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Homelessness Services Question Without Notice

(Questions Without Notice, 18 June 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services. Given the new service support fund gives women's refuges no guarantees of continued operation, is only short term and requires refuges to move out of their existing premises, how will the Government ensure these specialist refuges continue to provide care to homeless women with mental health issues or substance issues and those who are victims of sexual assault?

Ms GABRIELLE UPTON: I thank the member for Sydney for his question and his genuine interest in the vulnerable in New South Wales. He has a genuine concern for them, as do I. Let me be clear about the reality of homelessness services in New South Wales and their funding: The status quo is simply not working. Those opposite spent hundreds of millions of dollars on funding homelessness services, and guess what happened? The level of homelessness went up. Between 2007 and 2011 the number of homeless grew by 27 per cent. There was a 20 per cent increase in people sleeping rough, and 17 per cent of Aborigines became homeless in that time. That is shameful, especially when the Government is throwing money at it. For years and under successive governments we have not spent that money at all well. We have funded the areas of crisis instead of investing in early intervention. We need to spend the money and help people when they are at risk of homelessness. If we are able to address needs when they are at risk of homelessness they will not become homeless. That is what this side of the House is determined to do.

Last week I announced the Going Home Staying Home reforms, which the member for Sydney referred to. Those reforms put more money into early intervention services. We want to catch people before they are homeless. Under the reforms, and for the first time in New South Wales, funding for specialist homelessness services is going to be based on evidence—is that not a novel concept? Funding will not be based on history or decisions made about where that spending will go, but on evidence. Based on that evidence, the greatest need is in our suburbs and in the regional areas of New South Wales. I believe it is my responsibility as Minister to provide the funding where the need exists, and that is what we will do through these reforms. I think it is also my responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent to get the best value from those services. That money should be targeted to help the people who most need it.

For the first time—again, a novel concept for homelessness services—we had a competitive tender for those services. I do not back away from that, because what will a competitive tender do? It will provide better services and it will ensure that those who are better service providers will offer their services. It will provide better value for our taxpayers, and that is a good thing for New South Wales. As I have said many times, the public expects us to work together to help the vulnerable in our community. This is why I have been rather disappointed when those opposite have engaged in some cheap political point-scoring. The service providers who were successful in the tenders will take over the management of the refuges through a planned transition over the next three months. It was a really sad day when those opposite tried to muddy the waters and created unnecessary distress for the vulnerable in our community, when through these reforms we have record amounts of funding, better service providers, better services and better value for our taxpayer dollars. I will not apologise for that approach.

Since becoming the Minister for this portfolio I have made a point of listening to members in this Chamber and to those in the sector. I have met with many stakeholders in framing the reforms that were announced last week. I restored the level of funding to inner-city special services for the homeless. I tripled the funding to specialist women's services. Crucially, the three peak stakeholders who worked through this reform process with former Minister Goward and me—Homeless NSW, Domestic Violence NSW and the Yfoundations—are strong supporters of these reforms and on the record as supporting them. We need to get the transition right. The Premier referred to a State services fund.

Pursuant to standing order additional information provided.

Ms GABRIELLE UPTON: I am as concerned as the Premier is to get our transition to this new system right; it is the right reform at the right time. Therefore, I created a safety net: a fund to allow small to medium non-government organisation providers who were unsuccessful to apply for 18 months of funding. I hasten to add that to be eligible for this service fund applicants need to demonstrate, through a project plan, that they can provide specialist services that will not duplicate these new services that have been won by good providers with good services at better value to the taxpayer.

All of us on this side of the House know that reform can be hard, but we should not shy away from reform to help those who are vulnerable. The Liberals and Nationals know how to reform and we know how to do it right. We want to do it right because it will help the vulnerable across the community that all of us in this Chamber want to assist.


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