Sky News – AM Agenda

E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT:           

Over $100 million in additional funds out to 2018. For more on this I spoke to the Assistant Social Services Minister Zed Seselja.

KIERAN GILBERT:           

Minister, thanks very much for your time. Talk us through this additional funding, why it's necessary and it's over the next couple of years, is enough being done to deal with the scourge of homelessness?

ZED SESELJA:    

Well a couple of things. It's $117 million for the 2017-18 financial year. We're asking the states and territories to match it and I anticipate they will, given they've called for an extension of NPA. But what's really important is not just that we get this money to the front lines and we will and we need to, but also that we reform the way that housing and homelessness is done in this country. Between the states and territories and the Commonwealth we spend around $10 billion every year on housing and homelessness programs. So I'm working with the Treasurer, with Christian Porter, with the city's minister Angus Taylor on a whole range of reforms to make housing more affordable whether you're a renter, whether you're buying or of course at the sharp end with homelessness.

KIERAN GILBERT:

When you refer to NPA that's the National Partnership Agreement on...

ZED SESELJA:    

Homelessness.

KIERAN GILBERT:           

...homelessness. Can you give us a sense of whet numbers we're talking about in terms of those that are homeless in Australia today?

ZED SESELJA:    

Yeah, the figures say round about 100,000 Australians are homeless. Now there's various ways that people are classified as homeless. They're not all rough sleepers, though some are rough sleepers, some can be couch surfing, some can be...

KIERAN GILBERT:

Still an enormous amount isn't it?

ZED SESELJA:    

It's a very concerning number and it's unfortunately been going up and so the challenge I think I've taken on as a relatively new minister in this space is to look at what's been done before and we've seen homelessness rates go up around eight per cent between the last two censuses that we have figures for - at a time when we're spending a lot of money. So there's good will and there's a lot of great organisations doing great things and we need to continue to support them and that's what this money does but we also need to take a step back and say what are some of the causes of homelessness, why is housing becoming less affordable in some of our cities. So zoning policies are important. Obviously what was announced with the Affordable Housing Working Group recently with a bond aggregator which will bring private capital in for social housing [indistinct].

KIERAN GILBERT:           

Where are the worst areas in terms of the states that maybe not doing as well as other areas that are - public housing for example?

ZED SESELJA:    

Well there's a bit of a mixed bag there. I'll give you one example and this is not to pick on them at all but in Victoria they have- they moved away from having as much public housing stock as some other states and territories. What that means is it actually means that Commonwealth Rent Assistance kicks in a little bit more once people are doing it tough but they're not formally in public housing. So that's one of the areas we're looking at because if you look at Commonwealth Rent Assistance, that's $4.5 billion a year, so out of that $10 billion spend, Commonwealth Rent Assistance is a large amount of it. But we want to leverage the private sector. We want to leverage and help the community sector to do better and that's part what the bond aggregator model is about. So we target it at the front line when it comes to homelessness services but then we're pursuing a range of policies which make housing generally more affordable and then obviously that improves the lives of those who are at risk of homelessness but also others who are simply renting [indistinct].

KIERAN GILBERT:           

[Over talks] And those at risk who are they in terms of - obviously socioeconomic factors play a part but also the mental health issues play a role too don't they?

ZED SESELJA:

There's a range of paths to homelessness I guess to put it in the [indistinct]. So mental health is one of those, obviously family breakdown and family violence is another...

KIERAN GILBERT:

Which would lead to the other anyway.

ZED SESELJA:    

Indeed. Obviously substance abuse is one thing that leads some people into homelessness and obviously other just economic factors when people find themselves in very difficult circumstances.

KIERAN GILBERT:           

Bad luck.

ZED SESELJA:    

Well that's right. And I mean I spoke to a young youth worker in Canberra yesterday and doing some great work with the PCYC and he'd experienced homelessness for a couple of years and he busked his way out of it. Now a young fella who's 18 or 19 shouldn't be experiencing homelessness but we know it happens too often. People whose relationship with their family has completely broken down. We know that at-risk youth but obviously women and children and older men as well often with complex issues. So these aren't easily fixed. What we can do is address some of those causes but also look at the housing mix and make sure that someone who's doing it tough gets the support they need and other people are less likely to be at risk.

KIERAN GILBERT:           

Assistant Social Service Minister Zed Seselja, on a very worthy initiative where all sides of politics are working together which is good to see as well. Thanks so much.

ZED SESELJA:    

Thanks very much Kieran.