In his role as Vice President of the UN General Assembly of Partners, Compass Group Managing Director Greg Budworth reveals how Australia has been slow off the blocks in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which has implications for housing in Australia. This opinion piece was published in HousingWorx.
Australia is a signatory to both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda (NUA). Both international agreements have ambitions to ensure that housing is provided as a human right to all citizens by 2030. Realising just one of the goals, SDG 11, would solve the current housing crisis and create an important foundation for the welfare of all Australians. But more on that later.
Australia delivered its first Voluntary National Report (VNR) on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (UN Agenda 2030) to the UN High Level Political Forum in New York on 17th July 2018. The 132-page report is available on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website.
Each of the 193 countries that signed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has committed to producing a VNR at least twice over the lifetime of the Agenda. VNRs are intended to reflect a country’s efforts and achievements against the 17 SDGs. Various Australian government departments have been assigned lead responsibility for achievement of the SDGs and input into the VNR.
The Australian Federal Government makes the point that its VNR is a 'whole of Australia' report showing the initiatives and activity of government, business, civil society, academia, communities and individuals. It says Australians are contributing to achievement of the SDGs through their work in the care economy, by volunteering, by preserving the natural environment and through their everyday activities. This collaborative approach is welcome. Bringing together all sections of society is regarded internationally as key to realising the SDGs.
The VNR provides us with an opportunity to assess how Australia is progressing. Of most interest to the homelessness and housing sector is SDG 11, which is about “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
Target 11.1 aims to provide “access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums” by 2030. The measurement of performance on that target is 11.1 – the proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing. Unfortunately, many Australians are living in inadequate housing. In fact, the Everybody’s Home – www.everybodyshome.com.au – campaign shows there is a 500,000 shortfall in social and affordable homes.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2017 Housing Assistance in Australia report shows waitlists for social housing remain long, with 194,600 households awaiting social housing allocation as at 30 June 2016 and, nationally, between four and nine percent of dwellings were considered overcrowded, with between 12 and 25 percent underutilised.
According to the 2016 Census, the rate of homelessness in Australia has increased 4.6 percent over the last five years. People who sleep on the streets or under makeshift dwellings only represent six percent of the homeless population, while the other 94 percent are ‘hidden homeless’ – moving between the homes of family or ‘couch surfing’ at a friend’s place until they have to move. That’s not adequate housing.
Despite this crisis in housing, Australia’s VNR mainly reports on descriptions of challenges and the need to build smart, resilient and sustainable cities. There is no mention of the challenges posed by the current housing crisis and how they might be resolved by 2030.
How are we shaping up when it comes to providing adequate housing for everyone? The VNR is silent on measuring performance against Target 11.1. There is no discussion of the current gaps and the plan to meet the Target by 2030.
Therein lies the fundamental problem. There is no national plan. There are ad hoc initiatives, many of them worthwhile, but there is not a report on the priority, evidence-based initiatives needed to reduce, to zero, the proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing by 2030.
At the Affordable Housing Conference, there was overwhelming recognition of the need for a national plan to resolve the housing crisis. A plan provides an analysis of needs, the identification of targets and a program to achieve them. It also regularly reports on achievements and failures.
It is widely accepted that government cannot do this alone, and the housing and homelessness sector is ready and able to assist government achieve the housing target of SDG1.1. Currently, we are not holding government to this task. The lack of accountability in the VNR for achieving housing for all is a route to failure.
What can be done?
The SDGs and NUA provide frameworks to resolve housing problems in Australia. Your organisation’s engagement with UN programs can help realise their objectives to benefit Australian citizens. We all have a role to play to press government to action but also to assist a collaborative program for change.
Practical actions include:
- Join the UN General Assembly of Partners (GAP) http://generalassemblyofpartners.org/;
- Join state and national UN Australia Associations;
- Encourage your peak body to get involved; and
- Join and consider financially supporting the Everybody’s Home campaign.
The New Urban Agenda (NUA) is the outcome document from World Habitat lll. It is designed as an accelerator of all the SDGs, including SDG11, in the urban environment.
On 1st and 2nd November this year, the second international iteration of the New Urban Agenda and SDGs Conference will be held in Newcastle (www.nuaconference.com). The conference theme is Affordable Living in Sustainable Cities, and it is being held in partnership with the 26th EAROPH World Congress. You can attend, sponsor or contribute.
SDG 11 and the aspiration of adequate housing for all is everybody’s business. Let’s not miss the opportunity this provides us to hold government to the task it has accepted by signing the SDGs and NUA documents.