Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Members of the government are keen to list the ways they're addressing the housing crisis across Australia, but I do want to put a spotlight on what is missing from this discussion on housing. That spotlight needs to go on housing in regional, rural and remote Australia.
I thank the member for Higgins. I know she cares about housing, but not once does this motion mention regional, rural or remote Australia—not once. Out of the billions of dollars of funding this government has announced, there is no dedicated, guaranteed funding for regional Australia. That includes the announcement today that the government and the Greens have agreed on a further $1 billion in immediate and direct spending in community housing through the NHIF. But, again, there is a complete blind spot when it comes to the regions.
This is despite one in three Australians living outside a major city and the housing crisis hitting hard in these areas just as much as in the major cities. In Wangaratta where I live, I see people living in caravans and tents along the river. One of these people I met—let's call him Richard—is a qualified chef. But, after mental health challenges and struggles with addiction and relationship breakdown, Richard lost his home and couldn't find anything affordable. He now lives in a tent. Sadly, all his tools of trade were recently stolen. Theoretically, Richard could walk into a job in just about any hospitality venue in north-east Victoria because they're screaming for chefs, but his housing situation has made that virtually completely impossible.
There are many more people like Richard, sleeping rough in tents or caravans. We know there are probably many more women who are experiencing homelessness now too, who are more likely to couch surf and stay with friends and family. Women over 55, as we know, are the fastest-growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness, and this includes women in rural, regional and remote areas. It's these men and women who drive me to keep fighting for a dedicated regional housing fund from this government. It's why today I introduced my private member's bill: the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment (Unlocking Regional Housing) Bill. This bill would allow the main government body that finances housing, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, or NHFIC, to specifically target an equitable portion of this funding at regional, rural and remote Australia. This bill also directs the NHFIC to proactively identify and support housing proponents to apply for the funding—proponents like local governments, who are often responsible, especially in regional, rural and remote areas, for funding the critical, enabling infrastructure that unlocks housing supply. But, with small ratepayer bases, regional councils often do not have the funds to deliver the poles and the power lines or the sewerage and the drainage on their own.
In Wangaratta, there's a perfect example of why my bill is needed and how it addresses these major factors in the regional housing crisis. Nestd, a not-for-profit social enterprise, are working with the Rural City of Wangaratta to deliver their vision of 200 safe, quality, energy efficient and beautiful houses for young people, pensioners and essential workers. This is the social and affordable housing this government talks about. But Nestd needs funding to clear the site, including asbestos removal. They also need to build water and sewerage infrastructure, and then get going with the building. They need funding for critical enabling infrastructure for the housing, and right now they're struggling to get funding from NHFIC. They say my bill would help open the door for them, so that Wangaratta, where homelessness has gone up a staggering 67 per cent since 2016, can get the social and affordable housing it desperately needs.
I met with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing about a need for a regional housing infrastructure fund, and they showed me they were starting to listen to me when they announced the $500 million Housing Support Program, which will offer payments for connecting essential services and providing amenities for new housing developments. But they only half listened, because this announcement had absolutely no guaranteed funding for the regions. As this government motions says, 'Safe and affordable housing is central to the security and dignity of all Australians.' I can only assume that the member includes regional, rural and remote Australians in this, because so far this government have utterly failed to explicitly mention us—regional Australians—in their myriad announcements.
This must change, and it must change now. We can't assume. We have to make sure. We have to make certain. We need to make the legislation explicit. I hope the next time the government lists all their housing programs, there's one with 'regional, rural and remote' in its title.