Matters of Public Importance
14 August 2019
I rise to address this matter of public importance.
In doing so I wish to recall some words that I used in my maiden speech contribution in this place in December of last year where I said that, in my view, at its heart public service—the job of members of Parliament—is a vocation and not a job, a vocation that is underpinned by a desire to serve other people and to make our communities a better place, a vocation that seeks to treat others with dignity and with respect and one that walks alongside individuals and families, encouraging them to be the very best that they can be, because when individuals thrive, families are stronger and when families are stronger, our entire community benefits.
In addressing this matter of public importance today as submitted by the member for Prahran, the member for Prahran identified a number of matters that he wishes to consider within this house.
They are that over 24 000 Victorians are homeless on any given night, there are more than 82 000 adults and children waiting for housing on the Victorian public housing waiting list, the Victorian Greens’ policy is to build 80 000 new social housing homes over the next 12 years and the Victorian government needs to invest billions in a big build of housing to end homelessness in Victoria.
In addressing these matters as raised by the member for Prahran, it is obvious to me that there are some omissions. I would have liked to have seen the member for Prahran also address the additional support services that are required, not merely the housing requirement for people who find themselves in this circumstance. But also I would have liked to have seen the member for Prahran address the matter of an end to the cycle of dependency, because we know that when families are in these circumstances and they are relying upon social housing and upon public housing, in some cases there develops a cycle of dependency which, sadly, is generational.
In my research for this contribution today I looked at the Council to Homeless Persons website and I found a very useful definition that the council uses when defining ‘homelessness’.
They say that homelessness is not ‘rooflessness’.
A home means security, stability, privacy, safety and being able to control your own space, and I agree with every single one of those sentiments.
Providing someone with a home provides them with an opportunity to be a full, functioning, contributing member of our community.
During the course of this debate today, during the course of this discussion on this very important topic, many members have reflected upon numbers and statistics.
In my view it is important to put a name and a face to those numbers and a name and a face to those statistics because the numbers that we are talking about and the statistics we are talking about are our fellow Victorians.
They are children, they are mothers, they are fathers, they are brothers and sisters. They are people with names and identities.
They are people who, with the right support around them, can contribute to make our communities better places.
I wanted to address briefly also in this contribution the scope and size of this particular issue. This is an issue which affects society’s most vulnerable.
Some 39 per cent of homeless people are 25 and under, whilst a 28 per cent increase in homeless people aged 55 and over was recorded at the last census. Fifty-eight per cent of those people who are homeless are male, and this is an ongoing reflection, in my view, of the difficulty that our society has in grappling with mental illness and isolation specifically, and sadly, amongst men.
As the motion notes, there are over 24 000 Victorians who are homeless, which accounts for around 20 per cent of Australia’s total homelessness.
It is also important I think in this discussion that we are having today to reflect upon records.
The coalition, in my view, has a strong record in relation to addressing the circumstances we are speaking about today. I commend a member of the other place, the Honourable Wendy Lovell, the former Minister for Housing, for her contribution during the last coalition government. Under Wendy’s leadership the number of upgrades to public housing stock increased. In 2010–11 it increased by almost 2000—1975—dwellings. In 2011–12, some 1800 units of housing stock were upgraded; in 2012–13 some 1827; in 2013–14 some 1648; and in 2014–15 some 1720.
So over the life of the former coalition government there were some 8147 upgrades to existing public housing stock.
But there were also additional housing acquisitions made in that time: in 2010–11, some 3756; in 2011–12, 2066; in 2012–13, 1928; in 2013–14, some 930; and in 2014–15, some 500.
This totals around 8298 additional housing acquisitions during the period of the last coalition government.
The number of applicants on the Victorian Housing Register was also reduced, by some 6594.
The number of Victorian Housing Register priority cases has sadly increased from September 2014.
At the end of the last coalition government the number of priority cases, including those who were homeless, those who are at risk, those were disabled and those with special needs, sat at 9900.
But on most recent figures, being June 2019, that number has increased by 127.5 per cent, or 12 733 priority cases.
Sadly in our own city of Melbourne, the most livable or near most livable city in the world, in 2014 there were some 142 rough sleepers counted on the streets of our city, and in 2018 some 210 rough sleepers were counted on the streets of our city—an increase of 48 per cent.
As I said at the start of my contribution, we do reflect from time to time on numbers and statistics but it is important to remember that every statistic, every number that I have mentioned is not simply a number on a page but is an individual that we desire, that we hope will be a fully functioning and contributing individual in our community.
It was interesting to note some of the causes that some services and agencies consider important or contributing factors to homelessness in the state.
According to a Brotherhood of St Laurence report, upward fluctuations in the price of utilities as a result of in some cases unreliable energy means that some people cannot remain in their current homes due to an inability to finance basic services.
Increases in land tax, I would suggest, will drive up rent, with many predicting that leaseholders can expect an average increase of $20 to $30 in their monthly rent.
There are some other causes as well, but I want to, just in the time that I have left, if I may, address what I would see as a potential way forward, because I wish to make a constructive contribution in considering this particular topic raised by the member for Prahran.
There is a possibility to review the impact of land tax increases on the supply and availability of rental properties.
There is potentially the opportunity to review the impact of Airbnb and other parts of the sharing economy on the number of houses and apartments made available to long-term, low-income persons.
And potentially we could review the efficiency of government placing new arrivals in Victoria’s already established suburbs as opposed to developing new communities.
This is an important topic, and I am pleased to have made a contribution today.