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UN Verdict - Australian Government Fails to Protect the Right to Housing

This important information and report was sent to us by our colleagues at PILCH (Public Interest Law Clearing House), Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic.

Below is a press release from the Coordinator of the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic, Kristen Hilton, commenting on the report.

Press Release: UN Verdict - Australian Government Fails to Protect the Right to Housing

Australian governments are failing their obligation to implement the right to adequate housing. This is the conclusion of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing who, in his recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, has called for immediate action to remedy a national housing crisis that is affecting not just the homeless and the poor, but also increasingly low and middle income households.

In August 2006, the Special Rapporteur, an independent expert on the right to housing, toured Australia meeting with individuals experiencing homeless, indigenous groups, civil society and government officials. In his report, he has described what he saw as a ‘serious hidden national housing crisis’ that in some parts of the country has resulted in a ‘humanitarian tragedy.’ In particular, he raised serious concerns about housing conditions for Indigenous people, for women, particularly those fleeing family violence, and for the large urban and rural homeless populations.

Speaking from Geneva, Kristen Hilton, Coordinator of the PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic, stressed the importance of the report, saying that it was time to acknowledge the crucial role that affordable, safe and secure housing plays in the development of individual lives and society as whole. ‘The Commonwealth government has ratified a number of human rights treaties which impose obligations to ensure that they are working towards the fulfillment of the right to adequate housing. Regrettably, we have seen cuts to public housing spending and cuts to urban indigenous housing.’ The issue has failed to receive the attention it deserves. There has been a failure to apprehend that poor housing has long lasting impacts for education, employment, physical and mental health and person’s capacity to meaningfully contribute.’

Ms Hilton welcomed the recommendations in the report including the recommendation to amend discrimination laws that currently fail to make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the ground that they are homeless or on social security benefits. ‘We have been lobbying the Victorian Government for changes to equal opportunity laws for several years’, she said. ‘Unfortunately, it is still lawful for people to treat someone in a lesser manner because they have nowhere to call home, because they are unemployed or because they are receiving social security benefits.’

The report also calls for increased tenancy protections and the repealing of State laws that criminalise begging and sleeping in public, and urges the federal government to establish and implement a national housing plan that is informed by a range of stakeholders including people affected by inadequate housing and members of civil society.

In the 2006 Federal Budget, the Howard Government announced a surplus for the ninth time in ten years and has forecast a surplus of $10.8 billion for 2006-2007. Several Australian States have also announced surpluses in recent years. Both the Commonwealth and the States have a major role to play in ensuring all Australians receive access to adequate housing. It is unacceptable, Ms Hilton said, that given the country’s wealth there are still over 100,000 people that experience homelessness on any given night in Australia. It is also unacceptable that one in two of those who try to access shelter are turned away due to funding shortages.

The report is critical of the manner in which the right to housing has been afforded such low priority in this country. It is hoped that the attention that the report has generated domestically and within the international community will finally trigger positive and comprehensive action from Australian governments to rise to their obligations to ensure that all Australians have access to safe, affordable and appropriate housing.

For a full copy of the report go to:
The PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic provides free legal advice and advocacy to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Contact Details: Kristen Hilton
Coordinator and Principal Solicitor
PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic

Article contributed by: John-Paul Cashen
Acting Coordinator
Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic
Public Interest Law Clearing House


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