SPEECH TO NATIONAL HOMELESSNESS CONFERENCE

6 Aug 2018

6 AUGUST 2018

 

SENATOR THE HON DOUG CAMERON
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR SKILLS, TAFE AND APPRENTICESHIPS
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES

 

NATIONAL HOMELESSNESS CONFERENCE
 
MELBOURNE CRICKET GROUND
MONDAY, 06 AUGUST 2018
 
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

 
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we meet on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, and pay my respect to elders both past and present.
 
I’d also like to thank the co-chairs of this Conference, Jenny Smith and Michael Fotheringham, for their invitation to participate in today’s panel.
 
I don’t want to squander my time with you this afternoon telling you what you already know – or repeating what you’ve heard when I’ve previously addressed this Conference.
 
You are aware of what the 2016 Census and other sources have revealed about the trajectory of homelessness in this country, and which groups are being disproportionately impacted.
 
You also know what Labor achieved when we were last in government with regards to housing and homelessness.
 
You know about the Coalition’s appalling track record since 2013 – and you’re aware of the significant commitments Labor has been making in this space.
 
We will have more to say on the housing and homelessness crisis before the next election.
 
From Labor’s perspective very few developments in recent years are as deeply troubling as the growing number of our fellow Australians experiencing homelessness.
 
We’ve made a point of calling it crisis, and that’s because we understand the profound, life-altering impacts homelessness can have, and that these impacts run counter to Labor’s inherent commitment to social justice.
 
We know homelessness drives and exacerbates poor outcomes in physical and mental health, reduces educational attainment and economic participation, and increases social isolation.
 
Just as importantly, we’re mindful that the social and economic costs of homelessness are not only borne by the individuals who experience it – but also by their families, their communities and our nation as a whole – and it’s a heavy toll that spans generations.
 
Labor also recognises that homelessness is both an outcome, and driver, of inequality. If we are to meaningfully address homelessness it will require recognising this fundamental truth, and addressing it in all of our policy responses.
 
Inequality is the crux of the issue and I’d like to concentrate the bulk of my remaining remarks to – the intersection of inequality, housing, and homelessness.
 
Three reports released just last week by ACOSS, Mission Australia, and the University of Melbourne’s HILDA survey all reached the same conclusion:
 
Inequality of wealth and income is widening in this country, particularly between younger and older Australians, and this has the potential to diminish and radically reshape our society in years to come.
 
The reports note that falling rates of home-ownership, increased rental stress, worsening housing affordability, and flat-lining income growth are putting immense pressure on the housing choices available to vulnerable Australians.
 
The HILDA survey found that measures of inequality within the youth cohort it tracks worsened significantly, and that this is inextricably linked to home-ownership.
 
Just one example that illustrates this alarming trend is that between 2001 and 2004, 13.5 percent of renters between the ages of 18 and 24 became home owners.
 
From 2013 to 2016, however, just over 7% made the same transition – and there is evidence that income diversity in this cohort shrank markedly, with fewer people from poorer backgrounds represented.
 
Roger Wilkins , HILDA’s lead author has echoed the analysis of Professor Duncan MacLennan and made the following assessment:
 
“I think decline in home ownership is a very big concern that has a very strong link to growing evidence of intergenerational inequality”.
 
This marked increase in inequality greatly concerns  Labor.
 
That’s because this trend may see us begin to mirror less equal societies, which in turn will see our communities become more economically segregated.
 
A case in point is the United States, where there is a growing recognition that working class people experience entrenched inequality of housing opportunity, with fewer and fewer areas affordable to live.
 
That’s because as inequality goes up and housing markets become more expensive, the number of locations with affordable dwellings available to them becomes smaller.
 
This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, because as Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute argues in his book ‘Dream Hoarders’, there is strong body of research that shows, where people live impacts their access to good schools, jobs and health care.
As geographic segregation of high- and low-income households becomes more severe, it reinforces inequality across the generations.
 
While we often hear about inclusionary zoning, we are only just starting to understand the impacts of exclusionary zoning here in Australia.
 
In the US in particular, exclusionary zoning is used to protect the house values, schools and communities within affluent areas at the expense of the disadvantaged.
 
Reeves observes that zoning becomes exclusionary “when it operates simply to separate households based on their economic resources.”
 
Exclusionary zoning has adversely distorted the US housing market and unless it is challenged here in Australia, the same will occur within our communities.
 
As then-President Barack Obama noted in 2015, “what used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation.”
 
I’m afraid to say that there is growing evidence we’re in danger of heading down this path of class segregation.
 
Rhetorical responses such as “equality of opportunity” and “the best form of welfare is a job” ignores the reality for many disadvantaged Australians living in low socio-economic communities.
 
Nicholas Biddle from the ANU has pointed out that the 2016 Census demonstrates Australia also has significant geographic concentrations of income distribution. Wealthier people in Australia tend to live in neighbourhoods with other wealthier people and access to greater amenity. Poorer people are also more likely to live in close proximity to people who share their disadvantage.
 
Parents living in social and economic exclusion cannot provide equality of opportunity or the employment opportunities to their children readily available to well-heeled bankers and barristers living in their mansions and leafy suburbs.
Anglicare’s 2018 Rental Affordability Snapshot points to the increasing social disaggregation of our cities and communities.
 
The Snapshot revealed that for a single person on the minimum wage in Greater Sydney there were just 41 dwellings available to them without experiencing rental stress, with 39 more than 20km from the city centre.
For many of those on income support, there were was no affordable housing in Greater Sydney.
 
As communities of disadvantage are forced by a lack of housing opportunity to cluster, the stressors that contribute to people experiencing homelessness become more prevalent. The implications for homelessness are dire.
Regrettably, the seriousness of these developments and the challenge we’re facing appears utterly lost on Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition Government.
 
Next month will mark 5 years since the election of the Abbott Government – an unedifying anniversary because it also marked the beginning of an unrelenting assault, inspired by trickledown economics, on working and middle class Australians.
 
It’s seen them attack our social compact – and in doing so harm the most vulnerable Australians and worsen inequality. The Coalition’s record speaks for itself:
 
Cuts to schools, universities, TAFE and vocational training, hospitals, GP rebates, paid parental leave, pensioners, carers, people with disabilities and childcare. Signalling to the Fair Work Commission that penalty rates should be cut.
 
They’ve been as unwavering in their commitment to austerity as they have been to shifting the tax burden away from the top end of town.
 
Whether it was their aborted plan to increase the regressive GST, or handing tax powers to the states, or enacting enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest Australians, or seeking to hand over $80 billion to multinationals and big banks, inequality couldn’t be further from their minds.
 
Labor will take a different approach.
 
We want to build a more egalitarian society, to make sure where you’re born doesn’t become the key determinant of where you end up in life.
 
Labor recognises that tackling Australia’s homelessness and housing affordability crisis will require strong national leadership – and policies that are strongly informed by an equity and fairness agenda.
 
This commitment is evident in our plans to make meaningful investments in schools, universities and vocational training, in hospitals and healthcare – or what can broadly be called our “social infrastructure”.
 
That’s because we recognise that only by addressing the root causes of inequality  will we  achieve genuine progress in reducing homelessness.
 
We want, and need, to build a more egalitarian society.
 
Thank you for your time this afternoon, and for your determination to build a good society and your advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged Australians who cannot access housing and end up homeless.
 
I look forward to your questions in the panel discussion.
 

MONDAY, 6 AUGUST 2018
 


Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.