The Right to Housing

The St Vincent de Paul Society want to see the right to housing protected in Human Rights legislation around Australia. Here's why.

By Kym Duggan
Friday, October 7, 2016

In 2015-16, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society provided more than 15,000 instances of emergency relief in our region. In addition, the Society is very active in homelessness reduction in the Australian Capital Territory, conducting a range of programs (including Samaritan House, Night Patrol, Samaritan Services, Street to Home).

What we see in the capital is disturbing. The level of homelessness is one in two hundred and indigenous territorians are ten times more likely than non-indigenous to request homelessness services.

Waiting lists for public housing are at unacceptably high levels. A family on the priority list takes more than six months to access public housing. It is more than two years for high needs families, and even longer for standard housing1.

Housing first

The Society strongly supports the concept of Housing First. This policy principle recognises that provision of appropriate housing is the essential platform on which broader responses to a range of complex needs can be built.

A human rights-based Housing First approach leads to lower costs for the community in areas such as acute health management, crisis accommodation, criminal justice, unemployment, and the other social consequences of homelessness.

There have been many calls for the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 (the Human Rights Act) to be amended to treat rights such as the right to adequate housing in the same way that rights to freedom of speech and assembly are treated in the Act. In 2010 the Australian National University and the University of NSW conducted the ACT Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Research Project (the 2010 Report)2. That report concluded that rights under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights3 (which include the right to adequate housing) should be included within the Human Rights Act.

Indeed, the current ACT government promised in 2012 that it would amend the Human Rights Act to include the right to housing. This promise was quietly abandoned in 2014 after the second review of the Act, this time done entirely within Government4.

Including the right to adequate housing in the Human Rights Act would not require the ACT government to immediately rectify the lack of adequate housing for the homeless in the ACT. The right, as with other rights under the ICESCR, is subject to the concept of progressive implementation. As the 2010 Report states the obligation on government is to take reasonable measures within its available resources to secure the right to adequate housing progressively5.

Including the right within the Act would publicly attest to the priority that Government gives to the right to adequate housing. It would require departments to take the right into account in policy development and allow for accountability where that does not occur. It would improve the legislative, policymaking and administrative processes6. As a concrete example it should guard against an outcome where Government policy and program decisions result in a reduced availability of housing for the disadvantaged.

It would also confirm the position of the ACT as a national leader in the recognition of fundamental human rights as did the original enactment of the Human Rights Act in 2004.

Amending the Act

The Saint Vincent de Paul Society calls upon all political parties to commit to amending the Human Rights Act to include the Right to Adequate Housing in Part 3A of the Act. The Society supports the form of such an amendment as set out in the 2010 Report7: Right to adequate housing 

  1. Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing. 
    1. Aspects of this right that are not subject to progressive realisation include the following:
      1. everyone is entitled to enjoy this right without discrimination;
      2. no‐one may be unlawfully or arbitrarily evicted from his or her home; 
      3. no‐one may have an essential utility service to his or her home unlawfully or arbitrarily withdrawn.

Find out more about the ACT Greens commitments to affordable housing in our 2016 ACT Legislative Assembly campaign.

Join the campaign

Footnotes

  1. See “Ache for Home. A plan to address chronic homelessness and housing affordability in Australia”. Saint Vincent de Paul Society National Council, 2 March 2016
  2. Australian Capital Territory Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Research Project. Report, September 2010. 
  3. UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 993, p. 3
  4. Economic, social and cultural rights in the Human Rights Act 2004, Section 43 Review, JACS, November 2014 at p 13
  5. see 3 at p 178-79
  6. ibid at p 15
  7. see 3 at p 135

Kym Duggan writes on behalf of the St Vincent de Paul Society, who are seeking support for their proposal to amend the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT) to include the Right to Adequate Housing.