Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Matters of Public Importance
I thank the member for Denison for this matter of public importance. I'll touch on some of the specific points that he has raised in relation to the government's strategy, but I would encourage the member for Denison, if he is indeed interested in this issue, to perhaps come and see me and speak to me about some of the measures the government has undertaken, because a range of the issues that the honourable member has raised are actually things that have been addressed either in last year's budget or in this year's budget.
Firstly, the government's very strong view and consistent with our values is that secure, stable, affordable housing is one of the most important things for Australians. It's not just about having a roof over your head. We know, through all of the evidence, that, if you have secure housing, if you are, indeed, fortunate enough to own a home, the benefits that it has for your life, your family and your health, even, are quite significant. That's why, in the 2017-18 budget, I think it's fair to say that this government, the Turnbull government, took the most unprecedented steps into the housing market of any federal government in history, and that work has been led by the Treasurer, and that work continues to this day in bedding down a range of the measures, which I'll take the honourable member through. That was further supported by additional measures that we took this year in the 2018-19 budget, because, as the Treasurer and I promised in 2017-18, housing under a Turnbull government will be a permanent feature of our budgets. It's an issue close to our hearts and it will be an issue that we address in every single budget.
Let me take you through some of the specific measures from the 2017-18 budget and how they are progressing. Firstly, we've engaged in negotiations with the states and territories, and the honourable member speaks about working collegiately with the states and territories to reform our National Affordable Housing Agreement. When we came into office, the Commonwealth was spending $1.3 billion a year in payments to the states through the National Affordable Housing Agreement. Notwithstanding those payments, which amounted to about $9 billion, we saw, on almost every measure, those KPIs go backwards—whether it was the amount of public or social housing stock or whether it was the quality of that public or social housing stock. Clearly, there were issues with that spend. So, we committed to reforming the National Affordable Housing Agreement, and through that process it's now become the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
One of the key matters that we sought to address in changing that agreement goes to a couple of the points that the member for Denison raised. Firstly, the MPI talks about a housing strategy. One of the conditions of the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which the Northern Territory has recently signed up to, and we are very thankful for that, is that every state and territory have a housing strategy. It might be a surprise to some members in the House, but not every jurisdiction in this country even had a housing strategy to start with. So, in making that request, I note that some jurisdictions have been a little tentative—that's probably a diplomatic way of putting it—in agreeing to a housing strategy, but I think we've got them all over the line and they've agreed to at least have a housing strategy themselves.
Why is that very important, Member for Denison? It's important because, as you rightly point out, the issues that you're facing now in Tasmania—and that you've referred to specifically for Hobart—will be, in many respects, unique. Many of the issues that were issues in my electorate, and continue to be issues in my electorate in outer suburban Melbourne, particularly for first home buyers, were similar issues to those being faced in much of Sydney. Those issues were different to the issues that people were facing in regional Queensland, in Western Australia or in South Australia, for that matter. So, having every jurisdiction have its own housing strategy, we felt, was very important. That's one aspect of the reformed National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
We have worked very collegiately with the states and territories to do that. We've also asked the states and territories for much better data: what is the money being spent on, and how could we assure that that money is, in the end, doing what you've also pointed to, Member for Denison, which is to get more social and public housing dwellings on the ground? Because we saw, after eight years of the National Affordable Housing Agreement and $9 billion of additional funding from the Commonwealth, that on every measure, whether it was public or social housing, the number of dwellings went backwards and the quality of the dwellings went backwards as well. So, that reform is something that we have been very proud of.
In exchange for some of the effort we're asking from states and territories now in developing those strategies and giving us real-time data, Treasurer Morrison announced that for the first time we would permanently index homelessness funding. An additional $620 million was provided in the 2017-18 budget—matched, I might add, by the states and territories—and for the first time ever it's guaranteed and it's indexed. The issue for a lot of homelessness providers in the past has been that the sword of Damocles hung over their head: would the agreement be extended and would funding be extended? No longer—that funding is now guaranteed. And not only is it guaranteed, it's indexed. Notwithstanding many of the issues we had with the Affordable Housing Agreement, it was clear to us that the homelessness providers were doing an exceptional job.
A second aspect of the housing package was the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation. This is a government body that will, essentially, fulfil two functions. Firstly, it will administer the $1 billion infrastructure facility. The sole purpose of this $1 billion infrastructure facility, which is represented by $825 million in concessional loans and $175 million in grants, will be to help projects get over the line to get more houses and more dwellings into the market. Because, in the end, one of the issues that we found, particularly in the top of the markets in Sydney and Melbourne, was the inability of the market to respond quickly and get new dwellings into the market. What is the job of the infrastructure facility? It's not there to gold-plate projects that were going ahead already; the infrastructure facility will be there with an additionality principle, meaning that it will commit either a concessional loan or a grant only to help get over the line a project that otherwise wouldn't happen. If the member for Denison comes to see me, I can give him many examples of proposals that we are very confident will be put before the National Housing and Finance Investment Corporation on 1 July that require just a little bit of government investment to help all of a sudden unlock in some cases thousands of new dwellings, including affordable housing.
The second aspect of the Housing Finance and Investment Corporation which commences on 1 July is the bond aggregator. The bond aggregator is there to help funnel low-interest loans to community housing providers. Community housing providers were very pleased last year when I announced that it would be backed by a full government guarantee, which means that community housing providers, instead of having to go out and source their own loans in a credit-constrained environment, will now be able to get the lowest rate of interest possible and, in an aggregated fashion, access even more money to help them fund additional projects. The community housing providers sit on large assets. How can we make those balance sheets work for the community housing providers? If we do that, we get more affordable housing and social housing into the market.
Two other aspects of the government's housing affordability plan have been the first home super saver scheme, a tax cut to encourage first-home buyers to save through concessional contributions in superannuation rather than through their bank account. They get a huge tax cut on the way through, and they also get additional earnings in their super fund. The only condition is that money has to be used to buy a house. It's $15,000 a year to a maximum of $30,000, or $60,000 for a couple, which we know will accelerate the saving rate for first-home buyers by about 30 per cent, because one of the issues for first home buyers is that, as they're saving, the market has kept rising. Finally, our downsizing policy allows those who are downsizing from a family home to contribute up to $300,000 per person, $600,000 for a couple, into their superannuation if that's the proceeds of downsizing, because we don't want those people living in big family homes; we want them to sell them. There are a range of measures, and I'd encourage the member for Denison to come see me. (Time expired)