4.11pm | December 13, 2021


SUBJECTS: Lack of safe; affordable housing for women and children fleeing domestic violence in the Northern Rivers.
PATICK DEEGAN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR PAGE: I’m Patrick Deegan, Labor’s candidate for Page. It’s great to be here this morning with Jillian from Women Up North, Janelle Saffin Member for Lismore and of course, Senator Jenny McAllister, who has come up here today to learn more about the housing issues here locally in the area and particularly in relation to women experiencing domestic violence. I believe Jillian is now going to say a few things.
JILLIAN KNIGHT-SMITH, MANAGER, WOMEN UP NORTH: It's very exciting for me to have Jenny and Patrick here today, and to keep women and domestic and family violence on the agenda. As people would already know, our local area is in a severe housing crisis. And as well, we have exponentially growing need for support for women in domestic and family violence, so that they are not just survive and find a new home with their children but can thrive and get back into their community and be part of our community.
SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Thanks very much, Jillian. I'm really pleased to be here with our candidate for Page Patrick. Patrick Deegan is someone I've known for a long time. He obviously works in the social services area. So, it means that when we're talking about some of these issues, he's really familiar with the challenges that women and children face when they're trying to seek support in the Northern Rivers.
As Jillian said, there is an absolute crisis in housing across the country. And it is really pronounced in regional areas like this. Rental vacancies in this area are running at less than half a percent. And it means that if you are a woman who's seeking to escape upon that relationship, your ability to find a safe home for yourself and for your children is immensely constrained. It's almost impossible. And workers like Jillian and the team around her, struggle every day to find a safe place for women to go. People often say, why doesn't she leave? Well, the answer is because there really is nowhere to go. Now in this area, the Department of Social Services’ own figures say that more than 800 women and children are turned away from accommodation each year. The local figure is likely to be much, much higher than that. In the last year, rents in parts of Lismore have increased by 15%. And that means that some families are paying as much as $3,000 a year more for their rent than they were previously. Vacancy rates are vanishingly small. It is immensely difficult to find accommodation and it's putting terrible pressure on people.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness. It's probably the leading cause of homelessness for women. And years of underinvestment by the federal government means that we are really unprepared for this crisis. A Labor government would approach this with real urgency. Our commitment is to build 30,000 new affordable homes over five years. 4000 of those would be exclusively allocated to support women and children leaving violence and older women at risk of homelessness. However, the likely numbers of women who would access these new homes would be higher than that. We also are able to make provisions for investments in crisis accommodation, making sure that refuges like the local refuge here can receive the necessary upgrades to keep them safe, and to keep them functioning to support women at the worst andmost difficult time of their lives. Finally, we have a commitment to provide 500 new community sector workers. We know that even when there are positions available, it's sometimes hard to find skilled personnel to fill these roles. These 500 new workers would allow people who are looking to enter the community services sector to have a stable job for three years while they trained and gained the qualifications that they needed. All around the country services tell us that an extra pair of hands could make a real difference. We know that in regional areas, there are real pressures on services. Half of these 500 workers will be placed into regional communities like this one. 
Over the last eight years, this government has shown a puzzling lack of interest in women's safety policy. They have done so little. They have so little to show for their time in government. A Labor government would approach it very differently. We would approach the question of women's safety with urgency and ambition. Anthony Albanese, our leader has made it clear that tackling violence against women will be at the centre of our agenda. And I'm really pleased to be here today to talk with local representatives like Janelle and Patrick. And to talk with local service providers who work so hard on the frontline like Jillian, about the kinds of policies that are necessary to make difference.
JANELLE SAFFIN, STATE MEMBER FOR LISMORE: Thank you, Jenny. I'm pleased to have Jenny here, because she's also not only a Senator from New South Wales, but Shadow Assistant Minister for Communities and the Prevention of Family Violence. So, her role is critical in shaping policy for the alternative government, hopefully the next government at a federal level in terms of housing for women and children escaping domestic violence. So, it's good to hear some of the detail from Jenny today. And also, to be speaking with Women Up North, who are at the frontline each and every day. And when Jenny talks about the Department of Social Services, own figures of 800 women and children being turned away each year. Some of those women, obviously from our region, in some of them would be people that people are coming to Women Up North and our other terrific services have to face each and every day and say, sorry, we've got nowhere for you to go. And it's just, it's real. We've got a housing crisis. We all know that. And I thank you for covering it. All of you, each and every one of you. Every local government, here or every council have declared a housing crisis, because we're all impacted by it. So it's women and children escaping domestic violence, but it's also critical workers. And we know that because our chambers are always talking about it here as well. So, I just welcome being here with Jenny and with Patrick and Patrick's background in welfare and social services means that he's well informed on this issue. I welcome the 30,000 new affordable homes and affordable housing for key workers, and I'll continue to do everything I can to promote housing. I talk about it a lot in Parliament. I’m constantly saying to the government, you've got to do more, but I'll work with you or continue to work with you. But it needs any government to say yes, housing is our responsibility, and we will make it a priority. And that's what Anthony's done as leader of the Australian Labor Party and Jenny, in her particular role. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Can we localise the statistics? I guess we’re talking 30,000 nationally.
MCALLISTER: We'll work through where specifically the new housing will go. But it's very obvious that places like Page, places like Cowper, have an enormous housing crisis. In the pandemic, we've seen people move into these regions. And it was already a problem before the pandemic, it has got significantly worse. In terms of the demand, we know that in the area that stretches from Coffs Harbour to Grafton, there were 145 women and children turned away from crisis accommodation - just in a year. In the Richmond/Tweed area, it was 600. These are very big numbers. This was the data that Mr. Morrison's government used to allocate places under their Safe Places program. Kevin Hogan failed to secure a single place for this electorate. It's incredible to me that he was not able to advocate for additional funding for this area. And yet, that's the outcome that we've seen. It's why I'm here to support Patrick. And it's also why I can say very clearly that we will approach the question very differently.  There will be a sustained investment over five years to start a to repair the damage that's being done by eight years of neglect.
JOURNALIST: That means working closely with council to get those approvals that you would need?
MCALLISTER: It certainly does. We’d be looking to work with communities to find suitable properties and suitable places. But we know that done well, affordable housing can make a real difference to communities. It can give key workers like nurses, social workers, a place to live, to sustain the level of community services that we depend on. It can also provide systems for people who are in really desperate times. Women who escape violence are very brave. The moment you leave is possibly the most dangerous time in your life. And those women deserve our support. They deserve to be supported to rebuild their lives, because they already shown so much courage.
JOURNALIST: Senator, were there any conclusions from the reports as to what perhaps is contributing to the housing crisis in New South Wales particularly up here?
MCALLISTER: There's over… there was already a housing process prior to the pandemic…
JOURNALIST: I can rephrase -what do you believe has exacerbated the situation?
MCALLISTER: Since the pandemic, many people have taken the opportunity to move to a different part of Australia. All up and down the east cast and the west coast of Australia when I talk to services, they talk about how much pressure that is placing on their communities. Last time I was here, visiting Women Up North, they talked to me about how a housing crisis and a rental crisisthat was previously only on the coast has now spread into the hinterland. Towns like Lismore, towns like Casino are feeling the same kinds of pressures on the rental market. And it's made it almost impossible for Women Up North to help the clients that they've traditionally been able to support into private rental.
JOURNALIST: So, 30,000 houses over five years, how quickly will it take to be able to move people into them and then what is the sort of plan for longer term funding beyond five years?
MCALLISTER: The five-year framework could provide stability for the housing sector and will allow us to move through in a methodical way and start constructing homes. It also, incidentally, creates construction jobs of course. A Labor government will take a long-term approach to rebuilding affordable housing stock. It's been almost entirely neglected under this government. The stimulus that was provided by the Morison government during the pandemic could have been an opportunity to do work of this kind. But it's an opportunity they missed.  Instead, they gave $20 billion to businesses that were in fact profitable. With no real investment in social housing, a terrible missed opportunity. That's not the approach a Labor government would take.
JOURNALIST: What about the more general housing supply? So affordable housing is one component, but we've been hearing you know how much trouble people are having getting building supplies, getting their DA’s through council, the way prices are changing, you know, it all contributes to the housing shortage that makes it so much more difficult.
MCALLISTER: That's right. A meaningful response to housing is going to require cooperation between the Commonwealth government, the states and local government. Unfortunately, that's not a role that the Morison government has been willing to play. A Labor government would take a much more collaborative approach, bringing together all of the players at different levels of government, and also industry to actually make sure that we can increase supply. One of the things that makes a real difference is wages. The Morison government has been happy to preside over flatlining wages for the entirety of their terms. They've been only interested really in introducing measures that in fact, place further downward pressure on wages. A Labor government's commitment to increasing wage growth, also will provide some support for those families that are trying to keep up with the private rental market.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any sort of firm ideas about how you're going to collaborate with state and local governments to speed up the process of constructional land release? Or address the issue of maybe land banking and things like that? I've been hearing a local councillors talk about that.
MCALLISTER: As I said, we do need to have greater cooperation. The first step is a willingness to take responsibility for this. The Morison government tends to push responsibility for these questions onto other players. Our experience is that you need the Commonwealth government to lead. And so, our commitment is that we will play a leadership role. We will bring people together. We're looking for solutions from all the participants in that process. We don't pretend to have all of the answers. But we do need to have a leadership role from the national government to actually start to address that crisis of housing affordability.
JOURNALIST: And how much do you expect it will cost to address housing affordability and housing availability in New South Wales, or Australia more broadly?
MCALLISTER: We've made provision for a $10 billion fund that will be used to generate revenue to drive investment in housing. It's on that basis that we can provision for investments in crisis accommodation, and also new affordable accommodation.
JOURNALIST:  Is that over the course of the five years?
JOURNALIST:  Jillian, can I ask how far do you think these measures will go towards addressing the demands and difficulties that you're seeing on the ground?
KNIGHT-SMITH: We’re desperate for any measure. A donation of $5 makes a difference. To hear somebody talking about millions is just overwhelmingly exciting for our struggling community. And struggling families and children. We just want mums and children to have a home to be able to know where they live, hopefully, get a job, be stable in the school, be safe, move on. And, of course, we're very supportive of a commitment to supporting men’s behaviour change as well. We're very excited about anybody who wants to put money on the table to help families and community be housed and be free from the impact of domestic violence.