House debates

Thursday, 15 February 2024


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

12:09 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

The member for Boothby could've just tabled a note. She could've just stood there and said, 'We're good and you're not,' and left it at that. But I want to rebut many of the points that she made—for a start, the point that she made about the very name of the bill we are debating: the Help to Buy Bill 2023. It's 2024. If it were that important, if it were that vital, if it were that essential, why wasn't this bill legislated last year? It's a good question. Why wasn't it? If getting people into homes and building those houses is so critical, why didn't Labor do this last year, 2023, when they obviously put the bill together? It's now 2024. As everything is with Labor, it's too little too late.

The member for Boothby went on and on about what Labor was doing and what we didn't do as a government. Let me remind the member for Boothby and others opposite and anyone caring to listen what the coalition did do, what we did stand for, what we did represent. We supported almost 60,000 first home buyers and single-parent families into homeownership through the Home Guarantee Scheme, which consists of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and the New Home Guarantee and Family Home Guarantee, which require a deposit of as little as five per cent or two per cent respectively. The coalition's Home Guarantee Scheme supported one in three first home buyers.

We protected the residential construction industry, with more than 137,000 HomeBuilder applications generating—wait for this—$120 billion of economic activity. That's billion with a B, member for Jagajaga. We provided $2.9 billion—again, another B, not an M—of low-cost loans to community housing providers to support 15,000 social and affordable dwellings, saving $470 million in interest payments, which was to be reinvested in more affordable housing. We unlocked 6,900 social, affordable and market dwellings through the coalition's $1 billion dollar infrastructure facility, making housing supply more responsive to the demand. We established a First Home Super Saver Scheme, helping 27,600 first home buyers accelerate their deposit savings through super. That's what we did. There was more, but we'll just leave it at that to counter the Member for Boothby's arguments that the coalition did nothing. It was a big package that we brought to government and to the people of Australia.

We are facing a housing crisis. It is so difficult for young people in particular to get into their first home. It used to be the great Australian dream. Under Labor, that reality is fast disappearing. Sadly and all too tragically, under Labor's watch many small businesses are going under and many—I could argue most—of those companies that are going under and closing their doors are construction companies. They are the builders of houses, and they're not small companies either. Clough Group, Probuild, Dyldam Developments, Snowdon Developments, AGB Group and Condev have been some of the larger construction companies to fold. One of the more recent casualties is Porter Davis Homes Group, which was once rated the 13th-largest builder in Australia. It alone put 1,700 projects in jeopardy across multiple states. This is from information provided by Craig Donaldson of UNSW in an article on 29 June 2023.

There's that year ago, 2023, when the Help to Buy Bill was concocted by those opposite. They didn't do anything about it. They didn't bring it to parliament or legislate it in 2023. We're now midway through February 2024 and they've just realised: 'Gee, we'd better do something about this. The Greens are on our backs. They're not going to give us their preferences. They're going to take our votes in those inner city electorates.' I do wish Labor well, because the very worst Labor member is always going to be better than the best Greens candidate; I get that.

But construction companies have been collapsing so regularly. There are a number of reasons why residential construction companies have been going bankrupt: COVID shutdowns—I appreciate it's a very difficult time—extended periods of inclement weather and chronic supply chain issues to cashed-up infrastructure companies competing for construction labour; first-home builder stimulus packages being wound back under Labor's watch; and the end of a prolonged cheap credit fuelled surge. The industry has been at the centre of, unfortunately, a perfect storm.

There are some interesting comments about why construction companies are going under. There have been very pertinent points made by people such as Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. She said that inflation and the federal government's proposed industrial relations changes—she said this in September last year, and we know that those IR changes are now legislation—are placing pressure on small construction companies. If the fear of the IR changes was very real and tangible in September 2023, imagine what the fear and the reality will be in February 2024. Denita Wawn, of course, was right then to worry and should be even more concerned now. She went on to say:

While interest rate rises are starting to show fruits with consumer spending, the most sustainable solution to the inflationary problem lies on the supply side, by bringing down the cost of doing business.

This requires issues like labour shortages, materials costs, and the regulatory burdens to be dealt with in a focused and urgent manner.

Urgent! That was September 2023. We're now discussing the Help to Buy Bill 2023 in mid-February 2024. It should have been done last year. If it's that important, why wasn't it done last year? Ms Wawn said:

We hope all levels of government pull out all stops to tackling the very real housing market challenges and to do their bit to reduce costs because we all know that a strong building industry underpins a strong economy.

And, of course, it is so true. That's why during COVID, when we were in government, we provided so much support, help, encouragement and initiatives to the construction sector—sparkies, plumbers, chippies and tradies—making sure that they had the very best support available.

Between July 2022 and April 2023, 1,709 construction companies across the country entered administration, according to data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission—July 2022 to April 2023, with Labor in power. It's on Labor's watch. It's on Labor's terms. This includes the likes of Porter Davis, as I mentioned before; ProBuild; Pivotal Homes; and, in the member for Boothby's state of South Australia, Quattro. It's not good enough. It's just not good enough. And you feel for those people who have entered a contract with a builder to build their dream home when, all of a sudden, the construction company goes under, and then they're faced with the prospect of: 'What do I do? I've invested my money. How do I get it back?' They have to go through that complete rigmarole of trying to fix up the mess that is left when a construction firm goes under.

The only housing policies delivering support to first-home buyers are the housing policies that Labor inherited from the former coalition government. The Albanese government has absolutely dragged its heels in introducing this legislation. They announced it many months ago. The government have already failed to deliver their Help to Buy scheme, but this is not so unusual, because Labor has failed on so many fronts. It was Help to Buy, a key election policy by Labor, but that was 2022. The title name of this policy includes '2023'. It's now 2024, and we won't see, until well into this year at the earliest, the sort of start that Labor's promising with this policy. Nine Network's Today show co-host Karl Stefanovic hit the nail on the head on 12 September 2023 in an interview with the Minister for Housing, the member for Franklin. He asked, 'You better get cracking. Six hundred homes a day for the next five years to make 1.2 million homes. You've got Buckley's, haven't you?' That was the question that he put to the Minister for Housing. She said, 'Obviously, we're not building all of the 1.2 million homes over the next five years by ourselves.' But 1.2 million homes, I wonder how many of those homes have been built, are being built, will be built? It will be a long way short of 1.2 million, particularly with so many construction companies going under, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis that people are enduring under Labor's watch.

I get that Labor has put through the low- and middle-income tax relief—their words, not mine—this morning, a broken promise, another election promise that wasn't delivered. The stage 3 tax cuts, they said were legislated. They said, 'Trust us. We're going to be accountable. We're going to be transparent.' They just keep breaking the faith. They just keep breaching promises with the Australian public.

Karl Stefanovic was right when he quizzed the Minister for Housing about what Labor was going to do, the funding that was going to be required, the delivery model that Labor was going to use. Again, I say this is such a crisis that we're under. I get that Labor's now trying to scramble because the Greens are out there making all sorts of noises in inner city seats that Labor wants to retain or win back. But in the midst of Labor's housing crisis, this underwhelming policy is too little, too late. They went to the election promising to put in place a shared equity scheme but failed to explain that the scheme needs state government approval to operate. This means Labor has made yet another promise it will fail to deliver.

It's all easy. Words are so easy. Promises are so easy. It's delivery that counts. It's delivery that matters. It's constructing homes at the rate that Labor said they were going to do that matters but it's impossible. And then, of course, speaking of state governments, we have a state Labor government in Victoria and they've been the government there for so many years—nine years—yet they're trying to shut down the timber industry, shut down the very products by which houses are made or part made.


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