House debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024


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

10:01 am

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health) Share this | Hansard source

As we debate the Help to Buy Bill today, I want to reflect first on how we have come to be in a position where the Commonwealth has to help people buy a home. In 1984, it cost $64,000 to buy the average home, and an annual income back then was a shade over $19,000, making the average house price 3.3 times the average annual income. Today, it's more like 10 times the average annual income. Late last year, PropTrack's Housing Affordability Report showed that Australian households on an average income need to save 20 per cent of that income for more than 5½ years to accumulate the 20 per cent deposit needed to buy a median priced home. Back in 1984, it took just two, not 5½, years to achieve that. According to the Visual Capitalist, Australia has three of the 15 most unaffordable housing markets in the world, including Sydney, where it costs 13.3 times the gross median household income to buy the median house price. Sydney ranks second most unaffordable behind Hong Kong at 18.8 times the median income by median house price. Melbourne is ninth in those rankings at 9.9 times and Adelaide is 14th at 8.2 times.

The reason I mention capital city housing unaffordability is that Australia is a massive country with regional communities that dearly would love to grow, such as regional towns in my north-west Victorian electorate of Mallee. Worse still, housing affordability is so bad that even in my regional electorate we have a lack of affordable housing. Relatively speaking, income levels for rural cities like Swan Hill mean rent is simply not affordable. The policy levers need changing, and what is lacking in the policy detail by this government so far is the realisation that Australians have undergone a tree change, a sea change, even a vine change if you like. Regional Australia Institute's Big Movers2023 report found an additional 54,000 millennials headed for the regions—who would have thought it?—during the latest census period, 2016-21, compared to the previous census period of 2011-16. The lockdown-happy Andrews Labor government intimidated the people of Melbourne, and they voted with their feet, relocating to regional cities or towns. Working from home became the new norm, and now workers are hoping to lock that in as part of their job entitlements. Many sectors of the economy realised work could be done from home, reducing building leasing costs for their companies but also overcoming the tyranny of distance in regional Australia. Our regional towns and cities have wonderful lifestyles to offer Australians, clean air and environments and close-knit communities where people care about each other. Yet time and time again in this place, we see initiatives designed to fix Sydney and Melbourne problems. That is the risk this bill poses among many other risks I will outline.

The coalition opposes this bill. I remind the chamber that the Albanese Labor government promoting this bill is a government that breaks its promises. They promised 100 times not to change stage 3 tax cuts and broke that promise before Australia Day. Today, on this bill, the Albanese Labor government would have us believe they didn't break their Help to Buy promise. This policy was due to begin 1 January 2023—a little over a year ago. After their doomed referendum with an almost half-a-billion-dollar taxpayer bill, Labor have been so distracted that they didn't get on with this initiative until now and broke their promise of starting it almost 14 months ago. Another looming broken promise is the ticking clock on the Albanese government's promise to build 1.2 million homes over five years from 1 July 2024. The Housing Industry Association has confirmed Labor will fail to deliver at least 200,000 homes on this target. Only the Labor apologists think the full target can be achieved. Those are the same delirious apologists who think Labor's $275 reduction in power bills will materialise in its promised time frame.

Unfortunately, the state-federal Labor sandwich that the voters of Mallee find themselves trapped in cripples the opportunities for regional economies to grow. Labor bled doctors out of the regions and prioritised childcare subsidies for the wealthy while failing to add childcare places in childcare deserts, such as my electorate in regional Australia. Labor left our roads wrecked by the combination of wet weather and heavy truckloads during bumper harvests. Road repairs have not been anywhere near sufficient. In the northern part of my electorate, the water minister prowls around looking for so-called willing sellers—who are actually distressed sellers—to sell their water to help Labor hang on to the electorate of Boothby in Adelaide. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has carried over—or, in layman's terms, not used—30 per cent of its allocated water for 15 years because they can't use all the water they have for the environment already. Yet here we are. Labor wants to buy more just at the time the Sunraysia economy was poised to boom. In my electorate of Mallee, the Mildura-Swan Hill region was expected to have a gross value of production in horticulture of $2.2 billion per annum by 2029-30. We were on a great and positive trajectory after the scarring of the millennium drought. But no—this water minister wants to seriously compromise the projected growth in my electorate through buybacks. We are at risk of losing 10 per cent of our water for irrigated communities in Sunraysia alone if these buybacks occur.

Then comes the state of the labour market. I've spoken in this place before about our agricultural workforce shortages, but today I want to focus on the shortage of labour in the housing sector. Mallee tradies will be hard pressed to find apprentices to address a skills shortage due to a collapse of trade training under Labor. The latest data from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research shows the number of apprenticeships and traineeships fell by 12.63 per cent in Mallee after the Albanese Labor government's first year in office. In just one year it's dropped 12.3 per cent. In the final months of the coalition government, the number of trade apprentices hit record highs across Australia. There were 429,000 as of June 2022. That's a 25 per cent rise on the same time in 2021. After just one year of Labor, apprentices and trainees have fallen to 377,645—a loss of one in 10 trainees. Labor promised to skill more Australians than the coalition, but the numbers don't lie—something the Albanese government could learn from. The apprenticeship downturn compounds the problems caused by Labor burying businesses in red tape with complex new industrial relations laws.

To make matters worse, Labor's tradie tax will drive up prices of tradies' work vehicles with the 2025 fuel efficiency standard, which could see vehicles you commonly see on work sites rise in price by as much as $15 ,000. Why? So people in the inner cities can show off their new EVs directly funded by the people of Mallee, robbing country Peter to pay city Paul. Labor policies have been an unmitigated disaster for Mallee tradies and farmers, most of whom are small family businesses. The Albanese Labor government have abandoned their blue-collar roots to appease their union backers and exert control over crucial nation-building industries.

Into this mix of Labor's poor management of the economy comes a huge inflow of migrants, a simplistic policy lever to prop up the economy without dealing with the productivity improvements that are desperately needed. As I asked in question time on Monday, the Albanese Labor government granted over 500,000 visas in the past year, with more than 1.6 million visas projected to be granted over five years. When housing supply is already in crisis, adding further demand is not helping. The Help to Buy scheme proposed in this bill comes with an expected spend of $5.5 billion, all on the credit cards of Australian men, women and their children because, let's always remember, it's not Labor's money being expended here; it's hard-earned taxpayer money. They today, or their children in the future, will be the ones to pay for the profligate spending by this government.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we have huge debt levels to pay down, but the Albanese Labor government wants to spend more on something that state governments should be doing. In fact, they are doing it. There are current schemes under Victoria's Homebuyer Fund, the New South Wales government's Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper scheme, South Australia's HomeStart Shared Equity Option and Tasmania's MyHome shared equity program. When you consider that all the mainland state governments are Labor governments, this bill represents a damning indictment on their own team. There is clearly a housing affordability problem, and responsibility lies at the feet of the states, where predominantly Labor have been in office for most of recent history.

By contrast, at a federal level the coalition set the standard on helping the housing market with the highly successful Home Guarantee Scheme and the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee to help regional homebuyers with as little as a five per cent deposit being eligible to receive a guarantee from the Commonwealth, with 10,000 places set aside for that program. During the pandemic, the coalition intervened in the mark to support our economy. Intervention was necessary as we faced the closest analogue to wartime Australia has faced in living memory.

The HomeBuilder grant drove the highest level of new home commencements in more than 20 years at that time—a lifeline for the construction industry, which was flailing from the start of the pandemic. HomeBuilder helped the 137,000 Australian families that applied for a grant of up to $25,000 if they built a new home or substantially renovated during the COVID pandemic. It's estimated that HomeBuilder generated $120 billion of economic activity. The HomeBuilder $15,000 to $25,000 grant encouraged individuals and families to invest hundreds of thousands in a new home. When considering the amount of money being pumped into the economy all the way down to the construction supply chain, the coalition government's HomeBuilder intervention generated an extraordinary return on investment. Few would have expected how successful the program would be and by how much it would exceed expectation.

Local builders in Mallee, like Garraway Developments, were at one stage run off their feet with 12 to 18 months of work ahead of them. The coalition can be trusted to support home construction because we have the runs on the board. What's more, we took policies to the last election to keep supporting our tradies and Australian families to afford their own home. The coalition has a strong record of prioritising homeownership because we understand that owning your home is important to Australian living standards. Some 85 per cent of renters hope to one day own their own home. It's an aspiration. In the last three years in office, the coalition government's housing policies helped over 300,000 Australians buy their own home, and 60,000 of those were through the government guarantees. I note that 52 per cent of the 60,000 guarantees were to the benefit of women, which is well above the market average, for entering into homeownership, of 41 per cent women, according to CoreLogic.

In conclusion, who can you trust to help Australians buy their own home? You can trust the coalition.


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