Access to adequate housing should be more than an aspiration

Representatives from homeless legal clinics from around Australia have expressed extreme disappointment at the release of the Homelessness Bill by the Federal Government.

Specialist lawyers and policy experts from Australia’s homeless legal services who attended the Homelessness Legal Clinics Forum in Sydney in early June have described the Homelessness Bill as “a missed opportunity that will not lead to any practical benefits or outcomes for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.”

Representatives of these services have written to the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Mr Mark Butler. 

According to Sydney-based HPLS senior solicitor Samantha Sowerwine: “At a time where homelessness across Australia is increasing, we need to seriously look at the laws that negatively impact homeless people on a daily basis.”

“This Bill does nothing to address the continuing criminalisation of homeless people in public places.”

“Things such as State/Territory tenancy and housing laws, and public space laws operate to entrench people in dire situations of homelessness and housing crisis.”

“Auditing these laws was one of the many recommendations of the bipartisan parliamentary committee which reported on the inquiry into homelessness legislation in 2009. Sadly, that has not been reflected in the current Bill.”

The Bill provides for “an aspiration” that all persons living in Australia have access to appropriate, affordable, safe and sustainable housing.

PIAC has submitted to a Senate Committee Inquiry looking at the Bill that this provision is incompatible with Australia’s International human rights obligations.

“This approach undervalues the right of all people in Australia to adequate housing,” said PIAC CEO Edward Santow.

The correspondence to the Minister also enclosed legal advice previously obtained by the PIAC from Arthur Moses SC and Professor Patrick Keyzer, which shows that the Federal Parliament clearly has the power to pass effective, rights-based homelessness legislation.

“The right to adequate housing must be more than a ‘mere’ aspiration.’ It is a standard that Australia has committed to achieve over a period of time,” Mr Santow said.

Read the letter signed by representatives of Australia’s homeless legal services (pdf).

Read the advice from Arthur Moses SC and Professor Patrick Keyzer (pdf).

Read PIAC’s submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Homelessness Bill 2013.

Photo credit: Flickr Charlie Brewer

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