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Speech: Homelessness Week

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 4 Aug 2021

Another week marking homelessness is another week marking lack of action by the government to reduce homelessness. People wait for over a decade to access public housing in some parts of Australia, while hundreds of thousands of people seek help from homelessness services each year. The last census showed us that over 100,000 people are without a home on any given night. We are now approaching another census, and homelessness and the housing crisis has just been growing.

We know women and children are disproportionately impacted by the lack of safe and security housing. Older women have been the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness. The COVID-19 pandemic has further deepened this crisis, with many thousands of women and children being forced to choose between returning to violent partners and becoming homeless. A recent report by the Everybody's Home campaign and Equity Economics revealed as many as 7,700 women a year are returning to violent partners and 9,120 women a year are being forced into homelessness because of a chronic shortage of affordable housing. What a terrifying choice these women are faced with and all because government after government has not only refused to build more social housing but also continued to defund essential crisis services.

Migrants and refugees are vastly overrepresented amongst people who are homeless. At least 15 per cent of people who were homeless on the last census night arrived in Australia in the previous five years and face disproportionate disadvantage. The Centre for Multicultural Youth in Victoria estimated that young people from refugee backgrounds are six to 10 times more likely to be at risk of homelessness than Australian born young people. These are damning statistics.

Millions of people are being robbed of housing security and housing affordability. This is nothing less than intergenerational theft. House prices have gone up over 20 per cent in the past year alone in Sydney, with house prices rising $1,000 a day at the moment. Canberra and Hobart are in a similar situation of house prices rising by 20 per cent. Over 10 per cent has been the rise in house prices in all major cities in Australia. The median house price in Sydney is now over $1.4 million and it's over $1 million in Melbourne.

This is not an accident. This is a deliberate policy choice by the government. Tax breaks like negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount have landed us in this mess. These generous breaks work for wealthy investors and property speculators, making it easier for someone to buy their fifth investment property than for someone to buy their first home to live in.

Yet, shamefully, we have now seen the Labor Party backtracking on its commitment to reform these tax breaks. Not too long ago Labor were calling out negative gearing and the CGT discount as tax subsidies that benefit the wealthiest Australians. So what exactly has changed? It's a cowardly and pathetic backflip. House prices and rents are skyrocketing and Labor is throwing fuel on the fire. There is now clear bipartisan consensus on entrenching housing inequality for generations. This is a betrayal of young people in particular, who have been locked out of secure housing due to these very policies that have turned an essential need such as housing into a game of market speculation. People are suffering and bearing the brunt of an unfair system, caught in the cycle of disadvantage.

It is not good enough to pass the buck on housing to states and territories. The federal government has a clear responsibility to ensure people's rights to shelter and safety are assured. The Greens will work to establish a federal housing trust to build one million public and social homes across Australia over 20 years. This is the scale of the building required to obliterate housing waiting lists and reduce homelessness.

Public housing shouldn't be just a safety net but an alternative to private rental or home ownership. We must wind back the tax rules that have turned housing into a speculator's game. The government needs to urgently and significantly increase baseline funding for homelessness services to ensure that no-one is turned away. The housing system exists as it does by design. It's time to change that design so homes are not commodities and speculative assets but a place to live in. Everyone deserves a safe and a secure home. We can and we must do better.


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