Like many in our sector, we’ve been keeping a close eye on momentum for the Labor Government’s $10b Housing Australia Future Fund bill. Yesterday’s decision to delay voting on this crucial piece of legislation is hard to fathom, particularly for those of us on the front line having daily conversations with people needing our help, and having to say: “Sorry, there is just no housing available.”
Whilst we welcome Labor’s $2b Social Housing Acceleration fund decision on Saturday and the $500m that will come to Victoria via the State Government (although we believe funding on a per capita basis is problematic as the issue in states such as the Northern Territory is disproportionately high compared with their population), this will not create a pipeline of housing to help unblock the housing continuum which is what people need.
Unfortunately, whilst more Australians than ever before are now working out either how to afford to stay in their housing or are living in untenable situations (cars, sheds in the backyard, women unable to escape domestic violence) politicians are kicking housing around like a political football, with some people labelling the Greens, ‘the speed bumps of progress.’
Whilst we appreciate the need for negotiations to achieve greater outcomes and impact, it shouldn’t come at the cost of building a pipeline of supply. Delays in decision making are delays in getting funding and programs out the door. As Minister Collins put it, ‘Every day of delay is more than $1.3 million that does not go to housing for people that need it. That’s $250m every six months.’ Or when you look at the growing Victorian Housing Register waitlist, that is hundreds of people waiting for at least an additional 6 months in overcrowded dwellings, unsafe accommodation or out in the cold, whilst the government jostles on the details.
Ensuring adequate social and affordable housing must be above politics. The issue doesn’t just sit with the government of the day, it sits with every single member of Parliament, entrusted by the people of Australia to take decisive and timely steps to ensure they have a place to live as a fundamental human right. As Parliament closes this week and the people we have voted to represent us return to their warm and comfortable homes, it is outrageous that so many Australians are left literally out in the cold, with no lifeline in sight. It should never have got to this in Australia – housing is needed now, yet the people who need it the most will have to tough out yet another winter until the next Parliamentary sitting schedule comes around.
The impact of this delay in decision making on top of decades of underinvestment in social and affordable housing is also acutely felt by our front line workers. These are the people who every day have to break the news to desperate people that we don’t have a house for them. I wonder if the politicians delaying this decision would like to come and spend a day with our teams on the front-line to see the tangible impact of their political game-playing?
The time has long passed for Australia’s housing policy vacuum to end. Intervention is needed now. Housing Australians is a policy choice made by all parties in all governments determining whether to support investment into critical infrastructure to intervene in the societal failings of market. If not now…when? These decisions impact so many people around us, many of whom our decision makers probably never meet. These people that are sleeping rough, or forced out of their long-term rental due to rising costs, those unable to find a new affordable rental, those facing family violence and the unthinkable choice of staying with a perpetrator because there is no housing supply. These are the stories we hear every day from the clients we serve, where often the only thing we can give them is respect and kindness. Social housing is important as an asset class but to recognise the critical life-changing role it plays it needs to be considered critical infrastructure fundamental to human rights and funded accordingly.
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