In January 2008, the Federal Government announced a Green Paper/White Paper process in relation to homelessness, with a stated desire to renew the fight against homelessness and to find new approaches and solutions for this issue.
The Green Paper process involved community consultation and called for submissions from the public by Friday 27 June 2008. The Government's White Paper - its 10 year action plan on homelessness - was launched on 21 December 2008.
In its submission to the Green Paper, the HPLC argued that the Federal Government should:
- Situate homelessness within a human rights framework (rather than looking at it solely from a social inclusion perspective);
- Review and amend all Federal (and state) laws that impact disproportionately on or discriminate against people experiencing homelessness (eg: tenancy laws, public space laws, discrimination laws, voting laws etc);
- Introduce a Homelessness Act that enshrines an enforceable right to adequate housing;
- Enhance consumer participation in policy development and decision-making processes by establishing a Consumer Advisory Council which reports to the Minister for Housing as well as funding a range of consumer based initiatives;
- Expand and fund programs that use both public/private and outreach models such as that of the HPLC; and
- Introduce a Federal Charter of Rights incorporating social economic and cultural rights as well as civil and political ones, following comprehensive community consultation.
The White Paper is one of the most progressive steps taken by a Government to tackle homelessness in decades and there is much to praise in the document. It is exciting to see the government commit to a tangible goal to halve homelessness by 2020 and provide $6.1 billion to the cause, including increased funding for legal services working with people experiencing homelessness. The Government also committed to the introduction of a Homelessness Act and to reviewing tenancy legislation and the regulation of tenancy databases - all recommendations put forward by the HPLC.
Unfortunately, the White Paper did not adopt the HPLC's recommendation that a human rights approach to homelessness be adopted. Legislation that criminalises homelessness, such as public space laws, and equal opportunity laws that make it lawful for someone to be discriminated against on the basis of their homelessness must also be addressed, as was recommended by the HPLC.
The White Paper has taken the first step by committing to tangible goals and targets to reduce homelessness, which are fundamental elements of a human rights approach. It is crucial that the Government takes the next step and enshrines human rights, as well as the goals and targets set out in the White Paper, in legislation.
In June 2009, the Minister for Housing, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, asked the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth to conduct an inquiry into homelessness legislation. The HPLC’s submission to the Inquiry is available below.
The HPLC will use the White Paper to inform its law reform and advocacy activities for 2009.