Assistant Housing Minister wants to put 'positive spin' on homelessness


The federal Assistant Housing Minister Luke Howarth has tried to downplay the extent of homelessness as lord mayors meet to discuss what they call a crisis.

Assistant Housing Minister Luke Howarth says he wants to put a "positive spin" on homelessness, downplaying the demands of lord mayors who have labelled the issue a crisis in capital cities.

The Queensland MP who was recently promoted to the role, said the more than 116,000 homeless people made up just 0.5 per cent of Australia's population.

"I want to put a positive spin on it as well and not just say Australia's in a housing crisis when it affects a very, very small percentage of the population," he told ABC Radio National on Tuesday.

National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski rejected the assistant minister's assessment, saying he was relying on notoriously inaccurate counts of people sleeping rough. 

Liberal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House
Liberal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House

"I don't think it's possible to put a positive spin on homelessness," Mr Pisarski said.

Mr Howarth said between 2001 and 2016 the number of people living on the street or in tents and other improvised dwellings had decreased, while severely crowded accommodation had increased.

"There are a number of areas and I'll be focusing on all of them, but I think people on the street is important because that's what Australians see if they're in a capital city," Mr Howarth said.

"They can see people on the street - they want something done about that."

National Shelter will use a planned meeting with the new assistant minister soon to bring him up to speed on the reality and the sector's priorities. 

"It's not just a matter of emergency accommodation, it's actually permanent accommodation that is needed to solve the homelessness crisis." 

'Minister for hopelessness'

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers branded the comments an "absolute disgrace", saying he had set a new low in the way homeless people were talked about.

"This guy is not the minister for homelessness, he's the minister for hopelessness," he told reporters in Brisbane.

"Scott Morrison's message via his minister to 116,000 homeless Australians is that they should be happier and more upbeat about it."

In the 15-year period between 2001 and 2016, the portion of homeless people in urban areas spiked to 63 per cent from 48 per cent.

Reducing homelessness will be in the spotlight when Mr Howarth meets lord mayors in Brisbane on Tuesday.

According to the most recent census, 116,427 people were counted as being homeless, up from 102,439 in 2011.

NSW experienced the biggest increase, with a 37 per cent rise, while the number of homeless people in Queensland went up 14 per cent, and rose 11 per cent in Victoria.

While state premiers and local government have called for urgent action to combat affordable housing shortages, Mr Howarth pointed to emergency accommodation as a crucial issue.

"What I'm hearing from people that are on the ground is that emergency accommodation is a really important issue and we need more emergency accommodation," he said.

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