Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (3 April) . . Page.. 1328 ..
MR STEFANIAK (11.09): This matter has been hanging around for a while. I must admit I was a little bit concerned about the government response. Homelessness is a very serious issue. In the latest Chronicle we saw a very sad story about homelessness. Homelessness among men particularly is a distinct problem. The Chronicle referred to some figures that have been with us for almost 12 months. Up to 2,000 single men have been unable to find crisis accommodation. The St Vincent de Paul Society indicated to me and to the committee that they turn away up to six homeless men a night.
It is not common to see homeless men with children. Nevertheless, that is a very real problem. The committee looked at accommodation and the support services for homeless men and their children. The inquiry arose out of a motion I moved in December 2001 in relation to some problems with the contract that was awarded to group to run a shelter in Belconnen for a homeless men and children. That contract cut short the tenure of the group running the shelter at the time, Lone Fathers. There were a number of problems with the way the department looked at that service. There were significant concerns with the report by the so-called independent consultants. There were factual errors, from what I could gather, and there were some real concerns with the way the department accepted that report. There were all sorts of allegations of bias in the way the consultation was done. I thought that with the significant problems the minister should have put everything on hold and have the new minister investigate it. He did not-I think that is an absolute shame-and another group took over.
I said at the time that I was not going to bag the other group. They went in there with every good intention. They were the successful tenderers. Their philosophy was somewhat different from that of the previous runners of the service. The question here is the need and the government addressing the need.
We saw a clear need for not only one service on the north side but also a service on the south side. For months after that, as housing spokesman I kept getting figures from Barry Williams, the founder of the service for children and men in Australia. He was getting phone calls at all hours of the day and night about men with children in crisis. Quite clearly, there is still an unmet need. There is a real need for a similar service on the south side. I am disappointed that the committee report does not go far enough. I think it has a bit of window dressing. It could have made more useful recommendations to the government about this service.
When we think of homelessness, we think of homeless single men and we often think of women with children in crisis needing special accommodation. Compared with other places, Canberra is quite well served with accommodation for women with children. The crisis services do a very good job.
More and more we are seeing men with children being left out on the street. Under family law, once the mother always got custody of the child. I am advised that in about 40 per cent of cases now the father gets custody. That is just one of the changes in our society. Even though a lot of people might not think of men with children being out on the street, their need for crisis accommodation is real.
The service that Barry Williams set up was an Australian first. My colleague Mr Smyth, who replaced me as housing minister, provided the home, and my department set up the