ABC24 - ABC News Breakfast

Interviewer:

Michael Rowland

E&OE

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Ahead of today's COAG meeting in Canberra, the Federal Government is announcing $117 million in new funding to support frontline homelessness services. Joining us now from Canberra is the Assistant Social Services Minister Zed Seselja. Minister good morning. Thanks for joining Breakfast.

MINISTER SESELJA:

Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Who will this money help?

MINISTER SESELJA:

Well, it will help some of the tens of thousands of Australians who experience homelessness. We think around 85,000 Australians can be helped by this money. It's important and it's important that we look at the whole context because unfortunately, homelessness, rates of homelessness in Australia have been rising and they've been rising reasonably sharply in the last few years between the 2006-2011 Census, I think there was an eight per cent increase in homelessness. So this funding will go to vulnerable Australians. There's still a particular focus on women and children escaping domestic violence, but it will go across-the-board. We're hoping, and I think we would reasonably expect that the states would match this $117 million funding commitment so that money will be doubled in terms of delivery to frontline services.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

You talked about the increase in homelessness, at the same time the states and territories collectively spend just under $10 billion on providing various forms of assistance to those in the frontline of this. Does that suggest that the money isn't being properly spent if homelessness rates are still rising?

MINISTER SESELJA:

Well when we look at the $10 billion figure, that's between the Commonwealth and the states and territories and it’s on homelessness and housing more broadly. But your point is a very valid one and that is that I don't believe that when we took at that $10 billion per annum spend, that we are getting the kind of outcomes I would hope for. So with this 1-year extension of the homelessness funding, what I want to do and what the Treasurer wants to do and Christian Porter and Angus Taylor along with the Prime Minister, is to work with the states and territories on a suite of measures to make housing more affordable, so more affordable for renters, more affordable for those who would like to buy and obviously at the sharp end, we're dealing with people who are either at risk of homelessness or indeed are homeless now.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Welfare groups have been telling us Minister that they feel uncertainty because of the sporadic nature of the funding under this agreement that you're talking about this morning. It was meant to expire in the middle of next year, you're announcing this morning that it’s been rolled over another year. But they say that that still provides them with a lot of uncertainty. Why not go for a three-year or a five-year funding deal?

MINISTER SESELJA:

I think if we went to a three-year without reforming we would just be kicking the can down the road. There are issues with the way that we fund housing and homelessness in this country. Some of the deals we have, there's the National Affordable Housing Agreement for instance where we put in $1.3 billion from the Commonwealth per annum and yet we don't get the kind of information and we don't know exactly what that gets us. That was an agreement that was signed a number of years ago. So if we'd done a three-year deal in the current terms, I think we'd be kicking the can down the road. What I intend to do and what the Government intends to do is to now work very closely with the states and territories to say, for this $10 billion spend per annum between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, what are the things that we need to change to actually get better outcomes? The Treasurer has announced a body of work with the Affordable Housing Working Group recently, talking about a bond aggregator. Now that is one important tool that is being very carefully considered which would enable social housing providers to actually bring in more capital, so bring in more private capital for housing for people who are vulnerable or at risk of homelessness. So there's a range of things that are being looked at. The announcement today is a very important one. We've done it well ahead of the Budget so that there is some certainty for the next financial year but the task now is to really make the reforms because taxpayers are, I think, broadly happy to be funding important initiatives like homelessness, but they do expect in housing and homelessness and all spending that we absolutely get bang for the buck.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Zed Seselja, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

MINISTER SESELJA:

Thanks for having me on Michael.