Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Monday 12 April 2021


SUBJECTS: Common ground Sydney; social housing; Federal Budget.

JAMES TOOMEY, MISSION AUSTRALIA CEO: We’re here at Common Ground today, which is an example of mixed social and affordable housing in one space, where social and affordable housing tenants live together and they have identical living arrangements, identical tenancies. But there’s also a community, and there’s an opportunity to develop the way in which tenants work and live together and really see this as being part of their community. 

There are community facilities and community opportunities here, all of which are designed to break down the senses of barriers and differences between tenants who are affordable housing tenants and those who are social housing tenants. Many people here are working, and many of them have been tenants for some years bringing themselves a permanent opportunity to live. Some were formerly homeless, and have been living here for some years in the first long-term tenancies they’ve had in their lives. Jason.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks very much, James. I really want to thank you, James, and the whole team here at Mission Australia, for the work you do at Common Ground here in Sydney helping a lot of people who have been doing it really rough. In particular, people who have been sleeping rough in Sydney, and providing a roof over their head. But it’s so much more than that. Common Ground provides more than just a roof over the head of people who desperately need it, it provides all those wraparound services that help people to get back on their feet. 

This is a building that was built just over a decade ago with funding from the Rudd Labor Government and it’s a good example of how, with support from the federal government, money can be invested that can make a real difference in the lives of people who desperately need it. Over the decade, hundreds of people have been able to live here and get the support and assistance they need to get back on their feet.

One of the fantastic things that happened last year in the midst of the pandemic was that thousands of people who were sleeping rough in parks and on the street or in cars or on couches were scooped up and provided a bed and a roof in empty motel rooms and hotel rooms across the country. It helped to stop the spread of pandemic but it also told us that if we really want to, we can reduce homelessness. We know that because we did it. About 40,000 people were provided with a roof over their head last year and it worked. It was one of the things that helped stop the spread of the virus across the country. But as the pandemics receded, now, many of those people are back on the street and that should remind us that we need more places like Common Ground here in Sydney and right across the country.

We also need more places to provide a roof over the head and a bed for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence, specialist services to help women who are fleeing domestic violence, sometimes in the middle of the night. Last year, the year where we were all focused on the pandemic, 10,000 mums and kids were turned away from domestic violence refuge services just because there wasn’t a bed. So there needs to be more services for people fleeing domestic violence.

There needs to be more social housing across the board. There’s a chronic lack of social housing in Australia. We pride ourselves as a country on having safety nets, safety nets like Medicare. But the fact is our social housing safety net is too small and there’s lots of holes in it. There’s lots of social housing that desperately needs to be repaired and there’s just not enough of it. In fact, the amount of public housing we’ve got now is less today than it was 10 years ago. There’s less public housing today than there was when Common Ground was built here 10 years ago. No wonder there are more people homeless today than ever before.

My message today to the federal government is: you can play a role here in helping to reduce homelessness in Australia. If you really want to, you can put more money into reducing homelessness in this year’s Federal Budget. You can put money in the Federal Budget to build more social housing, to build more refuges for women fleeing domestic violence, to build more Common Ground facilities, because you know that we desperately need them. 

So far this government hasn’t shown any desire or interest in doing that. In last year’s budget, where $100 billion was invested in infrastructure, not one new cent was put in to building more social housing or repairing the social housing that we’ve got. We’ve got a homelessness Minister now who’s been in the job for 110 days and has only even spoken about homelessness on one of those days. It’s not good enough. 

We can do better. We’ve got to do better. Common Ground here shows us what we can do if we’ve got a government in Canberra that’s committed to reducing homelessness for all of those people still sleeping rough in Sydney and in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and all around the country, we can make a difference. We can reduce homelessness here in Australia. We just need leadership from the people in Canberra. Thanks very much.