Address to the 2021 Big Australian Housing Build Virtual Conference






It took a virus last year to show us that, if we really want to, we can do something about homelessness.
In a flash, tens of thousands of people sleeping rough, sleeping in cars, on trains, people forgotten by many of us, were scooped up and put into empty hotel and motels.
Why? Because last year, having a roof over your head was more important than having a mask on your face.
But just as fast as the pandemic has receded, so too has that help.
Many of those homeless and desperately vulnerable people are now back where they were before.
National Cabinet should have acted to stop this happening last year.
This year we have seen three things happen:

  • house prices have gone up,
  • rents are going up, and
  • homelessness is up.

It’s harder to buy than ever before, it’s harder to rent than ever before, and there are more Australians experiencing homelessness than ever before.
And it’s particularly bad outside the big cities. Partly driven by people moving from the city to the regions because they can now work from home.
In lots of parts of regional Australia – rental vacancy rates are almost zero and rents are going through the roof.
We will get a really good insight into that tomorrow when Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot comes out.
There is no simple or single fix to any of this, but at the heart of anything that Government does here, there’s got to be a bigger investment in social housing. In social and affordable housing.
The name of this conference is on the money – Big Australian Housing Build.
The Victorian Government has stepped up with their own Big Housing Build.
We need the Federal Government to step up as well.
The Budget is in less than two weeks.
Last year, in the middle of the recession, they put almost $100 billion into infrastructure and not one extra cent into social housing.
This Budget is a chance to fix that.
I am not naive. I am not holding my breath expecting them to see the light.
The usual rhetoric from the Morrison Government is: this isn’t their job. That building housing and helping the homeless isn’t their job. That it’s the job of State Governments.
That’s all a bit odd given they now finally have a Minister for Homelessness. But he won’t even meet with organisations like CHIA.  I know.  I know you tried.
But if they won’t listen to you, they should listen at least to the HIA. This is the HIA’s pre-Budget submission:
“The National Cabinet develop a funding package to deliver long term social and affordable housing units to increase the stock of housing, similar to post-GFC arrangements.”
Why are they calling for this?
Because it makes economic sense. Housing construction is busy at the moment. HomeBuilder created a lot more work, but that work is temporary.  It won’t last forever.
The HIA predict about 180,000 homes will be built this year and that will drop to about 145,000 next year, then 143,000 in 2023, before climbing back to 160,000 in 2024.
Building more social and affordable housing will help fill that gap – and keep their members working.
You know it also makes economic sense on a much bigger scale.
I was up in Brisbane last week at Common Ground, which was funded by the Rudd Government. Sonya the CEO gave me this – the Evaluation Snapshot by the University of Queensland.

  • Mental health episodes have decreased by 70 per cent.
  • Days as admitted patient have dropped.
  • Visits to the emergency department are also down.
  • Nights in police custody have almost halved.

If you put a roof over peoples’ head it costs the health system less.  It costs the justice system less.
There is plenty of other research out there from AHURI and others that make the same point – that it costs more to ignore homelessness than it does to solve it.
But it’s not just about the dollars.
Building housing like this changes lives.  And it saves lives.
People are healthier and they are safer.
We’re told the Budget is going to include billions of dollars to improve the economic security and personal safety of women.
If the Government is serious about that, then they need to do something serious about housing.
Last year, 10,000 mums and kids fleeing domestic violence were turned away from refuges because there wasn’t a bed.
If they are serious about doing something about women’s safety, they have got to do something about this.
And that doesn’t just mean funding crisis accommodation. It also means funding for transitional and long-term housing.
They also need to fix the hole in the budget coming with the end of the ERO.
You know what’s about to happen. When that money stops, it’ll mean people working in women’s shelters and other crisis accommodation across the country will lose their jobs.
Everyone I talk to tells me we need a National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
If we are fortunate enough to win the next election we will do that.  Not on our own but working with you are all the other key stakeholders – state governments, local governments and the private sector.
We will also take to the next election policies that will form part of that National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
Policies to:

  • Help more Aussies buy a home,
  • Help Australians who rent, and
  • Help put a roof over the head of more homeless Australians.

And I am keen to get your input and advice as we put those policies together.
Unlike the Minister, as Wendy knows, my door is open.