? What I am asking for is what proportion you think might end up staying with the government in the purely public housing sector, what proportion will be managed by the community sector but the title will remain with the government, and what proportion you intend to transfer with full title to the community housing sector?

Mr Tongue-At this stage, there is the global target of up to 75 per cent.

Senator LUDLAM-Is it ‘up to'?

Senator Arbib-Yes, it is ‘up to'.

Senator LUDLAM-That is an important little asterisk.

Mr Tongue-In terms of the models of transfer, different jurisdictions have different attitudes. It depends a bit on how the stock is reflected in the books of the particular jurisdiction, for want of a more technical description. It also depends on legal advice. Each jurisdiction has a slightly different approach about how the stock gets transferred. There were some examples of title going. There were some examples where the titles are held by the state, but a mechanism is found to effectively transfer management to the community housing sector in such a way that the community housing sector can leverage the asset, which is one of the advantages of the process. There is a variety of models. At this stage, we are not seeking to interfere in that process. We do not see that as our role.

Senator LUDLAM-I guess it is rolling out in slightly different ways in each of the different states and territories. Could you provide us with a breakdown? I am particularly interested in Tasmania and WA, because I gather it is proceeding at different speeds in different places.

Mr Tongue-Yes.

Senator LUDLAM-I am probably only going to make one snarky comment each session about the fracturing of the portfolio and different ministers, so this is it now. Is there any contemplation of reuniting this portfolio and getting our housing minister back, since October?

Senator Arbib-At the moment I believe that it is working well. There is plenty of cooperation going on between me, Minister Burke and Minister Macklin in terms of the sector. We have had meetings. Minister Burke and I have met together and separately with stakeholder groups and we intend to continue those meetings into the future. As I said last time we were here, I fully understand the link between public housing, the community housing sector and also the affordable housing sector and will ensure that by working closely with my colleagues, and Minister Burke also understands that and is doing the same. As we said last time, Minister Burke is working on the Sustainable Australia plan, and part of that will be in relation to housing.

Senator LUDLAM-I have met with Mr Burke with that portfolio hat on, and I should say I am going to keep asking you about it until we get it all back into the one portfolio.

Senator Arbib-I better rehearse my answer then.

Senator LUDLAM-Every four months. I realise, for example, you no longer have portfolio responsibility for NRAS, but I am pleased to say it is recovering well after its near-death experience. Senator Arbib, you made a comment last time we spoke that has been bugging me for a while. You said that you have had two and- a-half years and you are putting $20 billion into tackling affordable housing. I cannot make the amounts of money that I am aware of add up to $20 billion, so can you just step us through how you arrived at that figure? I can get $6 billion or $7 billion, but I cannot get $20 billion.

Ms Croke-I could have a go at that. If we look at the Social Housing initiative, $5.6 billion; the National Affordable Housing Agreement, $6.2 billion; the Remote Indigenous Housing Partnership, $5.5 billion; the Social Housing National Partnership agreements-so the smaller one-$400 million; NRAS at the time, $1 billion; and-

Senator LUDLAM-It is still $1 billion?

Ms Croke-It is. The Housing Affordability Fund is $450 million. Those together are around $20 billion.

Mr Innis-Plus Commonwealth Rent Assistance-

Senator LUDLAM-I was just going to say, it is treated as a welfare measure so we do not-

Mr Innis-Of $3 billion.

Senator LUDLAM-How much?

Mr Innis-It is $3 billion.

Senator LUDLAM-I was not sure whether you were treating that as welfare.

Mr Innis-That was on top of the figures that Ms Croke has given you.

Senator LUDLAM-Given that the First Home Owners Grant is partly administered and funded partly by the states, and it has been acknowledged as an inflationary measure, do we treat that as a housing affordability measure or a building stimulus measure? Did you include that in your $20 billion? I guess not.

Mr Innis-Those figures were not included.

Senator LUDLAM-Thank you very much for that breakdown. I was going to throw to homelessness, and Senator Payne has gone. Can you tell us what has happened since October? You have told us FaHCSIA was advising the government on the process required for new homelessness legislation. We were going to see that in 2011 in spring. How is the consultation process going?

Mr Innis-There are two things happening. Very importantly, we are progressing the work on the National Quality Framework. We would see that as being a key initiative for ensuring homeless people receive high standard services. I am pleased to advise the committee that there is a round of consultations going on as we speak. I think we have got scheduled 16 fora, consulting groups on the development of the National Quality Framework. I think Mr Donovan may be able to tell us exactly when those consultations are scheduled to be completed. Very importantly, we are progressing strongly the quality framework for homelessness services. We think that will make a real difference to homeless people. In addition, we are looking at Commonwealth legislation on homelessness. At the moment we are in the process of finalising details with the minister. As you know I cannot go into the advice being provided. We have been in the process of seeking legal advice on what the Commonwealth can and cannot legislate for, with a view to having some consultations in advance of legislation being presented in the spring sittings.

Senator LUDLAM-Are you contemplating publishing an exposure draft?

Senator Arbib-The plan at the moment is to put out an exposure draft in the next couple of months. The sector has said to us they want around two months to take that into account, comments and then, as Mr Innis has said, we go ahead in spring.

Senator LUDLAM-I reckon that is a good approach. It tends to make the process of actually legislating a lot smoother if people had time to assimilate it. How is consultation with the other portfolios going and are you working with the states and territories at the same time? Just give us a rough sketch of who you are working with.

Mr Innis-At this stage we have not had specific discussions with the states and territories on the framing of the Commonwealth legislation. In terms of the quality framework, that work is proceeding very closely in consultation with the states and territories.

Senator LUDLAM-Would you say you are at a more advanced stage with that aspect of the whole thing than with the legislation or are they proceeding in parallel?

Mr Innis-We are at the stage of a second round of consultations with the quality framework, so the answer is, yes.

Senator LUDLAM-I want to quickly raise the issue of Swags for Homeless. It is a proposal for a $2.1 million National Emergency Relief Homeless Program. I have seen one of these things. There is actually one in my office. I do not know whether you have had a chance to see one. You have? Just for the benefit of Hansard, everyone was nodding just then. The proposal is that for your $2.1 million you get one of these portable swags for every rough sleeper in the country being turned away from shelters. There are about 3,000 of them distributed so far. There is a petition put to the Federal Petitions Committee I think earlier this year, and Minister Macklin reviewed it. Can you tell us anything about that or are you going to punt me to a different portfolio?

Senator Arbib-I met with Tony Clark, who runs the Swags for Homeless organisation. He ran me through his philosophical approach, which is this is a short-term measure.

Senator LUDLAM-Yes, it is an emergency measure.

Senator Arbib-It is an emergency measure. And there is also his issue in terms of winter. He should be commended for the work he is doing. I think he has raised through corporate donations something like $300,000, which is good. He has provided a number of sleeping bags to homeless providers, which is good. The homeless providers do purchase a number of sleeping bags themselves. What I have said to him is that the funding that I, as the minister, have in terms of discretionary funding is quite limited. We provide almost all our funding in terms of homelessness and social housing directly to the states and territories, and that he does need to make contact with state and territory ministers to discuss potential for funding. I would be happy to assist him to do that and I would be happy to raise it at the next Housing Ministers conference. At the same time as that, I think there is potential for more corporate philanthropy in terms of the product, because it does look to be a worthwhile project. The issue for me is I only have a small pool of funds in the National Homelessness Strategy. He is after over $2 million, which I do not have. I do not have that in my-

Senator LUDLAM-You were just telling us about a $20 billion housing spend. I just worked out while I was waiting to come on that $2.1 million is equivalent to 20 seconds of Commonwealth government spending annually. So, in the time it took me to put the question to you that is $2.1 million, which is 20 seconds of Commonwealth spending. We were just impressed to hear about the $20 billion housing spend. How can you tell us there is not-

Senator Arbib-It is not sitting in Commonwealth bank accounts. It is with the states.

Senator LUDLAM-I realise it is not sitting in a bucket in your office, but is there no way you can use your considerable influence in caucus to swing 20 seconds worth of Commonwealth funding so that we can get one of these things to every rough sleeper in the country?

Senator Arbib-I am very happy to work with Mr Clark and his organisation and try to encourage the state governments to provide funding towards it. Two million dollars might not sound like a lot but for me can I tell you in terms of some of the discretionary funding that would be money that would be leaving homelessness providers and going to his project. The money we have-and here has been a huge injection into homelessness services-is with the states and we are going to work with them.

Senator LUDLAM-I am not asking you to take it off homelessness providers, just to get the record straight on that.

Senator Arbib-I am just telling you this is what I explained to Mr Clark. We are very happy to work with the states to try to make that happen, but obviously it is going to take a bit of time.

Senator LUDLAM-I really hope that by May, before mid-winter, you are able to tell us a different story, but thanks for your time.

Senator Arbib-Please note that when you talk to the homelessness providers themselves, who are actually delivering services on the ground every day, putting people in the homes, getting people access to counselling and support, the funding has never been at this level. On top of that, one of the best reforms I think that has been put in place is Centrelink putting on 90 officers to help coordinate the services on the ground.

Senator LUDLAM-I am honestly not denigrating any of the amazing work that you or any of the other agencies are doing around the country. I totally agree with the evaluation you gave when I put the question to you. It is something that a handful of people have done on a shoestring and it appears that with a bit of a push they could actually get this over the line in addition to the services that are already being provided. But I will leave it there and hope that we are telling a bit of a different story before winter kicks in. Can I bring you back to the $20 billion? How much of that is one-off funding and how much of it will still be there in the forward estimates in two or three years? For example, the social housing spend that fell out of the stimulus package-once that is gone it is gone. How much of the other amounts of money that you just ran us through work that way?

Mr Tongue-The bulk of it is usually with agreements with the states and territories.

Senator LUDLAM-Are they ongoing now?

Mr Tongue-Something like the National Affordable Housing Agreement basically is a continuous agreement even though it may not have at this stage notional money from 2014. There is a reasonable expectation that a government will continue to meet those obligations, because every government since basically about 1950 has met those obligations. Other agreements, say, for example, the Remote Indigenous Housing NP, is a 10-year agreement. The stimulus spend is a smaller spend, so it has certainly got a sunset clause on it. It is over a range of different time periods.

Senator LUDLAM-Could you provide us with the sunset clauses on each of those different programs that you read us through before?

Dr Harmer-In summary, most of it is ongoing, but we will provide you with a breakdown of what is and what is not.

Senator LUDLAM-That would be great.

Senator Arbib-I think I may have said the $20 billion was over one year. Of course it is not. It is over the term of the agreements.

Senator LUDLAM-No, you did not say that. 

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