Thursday, 1 March 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Here we are, nearly a year later, actively contemplating the establishment of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation announced in the budget last year. Housing affordability has been a massive issue for the last few years, as a result of Labor's advocacy about the need to tackle this issue directly, particularly in relation to matters that I will reflect upon later in my contribution to this debate. We've been saying for some time that this is a big issue that is putting pressure on low- and middle-income families in this country and needs to be tackled seriously.
The Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017, as I said, will finally, after all this time, effectively breathe life into an idea that was suddenly floated by the coalition in the early part of 2017, which was that they would provide for affordable housing bond aggregators, which would be administered through a National Housing Infrastructure Facility. It was intended that it would bring together lending requirements of different community housing providers and finance those requirements.
We support this because—surprise, surprise!—yet again in the housing affordability debate, where Labor has championed particular avenues for reform, it has been the coalition that has had to then come in and follow. We announced in April last year, for instance, that we would establish a bond aggregator to help increase investment in affordable housing. So you'd obviously expect, as a result of that, that we won't oppose the measures put in this bill—and we will not. We announced the aggregator because we recognised it would help people access cheaper finance for new affordable rental housing, which is very important.
The issue of affordable rental opportunities is one that's starting to emerge quite strongly. People are concerned, particularly in the part of the world that I come from, Western Sydney, about rental opportunities. Obviously, a lot of people are also concerned about buying their own homes, but having a roof over your head is absolutely critical. As the member for Wills reflected upon in his contributions to this debate, it's one of those threshold needs that people obviously have—the need to have a roof over their head and feel secure about the type of accommodation that they have.
While I've said that we will support this particular proposition being put forward by the government, we have expressed concerns about the extent to which the facility will contribute to increasing housing stock, particularly affordable housing, as opposed to just facilitating greenfield development of new owner-occupied housing or private market investment or retail housing. We've put that on the record, but we're happy to work with the government on that.
It is also important to note again that, while a bond aggregator is one step, we think that there needs to be significant reform to the taxation incentives that exist at the moment that may drive up the price of housing. We're not the only ones to say this. Last week, the International Monetary Fund released their latest article IV consultation with Australia, and it's noted in there that the IMF have endorsed, in effect, the opposition's policy on negative gearing and capital gains concession impacts on housing. The IMF believes that Commonwealth housing tax settings favour leveraged housing investments in upswings that might encourage excess demand for housing. This is what the IMF is pointing out. That's why we've been arguing for some time for reform of the taxation concessions that impact on housing demand. We believe that does need to be pursued. Pursuing these types of propositions that are being debated by the House will help in one part, but do you need to have a comprehensive view and a strong set of reform principles that we have been advocating for some time on housing affordability.
When it comes to housing affordability, particularly in the area of social housing, in my part of the world in Western Sydney, particularly around Mount Druitt, we have many tracts of land that were converted over 50 years ago to public housing. At that time public housing was pushed to the urban fringes, because—I don't think I'm the first to reflect on it like this—it was out of sight, out of mind for policymakers back in those times: if they just created those public housing estates with cheap access to land, and then not provide the social support mechanisms, that would be satisfactory. Clearly it wasn't, and it caused a lot of concern. One of the big issues I get through my office is still people's concerns about the quality of social housing. There have been some not-for-profit operators who have been able to leverage themselves and provide social housing and new stock, and they were boosted by some of Labor's commitments during the GFC, where we provided for an injection of funds to see more social housing created, to get people off extensive waiting lists and also, importantly, provide funds for maintenance, because in many instances people in social housing are waiting for ages to get simple things repaired through state government instrumentalities. It is intolerable that people are forced to live in some of the conditions I've seen in our area. It is a big issue. Finding more options for people on low and middle incomes is very important.
The whole issue of housing affordability is also a reflection of the way that cities are planned. Before he was vaulted to greatness, Philip Lowe, now the governor of the Reserve Bank, many years ago—nearly five years ago, off the top of my head—talked about the interconnectedness, the fact that transport infrastructure plays a vital role in housing affordability, because more often than not people move to the outer fringes of our cities attracted by the fact there's less competition for housing, but the reality is that all the services and all the infrastructure required is not there. So people have to make a big decision that says, 'If I'm going to buy a house, I have to move to the furthest part of the city to do so, and I'll have to put up with the fact the roads aren't there, the rail's not there, the hospitals aren't close by, the schools haven't been built, all the services and amenities required are pushed off to the never-never, and that's why it's more affordable.' That forces people to live for long periods without services they rightly would expect would be there earlier. Not right at the same time; there's an understandable pressure on state and local governments to provide certain services; but people would expect that those services would come in time.
I note the presence of the shadow minister here. He and I have discussed the issues in my part of the world, and he's visited in Sydney's west—areas where we have been talking about finding a new, more comprehensive way to get people movement improved in our part of Western Sydney and the outer suburbs. This will require longer term vision, backed up by a longer term commitment in terms of financing. In terms of public and private transport, right now there are bottlenecks that are driving people nuts. The long commute that people have from the west to the east, not just going from Sydney's west to the CBD, but anywhere nowadays, is a struggle. As I have said to the House previously, I have stood on railway station platforms in Sydney's west, seeing rows of people five deep. They will stand for over an hour in a packed train, going from one part of the city to another. It's not any better on our roads either. Congestion on our roads, particularly on motorways—they once used to be called freeways in Sydney—every minute you put a new motorway up, there's a toll bucket on it. This is a big issue for Western Sydney as well. Every time you want to put in a road that alleviates some of the congestion, they're hit with massive tolls, and people in our area are getting sick of that imposition as well. It is becoming intolerable.
I note that one of the self-appointed voices of western Sydney—there are a number of them—is David Borger. He's from the Western Sydney division of the Sydney Business Chamber. He managed to get a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, which I'm a big fan of. I do love The Sydney Morning Herald, though on occasion I refer to it as the 'Eastern Suburbs Herald', because of its focus on issues involving anything other than the other half of the city.