Ms WOODRUFF question to ATTORNEY-GENERAL, Dr GOODWIN
Last year you axed the funding to the reintegration of ex-offenders program, REO, run by the Salvation Army. This was the only program to help ex-inmates find a house, assist them to transition back into the community, and dramatically reduce their risk of returning to crime. In the last two years of budget Estimates, you have assured us that people exiting prison will receive tailored assistance from Housing Connect. Last May, you told Parliament that Housing Connect would have an outreach service into the prison and that prisoners would have a wider access to a range of housing options than under the REO program. Yesterday, the worst concerns of Salvation Army, the Tenants Union and other people working with ex-offenders were confirmed. None of the 109 ex-inmates released, or parolees who successfully applied, received housing through Housing Connect between September 2015 and August this year. It seems the wider housing option you promised has turned out to be homelessness. How is it possible the Government was unaware that so many prisoners exited prison into homelessness, potentially to re-offend in order to have a secure roof over their heads? You made some big promises justifying the removal of the REO program and none have been correct. Will you now commit to reinstating funding for the REO program for the sake of ex-offenders and their families, and to keep the community safe?
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Franklin for her question. The REO program was funded through the Department of Health and Human Services. It was not a Department of Justice funded program.
Ex-offenders leaving prison and requiring housing assistance receive support through Housing Connect, a one-stop shop for all Tasmanians in need of housing assistance. Housing Connect offers access to a full range of housing solutions including public housing, community housing and the private rental market. Housing Connect can provide tailored assistance to meet the needs of clients, including ex-prisoners.
Greens members interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. A number of questions have been asked. The Attorney-General is attempting to answer.
Dr GOODWIN - Issues faced by parolees are being addressed by ensuring policies and procedures in place between Corrections and housing agencies are well coordinated to align with the new Housing Connect arrangements.
Housing Connect's role is to be the front door. A person seeking housing assistance can be assessed and placed on the housing register to be matched to a home. They can also be referred to a person to help them find housing, if they need support.
Greens members interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. If members are not interested in the answer I can call on another question.
Mr Llewellyn - I can't hear her.
Dr GOODWIN - It is no wonder you cannot hear it because there is so much background noise. You are clearly not interested in the answer, so I do not know why I am bothering.
Opposition members interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. The House will come to order.
Dr GOODWIN - I can advise that the process for providing housing assistance to those exiting prison were streamlined through consultation between the Department of Justice, Housing Tasmania and Housing Connect. As a result all prisoners may now request a housing needs assessment through Housing Connect up to 30 weeks before their estimated release date.
Ms WOODRUFF - Point of order, Madam Speaker. This is tedious repetition and completely irrelevant. The Attorney is restating exactly what she incorrectly read into Hansard last year and the year before. She is not answering the question.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. If members wish to make a contribution they know how they can do it. It is not to be made during a minister's answering of questions, otherwise we will call on another question if you are not interested in this one. The honourable Attorney-General will resume.
Dr GOODWIN - Madam Speaker, I am not sure that there is much more I can add because clearly the members are not interested in the answer to this question.
Ms O'Connor - Weren't you given a briefing on this?
Madam SPEAKER - Order.
Dr GOODWIN - Of course I have been given a briefing. I am providing the information on what is happening here. You are just not interested in the answer. You do not agree with the answer. You are not interested in it.
Green members interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order.
Dr GOODWIN - As we all know, the former Labor-Greens government knew that REO was to be integrated into Housing Connect along with housing support programs -
Ms Woodruff interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. I warn the honourable member for Franklin, Ms Woodruff.
Dr GOODWIN - so their criticism now is completely hypocritical. In fact the Labor-Greens government were not even providing funding for REO beyond 30 June 2014 as they were planning on shutting down the program themselves. It was this Government that extended the funding of the program for another year to allow for Housing Connect to become established before REO was integrated, but I can assure you that the Government continues to prioritise and explore ways to improve access to housing for prisoners returning to the community following a period of imprisonment.
Ms O'Connor interjecting.
Madam SPEAKER - Order. I warn the honourable member for Denison, Ms O'Connor, for constant interjections and particularly when I have given the call to another member. Read the standing orders in that regard. It is highly disrespectful.