Kevin Rudd has released the Government’s first Green Paper, on a subject close to his heart – homelessness.

There’s no doubt Rudd has a passion for the issue. He has repeatedly visited homeless shelters, usually without media, and asked Labor MPs to do the same. He is convinced that Australia has failed on the issue. Rudd’s adoption of the issue is the sort of thing that makes you think that maybe, just maybe, he can be one of our great Prime Ministers, if he drops the spin and stunts.

The Which Way Home Green Paper, launched today by Rudd and Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek, starts from the perspective that the main program for addressing homelessness, the joint Commonwealth-State-funded Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, isn’t working. It proposed three options – effectively splitting SAAP into separate youth, criminal justice, health and ageing, and housing streams to more effectively target assistance; overhauling and strengthening SAAP itself; or strengthening mainstream services and confining SAAP to emergency situations only.

The tenor of the paper is that the solution lies somewhere in strengthening mainstream services to deal with homelessness, and more effectively targeting SAAP so that it deals not just with immediate emergencies, but provides a longer-term pathway out of homelessness.

The Green Paper consultation process will be relatively short – a White Paper outlining a policy proposal is due in September.

What’s also interesting is that Rudd is clearly a believer in a policy development process in which the Government makes an effort to formally consult via a Green Paper process before proposing a course of action and seeking further comment via a White Paper process.

The Howard Government’s Papers were few and far between. There were plenty of discussion papers released by portfolio ministers, but they were frequently for the purpose of pretending to consult (I know, I helped write some of them) and there was no clear outcome for parties that bothered to make submissions. Green Paper processes are bureaucratic and look a bit old-fashioned, but they restore consultation – for all its good and bad points – to a formal role in the Government’s policy process.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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