In the Commonwealth Government’s White Paper on homelessness, The Road Home, the Government outlined its desire to introduce new homelessness legislation to ensure that people who are homeless receive quality services and adequate support.
The Government’s intention is to introduce this legislation as soon as possible following consultation on the exposure draft released today.
The new legislation will replace the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act 1994 (Cth) (SAA Act), which set out important principles and has guided the Commonwealth’s response to homelessness in Australia since first legislated in 1985. The SAA Act was primarily a vehicle for providing funding to States and Territories to administer the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). New funding arrangements were introduced in 2009 under the federal financial relations framework, superseding the funding mechanism of the SAA Act.
The Homelessness Bill 2012 seeks to preserve the best features of the SAA Act. People who are homeless were recognised in the SAA Act as one of the most powerless and marginalised groups in society. The SAA Act made clear the Parliament’s view that support should be provided in a way that respects people’s dignity as individuals, enhances their self-esteem, is sensitive to their social and economic circumstances and respects their cultural backgrounds and their beliefs.
This new legislation provides an opportunity to retain in law the important statements about homelessness; the partnerships, the effort and the strategies that are needed to tackle it; and the treatment and support that vulnerable people deserve.
The matter of new homelessness legislation was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth. The Government’s response to the Report will be tabled on the next possible sitting day.
The Committee made 15 recommendations, nine of which related specifically to the legislation. These recommendations have been incorporated into the draft Bill to the extent possible within the constraints of the Australian Constitution.
The Commonwealth does not have express constitutional power in relation to housing or homelessness.
Despite this, the Commonwealth Government is considering all possible avenues to support people who are homeless or at risk, to complement the legislation that is introduced. The agenda set out in the White Paper demonstrates how important this issue is to the Commonwealth Government.
The Government has decided to pursue the issue of service quality by working with States and Territories to develop a Homelessness National Quality Framework. Consultations on the Framework were completed at the end of May 2011 and included workshop sessions with service providers and other stakeholders and individual interviews with people experiencing homelessness. The consultations showed that there is support in the sector for a system that supports services to improve service delivery. The Government intends that the Framework will be the primary strategy for ensuring quality services. The new Select Council on Housing and Homelessness will consider the design of the Framework later in 2012.
The Homelessness National Quality Framework will be the key vehicle for the White Paper goal of ensuring quality services. In looking at the potential models, the Commonwealth Government will encourage all jurisdictions to consider an approach that best fosters ongoing improvement, supports the sector to optimise its capacity and effectiveness, and provides opportunities for specialist and mainstream services to actively collaborate in service integration.
The Commonwealth Government remains committed to improving outcomes for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Ensuring that people who are experiencing homelessness receive high quality services and get every chance to move out of homelessness or avoid it altogether is key to the Government’s policy agenda in this area.