Easter is a time to commit to helping the homeless

The Greens spokesperson on Family and Community Services, Jan Barham, has encouraged people to consider what their local community can do to help those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness.

“For those who celebrate Easter as a religious holiday, this is of course a time for reflection on self-sacrifice and caring for people. But for everyone this is a time when we should remember our most vulnerable and what can be done to support them,” Ms Barham said.

“While many people are planning to get away from home during the long weekend or the upcoming school holidays, far too many Australians can’t even contemplate a holiday because they are struggling to find a stable home. The impact of homelessness will only worsen as winter approaches and the fact that an increasing number of children are homeless is of great concern.”

“Homelessness is an issue that all sides of politics recognise we must address. Last week the NSW upper house passed a motion I presented on homelessness, with MPs from the Government, ALP and the Christian Democrats all speaking strongly in support,” Ms Barham said.

“The acknowledgment of the crucial role of developing regional and local solutions is an important position. Many MP’s spoke of people in their community who have been affected by homelessness. At a community level, local government is encouraged to adopt initiatives that address homelessness. The motion proposed that the NSW Government consider funding a program that would assist councils with homelessness services.”

“I encourage everyone to take some time this long weekend to think about what they can do about homelessness in their community. Look at what you can do to help your community organisations that are struggling to help those people who are facing difficult times and contact your councillors about local action on this issue.”

“The clear message on homelessness is that it can happen to anyone. With job losses, illness and the shortage of affordable housing it is a sad reality for our country that the homeless rate is increasing. As a caring society this is one issue that we can all address at a local level. Taking the time to contribute to the needs of the vulnerable can make a real difference,” Ms Barham said.

Current Figures – 2011 Census date:
NSW – 28,190 homeless persons; 3,632 were aged under 12, and 2,642 aged 12-18.

Motion on Homelessness, as passed by NSW Legislative Council on 21 March 2013:
1. That, while taking into account the inherent difficulties in accurately measuring the rates of homelessness, this House notes that:

 (a) according to the 2006 National Census, at least 27,374 people were considered homeless in New South Wales,
 (b) according to a 2009 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) entitled “Counting the Homeless”, this figure can be broken down into the following categories:
  (i) primary homelessness: at least 3,715 people, or 13 per cent of respondents, were sleeping rough in improvised dwellings,
  (ii) secondary homelessness: at least 16,033 people, or 59% of respondents, were staying with friends or relatives, or in short term accommodation provided through formal assistance,
  (iii) tertiary homelessness: at least 7,626 people, or 28 per cent of respondents, were sleeping in facilities providing longer term accommodation such as boarding houses,
 (c) according to the same AIHW report, there is a significant incidence of homelessness among children and young people in New South Wales, with 10,587 of those counted aged under 24 (39 per cent),
 (d) according to the same AIHW report, the number of older homeless people is growing, with 30 per cent of the homeless in New South Wales aged 45 or older, up from 25 per cent in 2001,
 (e) it is widely estimated that over 7 per cent of the entire homeless population of New South Wales are Aboriginal, which is well above the 2.2 per cent of the total New South Wales Aboriginal population, and
 (f) documented rates of the prevalence of mental health issues in homeless people vary markedly but an extensive research paper published in 1998 by Hodder, Teeson and Burich entitled “Down and Out in Sydney” found that 75 per cent of participants in the study had at least one mental illness, compared to 20 per cent in the general population.

2. That this House further notes:

 (a) the report of the NSW Auditor General entitled “Responding to Homelessness”, dated May 2007,
 (b) the report of New South Wales Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues entitled “Homelessness and low-cost rental accommodation”, dated September 2009,
 (c) the Government’s subsequent response to the report of the Social Issues Committee’s inquiry, dated 2010, and
 (d) the revised National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness signed on 13 April 2012.

3. That this House welcomes:

 (a) the continuation of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Homelessness, and
 (b) the implementation of the revised Homeless Persons Protocol.

4. That this House encourages:

 (a) all local councils to have a nominated staff member tasked with the responsibility of ensuring their council adheres to the Homeless Persons Protocol, and
 (b) all local councils to report on local initiatives for addressing homelessness in their local government area in their annual report.

5. That this House calls for:

 (a) a review of the ten Regional Homeless Action Plans that were developed in July 2010, together with a progress report, and
 (b) consideration of a funding program to support local government to meet the needs of homeless people.

Lowering Seniors Card Eligibility Age Would Help to Close the Gap

Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs, has welcomed the NSW upper house’s passage of a motion calling on the Government to consider a key initiative to close the gap in health outcomes for older Indigenous people.

“This motion called on the NSW Government to consider lowering the eligibility age for the Seniors Card to 45 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I am pleased that the members of the Legislative Council across all parties supported it,” Ms Barham said.

“Making the Seniors Card available earlier is a simple, immediate way that we can ensure Indigenous people have improved access to primary health services. By having Seniors Card entitlements, including concession rates on transport and other discounts, we can help to overcome problems with the accessibility and affordability of health services.”

The motion was passed on National Close the Gap Day, a campaign that aims to eliminate the health inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030.

“On average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live more than a decade less than other Australians. Closing this gap requires a range of solutions from governments at all levels. Seniors Card eligibility is one part of the solution,” Ms Barham said.

“The Aboriginal and Community Care Gathering Committee recommended this initiative, and other organisations involved in the health and human service sectors, including NCOSS, support it. This should be a broadly supported and effective reform.”

In its submission on the upcoming budget, NCOSS estimated that lowering the eligibility age would cost approximately $2 million per annum.

Ms Barham noted, “This is an investment worth making, and one that will pay back society as a whole. It will improve the lives of Indigenous people and deliver a more effective allocation of resources.”

“I look forward to the day when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share in the expectation of a healthier and longer life.”

Jan Barham motion on Indigenous health inequality, agreed to 21 March 2013:

1. That this House notes that:

(a) Thursday, 21 March 2013 is National Close the Gap Day, a day of recognition that governments must achieve health equality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians by 2030,

(b) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a life expectancy that is consistently identified as being between 10 and 17 years less than the life expectancy of the general population,

(c) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience disability rates at 2.4 times the general population, and

(d) the NSW Government operates a number of support programs for older people aged 65 and over, where the eligibility age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is lowered to 45 years of age, including NSW Home and Community Care Services, assistance under the Older Parent Carer Program and the provision by Housing NSW of accommodation in Seniors Communities.

2. That this House acknowledges the finding of the 2010-11 Australian Medical Association Indigenous Health Report Card that states that “Appropriate access to primary health care can narrow the life expectancy gap, and may also offset some of the harmful health effects of socio-economic disadvantage and inequality.”

3. That this House further acknowledges recommendation 5 of the NSW Aboriginal Community Care Gathering Committee’s Conference Report from 2006 which states that:

“Eligibility for the NSW Seniors Card should be extended to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the age of 45 years.”

4. That this House also acknowledges the NSW Aboriginal Community Care Gathering Committee’s Policy Position ratified in June 2011, specifically noting:

(a) Guiding Principle #8: “In acknowledging that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a reduced life expectancy compared to other people in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be eligible for aged care and other seniors’ services from the age 45 years. Until life expectancies for all are similar, eligibility from age 45 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would ensure that they equitably receive the very necessary support services and other benefits afforded to other older people in Australia.”

(b) Recommendation 5: All programs providing support and other services to older people must ensure that the age criteria for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people start at 45 years.

(c) Recommendation 6: Aged Care Assessments must be available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from age 45 years if necessary, not 50 years.

(d) Recommendation 7: The NSW Seniors Card must be available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from age 45 years.

5. That this House calls on the State Government to consider lowering the eligibility age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be entitled to receive the NSW State Seniors Card to 45 years of age and for this new eligibility age to come into effect from July 1st 2013.

NSW Upper House supports Constitutional Recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs, has welcomed the passage of her motion supporting Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by the NSW Legislative Council.

“The passage of the Act of Recognition through the Senate last week was another important step toward Constitutional Recognition, but it is crucial that politicians across all Parliaments and parties help build support for a referendum,” Ms Barham said.

“The Parliament passed an amendment to the NSW Constitution in 2010, and now the upper house has thrown its support behind constitutional change for Australia. I hope the Premier and his Government will work toward ensuring public support for Constitutional Recognition.”

The motion that was passed by the Legislative Council also recognised the contributions of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians, along with community organisations such as Recognise, for their work in establishing the path toward a Commonwealth Referendum.

“It is a credit to the dedication of many people and organisations that Indigenous recognition has finally been achieved in the Commonwealth Parliament. The next step is for everyone who supports Constitutional change to make their voice heard,” Ms Barham said.

“I encourage all MPs across our states and territories to seek their Parliament’s expression of support for Constitutional Recognition. A demonstration that our politicians across all parties support a ‘yes’ vote would help to ensure that this referendum would see support as strong as at the Indigenous referendum in 1967.”

“Now is the time for everyone who cares about this issue to make their voice heard. People should contact their elected representatives and ask them to commit their public support to Constitutional change.”

NSW Legislative Council Hansard, 19 March 2013 – Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians:

Motion by the Hon. JAN BARHAM agreed to:

1. That this House notes that:
(a) the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 was passed by the Commonwealth House of Representatives on 13 February 2013 and passed by the Senate on 12 March 2013,
(b) the bill provides parliamentary recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first occupants of Australia, and acknowledges their continuing relationship with their traditional lands and waters and their continuing cultures, languages and heritage,
(c) the bill establishes a process of review of support for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution, and
(d) the bill was passed with multiparty support.

2. That this House:
(a) recognises that the continent and the islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,
(b) acknowledges the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters, and
(c) acknowledges and respects the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

3. That this House acknowledges the work of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians and community organisations such as Recognise in establishing the path toward a Referendum on Constitutional Recognition.

4. That this House expresses its support for constitutional change for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s Constitution.

Pacific Highway rethink needed to preserve biodiversity and Aboriginal lands

A flawed environmental assessment of a Pacific Highway upgrade project puts already-threatened species at greater risk and could have an impact on protected Aboriginal lands, warns North Coast Greens MP Jan Barham.

“The proposed route for the highway upgrade between Broadwater and Coolgardie threatens the viability of two state and national vulnerable species and fragments Aboriginal protected lands, but there is a better alternative route available. I am calling on the Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay, to require a review of the proposal and its environmental assessment,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham noted that the construction and operation of the proposed route would likely fragment and isolate the region’s koala and long-nosed potoroo populations. Both species are listed as vulnerable on the NSW and Commonwealth threatened species registers.

Ms Barham also warned of the impact on protected Aboriginal land. “The Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council have a 1,000 hectare protected area that was primarily established because of its biodiversity value. The Land Council recently incorporated the long-nosed potoroo into its logo which signifies its cultural as well as its biodiversity value, and now that species, along with koalas and many other ecological communities and species could be placed at risk.”

“An alternative route is available that is 2.5 kilometres shorter, runs closer to the current alignment of the highway and poses a lower risk to biodiversity and protected lands, but the project’s assessment seems to have downplayed the problems with a route that had already been settled on.

“The ecological risk of the route being proposed by the Government has been identified by four experienced North Coast wildlife ecologists, and I urge the Minister to review the proposal in light of their concerns. A new, independent ecological assessment is required.

“The highway upgrades are a crucial issue to make travelling through the North Coast region safer, but it can be done while looking after our biodiversity and Aboriginal lands. I hope it won’t require another protracted debate to make the Government realise its plan for this section is inappropriate.”

End the Rorting of Disability Parking Permits

Jan Barham, Greens MP and Disability spokesperson, is calling on the NSW Government to release its report on the review of the Mobility Parking Scheme which was due out late last year.

“The disability sector is keen to see action from Government to ensure Mobility Parking Permits only go to those individuals with a disability who genuinely need it. Many people have been concerned about the levels of abuse in the scheme and a question in Parliament has requested an update,” Ms Barham said.

In 2012, an independent advisory committee was established to review the Mobility Parking Scheme in New South Wales. For a number of years the scheme, which allows people with mobility restrictions to park for extended periods in time restricted parking spaces, has suffered from abuse.

“The review of the Mobility Parking Scheme will define the tightening of the eligibility criteria and advance the harmonisation of state and territory disability parking schemes into a single Australian Disability Parking Scheme (ADPS). Improving the scheme would allow for international recognition of the scheme and allow Australians who hold a permit to use it when travelling overseas.”

Ms Barham noted that there had been over 60,000 revoked permits recorded by the RTA/RMS and that in 2010–11, there were 728 infringements issued. Some past reports have estimated that one in three permits displayed in ticket/meter and time-limited areas for long periods of time are being used unlawfully.

“We know some people have been flouting the rules but there has also been inadequate enforcement. Disability parking fines in NSW are the highest in the country but most offences are committed by persons other than the permit holder, whether by other family members or from stolen permits,” Ms Barham said.

“The Government needs to release this report and explain how it will reform disability parking to support those who genuinely need it and stamp out the problems and abuse.”

CREATE Foundation 2013 Report Card launched

Jan Barham and Billy Black at the CREATE Foundation 2013 Report Card launch

Jan was pleased to attend the launch of the CREATE Foundation’s 2013 Report Card, titled “Experiencing Out-of-Home Care: The Views of Children and Young People”. The report card includes the results of a broad-ranging survey of more than 1,000 children and young people in out-of-home care. Jan got to hear from four impressive and articulate young people, including Billy Black, to learn how the care system can better support children. They also talked about the importance of young people’s involvement in making plans for leaving care, and the availability of support for young adults once they have left care.