Housing and Homelessness

The following content draws upon, in part, the Joint Australian NGO Coalition's fact sheets prepared for the Universal Periodic Review.

Right to adequate housing

Australia does not have national legislation that protects the right to adequate housing. In December 2008, the Australian Government released its White Paper on Homelessness, The Road Home: A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness, which recommended the enactment of national legislation to ensure that people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness receive quality services, adequate support to meet their needs and are treated with dignity and respect. Further, in 2009, a bi-partisan Parliamentary Committee recommended the enactment of a national Homelessness Act which enshrines the right to adequate housing. Despite this, Australia has to date failed to specifically recognise the right to adequate housing in domestic law. The lack of a comprehensive legal framework to respond to homelessness prevents the progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing in Australia.

Recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur

On Census night in 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics calculated that 105,000 Australians were homeless.2 The causes of homelessness in Australia are multiple and interrelated and include an acute shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, discrimination, structural inequalities and family violence, as well as individual hardships such as physical and mental health issues, contact with the criminal justice system and experiences with state care and child protection systems. The shortage of housing is a key cause of homelessness in Australia. There are 173,000 households on waiting lists for public housing in Australia3 and the wait can be up to 15 years. In 2009, there was a deficit of 493,000 affordable dwellings for people with the lowest incomes.

Recent Government initiatives have made significant investments in social and affordable housing, but this does not offset the decline in stock over preceding decades. The fact that the number of homeless Australians continues to rise indicates that Australia has failed to implement the right to adequate housing.

  • Miloon Kothari, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, Mission to Australia (11 May 2007) A/HRC/4/18/Add.2 p 3.
  • See Chris Chamberlain and David MacKenzie, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless (2006).
  • Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services 2010
  • National Housing Supply Council, Australian Government, National Housing Supply Council – 2nd State of Supply Report (2010) p 103.

A human rights framework for homelessness

Australia has not acknowledged Australia's homeless situation as a human rights issue. It does not recognise that 105,000 homeless Australians represent a failure to protect the human right to adequate housing; or that these Australians also face other human rights breaches, including of their rights to privacy, health, education, public participation, liberty, security, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, access to justice, exercise of civil and political rights and freedom from discrimination. The failure to address homelessness within a human rights framework, and to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the right to adequate housing with other human rights, means that there are significant gaps in the Government's response to the housing crisis.

What the UN Human Rights Council recommended in the Universal Periodic Review

In January 2011 Australia was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review (or UPR) (a process whereby the human rights performance of all UN member states is reviewed by other states).  In June 2011 Australia provided its response to the 145 recommendations made by the Human Rights Council.

The Government has accepted over 90 per cent of the recommendations and has committed to incorporating the recommendations it has accepted into the National Human Rights Action Plan.

In relation to housing and homelessness, the Human Rights Council made a number of relevant recommendations.  Australia has responded to these recommendations as set out in the following table.

Recommendation

Stance

Explanation

Ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights, and close the socio-economic gap which exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, especially in relation to housing (recommendations 86.49, 86.50, 86.116 – 86.117).

Already reflected

Australia accepts the recommendation on the basis it is reflected in existing laws or policies and Australia will continue to take steps to achieve relevant outcomes.

Carry out a comprehensive assessment of actions and strategies aimed at improving socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples in consultation with the communities concerned, and if necessary correct these actions (recommendation 86.118).

Accepted

The Council of Australian Governments Reform Council will provide a comprehensive report each year on progress against relevant targets.

Take all necessary measures to ensure people in rural and remote areas receive adequate support, including in relation to accommodation (recommendation 86.101).

Accepted

The Australian Government will continue to take measures to ensure adequate support services are delivered to people in remote and rural areas.