Federal minister urges Australians to help tackle homelessness ‘in their back yard’

by Paul Karp
Julie Collins tells thinktank ‘ensuring every Australian has a safe place to call home is not someone else’s job’

Australians will be challenged to stop resisting solutions “in their back yard” to the homelessness crisis, as the Albanese government attempts to drive social housing construction.

The housing and homelessness minister, Julie Collins, will make the comments in a speech to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute on Monday, in which she also accuses the Coalition of a “decade of inaction” on homelessness.

Collins’ speech, an advance copy of which was seen by Guardian Australia, suggests the commonwealth will take greater responsibility for housing, accepting that “the task of ensuring every Australian has a safe place to call home is not someone else’s job” – and not one that will be left to the states.

The number of homeless people in Australia grew to 116,000 people on census night in 2016, up from 102,000 in 2011.

Labor’s housing policies include a $10bn social housing fund, which will be used to build 30,000 social and affordable homes within five years.

Collins says these will include “20,000 social housing properties, 4,000 of which will be allocated for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness”.

“And 10,000 affordable homes will also be allocated to frontline workers like police, nurses and cleaners.”

Collins says the Albanese government will develop a national housing and homeless plan and establish the new National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.

“Real leadership on this issue will require us to reframe the conversation about Australians that are facing housing challenges,” Collins says.

“These challenges are happening in the suburbs and neighbourhoods of cities and towns across the country. This is no longer an issue on the margins of our society.

“This is not an issue that is happening in someone else’s back yard, so we cannot afford to be resistant to solutions that are in our back yard.”

Collins says she will “keep reminding Australians of this” throughout the housing debate.

Collins said the housing program was expected to commence from early 2023, with the federal government working with states to identify where homes will be built.

She credits states and territories for “major investments” expected to add 15,500 social housing homes from 2021-22 to 2023-24.

“States hold many of the supply levers, therefore a strong relationship across all levels of government is critical to achieving the Albanese government’s commitment to build 30,000 additional social and affordable dwellings,” she says in the speech.

On Wednesday Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather challenged Labor in question time over the fact there are 162,500 households on the social housing waiting list, but its policies will build “just 4,000 social homes a year for five years”.

At the election the Greens had suggested they would push to build one million home over 20 years, including 750,000 public and community houses.

In reply, Anthony Albanese noted the Greens have “substantial representation in local government” and suggested that Chandler-Mather should “encourage the Greens political party to back affordable housing rather than just oppose it”.

“In my local area, when there have been programs in Marrickville, they’ve been opposed.”

Albanese has spoken proudly about being raised by a single mum in public housing, but the rhetoric around his upbringing has also spurred calls to do more to lift living standards for welfare recipients and increase public housing stock.

Collins says “safe and affordable housing is central to the dignity of all Australians”.

“It is critical to ensuring that opportunity is shared equally in this country. It is a springboard to a better life for so many.

“The prime minister knows this because he has lived it.”