I thank the Prime Minister for appointing me as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in the Gillard Cabinet.
I am honoured to take on this challenging role and I thank Minister Bowen for his hard work in this area. Australia is a country built on migration and, as a migrant myself, I understand the importance and complexities of the portfolios.
As a former Minister for Home Affairs, I understand that the issue of asylum seekers is a challenge for all first world countries. We all want to stop people risking their lives on the high seas in unseaworthy vessels. I am committed to implementing the recommendations of the Houston Report and will continue to work towards a regional solution. I will draw on the relationships I have made with governments around the region to tackle this complex challenge.
It has been an honour and a privilege to serve for the past year as Minister for Housing, Minister for Homelessness and Minister for Small Business. I am proud of the Labor Government’s achievements in these areas.
I am proud to have appointed the first Australian Small Business Commissioner to be a powerful voice for our more than two million small business men and women and their five million employees. The instant asset tax-write off and the loss carry-back initiative are important measures that will increase cash flow, cut red tape, and encourage confidence for small business owners. I am disappointed that Tony Abbott has said he will scrap these measures if elected.
I would like to thank the thousands of small business people around the nation who have given up their important time to speak to me at forums, in meetings and when I have been privileged to visit their businesses. Their insights have been invaluable in formulating policy. I congratulate Minister Bowen on his appointment and wish him well.
In Housing and Homelessness, the Labor Government has built 21,000 social housing homes and carried out repairs and maintenance on 80,000 existing homes. We have built almost 11,000 affordable rental homes, saving low and middle income families and pensioners thousands of dollars a year in rent. We are helping councils and developers in fast-growing regional areas to build homes faster, bringing down the costs for buyers. We have made a direct financial contribution to one in 20 homes built across the nation since 2008.
We have invested in homelessness services and programs and remain committed to our goals of halving the rate of homelessness and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020. We have seen promising progress towards those targets with a 13.5 per cent drop in the rate of rough sleepers and a 26 per cent increase in the number of people in safe, supported accommodation.
I am particularly proud of the Gillard Government’s decision to provide emergency funding to keep Tenant Advice and Advocacy Services open in Queensland after the Newman Government axed these important services.
I would like to thank my State and Territory counterparts and all the industry and sector stakeholders who have shown such dedication to improving housing affordability for all Australians and looking after our most vulnerable. I am confident that the negotiations currently underway about the new homelessness partnership with the States will not be affected by the change in portfolio. As the Prime Minister said, there are clear linkages between housing and homelessness and mental health, aged care and social inclusion, and I congratulate Minister Butler and wish him well as he combines these key areas of public policy. I also congratulate Melissa Parke on her appointment as Parliamentary Secretary.