A junior assistant minister in the Morrison government is in political strife after suggesting home owners throughout Australia should place an official garden gnome on their front lawns to acknowledge that proud achievement.
The problem for Assistant Minister for Community Housing and Homelessness Luke Howarth and his “Be Proud and Gnome your Home” initiative is that the gnome the Queenslander is suggesting is one he has designed and marketed himself.
And rightly or wrongly, this has led to the accusations that he is profiting from his position as a minister of the crown.
The member for the southern Queensland seat of Petrie scoffed at that suggestion: “All I’m endeavouring to achieve here is to put a positive spin on those record levels of home ownership and not just to say Australia is in a housing crisis when it [homelessness] affects a very, very small percentage of the population.
“There have been a record number of Australians during each and every year of the six years of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments.
“And home ownership, along with the number of days since Federation in 1901, is also at record levels.”
Mr Howarth recently copped some media flak over comments at a Brisbane meeting of Lord Mayors on homelessness that tried to put “a positive spin” on the exact number of Australians without a roof over their heads.
The minister told Radio National prior to that Brisbane meeting: “Sure, ABS figures show that over a five-year period up to 2016, the rate of homelessness increased from 47.6 people per 10,000 Australians in to 49.8 people but I think that it is important to stress that parts of homelessness have reduced over that 12-year period, at least the last 15 years of it.
“And of course those per 10,000 figures don’t take into account that our population has also grown on a per capita basis during those decades which means 10,000 is much larger now.
“That means the actual increase in the overall number of homeless people is in fact lower than the population growth in some provinces in China and parts of southern India, thanks to Morrison government and community initiatives.”
The Bug understands that Mr Howarth’s “parts of homelessness that have been reduced” comments refer to people who had been recorded in early survey periods as being homeless but who had since died so were in fact technically or statistically no longer homeless.
The minister also believes that it is wrong of the ABS to “count twice” homeless people still alive from an earlier survey period.
“That’s the positive spin I want to put on this issue,” Mr Howarth said. “That more and more Australians can now aspire to gnome ownership,” he joked.
“Can’t we just focus on how great it is that more and more Australians are paying off their own homes – and that’s exactly what my ‘Be Proud and Gnome your Home’ initiative does.”
The gnomes, available from government offices throughout Australia, Mr Howarth’s electoral office in Petrie and Bunnings outlets, cost only $550 plus postage and handling.
Mr Howarth seemed genuinely surprised when told the gnome looked a lot like himself.
“To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t noticed that.”
The Bug can reveal that the “Be Proud and Gnome your Home” initiative is in fact a product of Liberal Party Industries, the company that marketed the popular Michaelia wheelclamp during the recent federal election campaign (pictured below).