Tuesday, 18 September 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer him to Labor’s plan for a housing affordability fund, which will save first home buyers up to $20,000, and a rental tax incentive scheme to make rental accommodation more affordable. Does the Prime Minister agree with the member for Herbert when he says that mortgage stress can be blamed on financially illiterate couples and his only advice to them is they should sit on milk crates in the lounge room until they can afford chairs? Apart from the milk crate solution, what is the Prime Minister’s plan to deal with the housing affordability crisis? Is it, once again, simply to blame the states?
The member for Grayndler would be well aware that, if he wishes to raise questions with me, he will do so at the appropriate moment. I have ruled on that part of the question. I call the Prime Minister. The last part of the question is in order.
The Leader of the Opposition refers to Labor’s housing affordability plan. He refers me to it and asks me what I think of it. I can tell you one thing about our plan—it will not involve misleading Rosanna Harris. I do not intend to sit in the kitchen of some person who has been conned into doing an interview with somebody who has tried to sell a plan, look her straight in the face and say, ‘You are going to be about 50 bucks a week better off,’ when you know that you are lying through your teeth when you say that. The Leader of the Opposition, the alternative Prime Minister of this country, presumably—I think I know the pattern—got in touch with Stanhope’s office and Stanhope lined up somebody—
What happened was that the Leader of the Opposition, knowing that the policy would not benefit Rosanna Harris, told her that it would. That is what happened. He knew it would not benefit her, or, if he did not know it would not benefit, he did not even understand his own policy. He cannot have it both ways. He was either misleading this lady or he did not understand his own policy. He can take his pick. Either judgement condemns the Leader of the Opposition.
I am asked about our approach to housing affordability. I am invited by the Leader of the Opposition, with his hand on his heart, not to blame the states. Let me say to the Leader of the Opposition that, where the states are to blame, I will blame them; where the Commonwealth must accept responsibility, I will accept that responsibility.
In relation to housing affordability, the overall state of the economy is something for which the Commonwealth is responsible. I am very pleased to say that the thing the overall state of the economy affects more than anything else when it comes to housing affordability is the level of interest rates. I am pleased to report to the House that interest rates under this government have, on average, been 4½ per cent lower than they were under the former government.
I am pleased to report to the House that people still remember that interest rates hit 17 per cent under the former government. If anybody thought I was the only person who remembers that, I met a lot of people last weekend and a lot of them mentioned 17 per cent. They remember it.
It is our responsibility to look after the general level of economic activity—we accept responsibility for that—but it is not our responsibility to preside over general land releases. It is not our responsibility to set policy in relation to development charges. It is not our responsibility to set stamp duty imposts. It is not our responsibility to impose land tax. Federal land tax in this country was abolished about 40 or 50 years ago.
The Leader of the Opposition asks me about rental affordability. One of the reasons we retain negative gearing is to encourage people to invest in rental properties. There is only one side of politics that has ever tinkered with abolishing negative gearing. That was the Keating government. They abolished it for 12 months between 1986 and 1987 and it resulted in a very rapid escalation in rent. That policy was hastily reversed. So I say to the Leader of the Opposition, ‘Yes, I will engage in the blame game where blame ought to be apportioned: to those governments that are to blame.’ State governments carry a great deal of the responsibility, and the Leader of the Opposition need not imagine that, by some constant reference to the blame game, he is going to discourage us from reminding the Australian people of the failures of state governments in this area.