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Senate Estimates: Community Affairs Legislation Committee: Social Services Portfolio: (Department of Social Services)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 4 Nov 2016

Thursday, 20 October 2016

CHAIR: Do you have questions on NPAH, Senator Rhiannon?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, some on NPAH.

CHAIR: We might go to Senator Rhiannon. Senator Kakoschke-Moore, what are your questions?

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I have got some about women's shelters.

CHAIR: We will come back to you. Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: Firstly, I would like to understand some of the processes with the reports. You mentioned, Minister, that the COAG reports come out at the end of 2016, in a few months’ time. There is then the response to the Economics Reference Committee Inquiry and all of those recommendations. Where is that up to?

Senator Seselja: In relation to the Economics Reference Committee?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, that inquiry. There were a whole lot of recommendations but I could not see that they had all been responded to yet?

Senator Seselja: I will ask one of our officials.

Ms Bennett: It was the Senate inquiry into affordable housing under the Senate Economics Reference Committee, and the government's response is yet to be finalised.

Senator RHIANNON: Nothing more specific?

Mr McBride: I think you saw the minister's speech yesterday. Some of the issues raised in that report are being addressed with that. We are having discussions with the departments that are individually responsible for it. Some of them were tax measures and some of the recommendations belong to the states and the local government. The measures are being advanced behind the scenes and the government still intends to report back formally, but a date on that has not been decided yet.

Senator RHIANNON: I have some questions on funding. Homeless funding to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness has not increased since last year. It is $115 million. Senator Seselja: I am sorry, I just missed the beginning of that question. Senator RHIANNON: The homelessness funding to NPAH has not increased since last year. It is still at $115 million. What is the reasoning behind not increasing the funding considering the general agreement across the political spectrum for the urgency in this area?

Senator Seselja: In terms of the decision that was taken for this lot of funding?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Senator Seselja: The current crop of funding for NPAH?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. It is $115 million.

Ms Bennett: The current funding arrangement was for two years for $230 million. It runs out on 30 June, which referenced what the minister said. It is not increased on a calendar year. It is a financial year and the financial year is 30 June next year.

Senator RHIANNON: But we have not had an increase in it. Are you suggesting that—

Ms Bennett: It was a two-year agreement and that expires on 30 June. That will be taken into account in the process in the matters that the minister has set out in answering questions for Senator Cameron.

Senator RHIANNON: This funding issue must come up a lot for you from the sector. It is certainly something that has been raised with us; that there is a funding problem that is very troubling with the government funding which has been cut to peak housing bodies over the last few years, such as the Housing Supply Council, the COAG Reform Council on Housing, Homelessness Australia and National Shelter and the Community Housing Federation of Australia. Who is going to provide you with the research and expert policy advice in the areas of homelessness and housing affordability considering these cuts?

Ms Bennett: The funding for the peak organisations that you listed ceased in the 2013-14 budget, MYEFO, and there is an array of ways in which the department engages with the sector. Some of those are just general everyday consultations that we do in this space in terms of homelessness. I will hand over the housing affordability issues to my colleagues.

Senator RHIANNON: What I am trying to get at here is how can your policy be coherently informed without the research that was previously provided?

Ms Wilson: We have the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, which continues to provide us with research that traverses the housing space, including the issues of homelessness. That is a key body of which we are a partner along with the states and territories.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, do you judge that is adequate, despite the loss of the input from all of those organisations?

Senator Seselja: In terms of whether it is adequate, certainly I think AHURI does some excellent work. I think AIHW also does some work in this space, and there is a range of areas where the government gets its information, including obviously the department doing its work as well and state and territory governments looking into this space. I do not think there is any shortage of studies looking into the broader questions around housing affordability and homelessness. This is something that the government takes very, very seriously and that is why, in going back to your earlier question in terms of those broader questions, there is homelessness funding. There is broader support for people in housing stress and dealing with people who are really struggling and then there are also those broader questions around working with states and territories to make sure that zoning is appropriate so that not only do we get housing, social housing and housing for people on low incomes but also that broader affordability question across-the-board. I think there is a fair bit of work being done here. We can always point to individual organisation, but I do not think that there is any shortage of solid research showing us some of the issues. I think if you look at, for instance, the Affordable Housing Working Group and the cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, certainly all governments are turning their minds to this and how we deal with these challenges.

Senator RHIANNON: I just want to go back to the question that I did not finish asking NPAH funding. I think reducing homelessness widely requires that long-term strategy. Do you agree that it takes long-term funding? Something that I find coming up in the sector quite often are discussions around the sector requiring in this area more permanent funding for NPAH. Is a four-year renewal of funding possible? Is it likely?

Senator Seselja: A decision on that has not been taken.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it on the books?

Senator Seselja: No decision has been taken. I stepped Senator Cameron through some of the processes that are going on. It is certainly being taken very seriously. We have heard from the sector in relation to some of the challenges with that funding. The challenge, of course, that we faced when we came in—the funding ended on 30 June 2014—was to of course find the money to extend that. We have had extensions of that. In an ideal world that extension would go longer, but no decision has been taken.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if the secure funding issue has not been discussed—

Senator Seselja: I am sorry. I did not say that.

Senator RHIANNON: I am sorry. I certainly did not want to verbal you. If secure funding has not been agreed to, what are the plans to address rising homelessness? We just need some more detail on that.

Senator Seselja: I will start off and I will ask the officials to add to my answer if necessary. I think I covered some of this with my answer to Senator Cameron, but if you look at a range of things, we have the Affordable Housing Working Group, we have the work through COAG. There are other areas. We have got NAHA and looking at the appropriateness of NAHA and how we can get the absolute best out of that. If we just take NAHA for a moment, NAHA is an agreement where the Commonwealth commits I think $1.3 billion. That is housing and homelessness funding. I spoke to this yesterday at AHURI. It is certainly my view and my concern that it is not 100 per cent clear exactly what we are getting for that. It is not 100 per cent transparent as to when we spend that money and how that is going to ensuring that more options are provided in low income housing, social housing and homelessness assistance. I do not doubt goodwill from the states and territories, but it is important that we get these agreements right. If you look more broadly, looking at issues around people like my colleague Angus Taylor in the cities portfolio working with the Prime Minister, he is looking at ways of working with state and territory governments so that we can improve the way that land is released and the way cities are designed and planned so we can provide for all of these housing options, whether it is people looking to buy their first home, whether it is for renters or whether it is more broadly for social house and homelessness services. The government I think across-the-board and not just in this portfolio takes this issue very seriously and is working with our state and territory colleagues, where it must be said many of the leaders are, although not all of the leaders are, in order to get better outcomes in this space.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I am just cognisant of the time. I know Senator Cameron has questions in other areas and I am sure you do too, so if you have further questions on that particular area if I could encourage you to put them on notice. We will go back to Senator Cameron.

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CHAIR: Thank you. If we can stick to five minutes, Senator Rhiannon, and then I will come back to Senator Cameron for a final five minutes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. According to the second action plan under the National Plan on Family Violence there are 39 specialist services funded under the $150 million per annum NPAH which assists with family violence and violence against women. I understand from what you said that funding under NPAH is due to expire in July 2017. That is only eight months away. Have you talked with those specialist services about whether they will be able to retain the qualified and experienced staff that it always takes a long time to build up and how important it is in this area considering they only have eight months of funding certainty?

Mr Pratt: We addressed those issues with Senator Cameron before.

Senator RHIANNON: I am sorry I missed that. I would like to go on to Indigenous housing. This year's budget states that from 1 July this year the National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing will be replaced with the National Partnership on Remote Housing. Can you comment on that?

Mr Pratt: That is a matter for Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator RHIANNON: All the issues to do with Indigenous housing?

Mr Pratt: Remote Indigenous housing. Yes, that is right.

Senator RHIANNON: That makes it a short five minutes.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Rhiannon.

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