Homelessness strategy needs wins on the ground
Posted May 29, 2018
Cathy has challenged National Party members to work with their Liberal colleagues on developing a housing strategy for rural and regional Australia that addresses real and significant problems that exist across the country.
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (15:52): While I'm delighted to make my contribution to this debate, I just can't let the comments from the member for Capricornia go unanswered. I'm a great supporter of infrastructure and know how important it is in our regions, and I understand the member for Capricornia is a really hardworking, sincere member of parliament, but what we need in this national strategy is real wins on the ground. While many of the things that she says might be true in Queensland, in my electorate of north-east Victoria we certainly have a real problem. I'd be calling on my colleagues in the National Party, many of whom are in the House today, to seriously work with their Liberal colleagues on developing a strategy for rural and regional Australia that addresses the real and significant problems that we are experiencing.
Let me talk, for example, about some of the statistics in north-east Victoria, and I will talk about my major towns of Wodonga and Wangaratta. These statistics are provided by Beyond Housing, which is a community housing authority. They saw more than 2,700 people in the last year: 52 per cent were women, 42 per cent were families and 136 people in Wodonga and Wangaratta were sleeping in the open, in a tent or in a car. If you add that to that the story we've just heard about Denison, it's clear we're not making this up. These are people without housing, in the cold, in winter. So, there is a real problem in my electorate, and I'm really pleased to be part of this debate today. I did hear the minister speak. If he thinks he's doing enough, he is absolutely deluded. I'm here as a crossbencher, not a member of the opposition; my job is to speak for my electorate and to try to make the government's programs better. To support what I'm saying, I have some research that was done by La Trobe University, Housing affordability and homelessness in the Hume region – Victoria, which I would like to address. I would also like to finish on a very positive note. As is traditional in our country areas, and certainly in my electorate, my community is actively acting and doing something about this housing crisis. I would like to make reference to a forum that was held in Yackandandah two weeks ago to do something locally about this problem.
In the La Trobe study, they are telling us that housing affordability and homelessness are significant right across Australia, and they've got the data. They say that housing issues effect the population as a whole, and we've heard the story about that. We've heard that homelessness is complex and it's not solely related to housing; it's the lack of access to suitable forms of housing, transport, income and wellness in yourself. The absence of current policies targeting housing affordability and homelessness at both the Commonwealth and state level is problematic, says La Trobe University. It's totally independent and a very factual report on what we are trying to deal with. I would encourage my colleagues in the National Party to have a read of the La Trobe report and pay some attention to it. We've got a significant problem, and it doesn't only come out from the housing organisations or the service organisations that try and support people with emergency food, with travel, with trying to get to a doctor and with the counselling that goes with it. They are all coming to my office and saying that things are not working out well. It's a significant problem.
I would like to spend a few minutes of my time to talk about what my community is doing. Two week ago, in Yackandandah, 120 people turned up for an innovating housing forum, to look at how small rural communities can do something about what's actually happening in our community. They had a fantastic day, with attendees from Benalla, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Tallangatta, Mount Beauty and even Melbourne visiting. Not only did we hear ideas about the role of local government and about design; we also talked about the role of the health service providers. Annette Nuck, the CEO of Yackandandah Health, told the audience of the radical ideas that aged-care and health facilities are planning for Yackandandah. What's clearly evident is that our people and communities want to be part of the solution. They have ideas about what will work for them. They want to be part of the answer, not just a top-down government telling us what to do. Really and truly, we could involve our communities. Particularly, our regional communities are so keen to make sure that not only the homelessness problem is addressed but also in our old age we've got housing that actually works to our needs and works towards the long-term survival and sustainability of our country towns.
The final thing I want to say about the housing stuff and to the minister present is that it's not just a government solution by itself; you've actually got to work with communities, with local government and with the housing authorities. Clearly, and strongly from the backbench and the crossbench here, what you're doing is not working and it's certainly not working in my area of regional Australia.