House debates

Thursday, 15 February 2024


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

1:08 pm

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Help to Buy Bill 2023. I've been fortunate to be in this chamber to hear my friend the member for Robertson, who spoke eloquently about the benefits of home ownership. I completely agree with the benefits he articulated. However, the member for Robertson has swallowed a bit of the Minister for Housing's Kool Aid on this. This Help to Buy Bill is not going to assist first home buyers into new homes. There are too many questions that have remained open and unanswered by the minister, and that is why this bill should not be supported.

Homeownership in our country is deeply embedded into the Australian psyche. It's referred to overwhelmingly as the great Australian dream. Australia's founders clearly believed that we should be a property-owning democracy. They did not come to this view because they were real estate agents or because property developers sponsored their meetings. They came to this view because they wanted Australia to be better than the United Kingdom. They wanted a society not divided by class. They wanted quality of opportunity for every Australian. And they knew that the line upon which division is most etched is the ownership of property.

Therefore, everyone needed to be given the chance to own the home in which they lived. This ideal has lived with Australians to this day, including, for example, in such classical cultural icons as The Castle, where lead character Darryl Kerrigan denounces a large corporation that's trying to acquire his home. In that classic film, Darryl reminds the High Court—indeed, he reminds all of us—that a home is not just bricks and mortar but memories of a life built together and a place in which to imagine your future.

I spent my former career in and around the housing sector, in the private and public sectors, as well as in industry bodies. I am absolutely committed to trying to find better solutions, better policies as to how we in this place can make it easier for Australians to own their first home. We have never seen lower rates of homeownership, particularly among the under 40s, than we currently have in this country. Homeownership is in freefall.

The government's bill, which I think is probably well intended, it is called the Help to Buy Bill. I'm just going to outline some of the major flaws that I see with this bill. First, it's a shared-equity scheme, where new homebuyers will share ownership up to 40 per cent with the Commonwealth government. But, as always with Labor's policies and legislation, the devil is in the detail, and most of that detail has been omitted. This is a small niche program with up to only 10,000 households per year over four years—so, 40,000 in total—and it will cost the Commonwealth $5.5 billion. This is a scheme where the government will own almost half of your property. Is this something Australians want?

Looking at a history of shared equity schemes overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom, shared-equity schemes are completely problematic, and the issues that have been identified in those schemes have not been properly addressed by the minister and by the government in this bill. The recent House of Lords inquiry in the UK was called Meeting housing demand. It found, 'The government's Help to Buy Scheme cost around 29 billion pounds and inflated housing prices by more than its subsidy value.' The House of Lords inquiry then concluded, 'This funding would be better spent on increasing housing supply'—and I will come to housing supply shortly. So, that's one of the major concerns around shared-equity schemes identified overseas.

A further problem is that sometimes these shared-equity schemes may encourage homeownership for some for whom it may not be the best option. It may be pushing them into undue financial risk. What we have heard so far from the minister is that the eligibility criteria for this scheme is a $90,000 income for a single person and a $120,000 for a couple. But there are other questions that are unanswered in this legislation. What happens, for example, when somebody gets a pay rise? Does the owner—the part owner—then need to immediately repay the government contribution? There is no detail on this.

What happens with repairs and maintenance? What happens when the government owns almost half of your home? Are you allowed to simply carry out repairs and maintenance? Is the government responsible for the cost of those repairs to the extent of its ownership in the property? This is another unexplained detail, but it's an important detail. It hardly seems reasonable that, if you own a property jointly with the government, all the repairs and maintenance on the home are your responsibility. The legislation clearly sets out that, when you sell the home, the government comes and takes its percentage of the appreciated value.

But what happens in the maybe unlikely event that the property decreases in value over time? It may be unlikely, as I said, but this factor has also not been considered. This is a further example of where the policy work has not been fully completed before the bill has been prepared. This is the Minister for Housing grandstanding, making big announcements without having done the real policy work that was required behind the legislation, without understanding how the housing market actually works in our country. It is very clear from this threadbare legislation that the government has failed again to do the hard work on housing.

Other questions remain with this shared equity scheme in addition to what happens with improvements. What happens if you earn a cent above the $90,000? Does the government then force the sale of your home? Will the ATO be auditing incomes to ensure that there is no fraud within the system? If you enter into one of these shared equity arrangements, what are your reporting obligations? How many places will be available in each state and territory? Which lenders will be participating in the scheme?

The package as well is completely silent on property price caps. So, in order for me to try to understand what the price caps could be, I turned to the election promises that were made by federal Labor. They said that it would be capped at $950,000 in metropolitan New South Wales. This again shows a clear lack of understanding from the minister about house prices across our cities, in our metropolitan areas. In my electorate of Hughes in southern Sydney, for example, based on data from CoreLogic, as at July 2023, to buy an average house in the suburb of Moorebank costs $1.2 million. In Holsworthy it's $1 million, in Oyster Bay it's $1.7 million, in Jannali it's $1.5 million, in Illawong it's $1.6 million and in Sutherland it's $1.4 million. Therefore, based on the federal government's promise—and we've had a bit to say this week about election promises being broken—that it would be price capped at $950,000, that will not help anybody at all in my electorate in southern Sydney to buy their home. They will not be able to avail themselves of this scheme.

Further, Help to Buy relies on the involvement of the states and territories. States are required to pass their own legislation for this scheme to work throughout the country. New South Wales passed a similar scheme well over a year ago. It's called the Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper scheme. It's significantly undersubscribed, as are the Homebuyer Fund in Victoria, the HomeStart Shared Equity Option in South Australia and the MyHome shared equity program in Tasmania. Therefore, if we look at what is happening across those states where they have introduced a shared equity scheme, it shows that Australians overwhelmingly do not want to own their home with the government. They want to own their home themselves.

This begs the question: why on earth is the Albanese Labor government seeking to introduce yet another shared equity scheme, when we know similar schemes are not being taken up by Australians? The only answer to that question must be that Labor wants to be seen to be doing something on housing. It wants to be seen to be rolling out big numbers and saying, 'We've got this guys; we're going to do this,' but it's not actually doing anything meaningful to address the underlying factors that have led to the current crisis we have.

The coalition took a very sensible housing policy to the last election to enable Australians to utilise their superannuation, their own money, to assist to purchase their first home. This was well received in my electorate of Hughes when I was campaigning. Why would the government not consider this very sensible option? Instead, with some of its other housing legislation, it's quite clear that it will allow big institutional investors and superannuation companies to invest in housing. Why is it that superannuation companies can invest in housing but you can't utilise your own money within your own superannuation fund to purchase your own home?

To take a step back, the housing affordability crisis is the result of both supply and demand factors. This bill purportedly addresses the demand components; however, the biggest factor that's affected demand in the past 18 months has been the government's immigration policy. It has been the largest contributor to increased demand—over half a million people in the last financial year alone.

What about the other crucial part of housing policy, which is supply? This bill purportedly forms part of Labor's so-called signature policy on housing. Amongst other things, its aim is to deliver 1.2 million new homes over the next five years; however, that means Australia needs to build 240,000 new homes every year. In the most populous state of Australia, my home state of New South Wales, Labor Premier Chris Minns has at least been honest on this issue. He came out a couple of weeks ago and said that New South Wales cannot meet its housing target of 75,000 new homes each year over the next five years. These are targets that he and the other premiers agreed to late last year—targets that must be met for the federal government to deliver its 1.2 million homes.

There are other supply factors that Minister for Housing Collins has remained silent about, and these factors also demonstrate that the 1.2 million homes cannot be built over the next five years. We have a record-high number of liquidations in the building and construction industry. We have an acute shortage of construction materials. We have a massive increase in the cost of construction materials. We have a severe shortage of tradespeople across our country. We have red tape delays in releasing land at both state and local government levels. None of these factors have been addressed by the Labor government, by the housing minister, in any of their housing policies. This again leads to the inevitable conclusion that the government, the housing minister, have no idea how to effectively address our housing affordability crisis, no idea of the key drivers of both demand and supply within the housing sector.

This bill purportedly helps Australians to buy their first home. I have no doubt that it was well intentioned. However, from the number of consequences that flow from this bill, when you really pursue it in detail and give it some significant analysis, it is quite clear that it will not assist Australians into their first home. Australians desperate to buy their first home deserve far better than this legislation. They deserve far better than a government and a minister who are simply throwing out big numbers and making grandstanding promises without the underlying policy work and effective legislation to back them in.


No comments