House debates

Thursday, 15 February 2024


Help to Buy Bill 2023, Help to Buy (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2023; Second Reading

11:03 am

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

With this bill, the Help to Buy Bill 2023, we have a good opportunity to do a bit of a stocktake of where housing policy sits in Australia at present and to give an explanation as to why the coalition, consistent with our position before the election, will be opposing this bill. Here we've got a promise that was taken to the 2022 election by the Labor Party. It was promised that this shared equity scheme would commence on 1 January 2023. We're now into February 2024, and this bill is just arriving in the House.

The first point to make here is: what on earth has the housing minister been doing? What on earth has this government been doing in being so slow and in breaching an election commitment? That's another broken promise from this government, who said they'd have this scheme up and running by 1 January 2023. In order to have a scheme like this in operation by 1 January 2023, they really needed to have introduced this bill into the parliament in late 2022. It was nearly 18 months before this thing even ended up in the House. Australians around the country are within their right to say to a minister like the housing minister, 'You get paid very handsomely to do some work, and you're given responsibilities to actually deliver on your commitments.' The fact that this is just arriving in the House more than a year after it should have commenced is an absolute indictment on this minister and is yet another reason why the Prime Minister needs to move this housing minister on.

In this country right now, we have housing approvals and builds at record lows, and homebuyers are at their lowest levels since the Gillard government. We've got rents skyrocketing, vacancy rates at record lows and record migration. At a time when fewer homes are being built and being approved and it's tougher to find a rental, you're dealing with rental increases, and you've got record migration. There were more than 520,000 migrants last year alone. That's an absolute world record in migration. We have absolutely nothing from the government on housing. What do we get? Eighteen months late, we get this pitiful offering here. In addition to a bill that I spoke about earlier this week in relation to vacancy fees, this is the sort of stuff you do when you want to be seen to be doing something, but you're doing nothing at all.

Let's be clear. This so-called Help to Buy scheme is a vanilla shared-equity product, where the government owns, in this case, up to 40 per cent of a home. There are shared-equity products offered by state governments throughout this country. If somebody in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or Western Australia wants to co-own a home with a government, there are already plenty of opportunities for them to do so. The South Australian scheme is a useful example of the point I'm about to make. There are more places than people wanting to take them. There are available places because people don't want these. People don't want to co-own a home with a government, so what did the geniuses on the other side do? They thought, 'Let's bring in our own shared-equity scheme, even though there's one operating in most states in this country and even though there are available places under the existing ones throughout this country.' It's clearly something you do when you want to be seen to be addressing the absolute housing crisis in the country, but you've got no idea on what to actually do. You'd think that, if you were 18 months late in bringing forward legislation like this—if your homework was 18 months late—you'd be looking at something that was in perfect condition and perfect order, with dotted Is, crossed Ts, every single question answered and every single eventuality considered. But what have we got here? This is the most half-hearted offering in a bill that I have seen in a very long time, and I'll explain why. Again, you'd think that every single question would be answered. You'd think, whether you were the opposition or the Greens political party asking question of the government, that, if they were 18 months late, that means they were really working on all the detail.

Here we've got a shell of a bill and we've got a range of things that are not answered. And I'm not talking about minor details around the edges, I'm talking about the following things, and I'm talking, in some respects, to the Australians in the gallery right now. These are not technical questions, but these are the questions that this bill does not answer, believe it or not, after being 18 months late. What are the scheme's eligibility criteria? Who is eligible to apply? Now, you'd think the bill would want to make that pretty clear. You'd think the bill would want to tell Australians, 'This is who is eligible to apply for this scheme.'

Now, I assume that you've got to be a first home buyer. That's an assumption I'd make; it's an assumption I have to make. What happens if you make improvements to your home? Let's just go back to what a shared equity product is. The government owns a portion of your home. The Prime Minister's sitting at your kitchen table because he owns 40 per cent of your home. What happens if you've got a $5,000 repair to the roof? The roof's leaking. We've all been there. A big storm comes through and you think, 'Oh, damn, I've got a leak in the roof.' Who picks up the tab for that? Well, there's no answers in this bill.

If the government owns 40 per cent of your home, shouldn't they pick up 40 per cent of the bill? If you've got to go to Bunnings and spend $300 on paint and wood because you've got to repair something, do you send an invoice to the government and say, 'You own 40 per cent of my house therefore you've got to pick up 40 per cent of the Bunnings bill I've just paid.' We don't have any answers to those questions.

We were told, during the election, there would be income caps for eligibility. We were told that it would mirror some of the income caps in other legislative schemes. So we assume that this scheme will apply to people who earn up to $90,000 a year, for example, or for couples who earn up to $120,000 a year. A question that we have repeatedly put to the government is what happens if you've got two people—they earn $120,000 a year; $60,000 each—who enter into one of these shared equity products with the government and one or both of them get a pay rise? You come home, you're very happy: 'I've just been given a pay rise. I've gone from $60,000 to $65,000.' All of a sudden, they're over the $120,000 cap of the eligibility criteria. We keep asking the government will they then cease to be eligible for this scheme and will you pull the rug out from under them? Will you sell the home from under them, the 40 per cent that you own as a government?

You'd expect the government would say: 'Absolutely not. We've worked on the criteria. We're not going to do that to people.' Instead, the government says, 'We're going to look at that on a case-by-case basis.' So this should not be called the Help to Buy Scheme, it should be called the 'forced to sell scheme'. That's what it's going to be. This is going to end up in a position whereby if you get a pay rise—you're on a modest income but you get a pay rise and you're feeling happy about that, as you should—then the government can say, 'We want our 40 per cent, thank you very much.' Now you can understand why these schemes in each of the states has available places: people do not want to have the rug pulled from underneath them by a government, particularly one that says: 'Trust us. We'll deal with it on a case-by-case basis.'

I think Australians entering into something like this would say: 'No, we'd like that in black and white, thank you very much. We'd like an assurance that you're not going to sell it from underneath us, and an assurance that if I have to spend money on our home that we jointly own with you as the government, that you're going to pick up the tab.' Let's assume that everything goes really well. You end up buying a home with the government. You own 60 per cent; the government owns 40 per cent. You have wonderful news in your life: you're expecting a child, or you may be expecting your second or your third. You need to upgrade. You need to move home. The government, when you sell, will say: 'Thank you very much, we'll want our money back. We'll take our money back, thank you very much.' Good luck upgrading, because you've just had that 40 per cent ripped out of the proceeds of that home. There's no way you're upgrading to the next home if you enter into one of these agreements with the government. So you could be forced to sell, you could have the money taken off you and your opportunity to move into a next home will be next to nothing. You can understand why these things are not wanted by Australians at the moment.

There are available places in shared equity schemes around our country, so what did the geniuses opposite us think? 'Let's set up our own one of these at a cost to taxpayers of $5.5 billion.' The additional borrowing of the Commonwealth to fund this program is $5.5 billion. We say there are infinitely better ways of spending $5.5 billion than making people enter into these very dubious arrangements, that are very small and that many Australians don't want.

Further questions that aren't answered in this bill—a bill that's 18 months late, homework that's 18 months late—include will the ATO be auditing people's incomes? If you've got income thresholds, will the ATO be auditing you each year to determine whether they're going to pull the rug from underneath you and sell the house? 'Sorry, you earned a dollar more than the threshold, so call the real estate agent. You've got to sell.' We don't have answers for that. What are the reporting obligations?

What happens if you fall behind in your mortgage payments? We've seen, increasingly, families and people dealing with the crippling interest rate rises delivered to us by this Labor government. An average Australian family with a mortgage is paying $24,000 more, thanks to this Labor government. That's $24,000 after tax. You've got to earn a lot of money in order to be making those payments. Many people and families are struggling under those increased mortgage payments, so what happens if you fall behind in your payments? Is that when the government comes along and rips the rug from underneath you and says: 'Thank you very much. We've really enjoyed this. Now it's time for you to sell, and we'll take our 40 per cent back, thank you very much.' You'd think that the answers to that would be in this bill. You'd think the Minister for Housing would have done some work for 18 months and given people some answers. We don't have those answers in the bill.

What are the property price caps? Not only are there income caps but there are property price caps. What are they? How can the government not outline in this bill what the property price caps are? Let's just say you're one of those people—and there aren't many around this country—who wants to own a home with the government. What if you are and you're watching today and you think: 'I want to get a sense of whether I'm eligible. I don't know what the income caps are, so I'm a bit in limbo there. I don't even know what the property price caps are in this bill.'

What on earth are we voting on? What's the point of having this shell of a bill in front of us? The housing minister is sitting in a foetal position in her office with absolutely no idea of what to do with the housing crisis that is befalling this country. No answers, no idea. They want us to come in here and support the bill and to support this scheme—a blank cheque for $5½ billion—so the government can force people to sell homes.

What lenders are participating in the scheme? We've got no idea. Who are the lenders? Who do I go and borrow from? Are there going to be restrictions on who I can borrow from, in conjunction with owning a home with a government. None of these questions are answered.

If I was a prospective buyer, I would draw a couple of conclusions. These questions are not answered in the bill because (a) the government doesn't know what the answers are, which is very possible, or (b) they don't want you to know what the answers are because if you knew what the answers were you would never do this. 'We're not going to sell from underneath you,' the government says, 'but we'll look at it on a case-by-case basis. Trust us. If you get a pay rise next week and you're no longer eligible under the income caps, we promise you we're not going to sell your home from underneath you.' This is not help to buy; this is going to be forced to sell. That's the truth. This will be a forced-to-sell scheme.

The bigger concern here is this: this is the government waving the white flag on home ownership in this country. In 20 months of a Labor government, we have seen nothing on first home buyers. This is the first salvo. The only thing the government can do is talk about the highly successful coalition government programs that are still helping first home buyers such as the Home Guarantee Scheme, which enables people to buy a home with a five per cent deposit or single parents with a two per cent deposit, which I put in place as minister, which we took to the 2019 election.

To put it into some context—I don't want to just do a victory lap but I will—I delivered that Home Guarantee Scheme on 1 January 2020, just a little more than six months after the 2019 election. So I know what it takes to take an election commitment and to have a functioning scheme six months later. On 1 January 2020, our Home Guarantee Scheme started. It started off with Kristina Keneally from the Labor Party criticising the program when we first announced it to now it supporting one in three first home buyers. One in three first home buyers now utilise the coalition's Home Guarantee Scheme. Now, credit to the government, they have welcomed that life raft that we have given them because it's the only thing helping first home buyers now. So they didn't come in and repeal the scheme, which many people wondered if they would. But even they saw how wonderful that coalition policy was and how it's making a tang able difference in people's lives.

The first Home Super Saver Scheme enables people to increase their savings rate through super. The member for McMahon, when I first introduced it as Assistant Minister to the Treasurer in 2017, bucketed the first Home Super Saver Scheme and said, 'We'll repeal it in government.' Well, again, credit to the government, they haven't repealed it. They saw the light. They saw that another landmark coalition policy was tangibly helping people get into their first home.

They should also see the light on the policy we took to the last election to enable first home buyers access to their own superannuation to help them fund a deposit for their first home. Our policy which we took to the election said that if you're a first home buyer you can withdraw up to $50,000 of your own super, use that to contribute a deposit to own a home and then, when you sell the first home, which on average is seven years later in Australia—most people hold their first home in Australia on average for seven years—you're required to recontribute back into your super. So your money's worked for you for the time you needed it when you needed that deposit and then, when you sell the home and move into your next one, you recontribute it to the super, so you're retirement income is protected. You have your money working for you.

The Labor Party could never support that because the industry super funds tell the Labor Party what to do. I say to the members opposite: why be here if you can't exercise any of your own judgement, if you just have to do what the unions tell you? You're just a vessel for the unions. You might agree with them on a lot of things but surely there are times when they tell you to do something you don't agree with and, like a lemming, you walk off the cliff and go with them. That's clearly a policy where they've done that. How anyone could argue against first home buyers utilising their own super to help buy their own home and then requiring them to recontribute it at the end is a bad thing for first home buyers is beyond me. But this is all broader context in which this bill falls, because we have legacy coalition policies that are helping first home buyers, but in 20 months we have seen nothing from this government.

My message to the housing minister and to the government is: as good as the policies are that you've inherited, when you're a minister you have to deal with the issues of the day. You have to deal with the problems that come across your desk. I say with some jest but cloaked in seriousness that the minister is sitting in her office in the foetal position with absolutely no idea on what to do while the entire housing market is crumbling around her. Approvals are down. New home builds are down. First home buyers are at their lowest levels since the Gillard government. Rents are skyrocketing. As for vacancy rates, trying to find a rental is extraordinarily tough. Our ability to build homes is being weakened by the day because we have insolvency after insolvency in the sector. And what do we get from the government? We get this pitiful shell of a bill with no answers to the questions in front of us. It's not good enough.

As I began with, the minister is handsomely remunerated to do things, to actually do some work. I know schoolteachers around the place who, if homework were handed in 18 months late and looking like this, would be disgusted. What are the eligibility criteria? How much can the home I'm allowed to buy be worth? How do we deal with improvements to the property? Come on, government, you own 40 per cent of it; are you going to pick up the tab for some of it? I think we know, because of the silence in the bill, that the answer is: 'We'll own 40 per cent of it, but all the risk is yours. We'll own 40 per cent of it, and, if you get a pay rise or promotion at work, we could come in the next day, on a case-by-case basis, and force you to sell.'


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