House debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024


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

9:38 am

Photo of Michelle LandryMichelle Landry (Capricornia, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

Today I stand before you to shed light on the challenges and concerns surrounding the Help to Buy legislation, which holds the promise of aiding first home buyers. However, as we delve into the details, it becomes apparent that the journey from promise to operation has been far from seamless. Firstly, let's acknowledge that the only housing policies currently providing support to first home buyers are those inherited from the former coalition government. The Albanese government, despite announcing this legislation over 20 months ago, has seemingly dragged its heels in introducing it as a policy. The Help to Buy policy, a key electoral promise, was slated to commence on 1 January 2023. However, we find ourselves well into 2024 and there is still no concrete time line for its implementation. In the midst of a housing crisis, the belated arrival of Help to Buy feels like too little too late. This raises concerns about the government's ability to deliver on its commitments within the promised time frame. The primary concern is: what has the Minister for Housing been engaged in and what has the government been doing, displaying such tardiness and breaching an election promise? This is another example of the government's failing to fulfil its commitments, specifically the pledge to have the scheme operational by 1 January 2023. To meet this deadline, introducing the bill into parliament in late 2022 was necessary. However, it took nearly 18 months for the bill to make its way into the House.

Presently, our country is witnessing record lows in housing approvals and builds. Homebuyer numbers are at their lowest since the Gillard government. Rents are soaring, vacancy rates are at historic lows and we are experiencing record levels of migration. At a time when construction approval for homes is dwindling and the rental market is becoming more challenging, we are grappling with both rising rents and a surge in migration. Last year alone, we saw over 520,000 migrants arrive, setting a global record in migration. Despite these pressing housing issues, the government's response is delayed by 18 months, resulting in a lacklustre offering. This is particularly disheartening, especially considering the urgency of addressing housing concerns. In addition to a previously discussed bill on vacancy fees, this seems to be a symbolic gesture of action, disguising the government's lack of substantial efforts in addressing the critical challenges faced by the Australian population. Moreover, the Help to Buy scheme relies on the active participation of states and territories. These entities are required to pass their own legislation to partake in the scheme. While Labor went to the election with promises of a shared-equity scheme, they failed to communicate the requirement of state government approval. This oversight leaves us questioning the feasibility of promises made without proper explanation of the details of operation.

The Help to Buy program, with an estimated cost to the Commonwealth of $5.5 billion, is not without its limitations. It is open to only 10,000 households each financial year, making it a relatively small and niche initiative. Shared-equity schemes, as we know from existing state-based programs, have proven to be underwhelming, with available places remaining unclaimed. This raises a fundamental question: why introduce yet another shared-equity scheme when existing programs are not seeing widespread adoption? The answer appears to be rooted in political optics. Labor, it seems, wants to be seen to be taking action, without necessarily addressing the core issues at play. The shared-equity model, while well-intentioned, does not seem to resonate with Australians, as evidenced by the availability of spots in various state-based schemes.

Shared-equity schemes, in the broader context of housing affordability, raise key concerns that cannot be overlooked. There is a fear that they may carelessly contribute to further growth in house prices, potentially intensifying the very issue they aim to solve. Moreover, encouraging individuals for whom homeownership might not be the most suitable option could lead to undue financial risk. Australians who aspire to homeownership often seek independence and autonomy, and the prospect of joint ownership with the government may not align with their aspirations. The symbolism of having government officials involved in the homeowner's personal affairs, especially in financial matters, raises genuine reservations. Shared-equity arrangements also present an imbalanced responsibility dynamic: homeowners bear the burden of repairs and maintenance, while the government claims a share of appreciated value upon sale. It raises the question of whether this is a fair and reasonable arrangement, especially when compared to the responsibilities shouldered by the homeowners.

After waiting for over 20 months for this legislation, it seems more like a box-ticking exercise for the Albanese government than a thorough and thoughtful approach to addressing the housing crisis. The legislation, as it stands, leaves us with more questions than answers. It is evident that the hard work required for a successful prosecution has not been done. The threadbare nature of the legislation prompts numerous crucial questions that demand immediate attention. What are the specific eligibility criteria for individuals or families to qualify for the Help to Buy scheme? If homeowners make improvements to their homes, what implications does that have for their participation in the scheme? Will they be required to invoice the government for repairs and maintenance, such as fixing a leaky roof? If an individual or a couple earns a cent above $90,000 or $120,000 respectively, will the government force the sale of their home? Will the ATO be auditing incomes to ensure compliance with these thresholds? What reporting obligations do participants in the shared-equity arrangement have? How transparent is the process, and what measures are in place to ensure accountability?

In the event of a decline in housing prices and participants falling behind on mortgage payments, will the government force them to sell their homes for less than the purchase price? What are the property price caps under the Help to Buy scheme? Are these caps uniform across all states and territories? How many of the 40,000 places will be available in each state and territory? What criteria determine the allocation of these places? Are these specific lenders that have committed to participating in the Help to Buy scheme, and how is their involvement regulated? In essence, the current state of the Help to Buy legislation raises concerns about its viability, transparency and effectiveness. The lack of clear answers to these questions leaves us in a precarious position, considering the potential impact on individuals and families who might opt for this scheme.

One particularly concerning aspect is the imposition of a housing tax of up to 40 per cent every time a participant sells their home under the Help to Buy scheme. This tax, while aimed at recouping government contributions, raises questions about its fairness and its potential to discourage participation. We also cannot ignore the lessons from similar schemes implemented elsewhere. For instance, a comparable scheme in the United Kingdom was found to inflate house prices by more than its subsidy value in areas where it was needed most. This raises a red flag about the unintended consequences and potential side effects of the Help to Buy scheme on the Australian housing market.

The Help to Buy Bill seems to be more about fulfilling an electoral promise than crafting a well thought out solution to the housing affordability crisis. After waiting for over 20 months for this legislation, it appears to be more of a rushed effort than a comprehensive plan. The Albanese government must recognise the gravity of the issues at hand and invest the necessary time and effort to address them thoroughly. The Australian people deserve a housing policy that is not only well intentioned but also well implemented. The uncertainty surrounding the Help to Buy scheme demands urgent attention, and it is crucial that the government provides comprehensive answers to the myriad questions posed today.


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