Housing funding axed

File picture: The West Australian

Not-for-profit organisations that help some of the most vulnerable Australians were yesterday told their funding would be axed in a pre-Christmas shock to the housing and homelessness sector.

On the eve of Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews handing over to Scott Morrison, his department sent scores of letters to reveal the extent of unexpected, deep spending cuts.

An entire round for homelessness funding has been suspended, putting hundreds of programs nationwide in doubt.

And organisations including Homelessness Australia, National Shelter and the Community Housing Federation of Australia have also had their federal funding terminated.

All up, $21 million over four years has been stripped from innovative projects, research, peak bodies and emerging priorities.

The cuts were hidden in the mid-year budget update released last week.

“As a result of recent decisions in the Mid-Year Economic Forecast Outlook, the Department will no longer be continuing with this funding round,” a letter received by one organisation yesterday said.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and impact this may have on your organisation.”

The original guideline for funding, released in May this year, specifically identified peak organisations and research on homelessness for possible support.

It set aside $21.1 million over four years to also canvass policy advice on how to improve housing affordability for all Australians.

Homelessness funding became an issue during the repeat WA Senate election in April, with Premier Colin Barnett urging the Abbott Government to provide certainty for the national partnership agreement on homelessness, worth $14.5 million a year to WA.

The Premier’s plea was heeded by the PM but there is new uncertainty about NPAH funding beyond next June.

Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said she was unaware of MYEFO’s impact of the MYEFO on WA homeless organisations.

“I’ve contacted the previous Commonwealth Social Services Minister on several occasions regarding ongoing funding for homelessness, particularly under the NPAH and have yet to receive any indication from the Commonwealth Government as to their intentions,” Ms Morton said.

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said Mr Morrison must make reversing the funding cuts his first priority as incoming minister/
“This is a move that will reduce service levels, cut jobs and ultimately disadvantage the most vulnerable Australians and further erode the capacity of our community sector,” she said.

Opposition housing spokeswoman Jan McLucas said the Council to Homeless Persons’ national publication, Parity, would also lose funding under the move.

“This is a blatant attack on organisations which have had to point out uncomfortable truths to governments for nearly 40 years,” Senator McLucas said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said: “The outcomes of 26 funding rounds that closed earlier this year have been finalised and applicants have been notified of these outcomes.

“The Department will be negotiating formal funding offers with the successful applicants throughout January.”

National Seniors said funding to the National Information Centre on Retirement Investments would also be axed.

Chief executive Michael O’Neill said the centre was the only place older Australians could go for free and independent financial information.

He said it gave advice on everything from allocated pensions to funeral bonds.

In a sign that the Government is looking to move responsibility for homeless to the States, various groups were told in official notifications that longer term arrangements would be considered within the context of the Federation White Paper.

The white paper is not due for release until late next year with a formal Federal response not expected until early 2016.