House debates

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017; Second Reading

1:04 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too want to make a contribution on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. This bill is another example of the government's inaction when it comes to housing affordability. I happen to represent a very colourful, very vibrant area. It is one of the most multicultural areas in Australia and there is much to be proud of there. But it is certainly not a rich community. In Western Sydney, in my community of Fowler, housing affordability is one of the most dominant issues. Mums and dads work hard to put their kids through school. They talk to me about education and the importance of health. But they're also very worried about what will happen for their children when they leave home. A consequence is that many kids aren't leaving home at the moment—a great strain on the modern family—and I suppose that's apparent to most members here. The home ownership rate at the moment is at a 60-year low. We have people unable to get into the market in the first place. This is not just young people. This is people from various backgrounds, many of whom I represent, who can't afford repayments, let alone actually trying to get together enough funds for a deposit for housing in my community—and, as I say, mine is not a rich community.

We need to have a comprehensive housing plan, not a one-size-fits-all plan, not a bandaid here and a couple of adjustments there. We need to move in a way that has a clear impact on housing affordability. When the previous member for North Sydney, Joe Hockey, on departing this place, gave his valedictory speech, he spoke about the need to review negative gearing and capital gains tax—what Labor is trying to do, oddly enough. As the then Treasurer, he said this was well overdue. By the way, this view was echoed by the then head of the Reserve Bank.

These are matters that will make a difference. But, clearly, those on the other side have no stomach when it comes to actually addressing those real issues. Housing affordability is going to be a critical issue for all of us—I assume that most on the other side are impacted by this too—and that's why we are not going to oppose this bill. But that's not to say that this bill is all that's needed to address the issues in the market. Simply put, if this bill doesn't pass, the homelessness support that is dependent on this bill would be put in serious jeopardy.

We have just heard the member for Chifley speaking about homelessness in Western Sydney, and I certainly know the level of homelessness in my electorate in Western Sydney. It's not necessarily just the people you see that might be sleeping rough or under bridges. There are people who are couch surfing or sleeping in cars, and they are finding it very difficult to make ends meet—and not just for themselves; the really regrettable aspect is that it involves their kids as well. These things are not hypothetical; they're occurring on our watch.

It is all well and good to give $65 billion to big business if you can afford to, but there are some real issues that we should be addressing. This government is putting all its hopes in the trickle-down theory of economics. They are still maintaining their belief in this theory even though, while average company profits last year were 20 per cent, wages rose by only 1.9 per cent, barely keeping pace with inflation—for those lucky enough to have a job. There are many out there who cannot get employment. We need to do more to generate employment and we need to generate employment closer to where people seek to live. Hence, the issue of Western Sydney and the development of Badgerys Creek airport is, hopefully, going to be one of those generators of employment opportunity for many people in the west. If it's not, I think we're all in dire straits out there.

This is not just about providing affordable and secure opportunities for people to buy into the housing market. The idea of having secure housing is essential for the social, financial and emotional wellbeing of people. People come to me on a regular basis—and I imagine it would be the same for many members here—thinking, 'You're a member of parliament; you can do lots of things.' I get asked regularly, 'Can you help us into housing?' I hear all the difficult stories we have out there: people who are trying to get their kids to school but who can't secure housing; people who have temporary housing but then have to move and, as a consequence, have to take their kids out of one school and try to get them into another school. It means social dislocation for families that are doing it tough.

Quite frankly, too many people are feeling these pressures, and it is getting worse. In our own case, my daughter and her family live with us. I know that, for the sake of his family, we helped my son get into his place. I hate to give some credit to the leader of the government for saying that children need parents with some substance—or, as he said, rich parents—to help them into properties. Certainly, we did put our house on the line to help my kids secure a place in the housing market. But this is not the way it's supposed to work. We're supposed to be able to assist people, particularly people in need.

As I started off by saying, mine is not a rich area. I certainly have an area that is heavily dependent on welfare assistance. There is another issue that I'm even more worried about. More than 50 per cent of the police work in my area is associated with domestic violence. Only this morning I was talking to Bonnie Support Services, which provide immediate assistance for women and children who are subject to domestic violence. They said that one of their basic issues is their need for access to crisis accommodation. Many of the public housing providers are withdrawing houses from the market. They simply are not in a position to refer women to crisis accommodation, because of the lack of affordable accommodation. These are issues that certainly are not theoretical. These are issues that need to be addressed, and addressed now. I hope those opposite can understand why we take umbrage at the fact that they want to trot out a signature policy of giving massive tax cuts to big business and multinationals whilst we still have such pockets of need in our respective communities. I believe that this is repugnant to any modern-thinking person who actually believes in community and the wellbeing of community.

This bill, in effect, seeks to repeal the current national specific purpose payments for housing services and replace them with a new funding arrangement under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent upon their being a party to the primary, supplementary and designated housing arrangements. Whilst we agree that there is a greater need for accountability and transparency in this space in respect of all expenditure of Commonwealth funds, particularly in relation to the Commonwealth housing assistance payment, this bill, quite frankly, just does not adequately address the need. I know the minister at the table, when he addressed Sky News and spoke about the agreement, told us that the housing package would be extraordinarily large and would be far-reaching. He said it would be an impressive package and would be a well-received package. Well, I hate to burst his bubble on that, but it has not been quite as well received as he might have thought.

I note that John Daley, the Chief Executive of the Grattan Institute and someone I regard as an expert in the field of housing, said, 'You'll need a scanning electron microscope to see an impact on prices,' and that you won't see a discernible difference in the numbers of young people who buy houses. Like him, we are not impressed. I also would like to refer to the comments that were made by Richard Holden, a professor of economics at the University of New South Wales. He said that the biggest disappointment in the budget was 'the absence of any measures whatsoever to address negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions for rental properties'. This simply makes it a pointless exercise. As I said, for the reasons that I've advanced, we will not be opposing the bill, but clearly more needs to be done in this space.

I don't want to hark back to things of two weeks ago, but we had a Deputy Prime Minister who wanted to give gratuitous advice to people living in Sydney and Melbourne who might be affected by housing affordability. He came up with a very simple solution: why don't you sell up and move to Armidale? I don't think he meant they'd get the same deal in Armidale as he got, but that was his solution. Maybe he had his mind on other things, but one of the things he forgot was that it's not just the people who own a place who want to improve and buy a more expensive place or who are struggling with repayments; we are talking about people just getting into the market, first home buyers. There are also people who need socially assisted accommodation. The people at that end of the market are in particular need of assistance. Having said that, Labor will support the bill. But I simply indicate that much more work is needed to be done in this space.


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