Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
I'm pleased to speak today to support the motion of the member for Higgins. Housing should be regarded as a basic human right. But in Australia successive governments have seen housing primarily as a means towards accumulation of wealth. Both the ALP and the LNP have historically demonstrated a bias towards house price speculating investors, neglecting the needs of householders who rent and people who want to purchase the home in which they wish to live. As a result, we have some of the most expensive housing in the world.
Expensive housing, high interest rates and soaring business costs have combined to delay when our young people can partner with others. Some report that, because of the cost of housing, they are now deferring having their first child or choosing not to have children at all. The Australian capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth—rank in the least affordable urban areas in the world. Our household debt to disposable income ratio is over 200 per cent. Banks have changed most of our mortgages from 25 years to 30 years, but we've still basically priced young people out of the housing market.
Before COVID, Australia had about 400 homes per 1,000 people. This was one of the lowest supplies of housing stock in the developed world. During the pandemic, the number of people per household fell sharply as people fled share houses; those working from home wanted those extra bedrooms to become offices; and the pressure of lockdowns contributed to the divorce rate jumping to a decade high. Many people continue to work from home.
Oxford Economics estimates that Australia currently has a housing gap of more than 750,000 homes. The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation's recent State of the nation's housing 2022-23 report estimated that the gap between the number of new households and additional housing supply will be more than 106,000 over the next four years. Houses currently can't be built fast enough to supply demand.
Since the 1970s, Australia has consistently completed construction of between 22,000 and 29,000 homes every quarter. That actually hasn't changed over time. We just don't seem to be able to build more quickly than we are now—but we must. We also need to remove some of the constraints around building more homes in established suburbs to address chronic shortages and to allow people to live close to where they work.
We know that the rental market is very difficult. The lack of rental accommodation is profound. The number of available rentals has been at historical lows for some time now, and, in many capital cities, the vacancy rate sits below one per cent. Cost-of-living constraints are creating an enormous burden on renters. There is not enough housing to go around. Rents have nearly doubled since 1994, roughly in line with inflation, and are now rising as much as 15 per cent a year. More than half of all low-income renters are facing rent stress and half of all retirees who rent are living in poverty. In my own electorate of Kooyong, reputedly a wealthy electorate, one-third of renters and one in five mortgage holders are in financial stress.
The Albanese government lifted the maximum rate of Commonwealth rent assistance by 15 per cent in May 2023. This increase was only $16 a week. It no doubt helped the 1.3 million concession card holders who received it, but it was disappointing that the Treasurer did not act on the recommendation of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee to increase the CRA in line with rents actually paid rather than the consumer price index.
We need long-term planning and government ownership of this wicked problem. The provision of more social and affordable housing will reduce homelessness. It will improve productivity, increase economic growth and drive better health and income equality outcomes. We need our federal, state and local governments to work together on this most important of issues. I will continue to push this government to accelerate the supply of social and affordable housing and to provide meaningful financial support for renters and mortgage holders.