Tassie needs homes - now it's up to the Fed Govt

*Speech delivered in the Senate on 8 March 2023. 

Tell the Housing Minister - 600 houses for Tasmania are not enough.

What kind of words are there to describe what it's like to be homeless?

Is it possible to really communicate what it feels like to someone who's never been through it? I've spent the past few weeks talking to people up and down the chain of homelessness: people who are in the middle of it; people who've been there and come through the other side; people who run support services; and people who build crisis accommodation. 

Homelessness can happen to anyone. It could be you or me—people with a job; a family. If something happens—maybe they've split up with a long-term partner and there's no family home anymore—they can't afford rent on their own. They think it's just for one night, but that night turns into another and another. Where are they supposed to go? One night you're sleeping in your bed, the next you're out on your own—no bed, no shower, no food, no water, and no idea where you'll sleep tonight—no idea where you'll sleep tomorrow night either.

Just last week, I was speaking to someone who's been there. She told me that you hear all the stories about homelessness and you think it will never happen to you until one day you're out in the cold. You sleep in your car with nothing but the clothes on your back. She told me that, until you've been there, you don't know what it's like, so I tried it. 

Now I can't know exactly what it feels like, but I slept for one night in a park, and it was bloody awful. I'm lucky, I had somewhere safe, sound and secure to go to the morning after. People in Tassie sleeping rough don't have that. It was 11 degrees the night I slept in my car, and that's pretty warm for Tassie. But my car is a Jeep. It doesn't have an insulated roof, and that makes it seem a lot colder than it is. I can't even imagine how brutal sleeping in your car in a Tassie winter would be. And what if you don't have a car? Temperatures in Tassie get really cold, and I'm a bit of a softy when it comes to it—cold is cold.

I made sure to park in an area with a lot of light so I could see who was coming and going in every direction. But that didn't stop me from jumping at noises. I tried sleeping in all the seats—front seats, back seats. Front seat was definitely better, I can tell you. I picked a car park where I thought there was an open bathroom. Turns out they're locked from 5 pm to 5 am. There is only one 24/7 public toilet in Launceston. The experience reaffirmed what I already knew: nobody chooses to do this, nobody wants to be in this position. People do this because they don't have any other option.

I spent the last 20 years of my life talking to people at different stages of homelessness: my employment services clients who couldn't afford to rent on their welfare payments and people who came to Jacqui's office desperate and crying because they had nowhere else to go and they felt the system had let them down. A lot of the time I felt that I had let them down. I'd call Housing Tas for them, I could tell them where to get food vouchers and groceries and I could give them the numbers for some crisis accommodation. But I couldn't put a stable roof over their heads. That's why I'm standing here asking the government to guarantee a minimum 1,200 homes for Tasmania from the Housing Australia Future Fund. But 1,200 is not enough.

Twelve hundred homes will barely scrape the sides. There are 4,500 people on the housing waiting list in Tasmania at the moment. We're putting a bandaid over a gaping wound that need stitches. But it's a start, and without this guarantee we'll only get about 600 homes. That means we'll be going backwards. The Housing Australia Future Fund will build 30,000 homes. 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022 housing assistance report says Tassie has four per cent of the country's population with the greatest need for housing. We have four per cent of the need and we are asking for four per cent of the homes. 

I'll say this: if the fund doesn't build houses where they're needed, what's the point of the fund? If the minister will not guarantee that the fund will build homes where homes are most needed, what the hell are we doing here?

The housing minister is a Tasmanian. Julie Collins is in the other place because the people of Tasmania elected her to represent them. She knows just how bad things are in Tasmania right now. She's seen it firsthand. Is she really going to stand up and say Tasmania shouldn't have these homes?

Twelve hundred homes of 30,000 homes is a pretty reasonable ask. It's our fair share based on the government's own statistics, and the ball's in the government's court right now. It's up to them to decide if they'll help staunch the bleeding or rip the wound open, so that's my message to the government. 

If you need my vote—if you need our vote—Tasmania needs homes.