Action on Homelessness
1 Dec | '2020
Ms BELL (Moncrieff) (19:01): Perhaps it is common ground that we both agree we have grievances with our respective state governments. Certainly that is a position on which we agree. In my maiden speech, I talked about advocating for all those in my electorate and across the country on a number of social issues including domestic violence, drug and alcohol challenges, child sex abuse, mental health and eating disorders. I also said I would like to assist those living with homelessness.
Difficult issues often contribute to problems that lead to homelessness. They all kind of roll into one oftentimes. People don’t really want to talk about homelessness, which touches so many Australians, and sometimes just a couple of life events can combine to lead to a person becoming homeless. Recently the risks, as we all know, have been higher for many in our communities. Of course the circumstances and life events that may lead to homelessness may vary, based on a range of factors including gender, and cultural and linguistic diversity. For example, women over 60 may become homeless due to the death of an income-earning spouse, a lack of retirement savings or super, being forced out of the workforce early or indeed due to divorce and/or domestic violence. Homelessness is indeed a very complex issue and, as such, so too are the solutions and wraparound services that are required to help homeless people.
Even though services for the homeless and for day-to-day housing are the responsibility of state and territory governments, the Morrison government is making a significant investment in solutions to help the states and territories meet their responsibilities. This government recognises the need for housing that is safe, affordable and secure, and many Australians may not be aware that this recognition is backed with an annual investment of $6 billion in both housing and in improving homelessness outcomes. This includes $4.6 billion a year in Commonwealth rent assistance to Australians on welfare payments and it also includes $1.6 billion a year through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, the NHHA, with the states and territories.
In 2021, my home state of Queensland will receive $326.6 million, including around $32.9 million in dedicated homelessness funding, under the NHHA. Older women and children affected by domestic violence are prioritised under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Unfortunately, in the past, the Queensland government has not delivered the level of cooperation or the results that one would expect given that amount of funding.
I was elected in May 2019, as you’re probably aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews. In October of the same year, some few months later, I, along with my city’s mayor, requested a meeting with the minister for housing in Queensland. We requested that he, together with the federal assistant minister for homelessness, come to discuss a way forward and to talk about working together on this very complex issue that is affecting my electorate on the Gold Coast. What happened? When I extended that invitation to the state minister for housing, he refused.
Dr Aly interjecting—
Ms BELL: Member for Cowan, he refused. He wouldn’t meet with me and he wouldn’t meet with our city’s mayor, and he certainly wouldn’t meet with the federal minister. The first question that I would ask is: what happens to that $1.6 million that goes to the states and territories from the federal government to help the people in my electorate who are homeless? I’m passionate about improving the situation for Gold Coasters who find themselves in this situation and about the flow-on effects on our community—on the likes of the St John’s Crisis Centre in Surfers Paradise, which is now helping with the extra demand around this very difficult and complex issue.
At the grassroots level on the Gold Coast, just this week I had in my office a gentleman from the Rotary Club of Surfers Paradise who was receiving a volunteer award. He was telling me that his Rotary club is building housing for those people who are at risk of homelessness. So my community is actually taking it into its own hands to help those who need extra help during this period. They have built a development in Moncrieff to house those pensioners.
When the pandemic hit, some Australians faced a greater risk of homelessness. I was working very closely with stakeholders to address the urgent needs of our community, so I do know a little bit about this issue, which I have a grievance with the state government over. I’m sad to say that there was a disappointing lack of action at the state level—a lack of support from the Queensland government for the community groups that do such a great job supporting those in our community who are doing it tough. They took too long to step up to the mark. Of course, local community groups, like St John’s Crisis Centre, are close to the problem and have insight and agility to meet local needs, if they have sufficient funding. But these groups are themselves under strain because of the circumstances of the pandemic. Those small charities have no revenue because hall hire has dried up because Rotary clubs and Lions clubs have stopped meeting; therefore, their donations towards these smaller charities, which don’t have any emergency relief funding, has dried up. Also, the safety of volunteers, many of whom are older citizens, has, in many cases, meant major changes to operations in these small charities, resulting in the cessation of delivery of those services by volunteers.
The federal government always has emergency relief providers in place; we know that. We swung into action to support grassroots community organisations. In Surfers Paradise, I worked with St John’s Crisis Centre, in particular, and Minister Ruston to make sure that there were more funds forthcoming for those providers. Extra funding was delivered quickly to emergency response providers across the country. In fact, an extra $200 million was provided very quickly by the Morrison government.
So I ask those opposite and their state colleagues: who could those small charities in our communities turn to during their time of extra need—in that gap before the coronavirus supplement was announced? I would say that the Morrison government is who they could turn to, yes. They could also turn to the Gold Coast Community Fund. The Gold Coast Community Fund stepped in when the state government didn’t. With letters of support through my office, the Gold Coast Community Fund paid the utility bills of those small charities. It paid for the plastic containers for all those extra meals that went out to the community, and it has paid for food vouchers for smaller charities, like Havafeed, who are helping those who are, unfortunately, homeless. It’s all been exacerbated throughout this period with coronavirus and, as I’ve outlined, there is no lack of investment at the federal level, so the question must be asked of the Queensland state government: what are you doing? What are you doing with the funds that we deliver to assist with this problem? This is what I’m unhappy about. I will keep asking it. I’m unhappy that the former minister wouldn’t meet with me to discuss it and I’m hoping that the new minister, sworn in just a few weeks ago, will agree to meet with me and the assistant minister for homelessness so that we can deliver together for Gold Coasters, for those people who find themselves in this very difficult position of homelessness.
At the local level—in addition to the Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, who’s also passionate about this issue—local Councillors Brooke Patterson and Darren Taylor are active in seeking to address this issue. I’ve also had a couple of roundtable meetings with the member for Southport, Rob Molhoek, councillors and Rotary to try to address this problem for locals on the Gold Coast and the flow-on effects that it has in in our public areas.
I know there’s deep and genuine empathy at all levels of government and from all parties for homeless people, but execution has indeed been lacking from the Queensland government. There’s a lack of urgency in delivering assistance to those who need it most, and so the council has taken it into their own hands to put on two council officers to help with the homelessness issue on the Gold Coast to make sure that those in our society, in our community, in Surfers Paradise and Southport, are supported. The state government, quite frankly, is missing in action when it comes to delivering those federal government funds—over $300 million—that go to them every year, to Queensland. I would ask the Queensland government to step up and help out.