Thursday, 1 March 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I quite regularly have the privilege of standing here in the chamber and in the Federation Chamber to remind the House that I am the member for the fantastic electorate of Longman. Longman is the north side of Brisbane and the southern end of the Sunshine Coast. I quite often get on my feet to remind the House of that, because it is a real privilege to be elected the member to represent that area. I have lived in Longman for 30 years and had my children raised and go to school in that area for those years. Listening to the member for Dobell prior to me, she clearly is very proud of her electorate as well. Longman is truly a wonderful place, but there is one aspect that we can't be completely proud of. It is truly no fault at all of the good people who live there, including my family and friends and people that I've worked with. That is the high incidence of homelessness.
The 2011 census gave us an indication of around 300 people in Longman living without a home. The 2016 census still hasn't been released. My fear is that number hasn't reduced at all but, in fact, what we will find when it does get released is that that number's grown. That is of genuine concern. When we look at the average median personal weekly income in Longman, we're talking $580 week. That falls about $82 short of the national average weekly income. At the same time, our median rent is around $320 a week, which is only slightly less than the national average of $335. You can see there's a real disparity there.
As I said, I have been a local for nearly 30 years now, so I know the area quite well. I worked in the education system in the area. You get to meet lots of families that live in the area with you. So I've seen a fair share of people who live on the streets. As a teacher aide at Dakabin State School I saw my fair share of families being affected by homelessness. Having four sons that went to the local school, I've heard the story of their friends and their housing situations. You don't need to go too much further than Caboolture Community Action on a Tuesday or Saturday night to hear of the housing situations—not just of single people, but of families, families who quite often are employed but also may be underemployed. They are in situations where there's enough money to put fuel in the car to get to work, there's enough money to just pay the rent, but there's nothing else left.
In my whole working life, and now as a representative of the great people of Longman, I promised that I would stand up for vulnerable people in our community; vulnerable people that this government has simply forgotten. They are people living on the streets, or living just one unexpected bill away from losing their home, whether the car's broken down and needs to get fixed to get to work, whether you've had an unexpected medical bill and a couple of the children are unwell and need antibiotics. Just one bill can make or break whether you have got somewhere to live.
Everyone has a right to a safe and affordable place to live. I don't think anybody can deny that. That is why we need a strong and comprehensive piece of legislation to ensure that that happens—people have somewhere to live. We cannot afford and we cannot allow people to fall through the cracks. But, just as the case with many other portfolio areas, we have seen no comprehensive housing plan from this Turnbull government. For goodness sake; we've got driverless cars now. How can we have the situation where people do not have a roof over their heads in this day and age?
Just before the 2017-18 federal budget was announced we saw Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar teasing that the government's housing package would be an 'impressive package'. He also said it would be a 'well-received package'. Unfortunately on budget night what the Treasurer unveiled was not impressive—it was quite the contrary—and so, fittingly, it wasn't well received at all. Homelessness Australia said:
… the Budget fails to deliver the big-picture solutions needed to end homelessness.
They went on to say:
This budget is not fair, because it fails to fix a broken housing system that encourages investors to own more than one house while 105,000 have no home at all.
This bill seeks to legislate aspects of the NHHA, or the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which makes up a significant part of the Assistant Treasurer's very disappointing housing package. The bill combines the National Affordable Housing Agreement and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness into one single agreement. Under this agreement, a total of $4.6 billion over three years from 2018 to 2018 is provided.
Being such a very important piece of legislation, of course, this was referred to a Senate inquiry to collate submissions from individuals, organisations and peak bodies. It won't come as a surprise to many that a number of those organisations, individuals and peak bodies lambasted the government's plan—or, should I say, lack thereof. In its submission to the inquiry, the Council to Homeless Persons noted that, despite the policy responsibility that the government has, they have failed to deliver a plan and instead are shifting the blame 'to the states and territories for outcomes that are primarily driven by federal policy drivers'.
It has come to be quite expected for this coalition to attempt to shift blame. I think I'd personally be able to fund this agreement if I had a dollar for every time we've heard this government try to blame Labor for something. But, after five years in government, the government have learnt that pointing the finger at a prior administration is growing pretty stale. So we've seen the coalition adopt a new strategy, and that is throw their hands up in the air and attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility and ask the states and territories to clean up their mess. It's typical behaviour, but it is just not good enough. Throughout the inquiry a number of stakeholders explained very clearly that, to address housing affordability, there needs to be a joint effort at the Commonwealth, state and territory government levels. There needs to be true cooperation and not the shifting of blame that the coalition have adopted as, to be quite honest, their standard operating procedure.
The bill, as it has been drafted, represents a clear and unacceptable risk to ongoing housing assistance to the states and territories. It is worth noting that many of the submissions received during the inquiry expressed strong criticisms against the bill placing conditionality on payment of housing and homelessness assistance to the states and territories. In its submission, the Council to Homeless Persons noted:
Should funding to states and territories for housing and homelessness services be cut, the 394,000 Australian households who currently reside in social housing would be put at risk of homelessness, and services to the 288,000 Australians who access specialist homelessness support in a year would be reduced.
These organisations know this, and they know this from experience. They have felt the cuts before. In Queensland, we felt these cuts under the Newman LNP government. So we know exactly what these cuts feel like. And, federally, not all that long ago, $44 million was cut from the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness in the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-15 budget.
It is clear that Australia is facing a housing crisis, a crisis of supply, a crisis of suitability and a crisis of sustainability, so more needs to be done. This crisis has been going on for far too long. As Associate Professor Lisa Wood explained in her evidence to that inquiry, we now have third-generation homeless people in Australia. This is nothing short of heartbreaking. It's not just that this has become an intergenerational problem; it's a devastating cycle that plagues thousands of Australians. It's also a heartbreaking issue because, across the three generations I spoke of, not enough has been done for society's most vulnerable people.
Many homeless people have experienced trauma in their childhood; many of them live and suffer with mental health issues. It makes sense that we should be investing more in helping these vulnerable populations to—as Professor Lisa Wood noted—try and lift them up to anywhere near the standard the rest of us enjoy every day. Instead, what we're seeing is this government seeking to increase the inequality by increasing taxes for low- and middle-income earners while cutting taxes for millionaires and gifting $65 billion in handouts to big business.
Even this government's so-called housing affordability measure of allowing people to deposit extra money into their superannuation accounts to go towards purchasing a home actually further increases the divide rather than closes it. Not only does this measure completely undermine the superannuation system—the system that is there for support in retirement—it also completely avoids helping people who need it the most. If you're already struggling to pay the rent, if it's already a struggle to put food on the table then how can you be expected to skim some money from your pay cheque and contribute to this measure? How can you possibly be expected to find that money?
This government's reasoning for this measure just beggars belief. This measure only helps those who can afford it, not those who truly need it. And down the line, when people have chipped away at their superannuation to buy a home, what is going to happen then? We're going to be faced with another problem, aren't we? This package is a short-sighted solution to help only those who can afford it. In the simplest terms, this package is a complete sham. These measures fail the fairness test. It is, instead, just a grab bag of unrelated measures that will not address the key drivers of housing unaffordability that are within the Commonwealth's control.
To counter this government's inaction, Labor has a plan. Quite often I hear people asking me, 'Well, what's Labor's plan?' When I was campaigning during the federal election people kept asking me about what I would do about homelessness, and I committed and I continue to commit to having a consultative approach, to having a collaborative approach to dealing with the issues and the social issues we face. Labor's plan is to address housing unaffordability and homelessness within a broader context of inequality. Under a Shorten Labor government stronger reforms to negative gearing and capital gains concessions will be instated. We will limit future negative gearing concessions to new housing and reduce the capital gains tax discounts from 50 to 25 per cent. These changes will moderate the huge growth in house prices that we've seen under this current government, re-direct those generous tax concessions to where they are needed the most and see the greatest investment in new housing. This will put downward pressure on housing prices, making it easier for low-income earners to enter the housing market.
Importantly, Labor will reinstate a minister for housing and homelessness. The remit of the minister for housing and homelessness will be to coordinate all aspects of federal government housing policy and to strengthen Commonwealth policy in this area following the coalition's neglect over many years. No policy area is as important as this.
The minister, I will happily say, will not act alone. We will establish a national housing supply council that will act as an ongoing independent advisory body on boosting housing supply, and we will develop a national homelessness strategy at COAG. It is truly a significant and ambitious measure, but Labor will halve homelessness by 2025. That's our target. We expect to achieve it. It will be no mean feat, but it will be worth it, and we are committed to that. Labor takes housing and homelessness very, very seriously. People are struggling to get a roof over their head in this country.
So I'd say to the Prime Minister that this bill isn't enough. I believe it should be passed, but only because, should it fail, the homeless support that's dependent on this bill passing would be placed in serious jeopardy. So I will support its passing. I hope I get another opportunity to be up on my feet and to stand up for a similar bill in the very near future, to ensure we reach that target of dealing with homelessness and housing in this country.