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    VULNERABLE AUSTRALIANS STRUGGLING TO RENT UNDER TURNBULL GOVERNMENT INACTION ON HOUSING AFFORDABILITY

    The Abbott-Turnbull Government’s lack of action on addressing housing affordability is leaving lower income Australians in every state and territory struggling to secure rental housing that they can afford.

    The Anglicare National Rental Affordability Snapshot, released today, shows that only a tiny proportion of the rental properties available on the market are within reach of low-income earners and those on government payments.

    Young people and single parents with dependent children are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to finding affordable rental properties with the report  finding that less than 5% of the 75,410 rental properties on the market surveyed would be accessible to single people with children, those on the aged pension or young people on New Start payments.

    The Abbott-Turnbull Government has had three ministers for housing this term and has not released any plans or strategies to deal with the growing affordability problem with housing.

    ABS data reports that there are 657,000 low income households across Australia living in rental stress and 318,000 low income households in mortgage stress in 2013-2014. At the same time 185,000 households remain on waiting lists for public or community housing across the country.

    On census night 105,000 Australians were homeless.

    Instead of coming up with a way to deal with this problem the government has instead chosen to reduce homelessness funding by $132m, cut funding to organisations that work to support those in housing stress and abolish schemes designed specifically to increase the supply  of affordable rental properties in Australia like the National Rental Affordability Scheme, introduced by the Labor Government in 2008.

    It is an indictment on Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Social Services Christian Porter that they have failed to respond to an issue that is affecting more and more Australians, both in the cities and in the regions.

    When it comes to the regions of the 18,103 properties analysed, there was not one property suitable for a single person on Youth Allowance, only 15 properties for singles on New Start and just 164 properties for a single parent on New Start across the entire country.

    Today’s report is just the latest in a long line of concerning reports on this issue confirming that the time for action is now. Malcolm Turnbull must follow Labor’s lead and outline its plans to deal with the problem of rental and housing affordability.

    THURSDAY, 21 APRIL 2016

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    FEDERAL LABOR WELCOMES VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT IN SUPPORT FOR FAMILY VIOLENCE VICTIMS

    Federal Labor welcomes the announcement by the Victorian Government today to invest $572 million into family violence prevention services and greater housing options for women and children fleeing family violence.

     The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and his Government have shown significant leadership in this area since taking office.

    Today’s commitment is the next practical step in supporting women who from no fault of their own find themselves under siege in their homes by their partners.

    Domestic and family violence is now the leading cause of homelessness in Australia.

    Too often women have no other option but to return to violent homes because they cannot find appropriate accommodation

    Federal Labor particularly welcomes the Victorian Government’s commitment to provide $152 million for a housing blitz to shelter more victims of family violence through the delivery of new safe refuges, crisis accommodation and 130 new social homes.

    Eliminating family and domestic violence requires a long term strategic approach by all levels of government and the Australian community.

    Federal Labor is committed to addressing the scourge of family and domestic violence, with already released policies, and a willingness to work with state and local governments, stakeholders, and the community.

    Bill Shorten and Labor have committed that in government we would implement immediate measures to assist people in family violence situations. The package comprises more than $70 million in measures including:

    • approximately $50 million to frontline legal services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to ensure people experiencing family violence get legal support and do not have to go to court alone;
    • an initial investment of $15 million in Safe at Home grants to help people affected by family violence stay safe in their own home and communities; and
    • $8 million investment in mapping perpetrator activities to look at the interactions across family violence, law enforcement, justice, child protection and related systems to help identify opportunities to prevent violence through information sharing. 

    Bill Shorten and Brendan O’Connor have also announced that a Labor Government will make domestic and family violence leave a universal workplace right.

    Domestic and family violence leave would support those experiencing violence in our community, providing for five days paid domestic and family violence leave in the National Employment Standards (NES).

    These commitments build on the 12 year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, which Labor established in 2010. 

    Labor is committed to making a series of critical investments in services and programs that support women and their children to escape family violence. 

    WEDNESDAY 13 APRIL 2016


    If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline: 
    *** If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 
    www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000” ***

     

    Senator Katy Gallagher is Labor's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations.

    This is a joint release with Terri Butler MP, Labor's Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Child Safety and Prevention of Family Violence.

     

     

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    HOMELESS YOUTH NEED ONGOING SUPPORT

    Today is National Youth Homelessness Matters Day, a day which reminds us to keep focussed on working to reduce the level of youth homelessness in our community and to ensure that young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless are well supported with a service system designed and resourced to help them. 

    Every night in Australia 105,000 people are homeless and more than 40 per cent of those people are under the age of 25.

    There are many reasons why young people become homeless. Violence, relationship breakdowns, poverty and substance abuse/misuse can all leave many young people feeling that they have no option but to leave their homes even if that means becoming homeless as a result.

    Combatting youth homelessness and breaking the cycle of disadvantage that homelessness can generate is a crucial element of any plan aimed to reduce the numbers of people who are homeless overall. 

    Ensuring that young people who are homeless have access to supports and services that enable them to secure permanent and appropriate housing should be a policy and program priority for governments at all levels.  

    Whilst governments must all work together to reduce homelessness, it is not something that governments alone can "fix". The range and complexity of problems which lead to homelessness and finding solutions for them require a whole of community effort.

    Governments can fund services and set policy priorities but delivery of those services and the staff and volunteers that work within those services are resources pulled from within our community. It is these people who support young people every day who are homelessness and who deserve particular acknowledgment on National Youth Homelessness Matters Day.

    Unfortunately, over the past three years the Abbott-Turnbull Government has not given rising levels of homelessness or reducing the number of homeless people in Australia the priority attention it deserves and has instead cut funding for services and peak bodies like Homelessness Australia, National Shelter and Community Housing Federation of Australia who all worked to combat homelessness in Australia. 

    Today is a day for all Australians to show their support for reducing the levels of young people who are homelessness by participating in National Youth Homelessness Matters Day - share your thoughts on social media with #YHMD2016.

    WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL 2016

    Senator Katy Gallagher is Labor's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations.

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    TURNBULL’S ILL-THOUGHT THROUGH INCOME TAX PLAN IS AN ATTEMPT TO DISTRACT FROM HEALTH AND EDUCATION CUTS

    The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is the supreme political decision making body in Australia. To use a private sector analogy its acts as our country’s national board of directors and is charged with making the big policy calls and, whilst being mindful of local loyalties, ensuring that the federation continues to work in the interests of all Australians.

    Today’s COAG meeting is an opportunity for Australia’s political leaders to gather, discuss and work together to progress issues of national significance. Health and education policy and funding should be front and centre of these talks as the impacts of the Abbott/Turnbull Governments’ decision to rip-up health and education agreements and cut $80 billion from State and Territory budgets remains unresolved.

    Instead the meeting looks like being hijacked by the Commonwealth under the guise of federation reform or to use the Prime Minister’s own words "the most fundamental reform to the federation in generations" in a desperate attempt to distract discussion away from their own budgets’ cuts and shift the blame back to the States and Territories. It’s a tried and tested way of getting through a difficult meeting but achieving very little in the long run.

    State and Territory leaders know that when this Commonwealth Government starts talking federation reform that the news ahead isn’t good. You only need to look back two years to remember that when reform of the federation was discussed at the April 2014 COAG the result was $80 billion worth of cuts to health and education funding in the disastrous Federal Budget that was handed down just two weeks later.

    Over the past two years federation reform has taken twists and turns along the reform highway. Promises of a Federation White Paper to be released at the end of 2015 and a Tax White Paper to be released in the second half of 2015 – neither were delivered. Two years of work and thousands of hours from bureaucrats and stakeholders went into those failed processes and then nothing. No White Papers and no reform agenda.

    Then three days out from this week’s COAG meeting all of a sudden the Turnbull Government starts talking federation reform again and begins dropping out a series of seemingly ill-thought through and poorly communicated ideas to the media. The Prime Minister tells us he wants to give share income tax powers with the States and Territories to help them fund their services. There is no mention of course of the $80 billion of cuts which led to the funding pressures in the first place.

    According to the Prime Minister his double taxing income tax sharing idea is "the most fundamental reform to the federation in generations" but there is no paper or any detail provided to explain the governments thinking - not even a media release to hold the government to. It also becomes clear that the Prime Minister only decided to bring First Ministers and key stakeholders into his confidence regarding any tax change discussion, in individual phone calls after the story had been dropped to the media.

    With this as the backdrop to COAG it’s hard to believe that the income tax idea is anything but a ruse to distract the debate from the health and education cuts which remains the most urgent, unresolved and challenging issue facing COAG members in 2016.

    How can the Commonwealth seriously expect State and Territory leaders to sign–up to “the most fundamental reform to the federation in generations" simply after a phone-call from the Prime Minister and a follow-up discussion today in Canberra.

    Whilst it’s hard to raise excitement amongst the community for interest in a COAG meeting – it is without doubt the most powerful meeting of political leaders held in our country. What gets agreed at COAG can change the nation. Ambushing State and Territory leaders three days out from a meeting is no way for a responsible government to address issues of national importance for the Australian community.

    Malcolm Turnbull’s handling of the lead up to COAG was hardly the way for serious reform of the federation to be pursued but maybe that’s been the idea all along.

    Katy Gallagher is the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations and is a Senator for the Australian Capital Territory.

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    FIRST HOME BUYERS PRICED OUT: WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

    The Prime Minster was very quick to start the scare campaign over Labor’s improvements to negative gearing and capital gains tax by arguing the changes would distort the housing market. Ask any first home buyer about the state of the current housing market and you will get first hand feedback of just how distorted the housing market already is – just not in the same way the PM is arguing.

    First home buyers right across Australia - young people, modest income earners trying to get a foothold on the property ladder — will tell you how hard it is to break into the housing market. They will tell stories of being outbid at auction or about the lack of affordable houses on the market and having to settle on a smaller unit instead of housing that actually meets their needs as it’s the only option available and affordable.

    Unfortunately, these are not isolated stories but are a common occurrence every weekend right across Australia.

    There is a whole generation of young Australians and those on lower incomes who are giving up on the great Australian dream of aspiring to home ownership. Australian Bureau of Statistics data tells us that fewer than half of all 25-34-year-olds now own their own home, down 25 per cent over the past 30 years.

    This should be no surprise with houses now costing 6.5 times average incomes and average home loans being more than $300,000. The stark reality for many first home buyers is simply one of unaffordability.

    The question facing policy makers today is how to deal with the reality of increasing numbers of moderate income Australians being locked out of the housing market.

    How do we re-balance and level the playing field so Australians can enjoy the benefits of owning their own home?

    Labor’s policy on negative gearing and capital gains seeks to do just that and is deliberately designed to bring fairness back into the Australian housing market. By restricting negative gearing to new housing and reducing the discount on capital gains to 25 per cent, Labor’s policy will stimulate new housing supply.

    At the same time it will ensure first home buyers are not disadvantaged by Commonwealth tax settings which overwhelmingly benefit those buying their second, third, fourth, fifth or even sixth house.

    We want to level the playing field so first home owners can compete with property speculators, boost housing supply, while creating tens of thousands of new construction jobs.

    We accept there will be critics, most notably from vested interest groups which have the most to lose from changing the current advantageous arrangements, but it is important as the debate rolls on that we focus on what is actually happening right now.

    Unsustainable house price growth based on speculation is bad for first home buyers and bad for the economy.  And worst of all, existing tax incentives are not generating new supply and a generation of Australians – young people and those on modest incomes – are being priced out of a market that overwhelmingly favours investor interests.

    These changes on their own won’t solve the affordability challenges but there is plenty of independent evidence that indicates by making these modest but much needed reforms, it will ease pressure on housing affordability and stimulate new housing supply.

    And that’s just what first home buyers need.

    This piece was first published on the Labor Herald on Thursday 24 March, 2016

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    “Seriously inadequate” handling of mental health reforms fuelling terrible uncertainty

    Back in December Labor lent cautious support for the Federal Government’s mental health reforms saying that if they were implemented well the reforms could change primary mental health care for the better. Unfortunately the feedback about the reform implementation since that time is one characterised by a lack of information, lack of communication, lack of coordination and lack of understanding of the complexity of the changes or the time needed to get it right.

    The government’s handling of the implementation to date has been seriously inadequate and the mental health sector now finds itself operating with growing uncertainty about their services, their funding and their future with only weeks before funding runs out.

    Services affected include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health programs, suicide prevention programs, community mental health programs, services targeted to the LGBTI community and migrant mental health services. The cost, both human and financial, of the uncertainty and the possible closure of these services is unacceptable and the disruption and confusion being caused by poor implementation is particularly harmful considering the vulnerability of the clients who depend on these services.

    For staff working in the sector the state of uncertainty is also incredibly difficult and many will have no choice but to start looking for another job so that they can remain employed and put food on the table. For mental health services many will be required, by law, to provide notice to their staff this month under relevant industrial agreements relating to termination of employment.

    With more than $350 million in mental health funding at stake and only three months to go it’s clear that any tender process will be inadequate. Even if the government gets its act together and releases more detailed information tomorrow it will not allow enough time for a proper tender process to be undertaken, for contract negotiations to be conducted and services commissioned all in the space of the next three months.

    The PHNs, as the critical commissioners under the new reform agenda, are stuck in an unenviable position, wedged between the enormous pressure to deliver the reforms with unreasonable demands and an information vacuum from the Department of Health and at the same time trying to manage an increasingly agitated mental health sector hungry for information and advice.

    Under the reform agenda the 31 PHNs are required to provide a needs analysis by late March and a localised mental health plan by 6 May to the Department of Health for approval despite being provided without any guidance about how this should be done and without any indication of how much funding will be individually distributed to and by each PHN.

    If the department thinks that it can assess and approve 31 mental health plans to cover the whole of Australia and then have a tender process undertaken to commission services under those plans as well as having them in place by 1 July, ensuring service continuity and a good process, it is kidding itself.

    The lack of implementation information and the absence of any tender process is causing serious concern for frontline mental health services who, unless they are provided with some funding certainty,  will have to start winding down and put in place plans to close their doors and advise their clients and staff that they will not be around after 30 June this year. 

    With only weeks to go until the reforms are due to start it’s time for Minister Ley to immediately end the uncertainty engulfing the mental health sector, release the implementation plan and provide assurances to people with a mental illness, their carers and the staff working to support them that from July 1 essential services for people with a mental illness will continue without disruption.

     This opinion piece was first published in Croakey on Monday, 21 March, 2016.

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    GOVERNMENT MUST IMMEDIATELY END THE UNCERTAINTY ON MENTAL HEALTH REFORMS

    The Turnbull Government must end the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the mental health reforms announced in November last year.

    Four months on since the Government announced the reforms to much fanfare, mental health consumers and service providers are without any idea on what happens when current funding expires on June 30th this year.

    The Government wrote to mental health services in December advising them that their funding would expire on June 30th and that they would be advised of future funding arrangements.

    This hasn't happened and its leaving thousands of mental health consumers worried about where they will go for treatment when contracts expire and leaving thousands of staff without any idea of whether they will have a job on 1st July.

    With only 14 weeks until funding runs out, mental health services will have to start winding down their organisations including providing notice to staff under their employment agreements.

    Time is running out for the Government or their provider to start a tender process, evaluate the tenders and have new arrangements in place for the start July.

    Whilst Labor is generally supportive of the direction of the mental health reform agenda the information and communication on the implementation process has fallen well short and it is causing unfair and avoidable stress for those living with a mental illness and right across the mental health sector.

    The Minister For Health must immediately clarify where the reform process is up to and let service providers know exactly what will happen when contracts expire and most importantly how service continuity will be guaranteed for people living with a mental illness in the meantime.

    THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2016

    Senator Katy Gallagher is Labor's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations

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    CLOSE THE GAP DAY

    Labor has used the tenth Close the Gap Day to draw attention to the unacceptably high rates of Indigenous mental illness and suicide.

    Shadow Minister, Shayne Neumann, said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience mental illness at nearly three times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians and are twice as likely to die by suicide.

    “Close the Gap Day focuses attention on the need to increase the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to that of non-Indigenous people by 2030,” Mr Neumann said.

    “Health cannot be addressed in isolation though. The risk of self-harm in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is compounded by poverty, entrenched disadvantage and inter-generational trauma.

    “It is a national tragedy that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and young people feel they have no other option than to take their own life.

    “It is time to make Indigenous health a priority, particularly if we are to Close the Gap in life expectancy.”

    Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Senator Katy Gallagher said a Shorten Labor Government will commit to the National Health Commission’s target to reduce suicides by 50 per cent over the next ten years and develop an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Plan to improve mental health and prevent suicide of Indigenous Australians.  

    “The best policy outcomes will be achieved if we partner directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and work with them to develop a culturally safe and respectful approach to reduce suicide rates,” Senator Gallagher said.

    “It can be a struggle for any person with mental illness to access services but that is even more complicated when they are living in remote communities.

    “By implementing a number of the Mental Health Commission’s recommendations, Labor will ensure that people experiencing mental illness can access better co‑ordinated services, both clinical and non-clinical.”

    Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs, Warren Snowdon said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities faced additional challenges.

    “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities often feel incredibly isolated, with limited access to health and early intervention services,” Mr Snowdon said.

    “Something is clearly wrong and if we want to prevent more young lives being lost, we must face up to the challenges of substance abuse, family violence, inadequate housing, unemployment and poverty – especially in remote communities,” Mr Snowdon said

    “This needs to be undertaken community by community in partnership with service providers and governments at all levels to address the alarming rates of mental illness and suicide.”

    THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2016

    Senator Katy Gallagher is Labor's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations

    This is a joint release with Shayne Neumann MP, Labor's Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Warren Snowden MP, Labor's Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs.

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    GOVERNMENT DELAYS RESPONSE TO HOUSING AFFORDABILITY REPORT

    The chaos and dysfunction gripping the Turnbull Government has resulted in the government putting off any response to a key housing affordability report until well after the next election.

    Whilst the Prime Minister and Minister Porter dither and refuse to engage on this issue more than one million people across Australia live every day in rental or mortgage stress. 

    The Government has confirmed in a letter to the Senate President that it will not be responding to the 40 recommendations from the Senate inquiry Out of reach? The Australian housing affordability challenge’ any time soon despite the report being tabled more than ten months ago.

    The Prime Minister has refused to prioritise Australia’s housing affordability challenges and this latest admission is yet more evidence that the Turnbull Government has no plan, no ideas and no solutions to deal with the real problem of declining housing affordability across the country.

    Labor has released its positive plan to promote housing affordability and allow first home buyers to have a chance to get into the market. Labor, if elected, would only allow the benefits of negative gearing to apply to new properties from July 1, 2017 and would reduce the capital gains tax discount from 50 per cent to 25 per cent.

    The Senate report provided the government with sensible and well thought through recommendations to help guide housing affordability policy and if the Turnbull Government was serious about supporting the great Australian dream of home ownership they would have prioritised a response to the report and got on with tackling a problem that affects millions of Australians.

    WEDNESDAY, 16 MARCH 2016

    Senator Katy Gallagher is Labor's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations

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    PRODUCTIVE DISCUSSIONS ON MENTAL ILLNESS AND TRAVEL INSURANCE

    We thank representatives of the insurance, mental health, consumer advocacy and legal sectors for their attendance today at Labor’s roundtable to discuss mental illness and travel insurance.

    It was valuable to have a broad cross-section of voices in the room to have productive discussions about the various issues regarding the coverage and treatment of mental illness in the travel insurance industry.

    The conversations made clear that there are some gaps in the understanding of the issue and in the data required to broaden mental illness coverage.

    There are no easy solutions, but we will continue to work with the industry advocates to see what more can be done and what role policy-makers may have in this process.

    There has been a disappointing lack of leadership on this issue from the Coalition, and we would like to see some progress towards improving outcomes for consumers.

    Senator Katy Gallagher is Labor's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on State and Territory Relations

    This is a joint release with Jim Chalmers MP, Labor's Shadow Minister for Superannuation and Financial Services, Sport, Trade, Investment and Productivity.

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