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Call for ‘firmer’ legislation to combat ‘crippling’ housing crisis


Salvation Army General Manager for Policy and Advocacy Jennifer Kirkaldy says there needs to be a whole range of housing supports to handle the ongoing crisis.

BY KIRRALEE NICOLLE

As temperatures dropped below -6°C in parts of New South Wales and below -4°C in parts of Victoria and Tasmania last week, housing reform advocates gathered for a press conference in Canberra. 


At the event, ACT Independent Senator David Pocock and Member for North Sydney Kylea Tink announced the introduction of a bill to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, calling for legislation to ensure a longer-term approach to housing and homelessness.  


The press conference on 24 June drew representatives from organisations including The Salvation Army, Anglicare Australia, Everybody’s Home and Mission Australia. 


The announcement came a month after a letter signed by representatives of organisations across the housing, homelessness and human rights sectors was sent to the Federal Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Small Business, the Honourable Julie Collins MP. 


The letter acknowledged and welcomed the expenditure announcements and reform initiatives pledged by the Albanese Government but called moves towards addressing the issues of housing and homelessness “modest in scale and disparate in nature”. The letter called for “firmer foundations” to be put in place for the Government’s National Housing and Homelessness Plan, which is currently still in development. 


The National Housing and Homelessness Bill 2024 would require current and future governments to develop, implement and maintain a 10-year National Housing and Homelessness Plan Act, according to a press release from the offices of the Senator and MP.  

Independent Senator David Pocock is pushing the Albanese Government to implement a long-term approach to housing.

Senator David Pocock described Australia’s housing crisis as a crippling one which required big ambition and bold action to solve. 


“The complexity of this crisis requires a long-term strategy and commitment that endures beyond short-term political cycles,” he said. “Legislating the ongoing requirement for a National Housing and Homelessness Plan can help deliver that.” 


The bill’s introduction was motivated by the desire to treat housing as a universal human right according to international human rights laws. Australia does not currently have a Bill of Rights and relies on individual protections within the Constitution, as well as legislation from Commonwealth, State and Territory Parliaments. 


Member for North Sydney Kylea Tink said that for too long, the approach to housing policy had been piecemeal, short-term or simply put in the too-hard basket, with “disastrous” results. 


“We urgently need to come together to deliver a meaningful, legislated, national approach to ensure all Australians have adequate housing,” she said. “One that recognises housing as a fundamental human right, not a commodity, and ensures bad politics cannot override what should be smart, essential policy ever again.” 


The bill proposes the establishment of a National Housing Consumer Council to represent both tenants and homebuyers and an Office of the National Housing and Homelessness Advocate to independently monitor the Plan’s progress, assess outcomes and investigate systemic issues. 


The Salvation Army’s General Manager for Policy and Advocacy, Jennifer Kirkaldy, said that were the bill to pass, it would enshrine a more long-term approach to accountability for housing and homelessness, which The Salvation Army supported.  


“What we need is actually a whole range of solutions,” she said. “We need to make sure there’s sufficient housing supply [and] we need to make sure that the housing market is geared towards keeping people housed. 


“Then there also needs to be wraparound supports for people for whom there are additional barriers to maintaining their housing situation. That's what The Salvation Army does so well.” 


Jennifer said increasing Jobseeker and Youth Allowance payments would be an immediate solution to the issue of those who were most vulnerable to homelessness staying housed. She said it was less expensive for the government to support those who already had housing to be able to meet their financial obligations than to treat homelessness, but she said homelessness was also a very real, pressing issue, particularly given recent freezing temperatures across parts of the country. 


Jennifer said any interventions along the spectrum of housing, including introducing tax reforms or increasing social housing stock, reduced pressure on those competing for housing compared to others who were earning far higher salaries and wages. 


“Anything you can do to alleviate pressure anywhere along this continuum makes things easier for the people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness,” she said. “The situation we've got right now, as cost of living goes up, as rents go up and as general cost of housing goes up, is all of these different people [are] competing for the same housing solutions.” 


The Salvation Army has recently opened housing complexes in Tasmania, South Australia, and the Northern Territory, and it has active projects in Queensland and New South Wales. 

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