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Labor Matter of Public Importance - Housing and Homelessness

12 June 2019

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark) - Mr Deputy Speaker, here we are again in this House, on this day, debating one of the most critically important issues confronting this parliament and the entire state of Tasmania. The minister, who has escaped a lengthy debate that sought to censure him for his performance in his portfolio after 15 months, has just sat down after - maybe it is a neo-Liberal view of the world, I do not know - suggesting that people who are homeless do not require support and a roof over their head -

Mr Jaensch - I never said that. I said it is reported to me, with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, from people working on the ground around our cities, talking to the people who are homeless, extending the offer, the option of assistance to them, that there are people who at times say, 'Go away, I want to be by myself. I do not want this help right now', but it is important that we extend it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. We have heard a lot from you today. I have a friend who is a long-term homeless person, someone I treasure very much in my life who is a source of great wisdom and support to me. The only time I see my homeless friend is in and around the streets of Hobart and down at parliament when he comes to visit. It is possible that this homeless person fits into that very small cohort of people for whom a part of what they are doing is pushing society away. I understand that.

Mr Jaensch - You cannot arrest them.

Ms O'CONNOR - I understand that. Just let me talk for a bit, thank you minister. No, of course you cannot arrest them. If you have a system that applies the Housing First principle to people who are at risk, experiencing homelessness, poverty, addiction, mental illness, you can tackle homelessness right down to its foundations. You can and we know this is possible because of the experience of Finland.

In Finland the Housing First policy looks at an individual who is homeless and says, 'You need a home, clearly. There are a whole lot of other parts of your life that you probably want to improve but the first thing you need is that foundation.' As we know, a home provides the foundation for wellbeing for children, families or people who are experiencing disadvantage. Without a home, you do not have that sense of security in your life that there is somewhere safe that you can be, making it harder to access education, skills, training and employment.

Mr Jaensch - In that case -

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you have interjected at length and not been pulled up by Mr Deputy Speaker. We can have a conversation about this afterward but I do not really feel like it, to be honest.

It would be preferable to have a philosophy that applies the Housing First principle and a government that is prepared to prioritise the construction of houses. Whatever this minister, the Premier and the Treasurer say on this matter - and I do not doubt that they like to see more houses built - the bottom line is solid and it is that this Government has prioritised the construction of roads and bridges over homes for people. That is the foundational, unarguable fact we are dealing with. You have seen it in every budget paper since 2014. It is heartbreaking when you look back through those budget papers and see what scant attention was paid to the housing capital fund and, at the same time, not putting new money into the housing budget until the year we went to an election. How cynical is that? At the same time, standing back and watching as home after home is listed on Airbnb and Stayz, letting the free market take care of things. I use the word 'care' quite loosely.

If you are looking for the root of the philosophy, as to why we are in this situation, we are dealing with neoliberalism, a resistance to the responsibility the government has to provide social support structures and a blind faith in the market to do its thing to stabilise and sort out the problem. If it cannot do that, it does not matter anyway because the market is god. That is what we are dealing with here - a philosophy. We saw it coming out of the Abbott government, continued by the Turnbull government and continues with the Morrison Government. You only have to look at the budget papers. Across the forward Estimates, about $800 million has been taken out of the National Affordable Housing Agreement. This Government in Canberra really, honestly, could not give less of a - an expletive, as we read about in the Mercury this morning - about people experiencing housing disadvantage. Right to the top of this country, philosophically, they have walked away from disadvantaged people. The people who sleep in their cars or on the rivulet are the victims of the greed of neoliberalism and that awful lot we have in Canberra right now.