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Speech: Homelessness and housing

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 24 Feb 2021

Tonight I want to talk about homelessness and housing. Over the last few decades, Australian governments have created a housing system that actively impoverishes people and makes inequality worse. Safe, secure, high-quality housing is a human right, not a privilege reserved for those who are able to afford to pay through their noses for it. Instead of ensuring everyone's right to a home, governments have implemented and persisted with policies that benefit big developers and wealthy investors, to everyone else's detriment. The current housing system is designed to maximise profit, not public wellbeing.

Homelessness is on the rise and has been for years. In the last budget the federal government locked in a $41 million cut to homelessness services funding despite annual data from the Productivity Commission showing that homelessness services are being forced to turn away one out of every three people who present at a service because there aren't enough beds. From July, services that are already 'running on fumes' will be under even greater strain. People who aren't able to find a bed in a specialist homelessness service face trying to come up with enough money for a dorm bed in a hostel, a boarding house or a motel; another night sleeping rough in their car; couch surfing; or returning to an unsafe home. These are not choices anyone should be making.

Younger women experiencing or at risk of homelessness are at particular risk of sexual violence and exploitation. The integration of so many women's refuges into the underfunded homelessness sector means that fewer women escaping domestic violence have access to the complex, specialised support and casework that dedicated women's refuges provide. Women over 55 are the fastest-growing cohort of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The feminisation of poverty is compounding in their case, as they have fewer savings and financial assets and smaller superannuation.

In December, Equity Economics projected a nine per cent rise in homelessness this year across the country and a huge 19 per cent rise in New South Wales. It's unfathomable that the government can look at a potential rise in homelessness of almost 20 per cent in our biggest state and decide that the current policy settings are 'working just fine, thank you very much'. The situation is poised to get worse. The government's cruel cut to JobSeeker will lock in poverty. When the remaining eviction bans end next month, indebted tenants will be vulnerable to being evicted into homelessness. That's the cruelty of your policies.

While the homelessness sector is in crisis, public housing waiting lists continue to swell. The federal and state government investment that is needed to meet the shortfall in stock is nowhere in sight. In New South Wales, the Liberals and Nationals are slashing maintenance budgets, bulldozing public housing and selling off public land to build high-density developments, which are mostly private dwellings. These redevelopments barely replace the number of public or community housing units that they demolish. In several cases they're actually reducing the amount of social housing accommodation overall. In the process, communities are fractured, and vulnerable people are displaced from neighbourhoods they've called home for decades.

Communities are fighting back. In Sydney, public housing residents in Glebe and Eveleigh, suburbs with proud working-class histories, are rallying against the state government's proposed destruction of their neighbourhoods and homes. Extraordinarily, some of the residents of these estates have been displaced before, when the government disgracefully sold off the public housing in Millers Point a few years ago. This is farcical. This must not ever happen again. The Greens stand with these residents, and we must push back against proposals to demolish and privatise the homes and neighbourhoods that they have. We know what we need to do to end the inequalities and injustices of our housing system: get rid of the tax concessions for wealthy property investors and speculators; significantly boost funding for homelessness services and tenants advocates; and ensure high national renters rights standards, including rent control and security of tenure. We must wind back the neglect of public housing in this country and build the stock we need to obliterate waiting lists and ensure universal access to housing. Our housing system is broken. It hurts people and communities. This government is hurting people and communities, and we will dismantle the perverse, exploitative, cruel systems that it stands for.

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