Thursday, 1 March 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017; Second Reading
The Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 deals with some of our most disadvantaged people. Homelessness is a huge disadvantage for anyone. The first step to getting your life back on track—I suppose you could call it normalising whatever existence you have—is through having a place of residence where you feel safe, that you know is your abode and where know you can return to.
Very sadly, there are thousands of people around the country who currently don't have a safe haven or house to live in and call their own, or a place where they can just be themselves. In order to change this and ensure that we bring down the numbers of homeless, you really need to have a commitment to this area. You really need strong policies with a focus on getting people back on track. But it shows the lack of commitment of this government that we don't even have a housing minister to oversee something so important to Australians.
For many years we in this nation used to pride ourselves on having one of the highest levels of home ownership in the world. It was something that every young couple or every young person could look forward to—leaving school, getting a job, getting an apprenticeship or going to university and knowing that, very soon, they would be able to save a little bit of money, put it down as a deposit and buy a house. That was every Australian's dream. It wasn't that long ago when most Australians could do that. As I said, we had one of the highest levels of home ownership in the world, which shows what a great nation we are, what a great lifestyle we have—and the way that this country has been run, by governments of all persuasions.
Unfortunately, the last few years have seen a massive increase in homelessness and the inability of people to buy their first home. That's not surprising when you look at the gap that's starting to grow, and which is increasingly growing, between the haves and the have-nots. It's very sad that, in a country like Australia, we're seeing at present approximately 105,000 people around the nation who are doing it tough and sleeping rough and who are unable to say that they have the right to a house. As members of parliament and as human beings, we should be doing all that we can to assist those people.
Homelessness is a significant indicator of disadvantage in a community. In Australia, as I said, in a rather wealthy country when we compare ourselves to other nations around the world, it's not acceptable, and it shouldn't be acceptable to us in this place that we have so many people who are homeless. As I said, there are 105,000 people who are homeless. What is very sad is that out of those 105,000 there are 17,000 children who, through no fault of their own, are homeless. We know that to give a child a good foundation in life the first thing you can do is give them some regularity in their life in a place where they feel safe. As I said, it's a combination of events that have led these people to such a situation, and in most cases it is not their choice.
The rate of homelessness is approximately 49 persons for every 10,000 people, or one person for every 200 people. One person in every 200 people is homeless. Also, 42 per cent of the homeless population, nearly half, are people under the age of 25, and 25 per cent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders—a quarter of that population. We know that homelessness is a very complex issue. Each person has a story to tell, and most of the time it is not their own fault that they are homeless. But it's nothing significant to list these horrific statistics on such an issue, as these statistics do not truly illustrate the cycle of adversity.
As a nation we must move away from the view that all of those who are homeless sleep rough on the streets. The first image you get of a homelessness person is someone sleeping on a footpath or in a park, but there can be many other types of homelessness. It can be a severely overcrowded dwelling, where, for necessity, you are living with a whole group of people because you cannot afford to get your own place. It can be supported accommodation, where you are given some sort of assistance to live in a place out of an emergency or you are given a place which is to assist you for a short time. There are boarding houses. You might be living temporarily in other households or couch surfing. We hear of people who stay with friends and then move on, because they cannot afford to put the money together for a bond or for rent, or they cannot actually find a landlord who will give them a property because of their situation, for instance, if they are unemployed, have health issues or are disabled in some way or another.
We also need to recognise that one of the biggest factors of homelessness, one of the areas that makes a lot of people homeless, is domestic violence. Domestic violence and a lack of affordable housing are the two largest contributing factors to homelessness. We need to put more resources into domestic violence. As I said, another one of the largest factors of homelessness in Australia is a shortage of housing for people on low to moderate incomes. We are currently seeing the lowest wage growth in our history. Big multinationals and big businesses are growing in profits, yet wage growth remains at its lowest. This is a contributing factor, because if the price of housing, the price of goods, the price of energy, the price of food, the price of bills that you are paying are constantly going up and your wage is not, that will contribute in a big way to whether or not you pay your rent, you pay your mortgage, or you put a deposit together to buy a house. It's no surprise that on the other side we see a government that doesn't want to tackle penalty rates. In fact, they put up their hands to not support the opposition in ensuring that we give weekend workers their penalty rates. This is a government that doesn't want to deal with low-income earners through low wage growth but, at the same time, it wants to give away a $65 billion tax cut to the top end of town—a $65 billion tax cut—when we have over 100,000 people who are currently homeless.
We also have a government that is hell-bent on seeing housing as an asset, not an abode, not a place you live in, not a place that is your own, but as an asset. We give away millions of dollars of taxpayers' money towards negative gearing. As the member for Bruce said, it is not uncommon to see very wealthy people turn up at auctions as a pastime on Saturday mornings and bid just on the off-chance that they might get a bargain or buy their second, third or fourth property. We know that, out of all the homes that are currently being sold in the market, only one out of seven goes to a first home owner, leaving the other six to people who are buying their third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, 10th, 15th, 20th or 100th home, with a massive tax break for doing so. This pushes prices up on houses and makes it less affordable for those who are putting together a deposit and struggling to buy their first home for the family. As I said, it wasn't that long ago when we had the highest rate of home ownership in the world, and it is sad to see us spiralling downwards. This is a crisis. It is a shame that the government has overseen the lowest rate of home ownership in six decades. We have the lowest rate of home ownership in 60 years. As I said, one out of seven houses being sold every week is to a first home buyer—only one goes to a first home owner—and the other six go to someone who is buying maybe their 10th or 15th house, with a massive tax break of negative gearing to go with it.
The reality is that the government solution to housing affordability is one of two things, as we've heard previous Treasurers say in this place: get your rich parents to help you, if they can afford it, or get your rich mates to give you a job or whatever. This is just unacceptable. As I said, the reason for this is that on the other side a house is seen as an asset. On our side it's seen as a place to live. This is arrogance that, as I said, reduces the likelihood of young people and families in Australia ever owning their own home. That is very sad.
As I said, we shouldn't see houses as assets. Houses are a place for people to live, and we should be doing all that we can, through policies and through good forward thinking, to ensure that, first of all, we assist those who are homeless and are doing it really rough and, second, to ensure that people have the ability to get into the housing market.
It is because the government sees houses as assets that it remains incapable of addressing the issue and is leaving hundreds of families in housing distress. The ever-increasing cost of housing also increases the problem of rental affordability, and rents are far outpacing income growth. It's the policies of this government that are actively contributing towards this wage stagnation that we see at the moment, which is a contributing factor to everything from homelessness to problems with first home ownership. As I said, we see the government continually looking after the big end of town, continually giving the $65 billion tax breaks to those big multinationals—much of which will go overseas—and putting massive tax breaks into ownership of 10th homes et cetera, while someone struggling to get into the housing market will continue to struggle because of low income, low wages and other issues that are taking place.
On this side of the House, we know that something that will go a long way for housing is reforming negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount in order to put that dream of homeownership—a dream which all Australians had for many years but which is quickly disappearing—back in the reach of families and all Australians. We need reform.
The other issue that we had during the 2016 election was that one of the ways was the construction of new homes—approximately 55,000. This would also boost the employment of people, with 25,000 new jobs per year for every 55,000 homes that are built. This is one way that governments can actually pull the levers of the economy as well, by putting money into the housing sector. You're creating jobs at the same time you're alleviating the housing shortage.
Housing affordability has never been about people who are interested in buying a home either. More than one-third of housing occupants are renters. Often they're left out of the discussion of housing affordability, and their needs need to be considered as well. If we compare it to a decade ago, renting now is much more unaffordable, for the reasons that I gave earlier, including the lowest wage growth in our history. The associated rental stress of spending more than 30 per cent of household income on rent is taking its toll on individuals. If you're earning approximately $650 a week and you're spending 30 per cent on rent—which would be a priority, one of the first things that you put money into—and then your bills, then your food and then other expenses, there's not much left to save to be able to buy your first home, if that is your dream. As I said, not that long ago that was a dream that the majority of Australians could achieve. More than half—53 per cent—of low-income households that are renting privately are experiencing rental stress. These are families that can't afford their rent.
These are all contributing factors to homelessness. Low-income earners often find themselves priced out of the housing market, as precious few properties are considered affordable. As I said, the fact that this government gives massive tax breaks to those who are buying their 20th or 30th house contributes to that.
The other area that I wanted to talk about in the last few minutes that I have is domestic violence. As I said, it's one of the biggest contributors to homelessness. Family members escaping violence is a dreadful thing, and many people have no chance to plan and save money to go into a different housing opportunity where they are safe. Usually these things happen very quickly, and you often find families—mums with kids—homeless overnight. We know that domestic violence is a massive issue here in Australia. There have been investigations and reports about the links between homelessness and domestic violence, and it's been found that 36 per cent of people who accessed homelessness services had done so because of an existing situation of domestic violence at home.
If this government wants to commit itself to doing something about homelessness, one of the first commitments they can make is to ensure that they have a housing minister. Such a minister currently does not exist.