House debates

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017; Second Reading

9:40 am

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing And Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. Homelessness is a destructive and growing social and economic problem. It is unacceptable that in a country of wealth and opportunity such as ours many of our fellow Australians have nowhere to call home. Having an affordable, secure and appropriate home with reasonable access to services is essential to financial, social and emotional wellbeing.

I've spoken often in this place about the damaging effects of growing inequality in our communities. More than 74,000 Tasmanians live below the poverty line. As housing costs rise, low-income Tasmanians find it increasingly difficult to access affordable housing. Lack of affordability is a major cause of homelessness and a barrier to pathways out of homelessness. There is no greater example of inequality than people having to sleep on the streets, to couch surf, or live in overcrowded and unacceptable housing conditions, whilst others live in unimaginable luxury and privilege.

The causes of homelessness are varied: lack of affordable housing, loss of employment, family breakdown and domestic violence, mental health issues, substance abuse, and transition from care or custody. These are all potential reasons why a person might find themselves without suitable accommodation. On any given night in Tasmania, for example, there are approximately 1,500 people experiencing homelessness. This could mean sleeping rough, couch surfing, spending time in supported accommodation or making do in other dwellings like a car or a tent. Indeed, in the last two weeks it's been brought to the attention of my office that within 100 metres of my electorate office there are people sleeping homeless in one of the laneways within the CBD of Launceston.

Young people and children are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people. Thirty-three per cent of all people seeking housing support are under 24 years old. This is of particular concern, because we know that children who experience homelessness have an increased risk of becoming homeless in later life. We are now in the shameful situation where we are seeing third-generation homelessness in Australia. This is the result of a failure to invest long-term in people for whom housing is unaffordable and inadequate, and who are at risk of homelessness.

According to Shelter Tasmania, in the 2015-16 financial year homelessness services in Tasmania assisted 7,859 individuals, an increase of 19 per cent over the previous two years. Even more concerning, there was a 20 per cent increase in unassisted requests in the same year. Currently, on an average day in Tasmania, around 18 requests for housing assistance cannot be addressed because of a lack of available accommodation.

This is not to downplay the critical work being done by support services providing social housing and crisis accommodation. In northern Tasmania, there are several organisations working tirelessly to support people experiencing homelessness and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. For example, a small community organisation called Launceston Feeding The Homeless is a volunteer-run group set up by local woman Kirsten Ritchie. Anyone who is experiencing homelessness or is in need of a decent meal is welcome to attend their daily barbeque, which is held at a local park. The group also provides basic necessities such as swags, blankets, clothing and toiletries to those who are in need.

I have also worked closely recently with Karinya Young Women's Service, a specialist service based in Launceston. That service recognises that homelessness is not only not having a home; it's also when you don't have a safe home to go to. Karinya provides short-term crisis accommodation, meeting the need for safe, confidential accommodation for young women in the Launceston and Greater Northern Tasmanian region. I must also recognise the work of organisations such as City Mission, St Vincent de Paul, Colony 47, Anglicare and others.

I know from many conversations with constituents that the demands for these services are ever increasing and resources are often stretched to capacity. Of course, this is not by any means a problem confined to Tasmania. Recent figures indicate there are approximately 100,000 Australians experiencing homelessness on any given night. A further 394,000 Australian households currently reside in social housing and around 288,000 Australians access specialist homelessness support services every year—not to mention that pressure on housing affordability and markets means that, for many Australians, the dreams of ever owning a home would likely never become a reality.

The legislation that we have before us today represents the government's response to this critical issue of housing and homelessness in Australia. This bill seeks to legislate aspects of the proposed new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, the NHHA, as announced in the 2017 budget. The agreement combines the National Affordable Housing Agreement and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness into a single agreement from 1 July 2018. Under the new agreement, a total of $4.6 billion over three years from financial year 2018-19 is provided. Of this funding, there is slightly more than $1.4 billion a year for housing related purposes, provision from the ongoing funding in the budget for the National Affordable Housing Agreement. There is also $375.3 million to be provided over the forward estimates to fund ongoing homelessness services. This funding, which is indexed, is intended to be matched dollar for dollar by state and territory governments. The matching fund requirement is sought to be legislated in this bill.

At this point, I might note that this bill was introduced last year, on Wednesday, 25 October. This was a full two days before state treasurers and housing ministers were supposed to meet with their federal counterparts to negotiate the contents of the agreement. Treasury has since confirmed that states and territories were not consulted about whether the tied funding arrangements which are provided for in this bill would be legislated. Neither did they receive legislation prior to its introduction into parliament. It speaks volumes as to the priorities of this government that they would seek to bring to this House a bill for a national agreement on housing and homelessness before any deal had state and territory approval. It is, in my view, pure arrogance that those opposite think that this is the way to negotiate with states and territories on national reform in this critical area. For such a critical matter, you'd think that the government could at least get this right. Rather, all we have is another example of the chaotic and dysfunctional way in which this government operates.

The government announced its intention to negotiate a new NHHA as part of its 2017-18 budget measures. Those opposite talked up the measures as a comprehensive plan to improve housing affordability, although it soon became abundantly clear that that was simply not the case. Mr John Daley, CEO of the Grattan Institute and an acknowledged expert in the field of housing policy, has said that he could not see any reason why this budget would make any discernible difference to housing affordability or to the ability of a number of young people to buy a house.

The organisation Homelessness Australia noted the budget was 'not fair' because it failed to fix a broken housing system—a system that encourages investors to own more than one house, while 105,000 Australians haven't any home. Mission Australia quite correctly pointed out that the budget contained insufficient assistance for people in rental stress who remain one step away from homelessness, with rents increasingly unaffordable for young and old Australians alike, with those on Newstart and the age pension struggling to find a home within their means. Richard Holden, a professor of economics and a fellow at the University of New South Wales, summed it up perfectly, saying that the housing measures in the budget involve 'not much more than tinkering' by the government, with the 'biggest disappointment' being the total absence of any measure to address negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions for rental properties.

It is almost universally agreed that any credible national housing affordability plan must include reform of negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. During the inquiry into this bill by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, the issue of tax reform came up time and time again as being absolutely essential. Peter Windsor, the executive director of the Community Housing Industry Association, told the committee:

… as a point of principle I'd say that we would think that that's capital gains tax and negative gearing distributions should equally benefit the whole of the community, not just those on high incomes, or those who are in a position to accumulate wealth through property.

Mr Adrian Pisarski on behalf of National Shelter made similar comments, bringing to the attention of the committee the disparity between the effective subsidy of negative gearing and the capital gains tax discounts provided to private market rental housing and the depth of subsidies provided to social housing. He also emphasised the very different standards of accountability and transparency the government demands from each sector, saying:

There is a double standard for the Commonwealth where it is perfectly prepared to hold the states accountable for a billion dollars' worth of spending but for some—I think the figure is $14 billion or $17 billion worth of tax expenditure that goes to support the private rental market—there is no accountability—none at all.

In fact, the Senate inquiry into this bill highlighted several issues with the legislation and the government's housing strategy more generally. These were discussed in some detail in the additional comments by the Labor senators in the committee's report. Firstly, there is a concern from this side of the House that the input controls placed on the states and territories as a condition of funding will not necessarily contribute to improved performance against housing and homelessness outcomes under the NHHA. Rather, a more effective way to improve outcomes would be to build mechanisms into the agreement to provide a clear basis for outcomes.

As I indicated in my outline at the commencement of this speech, the issue of housing and homelessness is something which will not go away without direct, concrete action. That means that this government needs to put before this House legislation which deals with the issue of homelessness and housing affordability in a proper strategic manner. Unfortunately the government has done nothing which fulfils that objective. What it has put forward are a series of budgetary measures which have been extensively criticised by the community organisations that operate in this field.

This is something which affects people from across society. Every community in Australia is beset by the scourge of homelessness. It is simply not good enough that within 100 metres of my electorate office in a regional town like Launceston in northern Tasmania in a wealthy First World country like Australia that we have people sleeping rough. We have people sleeping rough in every town and every major city in this nation. It is simply not good enough that we fail to adequately resource the many organisations that are in a position to provide proper shelter for our homeless people.

We know the evidence shows that people who are suffering homelessness are more likely to present at our public hospitals. They are more likely to have multiple issues with mental health and poor physical health when they attend the emergency departments of our hospitals. We need to do more than simply sit by. We need to invest in the future of these Australians that are presently either experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. In my speech, I also made reference to the people that are affected by domestic violence. In closing, I would urge this government to put more money into addressing the scourge of domestic violence because people that need to leave the safety of their own home because they are fleeing from domestic violence need to have safe housing accommodation.

9:55 am

Photo of Ann SudmalisAnn Sudmalis (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill of 2017. I want to make a quick note about the last comment of the last speaker before I get into this. Whilst I agree we do need housing for women who are victims of domestic violence, I actually believe it should be the other way around: rather than the victim having to leave the home, there should be better state laws to move the person who's doing the victimising to move out of the home. So there is a bit of flip on that circumstance, and that's a state government thing and they need to get their act together.

The government is introducing a new housing and homelessness agreement with state and territory governments to increase the supply of new homes and improve outcomes for all Australians across the housing spectrum, particularly those most in need, those who will find it hardest to buy their own home, those who are looking at being turfed out of a rental home. The 2016 COAG report on performance confirmed that three of the four benchmarks that had been originally set and were being adopted by the National Affordable Housing Agreement had not been achieved despite the government providing the states with over $9 billion since 2009. From that period up until 2016, growth in the size of social housing stock didn't change and the numbers on the waiting lists have actually increased. This causes any commonsense politician to question why there has been no change in the number of houses built or why there isn't a reduced number of people on the waiting list.

Clearly, there is a need to change the foundation stones of this particular funding. The government aims to deliver more affordable housing and build more homes—unlike the previous funding model, where only one of those four benchmarks was actually achieved. Originally, there was an expectation of a 10 per cent reduction in the proportion of low-income renter households who experienced rental stress. There is no evidence that that progress has been made. The trend actually shows an increase of more than seven per cent of people who are experiencing rental stress. There was supposed to have been a seven per cent reduction in homelessness, but there has been a 17.3 per cent increase. There was supposed to have been a 10 per cent increase in the proportion of Indigenous Australians who own their own home. There is no evidence of any increase there. The one benchmark that is on track for a positive outcome is the 20 per cent reduction in the proportion of Indigenous households living in overcrowded conditions.

The new agreement makes sure the funding level is maintained and ongoing. It is being kept at the current funding level of over $1.3 billion per year, provided under the National Affordable Housing Specific Purpose Payment—which clearly didn't work; it only met one target out of four. The new national agreement will have a requirement for concrete outcomes to build more homes, and make sure there are housing outcomes across the entire spectrum. It will include specific funding for homelessness and provide greater certainty to providers on the front line of those who provide homelessness services directly to those people. I know that those in my community who have been working so hard with this group of people will be very welcoming of that comment, that statement, that connection so that they have got funding that's guaranteed all the time.

This bill reforms housing related payments to the states and territories by establishing a requirement for greater accountability and transparency for the Commonwealth funding received by the states and territories. In the end, the states and territories are responsible to every tax-paying Australian to make sure they get the best bang for their buck when they are building these houses for the people who need them most and for trying to keep the homeless off the streets.

These amendments provide for certainty and clarity around the conditions for payments in relation to the primary and supplementary housing agreements. They reflect concerns raised by stakeholders, including all the states and territories. None of the amendments change the original intent or effect of the legislation. The amendments to the National Housing and Homeless Agreement will allow the states and territories to receive funding provided they are party to the agreement for that financial year, and allow some administrative flexibility when there are genuine reasons for the states not meeting the strict requirements for payments. An example might be where a website outage means the state's strategy is not publicly available. On all other matters, they should be accountable.

It will also clarify the expectation that state housing strategies must not only contribute to meeting the aims but wholly meet any housing supply to meet the projected demand. We know we are going to have an increasing demand. We know we need to meet this. We know that there are people out there living rough, and we need to address it. It's not just the federal government who should be parking their energy here. The states and territories are equally responsible, and so they should be meeting that demand.

Currently, funding is provided under the Transitional National Partnership Agreement on Homeless, and this is due to cease on 30 June this year. Last year, when the bill was introduced, the states and territories raised concerns about some of the applications. The amendments that are provided here add additional certainty and clarity concerning the conditions for payments in relation to the primary and supplementary housing agreements.

The legislation enables payments to be made to the states and territories under the conditions set out in the bill, and the agreement will move the states and territories to a tied funding agreement, which is a source of sensitivity, as funding under the previous situation was not tied. Personally, I can't fault this aspect of tied funding. In fact, it was that statement alone that made me feel so strongly about this legislation. We must have financial responsibility from the states and territories to account for the Australian taxpayers' dollars which are being invested in this field. To have $9 billion invested over a seven-year period and very little to show for it is pathetic. So if we actually get some tied funding here which says to the states and territories, 'We're going to give you this much, and we expect you to do this, this, this, this and this, and we expect outcomes from you; if you don't get your act together, you're not going to get any more taxpayer dollars,' to me that is absolutely essential. Too often the federal government disburses taxpayer dollars to the states and territories and there is little or no real accountability.

The publication of housing and homelessness strategies will increase public awareness and confidence that all levels of government are making a sincere effort to help solve these problems. The establishment of a single new agreement will provide ongoing and indexed funding. This will give certainty about the funding for many frontline homeless service providers, as I said before, and they need that. They need to know that they've got a certain amount of dollars coming in every month and every year so they can do projected ideas and budgets, get the right staff in, get the right volunteers organised and provide good service.

A series of roundtables have been held with the key stakeholders, including these very same homelessness services, plus community housing providers, plus housing industry representatives and also academics. I do hope they also have some of the people who are the very aim of this project, who are those who don't have a roof over their head at this moment. Too often, I've been told that a person on the street can't be put into a single-bedroom unit because they've got too many other things going on, or that a young mum who has three children and is living rough in the car can't have the three-bedroom house that's vacant three doors down from my office because each one of those children, according to the rules, must have their own bedroom. What that mother wouldn't give to have that house! She's quite happy to put double bunks in one of those bedrooms.

We need to be realistic and have common sense. There needs to be a really good solution strategy for this, because too often I have people coming into my office who need fuel for their car so that they can go from place to place. They can't get into a house because the rules say there are not enough bedrooms, but all they want is a roof over their head and security. I spoke to two girls who were camping up at the showground. One of them had an opportunity to get into the backyard of another person's house and live in their garage, which had been made into a makeshift flat. She couldn't go because she had a dog. So she was living rough up at the showground.

Unfortunately, women in those circumstances are more vulnerable than they are in any other space or place. These girls were both victims of domestic violence. They both had a roof over their head and the perpetrator was still living in the house! For goodness sake, states and territories, get your act together. Stop victimising the victim and making it worse for her. Leave her in the home and move the perpetrator out of the house. That's all part of the problem of homelessness. We need to get our act together. This is a good foundation and a great start—and tied funding is absolutely essential.

10:05 am

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You might remember the lead-up to the 2017 budget last year when the newspapers were trumpeting that housing was going to be the centrepiece of the budget, that the Treasurer was going to stun us with initiatives and that we were going to finally deal with the housing crisis that is enveloping the nation. That went on for a week or two until obviously something happened in the cabinet and they had one of their little scrag fights and they realised that they actually weren't prepared to do any serious reform and deal with the demand side of the equation—which, as we know, is the key issue within the federal government's province. And then there was nothing. Well, actually, not nothing; there was a series of tiny little measures which really won't do very much at all to address the problem—it certainly wasn't a budget centrepiece—and this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017, is one of those.

I think the government's political strategy or parliamentary strategy—or maybe both—seems to be that, if you scatter around the Notice Paper enough teeny-tiny bills with 'housing' in the title, maybe people will think that you're doing something about housing. This is one of those bills. You can tell what they really want to talk about and what they just hope will kind of disappear and not get remarked upon by the number of speakers listed. So we've had in the last half hour the circus of having no government speakers and then we were served up one honourable muppet to read out some stuff that the minister's office has given them.

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, that was unparliamentary.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Maybe frivolous.

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

To call a colleague a muppet is unparliamentary.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That word has been used before, and I actually questioned it myself and the Speaker let that through. So I will follow the Speaker's ruling, and the member for Bruce will continue.

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay; I will check that.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not unparliamentary to call someone a muppet when you get up and read stuff that you clearly don't understand. But that follows on from the member for Gilmore's fine contribution in the Federation Chamber when she told us all that it's an outrage that universities have a surplus and that's why we need to cut their funding. It obviously escaped her at that time that the point of a surplus for a university is to use it to build capital. So we're not going to get any new stuff at universities—but, anyway, that's another digression.

This bill seeks to legislate bits of the proposed new national housing agreement. It combines the previous NAHA and the NPA. It's a mix of housing related funding and a little bit for homelessness. The payment of the dollars is to be in accordance with the primary agreement. That sounds fine, except that it's not actually going to do anything to address the housing crisis in Australia. We are still a nation that is amongst the least affordable in the entire world to buy or rent a house in our major capital cities. You only need to talk to any young people trying to get into the housing market—I was out at university o-weeks in the last couple of weeks—to know that young people despair at their prospects of ever cracking into the housing market.

It was only a few decades ago that you used to need about four to five times average weekly earnings to buy a medium house. That's was a fairly constant feature. But over the last couple of decades we've seen that blow out in Melbourne and Sydney, in particular, where you need 10 to 11 times average weekly earnings to have a crack at getting into the housing market. Nothing that the government are doing is addressing those fundamental issues. They're fiddling around the edges. They have had three policies. We had the 'get rich parents' policy of the Prime Minister. Then we had the Treasurer's policy of 'get a well-paying job'. And then we had the former Deputy Prime Minister's policy of 'get rich mates'. That will get you a house in Armidale, apparently. None of that is going to deal with the fact that we have 195,000 people on the social housing waiting list across Australia.

We have a homelessness crisis. There were 288,000 people who presented in 2017 to homelessness services across the country, and we are seeing a growing crisis with older woman in particular. As the Grattan Institute said in relation to this bill, 'You would need an electron microscope to discern any possible impact that this bill may actually have.' So let's be clear: all the government are doing is reorganising a bunch of agreements with states and territories, with no few funding, to a bunch of different agreements. That's it. It's administrative change; it's not policy and it's not actually dealing with the housing crisis. They are reorganising the administrative agreements.

No single level of government in this country can alone deal with housing. They can't. The federal government controls a range of the levers, particularly in relation to demand: the tax settings, migration settings and so on. The state governments have primary responsibility for supply, as in making sure enough new houses are built to meet demand. Local governments have a key role in that, particularly with planning and development approvals and so on. You would think that, if you recognised the reality of our system of government, you'd sit down with the states and territories in a cooperative fashion and work this out.

Instead, with this government we have no minister for housing. There is no minister for housing whatsoever. You can't find one. There's not a single minister sitting on that side or in the Senate with 'housing' in their title. They have no strategy and no plan. We heard the previous speaker try to explain to us that this bill requires the states, in return for any money, to have a strategy and a plan. That's okay, except that it's one-sided. There's no requirement on the Commonwealth to have a strategy or a plan for housing, but they're going to turn up and say to the states, 'You've got to have a strategy and a plan,' when all the big levers sit with the Commonwealth, as we know.

We also heard the member for Bass remind us that this bill was introduced on 25 October, two days before they even sat down with the states and territories to try to negotiate some changes. I think the government is making a reasonable point. We should always expect the best value for taxpayer dollars—there's no disagreement there—but, if there are issues, as COAG identified, with the previous performance framework under the Rudd government's agreements then sit down, work it out and improve them. Instead, you're putting all your effort into reorganising the agreements, scrapping some and putting others in place. It doesn't actually deal with the problem.

Reading the Senate inquiry and the report is instructive. It's another example of how completely out of touch and loony the Turnbull government is when it comes to policy development. They're in another universe. Treasury officers celebrated 'the spirit of cooperation and constructiveness' in the Senate inquiry transcript surrounding their negotiation with the states regarding the bill, yet the states themselves are extremely unsupportive of the bill. In fact, the state treasurers have actually now given up and set up a board of treasurers that doesn't include the Commonwealth Treasurer to come up with a housing plan. They haven't even got the Commonwealth at the table. I'd hate to see what the government thinks is a hostile environment.

The states also suggest that the broadened scope of the legislation threatens to spread a limited amount of funding across too many expenses, which threatens crucial services on top of the uncertainty that's already making the non-government organisations so uneasy in the first place. The Liberal Party says that the bill will:

promote better outcomes for the Commonwealth's housing and homelessness funding … without jeopardising the funding of crucial services …

That's what the minister told us in his second reading speech. But if you actually talk to the non-government organisations—the community organisations all around the country who every hour of every day are actually dealing with the homelessness crisis—they say that all this bill will do is create obstacles. It doesn't create any solutions. It amounts to 'moving the deckchairs around on our Titanic'. It represents 'a progressive, protracted diminution of effort'. When you look at the funding outlook under these new agreements, the Commonwealth is going to be putting less effort into homelessness, despite the growing crisis.

I commend the Andrews Labor government, who have at least recognised that they can't wait around for the Commonwealth to come up with a grown-up plan, to get a minister or to get a strategy. They announced in mid-January—it was a fantastic kick-off-the-year announcement in Victoria—$45 million of new money for dealing with the homelessness and rough-sleeping crisis, which includes parts of my electorate down in Dandenong in particular.

The Liberals say that their bill will secure improved outcomes. All the experts who work in the field—not the geniuses who occupy the government benches over there—say that the entire bill is premature in the absence of an urgently needed national strategy. There's no strategic vision. It's fine to introduce bills and rearrange administrative agreements, but you still don't have a plan or a strategy to deal with the housing crisis or 'the tsunami of Australians facing homelessness or insecure housing'. Again the government's perception of reality contrasts with that of the people across the nation who are actually at the coalface trying to deal with the homelessness crisis.

It's also at odds with the interests of everyday Australians who simply want to return to a time when their children and grandchildren had some hope—just some hope—of getting into the housing market without having rich parents to give them a hundred grand or two hundred grand for a deposit. That is the key point. It's one-sided. There's no coherent strategy. They're ignoring the advice of experts, and, indeed, on capital gains tax or negative gearing, as we've now learnt in the last few months, they're ignoring the advice of their own Treasury, which said, 'You really need to look at the reform of tax concessions.' They are fiddling around the edges, making some payments conditional, restructuring some payments but not actually doing anything to formulate a Commonwealth strategy.

It's an illustration of a theme that many of us have touched on before: the distinction between being in government—and being in government in here means you sit on the opposite side of the chamber, you get to be the ministers and you get the great privilege and responsibility of having the Public Service to work with and to advise you in making decisions—and actually governing, which means you actually need to look at problems and make decisions. Governing, to my mind anyway, means you get a strategy to deal with a problem. Being in government apparently just means that, like a bunch of demented bureaucrats who happen to have been elected, you rearrange the administrative agreements.

The government has also totally ignored the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, which said the federal government has to do more to work with the states in the spirit of Australian federalism. Yet the government tabled this bill without even talking to them. The Productivity Commission also recommended that the government—and this is important—not seek 'reform … through control of payments'. In fact, out of all the policy options identified, that's the least effective and the least preferred one. Yet, here we are debating a bill where that's all they're doing.

The bill will achieve nothing. It's a drop in the ocean, and I note the Grattan Institute's comment about needing an electron microscope to be able to see any impact this bill will actually have on house prices, on homelessness and on the crisis in social housing across the country. We're always being lectured by those opposite on how we apparently don't know anything about economics, so I would also make the point that it's about the basic laws of economics: supply and demand. We were told that the budget had an initiative about supply. The Commonwealth government was going to release Defence land to help boost supply. The centrepiece of this was the Maribyrnong Defence land in Melbourne. The only problem with that is that it was announced about 12 years ago, so it's not a new initiative at all. Of course, the reason it hasn't happened is that it's covered with explosives and contamination. If fully developed, at a really incredible density you might get 10,000 houses—it will probably be more like 6,000—which goes almost no meaningful way to addressing the supply issues which we're told need to be addressed in metropolitan areas, despite the fact the Victorian government has the nation's leading supply and demand forecasting by way of the Urban Development Program, where every two years they sit down with developers and councils to identify all the development sites across Melbourne. It's entirely unclear what this bill is actually going to do that's not already being done, at least in my home state of Victoria.

Finally, there are the tax concessions. You can't credibly get up now to talk about housing policy in this country without reminding the government that nothing serious will happen until they accept the fact that the levers the Commonwealth have in relation to demand go to the tax settings. We exist in a country now where, as a high-income earner—and we're well paid in here; apparently, the government thought it was not well enough, so we were the priority to get a tax cut in this budget, which says a lot about their own priorities and predilections—the most rational thing to do on a Saturday morning when you have a bit of spare cash in your pocket is to walk down the street to an auction and bid up the cost of an existing house, because you'll get a great big tax kick. On the other hand, of course, a first home buyer, a young person trying to get into the market, gets nothing. It's easier now, with the tax settings in this country, to buy your 13th property than it is to have a crack at getting your first one, and that has to change.

It's a pretty fair and simple proposition. Overwhelmingly, tens of billions of dollars of tax expenditures in negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions go to the people who have the most. They go to the top income earners, the people who already have the most wealth and capital. Of course, your ordinary everyday Australian simply does not benefit from that. You may wonder why this is. Let's be honest. Let's be clear. When you strip back all the fine words and all the nonsensical dot points that they send the odd backbencher in to read out—cannon fodder that they are—the Liberal Party is the party of wealth and capital. That has always been its historic purpose; that is its purpose today. Those who already have wealth and capital will do well out of this government. They will get tax cuts. They will get enormous tax concessions. Multinational companies will get a tax cut. Yet nothing meaningful is being done to address the needs of everyday Australians who don't already have wealth and capital and who are simply trying to get by, get a pay rise and maybe get a tax cut—but they're not the priority under this government.

10:20 am

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 deals with some of our most disadvantaged people. Homelessness is a huge disadvantage for anyone. The first step to getting your life back on track—I suppose you could call it normalising whatever existence you have—is through having a place of residence where you feel safe, that you know is your abode and where know you can return to.

Very sadly, there are thousands of people around the country who currently don't have a safe haven or house to live in and call their own, or a place where they can just be themselves. In order to change this and ensure that we bring down the numbers of homeless, you really need to have a commitment to this area. You really need strong policies with a focus on getting people back on track. But it shows the lack of commitment of this government that we don't even have a housing minister to oversee something so important to Australians.

For many years we in this nation used to pride ourselves on having one of the highest levels of home ownership in the world. It was something that every young couple or every young person could look forward to—leaving school, getting a job, getting an apprenticeship or going to university and knowing that, very soon, they would be able to save a little bit of money, put it down as a deposit and buy a house. That was every Australian's dream. It wasn't that long ago when most Australians could do that. As I said, we had one of the highest levels of home ownership in the world, which shows what a great nation we are, what a great lifestyle we have—and the way that this country has been run, by governments of all persuasions.

Unfortunately, the last few years have seen a massive increase in homelessness and the inability of people to buy their first home. That's not surprising when you look at the gap that's starting to grow, and which is increasingly growing, between the haves and the have-nots. It's very sad that, in a country like Australia, we're seeing at present approximately 105,000 people around the nation who are doing it tough and sleeping rough and who are unable to say that they have the right to a house. As members of parliament and as human beings, we should be doing all that we can to assist those people.

Homelessness is a significant indicator of disadvantage in a community. In Australia, as I said, in a rather wealthy country when we compare ourselves to other nations around the world, it's not acceptable, and it shouldn't be acceptable to us in this place that we have so many people who are homeless. As I said, there are 105,000 people who are homeless. What is very sad is that out of those 105,000 there are 17,000 children who, through no fault of their own, are homeless. We know that to give a child a good foundation in life the first thing you can do is give them some regularity in their life in a place where they feel safe. As I said, it's a combination of events that have led these people to such a situation, and in most cases it is not their choice.

The rate of homelessness is approximately 49 persons for every 10,000 people, or one person for every 200 people. One person in every 200 people is homeless. Also, 42 per cent of the homeless population, nearly half, are people under the age of 25, and 25 per cent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders—a quarter of that population. We know that homelessness is a very complex issue. Each person has a story to tell, and most of the time it is not their own fault that they are homeless. But it's nothing significant to list these horrific statistics on such an issue, as these statistics do not truly illustrate the cycle of adversity.

As a nation we must move away from the view that all of those who are homeless sleep rough on the streets. The first image you get of a homelessness person is someone sleeping on a footpath or in a park, but there can be many other types of homelessness. It can be a severely overcrowded dwelling, where, for necessity, you are living with a whole group of people because you cannot afford to get your own place. It can be supported accommodation, where you are given some sort of assistance to live in a place out of an emergency or you are given a place which is to assist you for a short time. There are boarding houses. You might be living temporarily in other households or couch surfing. We hear of people who stay with friends and then move on, because they cannot afford to put the money together for a bond or for rent, or they cannot actually find a landlord who will give them a property because of their situation, for instance, if they are unemployed, have health issues or are disabled in some way or another.

We also need to recognise that one of the biggest factors of homelessness, one of the areas that makes a lot of people homeless, is domestic violence. Domestic violence and a lack of affordable housing are the two largest contributing factors to homelessness. We need to put more resources into domestic violence. As I said, another one of the largest factors of homelessness in Australia is a shortage of housing for people on low to moderate incomes. We are currently seeing the lowest wage growth in our history. Big multinationals and big businesses are growing in profits, yet wage growth remains at its lowest. This is a contributing factor, because if the price of housing, the price of goods, the price of energy, the price of food, the price of bills that you are paying are constantly going up and your wage is not, that will contribute in a big way to whether or not you pay your rent, you pay your mortgage, or you put a deposit together to buy a house. It's no surprise that on the other side we see a government that doesn't want to tackle penalty rates. In fact, they put up their hands to not support the opposition in ensuring that we give weekend workers their penalty rates. This is a government that doesn't want to deal with low-income earners through low wage growth but, at the same time, it wants to give away a $65 billion tax cut to the top end of town—a $65 billion tax cut—when we have over 100,000 people who are currently homeless.

We also have a government that is hell-bent on seeing housing as an asset, not an abode, not a place you live in, not a place that is your own, but as an asset. We give away millions of dollars of taxpayers' money towards negative gearing. As the member for Bruce said, it is not uncommon to see very wealthy people turn up at auctions as a pastime on Saturday mornings and bid just on the off-chance that they might get a bargain or buy their second, third or fourth property. We know that, out of all the homes that are currently being sold in the market, only one out of seven goes to a first home owner, leaving the other six to people who are buying their third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, 10th, 15th, 20th or 100th home, with a massive tax break for doing so. This pushes prices up on houses and makes it less affordable for those who are putting together a deposit and struggling to buy their first home for the family. As I said, it wasn't that long ago when we had the highest rate of home ownership in the world, and it is sad to see us spiralling downwards. This is a crisis. It is a shame that the government has overseen the lowest rate of home ownership in six decades. We have the lowest rate of home ownership in 60 years. As I said, one out of seven houses being sold every week is to a first home buyer—only one goes to a first home owner—and the other six go to someone who is buying maybe their 10th or 15th house, with a massive tax break of negative gearing to go with it.

The reality is that the government solution to housing affordability is one of two things, as we've heard previous Treasurers say in this place: get your rich parents to help you, if they can afford it, or get your rich mates to give you a job or whatever. This is just unacceptable. As I said, the reason for this is that on the other side a house is seen as an asset. On our side it's seen as a place to live. This is arrogance that, as I said, reduces the likelihood of young people and families in Australia ever owning their own home. That is very sad.

As I said, we shouldn't see houses as assets. Houses are a place for people to live, and we should be doing all that we can, through policies and through good forward thinking, to ensure that, first of all, we assist those who are homeless and are doing it really rough and, second, to ensure that people have the ability to get into the housing market.

It is because the government sees houses as assets that it remains incapable of addressing the issue and is leaving hundreds of families in housing distress. The ever-increasing cost of housing also increases the problem of rental affordability, and rents are far outpacing income growth. It's the policies of this government that are actively contributing towards this wage stagnation that we see at the moment, which is a contributing factor to everything from homelessness to problems with first home ownership. As I said, we see the government continually looking after the big end of town, continually giving the $65 billion tax breaks to those big multinationals—much of which will go overseas—and putting massive tax breaks into ownership of 10th homes et cetera, while someone struggling to get into the housing market will continue to struggle because of low income, low wages and other issues that are taking place.

On this side of the House, we know that something that will go a long way for housing is reforming negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount in order to put that dream of homeownership—a dream which all Australians had for many years but which is quickly disappearing—back in the reach of families and all Australians. We need reform.

The other issue that we had during the 2016 election was that one of the ways was the construction of new homes—approximately 55,000. This would also boost the employment of people, with 25,000 new jobs per year for every 55,000 homes that are built. This is one way that governments can actually pull the levers of the economy as well, by putting money into the housing sector. You're creating jobs at the same time you're alleviating the housing shortage.

Housing affordability has never been about people who are interested in buying a home either. More than one-third of housing occupants are renters. Often they're left out of the discussion of housing affordability, and their needs need to be considered as well. If we compare it to a decade ago, renting now is much more unaffordable, for the reasons that I gave earlier, including the lowest wage growth in our history. The associated rental stress of spending more than 30 per cent of household income on rent is taking its toll on individuals. If you're earning approximately $650 a week and you're spending 30 per cent on rent—which would be a priority, one of the first things that you put money into—and then your bills, then your food and then other expenses, there's not much left to save to be able to buy your first home, if that is your dream. As I said, not that long ago that was a dream that the majority of Australians could achieve. More than half—53 per cent—of low-income households that are renting privately are experiencing rental stress. These are families that can't afford their rent.

These are all contributing factors to homelessness. Low-income earners often find themselves priced out of the housing market, as precious few properties are considered affordable. As I said, the fact that this government gives massive tax breaks to those who are buying their 20th or 30th house contributes to that.

The other area that I wanted to talk about in the last few minutes that I have is domestic violence. As I said, it's one of the biggest contributors to homelessness. Family members escaping violence is a dreadful thing, and many people have no chance to plan and save money to go into a different housing opportunity where they are safe. Usually these things happen very quickly, and you often find families—mums with kids—homeless overnight. We know that domestic violence is a massive issue here in Australia. There have been investigations and reports about the links between homelessness and domestic violence, and it's been found that 36 per cent of people who accessed homelessness services had done so because of an existing situation of domestic violence at home.

If this government wants to commit itself to doing something about homelessness, one of the first commitments they can make is to ensure that they have a housing minister. Such a minister currently does not exist.

10:35 am

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing And Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. Housing affordability drives growing inequality in Australia and in my community in regional New South Wales on the Central Coast. People deserve an affordable home. People deserve a secure home. They deserve a home that's close to services. All Australians have the right to a secure and affordable home throughout their lives. People also deserve a genuine chance to live near good jobs. This is essential but is out of reach for so many Australians, particularly in regional communities like mine. For too many people, the housing pressures are getting worse, not better. Australia has a housing crisis: a crisis of supply, a crisis of affordability and a crisis of suitability and sustainability.

I remember my parents telling me about their first home. My parents had been searching for a home and for a loan. Finally, my dad met with a local bank manager, and he said: 'I'm going to give you a chance. I'm retiring and I want to give a young family a start.' Not all people now have that same start. Too many don't. It is unacceptable that in a wealthy country like Australia so many Australians have nowhere to call home. There is a no greater example of increasing inequality than many Australians sleeping on the streets, couch surfing or living in overcrowded and unhygienic housing.

Before I came to this job, I had the privilege of working in Wyong Hospital. I worked in the mental health unit there for just under 10 years. I saw large numbers of people come to the mental health units who were grateful that it gave them a secure place to stay, a place where they could take a shower and a place where they knew they would have a meal. That situation shouldn't happen in Australia today. It shouldn't happen in regional communities like mine on the Central Coast. The government must do something about it.

I would like to change the direction of this speech a little and talk about an organisation that does understand homelessness, and one that has worked in my community for almost three decades. I would like to share the story of Coast Shelter. It is not-for-profit charity based on the Central Coast, and it has been working to make a difference for the most vulnerable people in our community for more than 20 years. They have refuges located across the Central Coast, and they provide homes and support for young people, men, women and families in crisis. At their Coast Community Centre in Gosford, breakfast, lunch and dinner are served to almost 150 people each day in their restaurant. I was really pleased to be able to spend a day in their kitchen with my team to help serve lunch at Christmas, when people are often most in need and feel really isolated and alone. The facility has shower and laundry facilities available, and also free legal advice from the Central Coast Community Legal Centre. Coast Shelter gives swags, sleeping bags and blankets to people sleeping rough, and helps provide for essentials such as medicines, food and fuel.

The previous speaker mentioned that family violence leads to considerable homelessness and to families in crisis. I was able to visit Coast Shelter's Rondeley Domestic Violence Program, which provides critical support for women and children fleeing family violence. I met with their program manager, Nicole, and she let me know about some of the work they are doing, and also about some of the challenges that they face and the unmet needs. On the day when I visited recently, I met with Laurene, who spoke to me about fleeing her own violent relationship only a week before. She was there with her young child. That conversation that I had with Laurene that day will stay with me. In that crisis, the one thing that Laurene said had helped her was this Rondeley program and knowing that she was now safe. Overall with the program, they have worked with over 600 women and children in the last year alone and have formed really well respected and great working relationships with local law enforcement and community groups. But they need funding to extend this work, and they need the government to back them with policies that let them do their best work and not get in the way.

In the last financial year, Coast Shelter provided 64,000 overnight beds in 10 refuges and 72 outreach properties. Around 800 men, women, young people and children were accommodated, mostly aged between 15 and 17 years. Of those, the highest number of presentations were from people experiencing family violence and family breakdown. Close to 50,000 meals were provided to people in need and more than 1,500 food hampers were donated by generous community members and businesses. Close to 400 people used their showering and laundry facilities and 105 people were able to access their no-interest loans for people in crisis, which came to a total of more than $85,000. Over 500 people were assisted with paying their medical prescriptions. As a pharmacist, I know how critical it is that people get timely and affordable access to the treatment they need. With the rising costs of energy, 302 people were helped with assistance to pay energy bills. There were 73 people provided with free legal advice and 15 swags were given to those who were sleeping rough.

Despite the generosity of the local community, and business and government support, one in five people seeking help from Coast Shelter is turned away. I am privileged to work closely with Laurie, Shayne, Charles and the team at Coast Shelter but they urgently need additional federal resources to provide housing and homelessness services in my community on the Central Coast.

Today, however, I would like to place on the record my gratitude to the chief executive officer of Coast Shelter, Laurie Maher AM, who has just this week announced that he will retire in July after 26 years in this role. Laurie has been a stalwart in our community. There is no-one who has done more locally to raise awareness of the issue of housing and homelessness and also do something practical about it. I commend him for his work and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Another Central Coast organisation that understands homelessness is the Shoebox Revolution, a charity that collects perishable foods, toiletries and essential items packed in shoeboxes and distributes the goods to people in need on the Central Coast. It is a labour of love for sisters Bec and Sheridan, who saw the lack of housing options contributing to the need in our community. They started off in their garage, with social media and a whole lot of energy, and set about launching this charity which has grown to have seven collection points across the Central Coast and delivered thousands of shoebox packages to local people experiencing hardship. I spent time at their family fun day in The Entrance last year marking anti-poverty week, helping to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship, and encouraging people to take action to address the problems.

While this work helps to address the problems of housing affordability and homelessness in our community, it is being led and driven by volunteers at a local level. Whilst we know community led projects are the most effective, what is the government doing at a national level to help? I'm really disappointed. This government has no comprehensive housing plan. This government has consistently failed to take any meaningful action to tackle Australia's housing affordability crisis. It seems that they look at it as a number on a ledger, not a person in a home.

The government announced its intention to negotiate a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement as part of the 2017-18 budget measures. The government described the measures as a comprehensive plan to improve housing affordability, which they thought would be well received. But there were problems. The package announced in the budget wasn't well received. It was criticised as being unlikely to make any real difference to housing affordability. And it was criticised, rightly, for failing to deliver the big-picture solutions needed to end homelessness. I would like to quote James Toomey of Mission Australia. He said:

Disappointingly, the Budget contained inadequate assistance for the many people in rental stress who remain just one step away from homelessness. Rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable for older and younger Australians alike, with those on Newstart and the age pension struggling to find a home within their means.

I work very closely with the two state Labor members, and David Mehan, the member for The Entrance, said to me recently—and it's a conversation we have had many times—that the biggest issue he deals with every day in our community is housing and homelessness, and one of the big contributors on the Central Coast is rental stress: being able to get a bond and being able to find a rental in a really competitive rental market is out of the reach of so many people.

I know I've said this before, but it has just stuck with me. I was at a mobile office in a park and I met a young family. The mum showed me a drawing that her child had done, and in the drawing was a house with a garden and a dog. They hadn't been able to keep their dog because they hadn't been able to keep their home. For this child, that had changed his life, and he was then having to start at a new school because they were in a new community—and this was something that had happened again and again. This can't continue to happen. We cannot have more young people like him whose start in life is so tough. We need to do something, and there is an urgency about it. The government doesn't seem to understand that this is urgent, that these aren't numbers on a ledger, that this isn't ticking a box to say, 'We've got a policy,' or 'We've put forward a bill.' These are real people, and this is about them having homes to live in.

I've mentioned that I worked in mental health at Wyong hospital, and one of the things we would do in our multidisciplinary teams was planning people's transition into the community when they were able to leave the hospital. I'll always remember the social worker handing a phone book to one of the patients and saying, 'You need to start calling real estate agents.' In this competitive rental market, where rents are out of many people's reach, how is someone going to be able to get well and stay well with that financial stress of not being able to leave the hospital to go to a safe and secure place to live? Much evidence provided to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee argued that the 2017-18 budget measures fall far short of a comprehensive housing strategy, and the Commonwealth lacks a credible national housing plan.

Putting that to one side, let's have a quick look at what this bill does. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 to repeal the current national specific purposes payment for housing services paid to the states and territories, and replace it with new funding arrangements under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent on their being party to primary, supplementary and designated housing agreements. The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will provide $375 million over three years from 2018-19, maintaining the current $115 million of annual homelessness funding provided under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness—and I note that the current annual funding level of $115 million still reflects the $44 million funding cut in the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-15 budget. This funding will be ongoing and indexed to maintain and provide funding to frontline services that help Australians who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. To ensure that the funding for frontline homelessness services is preserved, the agreement will separately identify the indexed funding to be matched by the states that relates to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

There is a big problem with this, and that problem is that the bill as drafted actually places housing and homelessness funding at risk. It jeopardises this funding. Many of the submissions received by the Senate economics committee, and evidence provided at the public hearings expressed strong criticism—and rightly—of the conditionality the bill places on the payment of housing and homelessness assistance to the states and territories. In its submission, Melbourne City Mission, which is Victoria's largest funded provider of youth homelessness services, said:

    Homelessness Australia also expressed strong concern about the immediate risk the bill poses to the payment of housing and homelessness funding to the states and territories:

    Should funding to states and territories for housing and homelessness services be cut, the 394,000 Australian households who currently reside in social housing would be put at risk of homelessness, and services to the 288,000 Australians who access specialist homelessness support in a year would be reduced.

    Labor agrees there is a need for greater accountability and transparency in expenditure of Commonwealth assistance payments, but the bill does not adequately address this issue. The Turnbull government does not have the comprehensive housing strategy that is necessary to address the country's largest and growing crisis of housing affordability and supply for low- and very-low-income households. The Abbott-Turnbull government have had four budgets in which they have had the opportunity to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, and they have failed. The measures in the budget tinker at the edges but will do nothing to put first home buyers back on a level playing field with investors or take the heat out of the housing market. The housing affordability measures announced in the budget fail the fairness test and don't come close to the budget centrepiece the Treasurer and his junior minister had been promising for months. This is quoted as being a centrepiece without a centrepiece. However, we do not believe that this bill should not be passed, because should it fail to pass the homelessness support that is dependent on this bill passing would be placed in serious jeopardy.

    10:50 am

    Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I quite regularly have the privilege of standing here in the chamber and in the Federation Chamber to remind the House that I am the member for the fantastic electorate of Longman. Longman is the north side of Brisbane and the southern end of the Sunshine Coast. I quite often get on my feet to remind the House of that, because it is a real privilege to be elected the member to represent that area. I have lived in Longman for 30 years and had my children raised and go to school in that area for those years. Listening to the member for Dobell prior to me, she clearly is very proud of her electorate as well. Longman is truly a wonderful place, but there is one aspect that we can't be completely proud of. It is truly no fault at all of the good people who live there, including my family and friends and people that I've worked with. That is the high incidence of homelessness.

    The 2011 census gave us an indication of around 300 people in Longman living without a home. The 2016 census still hasn't been released. My fear is that number hasn't reduced at all but, in fact, what we will find when it does get released is that that number's grown. That is of genuine concern. When we look at the average median personal weekly income in Longman, we're talking $580 week. That falls about $82 short of the national average weekly income. At the same time, our median rent is around $320 a week, which is only slightly less than the national average of $335. You can see there's a real disparity there.

    As I said, I have been a local for nearly 30 years now, so I know the area quite well. I worked in the education system in the area. You get to meet lots of families that live in the area with you. So I've seen a fair share of people who live on the streets. As a teacher aide at Dakabin State School I saw my fair share of families being affected by homelessness. Having four sons that went to the local school, I've heard the story of their friends and their housing situations. You don't need to go too much further than Caboolture Community Action on a Tuesday or Saturday night to hear of the housing situations—not just of single people, but of families, families who quite often are employed but also may be underemployed. They are in situations where there's enough money to put fuel in the car to get to work, there's enough money to just pay the rent, but there's nothing else left.

    In my whole working life, and now as a representative of the great people of Longman, I promised that I would stand up for vulnerable people in our community; vulnerable people that this government has simply forgotten. They are people living on the streets, or living just one unexpected bill away from losing their home, whether the car's broken down and needs to get fixed to get to work, whether you've had an unexpected medical bill and a couple of the children are unwell and need antibiotics. Just one bill can make or break whether you have got somewhere to live.

    Everyone has a right to a safe and affordable place to live. I don't think anybody can deny that. That is why we need a strong and comprehensive piece of legislation to ensure that that happens—people have somewhere to live. We cannot afford and we cannot allow people to fall through the cracks. But, just as the case with many other portfolio areas, we have seen no comprehensive housing plan from this Turnbull government. For goodness sake; we've got driverless cars now. How can we have the situation where people do not have a roof over their heads in this day and age?

    Just before the 2017-18 federal budget was announced we saw Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar teasing that the government's housing package would be an 'impressive package'. He also said it would be a 'well-received package'. Unfortunately on budget night what the Treasurer unveiled was not impressive—it was quite the contrary—and so, fittingly, it wasn't well received at all. Homelessness Australia said:

    … the Budget fails to deliver the big-picture solutions needed to end homelessness.

    They went on to say:

    This budget is not fair, because it fails to fix a broken housing system that encourages investors to own more than one house while 105,000 have no home at all.

    This bill seeks to legislate aspects of the NHHA, or the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which makes up a significant part of the Assistant Treasurer's very disappointing housing package. The bill combines the National Affordable Housing Agreement and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness into one single agreement. Under this agreement, a total of $4.6 billion over three years from 2018 to 2018 is provided.

    Being such a very important piece of legislation, of course, this was referred to a Senate inquiry to collate submissions from individuals, organisations and peak bodies. It won't come as a surprise to many that a number of those organisations, individuals and peak bodies lambasted the government's plan—or, should I say, lack thereof. In its submission to the inquiry, the Council to Homeless Persons noted that, despite the policy responsibility that the government has, they have failed to deliver a plan and instead are shifting the blame 'to the states and territories for outcomes that are primarily driven by federal policy drivers'.

    It has come to be quite expected for this coalition to attempt to shift blame. I think I'd personally be able to fund this agreement if I had a dollar for every time we've heard this government try to blame Labor for something. But, after five years in government, the government have learnt that pointing the finger at a prior administration is growing pretty stale. So we've seen the coalition adopt a new strategy, and that is throw their hands up in the air and attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility and ask the states and territories to clean up their mess. It's typical behaviour, but it is just not good enough. Throughout the inquiry a number of stakeholders explained very clearly that, to address housing affordability, there needs to be a joint effort at the Commonwealth, state and territory government levels. There needs to be true cooperation and not the shifting of blame that the coalition have adopted as, to be quite honest, their standard operating procedure.

    The bill, as it has been drafted, represents a clear and unacceptable risk to ongoing housing assistance to the states and territories. It is worth noting that many of the submissions received during the inquiry expressed strong criticisms against the bill placing conditionality on payment of housing and homelessness assistance to the states and territories. In its submission, the Council to Homeless Persons noted:

    Should funding to states and territories for housing and homelessness services be cut, the 394,000 Australian households who currently reside in social housing would be put at risk of homelessness, and services to the 288,000 Australians who access specialist homelessness support in a year would be reduced.

    These organisations know this, and they know this from experience. They have felt the cuts before. In Queensland, we felt these cuts under the Newman LNP government. So we know exactly what these cuts feel like. And, federally, not all that long ago, $44 million was cut from the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness in the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-15 budget.

    It is clear that Australia is facing a housing crisis, a crisis of supply, a crisis of suitability and a crisis of sustainability, so more needs to be done. This crisis has been going on for far too long. As Associate Professor Lisa Wood explained in her evidence to that inquiry, we now have third-generation homeless people in Australia. This is nothing short of heartbreaking. It's not just that this has become an intergenerational problem; it's a devastating cycle that plagues thousands of Australians. It's also a heartbreaking issue because, across the three generations I spoke of, not enough has been done for society's most vulnerable people.

    Many homeless people have experienced trauma in their childhood; many of them live and suffer with mental health issues. It makes sense that we should be investing more in helping these vulnerable populations to—as Professor Lisa Wood noted—try and lift them up to anywhere near the standard the rest of us enjoy every day. Instead, what we're seeing is this government seeking to increase the inequality by increasing taxes for low- and middle-income earners while cutting taxes for millionaires and gifting $65 billion in handouts to big business.

    Even this government's so-called housing affordability measure of allowing people to deposit extra money into their superannuation accounts to go towards purchasing a home actually further increases the divide rather than closes it. Not only does this measure completely undermine the superannuation system—the system that is there for support in retirement—it also completely avoids helping people who need it the most. If you're already struggling to pay the rent, if it's already a struggle to put food on the table then how can you be expected to skim some money from your pay cheque and contribute to this measure? How can you possibly be expected to find that money?

    This government's reasoning for this measure just beggars belief. This measure only helps those who can afford it, not those who truly need it. And down the line, when people have chipped away at their superannuation to buy a home, what is going to happen then? We're going to be faced with another problem, aren't we? This package is a short-sighted solution to help only those who can afford it. In the simplest terms, this package is a complete sham. These measures fail the fairness test. It is, instead, just a grab bag of unrelated measures that will not address the key drivers of housing unaffordability that are within the Commonwealth's control.

    To counter this government's inaction, Labor has a plan. Quite often I hear people asking me, 'Well, what's Labor's plan?' When I was campaigning during the federal election people kept asking me about what I would do about homelessness, and I committed and I continue to commit to having a consultative approach, to having a collaborative approach to dealing with the issues and the social issues we face. Labor's plan is to address housing unaffordability and homelessness within a broader context of inequality. Under a Shorten Labor government stronger reforms to negative gearing and capital gains concessions will be instated. We will limit future negative gearing concessions to new housing and reduce the capital gains tax discounts from 50 to 25 per cent. These changes will moderate the huge growth in house prices that we've seen under this current government, re-direct those generous tax concessions to where they are needed the most and see the greatest investment in new housing. This will put downward pressure on housing prices, making it easier for low-income earners to enter the housing market.

    Importantly, Labor will reinstate a minister for housing and homelessness. The remit of the minister for housing and homelessness will be to coordinate all aspects of federal government housing policy and to strengthen Commonwealth policy in this area following the coalition's neglect over many years. No policy area is as important as this.

    The minister, I will happily say, will not act alone. We will establish a national housing supply council that will act as an ongoing independent advisory body on boosting housing supply, and we will develop a national homelessness strategy at COAG. It is truly a significant and ambitious measure, but Labor will halve homelessness by 2025. That's our target. We expect to achieve it. It will be no mean feat, but it will be worth it, and we are committed to that. Labor takes housing and homelessness very, very seriously. People are struggling to get a roof over their head in this country.

    So I'd say to the Prime Minister that this bill isn't enough. I believe it should be passed, but only because, should it fail, the homeless support that's dependent on this bill passing would be placed in serious jeopardy. So I will support its passing. I hope I get another opportunity to be up on my feet and to stand up for a similar bill in the very near future, to ensure we reach that target of dealing with homelessness and housing in this country.

    11:05 am

    Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

    I commend the government's commitment to continue housing and homeless funding through the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, but let's be real: we can do more. This core funding will provide a critical floor for housing and homelessness services across Australia, and it is funding that the states could not have easily replaced. The funding will provide support for emergency and transitional housing and homelessness services across my electorate.

    Services delivered in my electorate that provide homelessness support include Centacare in the Adelaide Hills and Junction Australia, which provides support on Kangaroo Island and across the Fleurieu Peninsula. Centacare and Junction Australia do great work in my electorate with our most vulnerable people. Junction Australia provides support to people who are experiencing or facing homelessness, including adults who are living in the southern Adelaide region. People possibly don't think when they look at my electorate that we would have homelessness, but we most certainly do. The Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island Homelessness Support Services are outreach services operated by Junction along the southern Fleurieu. It's quite an isolated community. If people find that they are without a home and they don't have a car, they have very little option to move or go. These services are available to anyone aged 15 years or over who is experiencing homeless or facing potential homelessness, and they really help people pick up the pieces.

    The certainty of continued funding is critical to this sector and to organisations like Junction and Centacare. As somebody who has worked in the sector before, I know that, when we get close to funding deadlines, staff naturally start to move; they need to be able to pay for their mortgages too. So funding certainty is essential for multiyear interventions to be sustained and also to ensure that we can keep good staff in this sector, because it is a very difficult area to work, and people are very passionate and committed to it.

    I do not rail against the conditions contained within the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 in relation to the federal component of funding. Some level of conditionality on how the money should be spent and tying funding to outcomes does provide increased accountability and transparency for taxpayers' money. We've got to remember this is not our money; this money belongs to the taxpayer. However, I do not want to see conditionality meaning that funding could be withdrawn from core services, as it's supposed to really be about managing and creating genuine outcomes. In this vein, while I appreciate that the federal and, particularly, state governments might prefer greater flexibility, I can also understand where the federal government is coming from. I do believe, however, that the parliament should have greater insight into the funding conditionality that may be applied and, at least, a framework of expected outcomes fleshed out in this place under the proposed legislation. I can't see any excuse or reason for why more detail is not provided in this legislation.

    I've spoken at length before in this place about housing affordability, or lack of affordability, and homelessness, but I want to take this opportunity to elaborate a little further about my concerns around youth homelessness. We've yet to receive the data series on homelessness from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from the 2016 census; however, the 2011 census showed us that an estimated 2,397 young Australians—people under 24—were homeless and, of those, 944—nearly 1,000—were children aged under 12 who were homeless. Nationally, as at 2011, there were 44,000 young people under the age of 24 who were homeless and, of those, nearly 18,000 were children. They had no place to call home. They were sleeping in cars. They were in a room, normally with mum, on a blow-up mattress. Perhaps they were getting a cheap dodgy hotel for a couple nights from an organisation. How can we expect children to learn and have the foundation of a happy childhood under these circumstances? This is a national shame. This is our shame.

    In my state of South Australia 1,400 young people from 12 to 24 will be homeless tonight. That is teenagers and young people. We often talk about numbers in this place, but every number is a person. Those young people are tired, afraid and hungry. They have a sense of hopelessness. They're sleeping on a couch. They are normally young women. They are often trading for that couch and doing things with their body that they never thought they would need to do just to have a place to sleep.

    I know that often it is young people coming from absent, neglectful and abusive parents—homes that they just can't stay in. Sometimes there is drug and alcohol addiction involved as well. That is not so much a cause of homelessness but certainly an effect of homelessness. I do not seek to detract their share of responsibility from families, who really should be taking a greater role of support; however, we know that not all families have that capacity. Young people shouldn't be penalised because they don't have parents who provide a loving home.

    Too often these people come from households where there is domestic and family violence. There can be many different kinds. It can be intimidation, coercion, isolation, emotional, physical, sexual or financial. We know that young women aged 18 to 25 are twice as likely as older women to experience physical or sexual violence. Estimates show that the likelihood of young women aged 14 to 19 experiencing physical or sexual violence is quadrupled. The great challenge is often people don't see that as domestic violence—'That's something that happens to mum; that's not something that happens to me.' But it does, indeed, happen to them.

    I think our society's role is about ensuring that we have a safety net that can help pick up the pieces, particularly for our most vulnerable people, because it benefits all of us. That is what our society is about. I was fortunate to recently attend a briefing by the Home Stretch initiative. The Home Stretch campaign is backed by a variety of not-for-profit social services organisations. One of the key lessons for me is that the research in Home Stretch shows that two-thirds of homeless young people have a state care history—that is, they have been guardians of the minister for a period in their life.

    The Home Stretch initiative seeks to make a national partnership to extend out-of-home care for young people from 18 to 21 years of age. This is something America does. America has a national partnership between the states and the federal government that ensures that this group of incredibly vulnerable young people continue to receive the support of the state in a parenting role until they are 21 years of age. We know that young people's brains don't even finish developing cognitively until they're in their mid-20s, so the idea that we would push young people out at the age of 18 and assume that they have all the capacity of an adult is really just a furphy. We know young people who are former guardians of the minister of state will in the first 12 months after leaving state care generally have about five places where they sleep at night.

    So that is something I will be very keen to pursue in this parliament. We note that, if we can address that issue, we can largely address the issue of homelessness for young people in Australia. It goes without saying that we need to do more about youth homelessness and the prevention of it but, equally so, we know that, while young people make up the largest cohort of homeless, the fastest growing group of homelessness is actually older women who do not have superannuation and assets behind them. They are in an incredibly vulnerable state, particularly because very often they have a very limited likelihood of finding employment.

    I will close by saying that I do support this bill, but I think we need to provide greater leadership in this place on meaningfully addressing homelessness. This is not something we should push to the states. This is a national issue and we should all take responsibility for the problem because we have a great opportunity in our nation. We're a nation of great wealth and we can address homelessness meaningfully.

    11:16 am

    Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

    Every human has the basic right to a roof over their head. Access to affordable, secure housing and reasonable services is essential to the financial, social and emotional wellbeing of human beings. But unfortunately in Australia over, in particular, the past three or four years housing has become more and more unaffordable to the extent now that we have a full-blown housing crisis, particularly in the capital cities of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. As a result of that housing crisis and the unaffordability of housing we're seeing a dramatic increase in homelessness.

    It's unfortunate that the Turnbull and Abbott governments have chosen to sit on their hands about housing affordability and homelessness in the period since they were elected in 2013. Basically, the view of the Abbott government was that this was a matter for the states and that the Commonwealth shouldn't be involved in providing funding for it or the development of services associated with homelessness. Thankfully, the Turnbull government has sought to act, albeit too late for many who have been waiting for housing for many, many years. But it hasn't acted on the principal problem that exists in Australia around housing affordability, and that is the generous tax concessions that exist around negative gearing and capital gains tax. The government are refusing to act on that because they've got so many mates in the development lobby throughout the country who've been lobbying them for many, many years now, saying: 'No, don't touch negative gearing and capital gains tax. We want those generous tax concessions to continue.' Because they haven't acted on that, we have this full-blown housing crisis. Australians know that they're not fair dinkum about tackling housing affordability. Nonetheless, these measures are welcomed and they are an improvement on the Abbott government's refusal to act on this issue.

    This particular bill amends the Federal Financial Relations Act to repeal the current national specific purpose payments for housing services. These will be replaced by new funding arrangements under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent on their being party to primary, supplementary and designated housing agreements.

    Of course, having an affordable and secure home, as I mentioned earlier, is essential to financial, social and emotional wellbeing. Housing is a basic human right that every Australian citizen is entitled to. They are entitled to a roof over their head. Unfortunately in Australia homeownership is at a 60-year low, and it's not hard to understand why. Homeownership rates for ages 25 to 34 have collapsed from around 60 per cent to less than 40 per cent in the last 30 years. These are the formative years in people's lives when they are trying to start families, get on their feet and establish themselves. What we've seen over the last 30 years is the rate of homeownership in that age bracket fall from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

    Rental stress is on the rise, with the proportion of low-income households in rental stress now at more than 40 per cent. If you add to that the cost-of-living pressures associated with rising electricity prices, private health insurance contributions going up year after year, the cost of education services—particularly childcare services, which are ever on the rise—households are under a lot of cost-of-living stress. When you factor in the fact that wages haven't increased in line with inflation for many years now and that real wages have been falling behind, with the wage price index data still stuck stubbornly at around two per cent, it's no wonder that many Australians are feeling the pressure and aren't feeling the so-called joy that this government says exists with the economy at the moment.

    For Sydneysiders, particularly those in the electorate that I represent, the housing affordability issue is causing a hell of a lot of distress. Many young people fear that they will never be able to afford a home in the Eastern Suburbs, the area they grew up in, around family, friends and social networks. They just won't be able to afford to live there anymore, and many more of them are staying at home with their parents for longer periods or are being forced to move out of the area or to rent. In the three years from 2014 to 2017, the price of homes in the suburb of Malabar, around the corner from where I live, grew by a whopping 46 per cent. In that short period of time, up to $2 million was added. The value of a home increased by about $630,000 over that period. That equates to an increase of $580 every single day. In that suburb, the cost of housing is going up by $580 every single day. Up the road in Coogee, average prices have increased by $592 every single day, to an average price of just under $2.4 million. In the suburb where I live, Matraville, house prices increased by 16 per cent in one year. That was over the course of the last year.

    With such high prices, the availability of subsidised affordable housing is leaving many Australians with nowhere to go and no secure accommodation, and that's why we're seeing an increase in the number of people couch surfing, living in their cars and living on the streets. Currently there are over 100,000 Australians without proper accommodation. It's estimated that 1.3 million households are in a state of housing need, whether unable to access the market for housing or in a position of rental stress. This figure is predicted to increase to 1.7 million by 2025. The waiting list for social housing in New South Wales has ballooned in recent years, reaching 60,000 people early last year, and less than one per cent of private rentals in Sydney are affordable for people on low incomes.

    Not a week goes by—Deputy Speaker, you'd know about this—where we don't get a call from a constituent who's homeless and on the list waiting for access to public housing in our respective electorates. Unfortunately—and I have to tell people this when they ring up about it—the waiting list in the area that I represent is eight years long. If you ring the department and say that you want to access public housing in Kingsford Smith, they'll tell you, 'We'll put your name on the list, but you're going to have to wait eight years.' If you're in a domestic violence situation and you've left home with nothing more than the kids and the clothes on your back and you've got nowhere to live, how do you think you'd feel if you were faced with that phone call and you were told that? Of course, we have crisis accommodation services, but unfortunately they've been under much greater stress in recent years because of the increase in homelessness and because of the incidence of and the increase in domestic violence, and the system simply isn't coping.

    The notion that the Abbott government had that this is a matter for the states and that the Commonwealth shouldn't be involved in it is quite simply a disgrace, because homelessness and lack of access to housing isn't confined to a particular state and territory. It's a national issue. It's a national crisis that a national government should lead on and should be involved in.

    The Abbott-Turnbull government have had four budgets in which they've had the opportunity to tackle this issue—to tackle negative gearing and capital gains tax, to put funding in the budget to support the construction of additional public housing or provide incentives for affordable housing and new rental agreements. They've failed to do it. All they've offered is some new measures around superannuation for young people to save for a house deposit up to the value of $30,000. They've got this scheme by which you can get a tax concession through your superannuation fund if you put aside a total amount of no more than $30,000 to save for a first home deposit. In the area that I represent, $30,000 won't buy you a window pane, let alone a deposit on a house. So it's basically useless for many people seeking to enter the housing market in our area. Study after study has proven that the schemes that actually increase demand, whereby you're giving incentives for people to put more money into their pockets to buy homes, actually push up prices. They have the reverse effect of pushing prices up, because you're creating more demand in the market.

    If you're not tackling that overly generous tax concessions around negative gearing and capital gains tax, you are not fair dinkum about housing affordability. That's why Labor is the only party that has a fair dinkum housing policy. If we are elected at the next election we will restrict negative gearing and capital gains tax. This element of this package demonstrates that this government is really not fair dinkum about this issue. It using the budget to tinker around the edges. They've done nothing to put first home buyers back on a level playing field with investors and take the heat out of the housing market. They're a grab bag of unrelated measures that won't address the key drivers of housing unaffordability. That's the Commonwealth's ability to wind back negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts.

    In the context of budgets gone by and approaches of other political parties, when Labor was in government we had a national leadership plan to ensure that we were tackling this issue of housing affordability. There were a number of elements related to stimulus after the global financial crisis and encouraging the development and building of new public housing and affordability schemes. In the 2008-09 budget, in a broader package to address housing supply pressures as part of the stimulus package in response to the GFC, it was Labor that introduced the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Under this scheme the Australian government provided an annual incentive to investors for up to 10 years as a refundable tax offset for them to construct affordable housing. This was augmented by state or territory annual contributions, which took the form of cash grants, concessions on stamp duty and the provision of discounted land over the same period. Properties developed under the scheme were made available to low- to middle-income earners at a 20 per cent below market rate for each of the 10 years for which the NRAS incentive was received. Initially the NRAS was to provide $622 million over four years from 2008-09 for the development of up to 50,000 affordable rental properties across Australia by mid-2012, and the government was to deliver a further 50,000 properties from 2012 onwards. Of course when the Abbott-Turnbull government came to office, they stopped the program. They stopped the good work that was being done to improve rental affordability throughout the country, taking the view, as I said earlier, that this was an issue for the states.

    It was the Labor government, when we were in office, that also took the following incentives to address housing affordability. We produced The road home, a white paper on homeless, and developed national strategies to target reducing homelessness. Labor committed to housing help for seniors, a pilot program that was working well very. We provided $6 billion to the states and territories for affordable housing. We negotiated the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which saw Australian state and territory governments provided over $1 billion for reducing homelessness. We established the National Housing Supply Council. Finally, we had a dedicated person in cabinet whose responsibility it was to deal with this issue and advocate on behalf of Australians—a dedicated minister for housing and homelessness. It's something that's missing from the frontbench under this government. There is no minister for housing and homelessness under the Liberal government, and that says everything about this government's commitment to making housing more affordable and providing support for those who are homeless in Australia at a federal level.

    In conclusion, whilst there are some positive elements in what the government is doing, it's simply not enough to arrest the increase in homelessness throughout the country and take a bit of heat out of the housing market. You need to be serious about tackling negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts, along with the other measures that Labor has announced like the uniform vacant properties tax and increased payments for foreigners seeking to invest in our housing market. Only with those measures in place will you turn down the heat in the housing market, and then provide incentives for people to increase supply and make housing more affordable in Australia.

    11:30 am

    Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I think I'm moving house next week. I'm not 100 per cent certain, because it's a new build so I have to wait till I get the appropriate council approvals. But it's been 4½ years since I lost my house in the bushfires in Winmalee in 2013. I had lived in that home for 22 years. I built it, and I'd never left it. I raised my family there until I had no choice but to temporarily relocate, very unexpectedly.

    When I reflect back on that home, we originally moved to our part of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney because it was affordable. It was affordable for us as a couple about to start a family, and we were able to be there and survive on one main wage for a few years. It's what a lot of people were able to do in the nineties. They were able to move to the Blue Mountains and establish their families. We were lucky. We look back now and go, 'We were lucky to be able to do that.' We could have an affordable, secure and appropriate home for our family. Yes, we had a long commute, but that was a choice that we were able to make. We had reasonable access to services. All the research tells us that those basic things—those conditions to have housing that is affordable, secure, appropriate and within reach of services—are actually essential conditions for financial, social and emotional wellbeing.

    It isn't that easy these days for people to have those things, even in the Blue Mountains, a long way outside Sydney—even when you go higher up in mountains, so that your commute is a couple of hours, not just 1½ hours. But all Australians, no matter where they are, have the right to secure and affordable housing throughout their lives. That's something that this government doesn't seem to be taking seriously. For too many people, the pressure now is worse than it has ever been. In my entire electorate of Macquarie—the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury—prices are high. For young people on a regular income—if they're lucky enough to have permanent, full-time work and not be in casual and casualised work—the costs are extraordinary.

    We're seeing a huge increase in homelessness. It's a really visible increase in homelessness. I don't have any question with using the word 'crisis', because I do think that there is a crisis. There's a crisis of supply, there's a crisis of affordability and there's a crisis of suitability and sustainability, and these are things that this government had a chance to address. They had a chance to address them in this bill. But, sadly, what we have here and what we find ourselves having to support—because we don't want to make things worse—is something that is barely going to make anything better. This is much less than the comprehensive package of measures that this country needs—that its citizens need and that every person in Australia who doesn't have somewhere to live right now needs.

    I want to talk about some of the problems with this bill. I want to talk about the process of this bill, because that, in itself, highlights one of the deep flaws that this government has. This area of homelessness and housing is one that we know needs to involve every state and territory. It's not just a federal government issue; it goes across the tiers of government. Yet this bill was introduced into the parliament before the Commonwealth and state treasurers had even met to agree to the detail. That was already in the legislation. Is it any wonder that there is difficulty getting agreement when you have the arrogance, the high-handed arrogance, of the Treasurer presenting something to the state treasurers and saying, 'Here you are; take it or leave it'? That's the sort of thing that is not going to solve the crisis that we face. It isn't the way to do it. It's certainly not the way we operated when we were in government, when we did start to see so many small hopes and gains around housing—which have been undone by this government. I have to say it was total hypocrisy from the Treasurer to take this approach, given that, only a day before, while he was championing a Productivity Commission report, he'd said:

    The Commission is principally saying that as a Federation we need to work together better, to play nice …

    I'd say to the Treasurer, if he were in this chamber, that his actions speak louder than his words, and we won't get a good result until some respect is shown to the states.

    What else is wrong with this bill? There are a couple of things that I think I can probably turn my attention to! In terms of the numbers that are involved, the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will provide $375 million over three years, so it just maintains the current $115 million of annual homelessness funding provided. But in our budget, Labor's budget, in 2013-14 annual homelessness funding under the NPAH was $159 million, so this is taking us backwards. Maybe inflation hasn't done what inflation normally does? I don't think so. What is happening is that, in hard, cold numbers, we are going backwards. Of course, it was in the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-15 budget that $44 million a year was slashed from the NPAH. So the numbers are a problem, but that's not the only problem with this bill.

    I'm going to run through a few of the key themes in the very good work that the committee senators were able to do. Some of the comments go to the need for there to be a holistic national policy on this, and I did like the comment by Adrian Pisarski of National Shelter, because he summed up exactly what the issue is. He was talking in fact about the 2017-18 budget, when we had great expectations that there would be this really solid housing and homelessness package. We were led to believe that by various members of the government. Mr Pisarski described it very appropriately as 'a centrepiece without a centrepiece' That's how satisfying this legislation is that we're seeing as a result of the great big plan that failed to eventuate from this government. As Homelessness Australia described it:

    This Budget is not fair, because it fails to fix a broken housing system that encourages investors to own more than one house while 105,000 haven't a home at all.

    What we have is not something that is going to reduce inequality; it's going to blow out inequality. That's the danger that we face. Mission Australia, well known for its work on homelessness across Sydney and certainly in my electorate, said:

    Disappointingly, the Budget contained inadequate assistance for the many people in rental stress who remain just one step away from homelessness. Rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable for older and younger Australians alike, with those on Newstart and the age pension struggling to find a home within their means.

    That really goes to the core of the issue that we are failing to address.

    I've been lucky to have a very steady rental property for the last 4½ years. Within a couple of weeks of my house burning down, I was offered a rental property. It's small, it's compact, and I'm very lucky it is very affordable, especially for someone on my salary—and I recognise that. We are very privileged. But we've also had the gift of being able to stay in one place for 4½ years.

    I look at my children, who get churned through their rental properties in Sydney. Two days before Christmas my 23-year-old son, who'd been sharing a place in the inner city for a couple of months, got a call from an agent to say, 'Sorry, you're not going to be able to renew your lease in January, because the owners have decided that they want the property back.' That was two days before Christmas. That is pulling the rug from under a young person who might be just about to stop their casual work to spend a little bit of time with family. They had a few weeks to find somewhere to live. I'm fortunate that my children are resilient, resourceful and well connected. Thank goodness for Facebook and social media to help our young kids find things fast. But I saw what that did to my son. Just when he thought he was getting settled and steady, suddenly the world was turned upside-down. That's someone who's young, single and resourceful. When that happens to a mum who's struggling with her part-time jobs and is possibly juggling work, study and getting her children to school—having to find a house in the way that it happens—I can't imagine how that dislocates your life.

    We've failed to even look at these issues, and on our side we certainly know that it's something that matters. The problem with this whole package is that it is just tinkering. There is the salary-sacrificing measure that is there. Ms Bree Marr was quoted on ABC 7.30 as saying, 'It wouldn't even cover your stamp duty.' It certainly doesn't cover your deposit, even to live in an outer Sydney area like mine. The problem with the superannuation initiative is that you're undermining something that, at a different stage of life, provides you with the hope of some financial security. You really can't slice and dice this in a way that is going to work out better for women. Women, in particular, are going to be impacted by anything that encourages them to take from their superannuation.

    There are a couple of areas that this package doesn't even come close to touching. Some of the most recent data about youth and children from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, which brought its report card out this week, highlight concerns about housing. The percentage of households spending more than 30 per cent of their gross income on housing is now 17.3 per cent. That's up from five years ago. Things are not getting better; they're actually going in the wrong direction. The most recent data that they produced shows that the homelessness rate for nought- to 24-year-olds is 59.5 people per 10,000. So that's a high percentage of young people being impacted. Of those accessing specialist homeless services in the past year, 43.8 per cent were under 25.

    They also note that the percentage of families with dependent children living in overcrowded housing is seven per cent. These statistics matter because living in adequate and stable housing, along with having adequate clothing, healthy food, clean water and the things you need to participate in education and training, is what's vital for young people to transition effectively to adulthood. This package does nothing to address those issues.

    I also want to talk about another group of young people who are at huge risk of homelessness: those who are in out-of-home care. A 2015 study by Swinburne University of Technology found that 63 per cent of homeless youth had been in state care. So 63 per cent of the young people who were homeless have had an experience of state care. That tells us which group we should be focusing on.

    One of the key issues those young people face is that their support gets switched off at 18. A whole lot of countries have realised that this is not the way to support people in out-of-home care. In the United Kingdom, in New Zealand, in Canada and even in the United States, that support continues to 21, and I think this is an issue we really need to look at. I'm not the only one who thinks this, I have to say. Eighty-seven per cent of people who were recently polled about this believe that young people deserve a safe place to call home until they are at least 21. I would hazard a guess that everyone in this chamber would be very reluctant to throw an 18-year-old out of their home. I'm sure that most 18-year-olds who are children of the people in this chamber are probably still very dependent on their parents—and, I certainly know, well into their 20s. I wouldn't dream of taking away support that young people need to help them transition to a successful adulthood.

    Dealing with the issue of children in foster care could make a huge difference to the number of young homeless people we see. But, of course, this amendment bill does nothing in that regard. It does nothing to change the future for someone who might be couch surfing. It does nothing to address crippling rents for students or for women who don't have enough superannuation. It does nothing to address the myriad issues that need addressing. It does nothing to address tax reform. The government have had four budgets to address the issue of tax reform, capital gains tax and negative gearing. It's only Labor that are going to do that, and we need to do it soon.

    11:46 am

    Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

    Of course, Labor will support the passage of the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017, because we don't want to hold up homelessness funding to the states. There are a number of design flaws with this legislation, and certainly there are profound flaws in this government's response to the issues of housing affordability and homelessness. I think I can boil down the problems with this bill to more red tape, no more funding, and very one-sided obligations. This legislation promotes obligations on the states and territories with no corresponding obligation from the Commonwealth government to say what it would do about reducing homelessness in this country.

    We've had continued, year-after-year funding cuts. The member for Macquarie was talking about the original $44 million a year cut that has continued, year after year, from this government when it comes to homelessness, and that has particularly affected the funding of new build for homelessness services. When we were in government, we saw the construction of a number of new homelessness services. That has pretty much stopped with these funding cuts. There was $88 million of capital funding cut from the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and then year after year there has been a lower funding level for that agreement. The government have killed the National Rental Affordability Scheme. They've defunded housing and homelessness NGOs. The people who used to stand up for the rights of the homeless and people who were marginally housed have had their funding cut away from them. There's no minister for housing and there's no certainty about housing policy or homelessness policy. I don't think anybody could imagine for a moment that there is any comprehensive vision from those opposite when it comes to housing affordability and homelessness.

    On the other hand, we are prepared to tackle issues of homelessness and housing affordability. We've been prepared to take the big step of reforming negative gearing because we know that is critical to issues around housing supply and housing affordability in Australia. The Liberals, in contrast, want to continue to give unsustainable tax handouts to property speculators so they can buy their 10th or 20th or 30th home, while all this time not really doing anything for first home buyers, for renters, for people who are living in caravan parks or sleeping rough. It is imperative that, if we as a nation are serious about housing affordability, we address the issues around the taxation of housing in this country. It's been disappointing in the extreme to hear member after member opposite say that the solution to housing affordability is to get rich parents, to move to Armidale. I guess moving to Armidale does make housing more affordable if you're living in the home of a rich mate. But telling people in my electorate or the Blue Mountains or Western Sydney that they need to leave their jobs and families and networks to move to the country isn't really a solution for housing affordability.

    When we were in government we saw some of the biggest investments in housing and homelessness that this country's ever seen. During the life of our housing policies—the new building of social housing and the National Rental Affordability Scheme—we saw about 60,000 dwellings built. The National Rental Affordability Scheme alone was responsible for around 37,000 new dwellings. As I said, the first tranche of that scheme was 50,000 dwellings. It stopped at 37,000 because those opposite killed it when they came to government. We had already committed to a second tranche of 50,000 National Rental Affordability Scheme dwellings. What a difference that would have made to people on low- and middle-incomes in Australia.

    We also saw through that National Rental Affordability Scheme the building-up of the community housing sector in this country. That's a really important contribution that we could have made—a structural change to housing affordability and availability in this country. As those community housing providers built up their portfolios of housing, they could have borrowed against them, they could have leveraged and they could have done their own building. Again, that was stopped in its tracks by those opposite. The National Rental Affordability Scheme was a program that had the support of organisations that support the interests of low- and middle-income Australians, including ACOSS, Homelessness Australia, Mission Australia, Anglicare Australia and St Vincent de Paul.

    We saw through our social housing stimulus package the building of almost 21,000 new social housing dwellings and long overdue repairs and maintenance on another 80,000 homes around Australia. Some of those had been uninhabitable before these repairs. We did that at a time when that work was necessary to keep people in the building industry in work during the global financial crisis. The Social Housing Initiative provided 9,000 full-time construction industry jobs during the global financial crisis.

    There were so many great measures when Labor was in government. There was A Place To Call Home—$150 million over five years to make available 600 homes and units across Australia for families and individuals who are homeless, with the states and territories to provide matching funding for that. We undertook a white paper on homelessness called The road home. We adopted the target of halving the rate of homelessness by 2020. Yes, that was an ambitious target. I wanted us as a nation to stretch ourselves, because it is completely unacceptable that a country as wealthy as Australia still has people sleeping rough and being turned away from emergency accommodation. We were very proud of the work that we did through that homelessness white paper process and so disappointed to see that, when we handed other the reins to those opposite, the momentum in this area completely dissipated.

    If we had stayed on the trajectory that Labor set for reducing homelessness, if we had maintained our effort, if we had protected the programs and policies that we developed through the white paper, I'm convinced that we would be on track to halving the rate of homelessness in Australia by 2020. The government haven't just given up on the policies and programs; they have even given up on the ambition of halving the rate of homelessness in this country. How sad is it that they can't even sign up to this ambition of halving the rate of homelessness? They just gave up on it.

    I still visit and stay in touch with a lot of the homelessness services that we funded and supported when we were in government, such as the fantastic and absolutely beautiful new construction for Common Ground in Melbourne, Common Ground in Brisbane, Common Ground in Adelaide, Annie Green Court in Redfern and Common Ground in Camperdown. All over Australia you can see that during this period we built beautiful new homes for people who had previously been sleeping rough. In the case of Annie Green Court in Redfern, they were frail, aged homeless people, many of whom had been sleeping rough for years.

    There is a fantastic service in Melbourne, in Victoria, which I visited a number of times, called Wintringham. They have 1,800 people over the age of 50 who are waiting to get housing. If you are talking about frail, aged homeless rough sleepers, these are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Their health is so very bad. Wintringham is essentially a nursing home. It's funded mostly through aged care funding. What we did for organisations like Wintringham, Annie Green Court and others that were funded through aged care funding was pay a supplement for people who had been homeless. They were people who were more expensive to look after because their health was more complex, and also their behaviours were sometimes more complex. They were very difficult to find places for in mainstream aged care services. The supplementation hasn't kept up with the cost of looking after these people, and because of that you see these growing and growing lists of frail, aged homeless people who need accommodation, and services are unable to offer them that accommodation.

    We saw not just more roofs over people's head but programs that were designed to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place or to reconnect them to housing—fantastic programs like Reconnect, which assisted more than 67,000 young people to reunite with their families and return to school or training. We helped address unemployment as a cause of homelessness and placed 175,000 homeless job seekers in jobs, and about 35,000 of them were young homeless people. We worked on an approach of 'no exits into homelessness'—so, working with psychiatric institutions, hospitals, jails and out-of-home care to make sure that people weren't exiting state care into homelessness, straight onto the streets. We introduced a vulnerability flag on people's Centrelink records so that, if they weren't answering Centrelink's correspondence because they were sleeping rough and didn't get the letter, they wouldn't automatically be cut off their benefits. We established a home organisational management expenses advice program.—we called it the HOME Advice Program—which helped stop families from becoming homeless.

    I remember visiting one of these programs in Melbourne that we ran with NGOs, and they told me the story of a refugee family who had finally made it safely to Australia—mother and children. This family went to the beach one day and one of the children drowned at the beach. The mother had made a decision to pay for the child's funeral, but that decision meant that she didn't have money for rent. The family were facing homelessness because they had decided to pay for the funeral of the child, the brother or sister they'd lost. A little bit of help at a time like this, keeping a roof over the heads of this family, by making them a small loan for a few weeks to help them pay the rent meant that they didn't become homeless. It is about preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place.

    We invested $5.5 billion into the remote Indigenous communities programs to build houses in remote communities. This program is due to expire this year, and we still have no indication from the government about whether it will be extended or not. Are we going to give up building and maintaining homes in remote Indigenous communities? We don't know. We established the Assistance with Care and Housing for the aged program. This is a program for older people who are in insecure housing arrangements or who are homeless to help them find a home and keep a home in the community. We assisted 4,200 people to remain living in their homes through that program. There are so many things we can do, so much help we can give, and so much of that lost since the change in government.

    We've had all sorts of fantasies from those opposite about what our negative gearing tax changes would do to housing in this country. It is supposed to push house prices both up and down, according to those opposite. What the Treasury actually say is:

    Overall price changes are likely to be small , though the composition of ownership may shift away from domestic investors.

    What they mean is: to first home buyers. Well, that's a pretty good thing, really—if we have more first home buyers able to make it into the housing market. It is worth remembering that over 50 per cent of the benefits of negative gearing go to the top 20 per cent of incomes and the top 10 per cent of incomes receive nearly 75 per cent of the benefits of the capital gains tax concessions when it comes to investment in housing.

    We want to continue to offer real support to people who need it. It was devastating for me when last year a fantastic homelessness service in Darlinghurst closed after 40 years of operation because those opposite couldn't find $900,000 a year to keep it open. The Haymarket Clinic had to close its doors. It was a service that looked after homeless people. It looked after their health and referred them to housing providers. We have the opportunity to do much, much better in the area of homelessness—and we should. This bill doesn't do that.

    12:01 pm

    Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I'm glad for the opportunity to speak on this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill, which the opposition is prepared to support because it stands, in some part, to at least maintain the funding that's currently provided through the National Affordable Housing Agreement and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. But it is very disappointing that it fails to do much more than that. It fails to be more than a kind of continuation of the status quo. It fails to do more than just keep us in a holding pattern, when there is a need for national leadership and reform in this space. The remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Sydney, really pointed to how that failure has real and acute impacts in our communities. This bill, while belatedly giving some certainty around the continuation of the funding that was previously provided by those two other agreements, doesn't move us forward in addressing the acute shortage in affordable housing, doesn't move us forward in trying to improve homelessness support services, in partnership with the states and territories—and I'll come back to that sense of partnership—and it fails to show national leadership.

    This bill establishes the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which I guess we'll call the NHHA, and it essentially continues funding of $1.4 billion per year from the Commonwealth to support affordable housing—that is what occurred previously through the NAHA—and about $125 million a year to support homelessness services, which was previously provided through the NPAH. But there is no growth funding. There is no increase in overall funding, there is no national strategy or set of targets, and there's been no meaningful consultation with the states and territories. But we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that this is an area where the Commonwealth should blithely abdicate its responsibility, because the country does face a very big challenge when it comes to affordable housing and homeless services.

    Homelessness Australia pointed out in its submission on this bill that, last year 195,000 Australian households sat waiting for social housing. There is a shortfall of 458,000 affordable homes across Australia, and yet this bill provides no additional funding and no growth funding to support social housing growth, which is desperately needed. We know that each year nearly 300,000 Australians attend homelessness services for help. Homelessness support services in my electorate are provided by St Patrick's Community Care Centre. I've been there to see and to assist, in my not very skilful fruit-chopping ways, in the preparation of breakfast for people who come in first thing in the morning having spent a night out, particularly a winter night. It's a reminder when you see a person come in a bit wet and a bit worse for wear and they're waiting out in the dark for the doors to open at the first possible moment to come in a grab a fresh towel and go and have a shower and have something to eat. You do get a sense, even just in a tiny snapshot, of what that's like and how different it is from the experience of those of us who don't have to worry about where we're going to spend the night.

    Nearly 300,000 Australians attend homelessness services for help each year. The number is growing. Last year 66,000 people were turned away from homelessness support services. And yet, just as there is no growth funding to support social housing growth, there's no real growth in funding to help address the acute need for homelessness services. In fact, it has been pointed out that while there's no growth in funding, it appears that there's some change to the scope of the way funding can be applied under this reform, so that what used to be focused on public housing for people on low incomes, isn't necessarily going to be the focus of funding under this agreement. The NHHA isn't really clear. The scope appears to cover housing affordability in the broader residential property market. So there's a potential here for the existing flat funding to move into areas that don't represent the most desperate and acute needs.

    In Western Australia, just to paint that picture, Western Australia does have more people sleeping rough. It's almost double the national average. If you look at the proportion of people who are homeless, state by state, the national average has six per cent of people sleeping rough. In Western Australia it's 10 per cent. More people are living in overcrowded dwellings in Western Australia, and half as many people are in supported accommodation.

    In the absence of growth funding and consultation with the states and territories, and after nearly five years of doing not very much, the government comes out with the NHHA as a kind of ultimatum to the states and territories. We speak on this bill here today not knowing what the states and territories are going to do. This government has essentially said that if they want to continue to receive their current levels of funding they need to comply with some new conditions. They need to provide a strategy on affordable housing, social housing and homelessness on a state-by-state basis, with some reporting around that. The Commonwealth is not proposing to show any strategic leadership. It's not taking any responsibility, putting out a set of targets or identifying the kinds of evidence based mechanisms that should and need to deliver change in this area. As we know, and as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out, this government is not prepared to look at sensible reform in a range of areas in addition to direct funding for affordable housing and homeless services. It's not prepared to look at wider reform that would make meaningful change. Instead, the task of setting strategy and responding to this problem, gathering information, is being pushed onto the states. That's not the way reform should occur. It's not in keeping with the responsibility of the Commonwealth to show national leadership and take national level responsibility. The Productivity Commission has observed that in many areas, but in this area in particular, we need more, not less, cooperation and genuine partnership between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. It has also observed, quite rightly I think, that reform shouldn't be pursued through funding control or funding ultimatums, with effectively a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Yet that's how this is proceeding.

    It's enormously disappointing that the government has no interest at all in broader responsible policies and programs in the housing and homelessness space. If you look at the record since 2013, it's a record of retreat. It's a record of damage, deconstruction and taking away from the work of the former Labor government. This government abolished the Housing Help for Seniors pilot. It closed the National Rental Affordability Scheme. It defunded homelessness and community housing peak bodies. It abolished the National Housing Supply Council.

    Labor took on what is a serious problem in our society, a problem that enables unacceptable circumstances to persist for some of the most vulnerable Australians. There were some areas where we made really significant progress, there were some areas where we began to make progress and there were some areas where the progress was not as fast as you would like. But, if you are a responsible government, you pick up the baton and move forward—you don't set about wrecking the joint, and yet that is what has occurred. There isn't even a housing minister in the current government. It is a record of abject retreat and abject policy and program abandonment.

    Labor take a very different approach. We're proud to take a very different approach that is in keeping with our values. We're not going to turn away from this challenge. We take the view that the federal government, the national government of Australia, has a role to play in providing proper funding, but proper funding isn't the be-all and end-all of it. It's also about providing leadership on reform and policy innovation.

    We know Australia's tax investment settings have an influence on the cost of housing. We know that urban design and transport infrastructure have an influence. The government just doesn't seem to get that. I'm glad that the Reserve Bank Governor understands it. I was in a hearing with the Reserve Bank Governor the previous week and he noted:

    … we have made choices as a society to give us high housing prices, on average, and that goes with high debt. … we've underinvested in transport, so we've restricted the supply of well-located land. And we've got a liberal financial system and zoning restrictions. If you asked anyone how a country would deliver high housing prices, you'd find we've made all those choices: live in fantastic coastal cities, most of us; underinvest in transport; have a liberal financial system; and not want high density. We've done all that, so there are high housing prices …

    Labor is prepared to look at some of those factors. We should all be prepared to look at some of those factors and do something about it. We funded smarter cities planning in the past. In the last Labor government we invested more in public transport than all previous federal governments had invested. We're prepared to look at tax reform when it comes to negative gearing and capital gains tax. We're also prepared to boost funding for homelessness services. We went to the last election with a policy for an additional $88 million through a safe housing fund. We're committed, in keeping with our legacy of policy and program action in this space, to re-establish the National Housing Supply Council and reinstate a dedicated minister for housing.

    Homelessness Australia's submission on this bill really summed up the wide and pressing gap that the bill doesn't address. It does present a holding pattern. It does essentially continue with flat funding and business as usual. Homelessness Australia observed:

      They noted that the last serious investment in social housing growth was the investment by the former Labor government in response to the global financial crisis of 2008-09. In turning their attention directly to the question of national leadership and strategy they noted:

        Without safer and affordable housing, everything else is contingent and at risk. Until you've had some experience of that, you might be able to live your life without a proper appreciation of just how bleak and disabling those circumstances can be. I can't say that I've experienced them in an acute form. I grew up in a single-parent household. We rented house after house after house. Sometimes we got very short notice from a landlord that it was time to move on, and my mum would get out the cardboard boxes and the packing tape and we would put everything in them and go again. I was lucky to live in Fremantle in the 1980s and 1990s, when rents in Fremantle were relatively cheap. That's not the case now.

        Until you've had some passing experience with what homelessness and insecure housing really means, perhaps you could think that it's not the problem of the national government. It is the problem of the national government. A national government should do more. It should ensure that people have housing so that they can turn their mind to the next-order things—health, education, employment, social inclusion and participation—so that they have the opportunity to breathe out, to sleep without fear, to plan for the future, to love and be loved, and to escape a fraught, dangerous, unhealthy edge-of-survival experience.

        12:16 pm

        Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

        It is a pleasure to follow my colleague and friend the member for Fremantle. I commend his heartfelt address on the importance of homelessness and tackling that scourge.

        The three key pillars of our great Australian society are: dignity in work and retirement; the universal provision of health care; and access to quality education. But another key element is what many call the great Australian dream, which is really a fundamental human right: the ability to access quality and affordable housing. That's why I rise to speak today on the housing affordability and homelessness crisis that so many Australians are facing right now.

        This bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017, amends the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 to repeal the current National Specific Purpose Payment for housing services and replaces it with new funding arrangements under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent on their being party to primary, supplementary and designated housing agreements. On this topic, I should note that in Labor's last budget annual homelessness funding under the NPAH was $115 million. In the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-14 budget, however, $44 million a year in capital funding was cut from the NPAH. This bill, unfortunately, maintains the current levels of funding, meaning many service providers will continue to operate at less than their potential or not at all. However, opposing this bill would put in jeopardy programs that rely on the current funding provided, and that is an unacceptable risk. As a result, Labor will not oppose the passage of this bill.

        This highlights the serious issues in our housing sector, which I will turn to now. There can be no doubt that there is a massively increasingly level of unaffordability in our housing market. The ratio of housing prices to average household disposable income has moved from around three in the 1990s to well over five. This shift has coincided with a very significant change to our taxation system. This increase in unaffordability of housing has been much higher in large capital cities. I regret to stay that Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth are now in the top 20 most unaffordable housing markets in the world, with Sydney second and Melbourne fifth. We have seen in the same period a big shift to an investor share in the housing market. In 1985, just nine per cent of home loans by total value were held by investors. It's now over 43 per cent. At the same time, we have seen a big decline in first home ownership. In the second half of the 1990s the average share of first home buyers in the share of total home buyers was 22 per cent. Now it's floating at around 14 per cent. We've seen a significant fall in those aged under 34 being able to buy a home. So we've seen declining first home ownership and younger people being shut out of the market.

        At the same time, we have seen low- and middle-income earners also being shut out. Between 2002 and 2012, we saw the share of middle-income earners able to buy their homes decline by 19 per cent, and for low-income earners there has been a 15 per cent fall. This has been associated with increasing inequality in our society and the rise of insecure work, making it much harder for low- and middle-income Australians to buy their first home. At the same time we've seen a very significant fall in the share of housing loans going to new housing stock. In 1992, 18 per cent of home loans were for new housing. It is now around six per cent. This is despite a very big increase in the investor share of home loans, as I alluded to before.

        So we've seen increasing housing unaffordability and young people, poor people and first home buyers being shut out of the market at the same time we've seen a very big increase in investor home loans. These trends are very worrying, and they're principally being driven by two factors. The first is the normalisation of low inflation and hence low interest rates. The second is the decision by Peter Costello and John Howard, some of the laziest economic managers we have seen in this country, to introduce a massive 50 per cent discount on capital gains tax.

        The interaction of negative gearing and the 1999 capital gains tax discount has driven the rise in housing unaffordability and has shut generations out of the housing market. Before 1999, on average, rental income in this country was positive—that is, housing investors paid tax because they made a profit on their rental properties. In 1999-2000, for example, there was about $150 million of rental income that was positive and paid tax. Since that change to capital gains tax, we have seen a massive collapse in net rental income. Each year, recently, rental losses have run between $5 billion and $8 billion—that is, landlords in this country have claimed in net terms about $5 billion to $8 billion in rental losses that they then reduce their other taxable income against. Expenses claimed as a percentage of gross rental yield increased from 98 per cent in 1999 to 123 per cent. That means each landlord, on average, is claiming $5 in expenses for every $4 of gross rental income they receive, and that is a very worrying trend.

        Why is this occurring? It's because of the negative gearing for taxation treatment interacting with capital gains. So what we now see is a very large number of landlords happy to lose money on their annual returns for their rental property. They are speculating that they will, in turn, get a significant capital gain that will then receive a 50 per cent discount when they sell that property. The Reserve Bank, in its testimony to a House economics committee inquiry into housing affordability a few years back, said that there is no doubt that this is a factor in the massive price explosion post 1999 and that that there was a case—these were their words—'for reviewing the treatment of negative gearing and the interaction with capital gains tax'. Most experts in this sector who are not in the pay of the property sector agree with this analysis. You just have to look at the fact that rental yields, on average, are well below share yields. If a rational investor saw a gap between how much they would make with rental property and how they would make from investing in shares, they would flow their investments to shares as the better asset class. They are not doing that, because of the capital gains tax and their long-term speculation.

        Let me make it clear: there is no economic justification to privilege capital gains over other income streams. There is simply no economic justification. They are all forms of income. They should all be treated equally. It demonstrates the inbuilt class bias of the conservative parties in this parliament. This is the real class warfare, where they reward the owners of capital over workers, who receive income in general for their labour rather than as a capital gain. Who benefits from this? The discount on capital gains tax costs taxpayers $4 billion a year, and 75 per cent of this benefit goes to the top 10 per cent of income earners. Seventy-five per cent of this $4 billion a year cost goes to the top 10 per cent of income earners. Negative gearing costs $3.7 billion a year, and 50 per cent of this goes to the top 20 per cent of income earners. This is clearly unaffordable and massively inequitable.

        By contrast, Labor's developed a sensible policy to tackle housing unaffordability, principally by limiting negative gearing to new housing stock. Investors should be welcome to negatively gear if it increases the housing supply by investing in new housing, and this is obviously something that's very relevant for low-income people renting and for the massive number of people who are homeless. We will reduce the capital gains tax discount to 25 per cent, which effectively deals with real capital gains rather than nominal capital gains through inflation. Importantly, we'll grandfather existing investments so that we do not change the tax treatment for people who have made decisions already. This is sensible policy directed at tackling housing unaffordability, unlike the view of the Liberal coalition government.

        I would like to deal with a few myths that are being perpetrated in this debate. Firstly, there is the myth that negative gearing and the capital gains tax concession are driving new housing supply. This is patently wrong. As we've seen, new housing has fallen from 18 per cent of home loans to six per cent. Secondly, there is the myth that the experience in the mid-eighties when negative gearing was abolished somehow led to a massive rent rise. This is absolutely wrong. Treasury in their evidence to the House economics committee confirmed that there was no case for someone to make that conclusion. When negative gearing was abolished in the mid-1980s, rents went up in Sydney and Perth because of the finance and mining booms, but rents fell in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. Rental price increases roughly track the general price increase. Thirdly, there is the myth that the benefits of negative gearing disproportionately go to low-income earners. That, again, is very, very wrong. I've already outlined the distributional benefit, and the RBA testified to the economics committee that most of the people, if not all of the people, with a very low taxable income who claim negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts are actually wealthy retirees, who have most of their income exempt due to another decision from Peter Costello.

        So, any debate about housing affordability in this country must be grounded in tackling those twin distortions in the tax system—the negative gearing aspect and the 50 per cent discount for capital gains tax. Both of those things have fuelled a massive speculative boom in this country that has put home ownership out of reach for most young Australians and most low- and middle-income Australians, sadly. That is one aspect of tackling the housing affordability crisis in this country.

        Other key components of Labor's policy have been to facilitate a COAG process to introduce a uniform vacant property tax across all major cities. Again, a House economics committee inquiry in 2014 saw considerable evidence about foreign investors buying properties in this country as a way of offshoring their savings—putting their savings somewhere safe and secure, away from governments that, let's just say, probably have a more unconventional view about property rights. That's understandable from their point of view. Usually these properties are bought off-the-plan and are supposedly adding to new housing stock, but often they're left vacant, and that means that they're not adding to new housing stock in this country. So we've committed to a new COAG process to introduce a uniform vacant property tax across all major cities. We've committed to increasing foreign investor fees and penalties, and we will limit direct borrowing by self-managed superannuation funds. This was another aspect of the housing inquiry that was quite worrying.

        We saw a very significant rise in direct borrowing by self-managed superannuation funds to make speculative investments in property. Not only is this driving a bubble that is making housing unaffordable; but it undermines, I think, the stability of our superannuation system. If there is any significant correction in our housing market—and we're seeing flat prices at the moment but we haven't seen a dramatic fall anywhere outside of a few areas of the economy dependent on resource booms—if there is a whole, widespread price correction, we could see a lot of people's self-managed superannuation funds completely wiped out. Not only would this force a very rapid downselling of these properties, which, again, would add more properties to a declining market, therefore, making the cycle even more vicious and dramatic; it would also undermine the retirement incomes of hundreds of thousands of Australians. So it's a very sensible policy to limit direct borrowing by self-managed superannuation funds. These are all sensible and practical reforms that have been developed over the last few years and that will have a tangible impact on housing affordability and homelessness.

        The housing sector is yet another victim of the coalition's inability to come up with a comprehensive and effective plan for the future of Australia and the thousands of vulnerable who are being left behind because of their inept approach to policy. We're not the only ones who think so. In response to the most recent budget, Homelessness Australia said that the budget fails to deliver the big picture solutions needed to end homelessness. James Toomey of Mission Australia was also disappointed by this government's inaction, claiming that rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable for older and younger Australians alike, with those on Newstart and the aged pension struggling to find a home within their electorate. In my own electorate Nova for Women and Children helped hundreds of people struggling with homelessness last year. They stated that the three main reasons people sought their assistance were domestic violence, the housing crisis and housing affordable stress. Labor has concrete policies to help tackle all three.

        Homelessness and housing remains one of the great unsolved policy challenges at the federal level. It requires a cooperative policy across all three levels of government, but ultimately it requires a government committed to nation building, committed to repeating the great investment in housing stock that we saw under successive Labor governments, the Curtin and Chifley governments most notably, but even with the Rudd government's commitment to the National Rental Affordability Scheme. We need a government committed to doing that again. Unfortunately we have a government committed to doing the opposite.

        12:31 pm

        Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. Homeless in is a huge issue in my electorate of Herbert. I have never met a person who said one of their life goals was to end up homeless at any point in their life. This is a very complex situation. According to the Queensland Council of Social Service report in 2014, there are more than 1,200 people homeless in Herbert. I'm aware of an elderly woman who lives on Palm Island, on Butler Bay, who has sugar diabetes. She has no water, no electricity, and relies on people to bring her fuel for her generator so that she can keep a small fridge running to keep her insulin cold. Otherwise it has little to no effect. I have also seen the impact of homelessness in my previous work in mental health. The issue of homelessness linked to mental ill health is a major concern in my community, as is the issue of the growing trend of homelessness for older women. In some cases elder abuse is also a factor.

        The organisation that I led before being elected to this place provided support for people living with mental health conditions across north and west Queensland who are at risk of becoming homeless. This state funded program was highly successful. In my current role as the member for Herbert, I have met with numerous people and community organisations, and the outcome of every discussion has made it abundantly clear to me that homelessness is having a devastating impact on my community and that homelessness does not discriminate, because anyone can become homeless at any time.

        Homelessness isn't just about having a roof over your head. Surely every citizen in our communities around this nation has the right to a place to live that is safe. It is extremely difficult to maintain employment, raise a family, or contribute positively to your community when you don't have a home or a job.

        There are many financial and social issues that lead people to a state of homelessness. I know that housing affordability is a huge problem in both Sydney and Melbourne, but housing affordability in the electorate of Herbert is also a huge issue, although the reasons are very different to those in Sydney and Melbourne. The majority of housing in Herbert is not being sold for millions of dollars, like the houses in Sydney. However, Herbert has a huge issue regarding people actually being able to afford to enter the housing market. As I have already mentioned, mental health issues are a problem. Rental stress, financial stress, unemployment, under employment, low wages and the cost of living are huge burdens for many people and families in Herbert. That is what is preventing a large majority of people in Townsville from entering the housing market.

        Just last week, I met with my Townsville defence community reference group, a group that consists of 25 ex-serving personnel organisations. One of them is Veterans off the Streets—VOTSA. The VOTSA coordinator, Floss Foster, shared with the group how the recent Christmas period had been a very busy period for them. During that period alone VOTSA assisted more than 18 people, provided $800 in food provisions, $600 in fuel and $4,806 in accommodation.

        Last year my work colleagues, my family, including my grandchildren, and I participated in the VOTSA sleep-out. I don't think the majority of people truly understand what it is like to be homeless. The VOTSA sleep-out provides an opportunity for community members to experience one night of sleeping rough where you are sleeping in exposed conditions—although, I must say, we did have some cover. It is not until you're exposed to sleeping rough that you can comprehend how tough it is. It was raining that night, so none of us got much sleep. The ground was rough and wet, and the glaring street lights certainly didn't help either. But it was the safety of people who live rough or on the streets that was of serious concern to me, because every other night of the year I have the honour and privilege of being safe in my home with my husband, as do my grandchildren with their parents. That is what really hit home to me from that experience.

        I have heard the personal stories of how organisations like VOTSA and Wounded Heroes are on the front line, providing emergency assistance for many veterans in need—like the veteran family in Townsville who, the day before Christmas, received an eviction notice. Seriously, why would you give someone an eviction notice the day before Christmas? It seems be very cold-hearted to me. But, because of mental health issues and financial stress, this veteran family found themselves, within a few days, with no place to live. If it wasn't for the work of Floss and VOTSA, who provided the emergency assistance that was needed, this family's Christmas would've been a complete disaster. It is a national shame that right now we have veterans who are homeless and living on the streets, that there are people who fought for our country and risked their lives to protect our freedoms who do not have the safety of their own home. It is abhorrent and, frankly, it's a national shame.

        Then, of course, we have a youth homelessness issue. A few weeks ago I met with Queensland Youth Services. Do you know how many beds there are currently in Townsville to house youth without a home? Three. There are currently three beds in Townsville for youth who are homeless. This is disgraceful and completely unacceptable. When I hear the stories of how someone as young as 13 is homeless, once again social issues like family violence, drugs and alcohol arise. Children as young as 13 feel that they are safer on the streets than in their own homes. Surely we can do better than this. There are numerous reasons why a person might find himself or herself homeless. No-one should ever be judged for being homeless, because it can happen so quickly. It can happen to anyone at any time, as I have already said.

        If we are to truly address this problem and get serious about tackling Australia's homelessness rate then we must get serious about setting targets—and we must be aspirational; we must set good goals. Unfortunately this bill does none of that. It tinkers at the edges, changes the name, and the package is a complete sham. People are fed up with governments that just throw money at problems, without having any idea of how, if or when the homelessness problem will either start to decrease or be solved. If we are to do better, we must start doing something. If we're to achieve any hope of success, we must set aspirational targets for ending homelessness in Australia.

        There is a need for greater accountability and transparency in the expenditure of Commonwealth housing assistance payments. This has been a longstanding position of Labor. The question that this bill does not answer is: how will we measure accountability and transparency? The Turnbull government does not have the comprehensive housing strategy that is necessary to resolve the country's large and growing crisis of housing affordability and supply for low- and very low income households. Simply putting a roof over someone's head will not resolve homelessness because homelessness has many facets and complexities. This bill does not address the vital wraparound services needed to end homelessness once and for all, and I have seen personally how those services are very effective and do prevent homelessness. It does nothing to address the impact of poor mental health on the issue of homelessness, it does nothing to address financial stress and it does nothing to address rental stress. I believe that Ms Jenny Smith, Chair of Homelessness Australia and CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons, said it best regarding the concerns in the public hearing on this bill:

        … the legislation doesn't include … a federal plan, the plan we need to end homelessness. That plan would need to bring together policy on the security and adequacy of welfare payments, family violence and mental health, as well as for specialist homelessness service delivery and social housing provision.

        These are the things that this bill must include and address. Until the Turnbull government stops tinkering around the edges and takes our homelessness crisis seriously, nothing will be achieved in addressing this critical social issue that impacts across the generations in our community. Let's set aspirational targets now, and let's end Australia's homelessness.

        12:41 pm

        Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. Deputy Speaker, you may be aware of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as depicted in a diagram of a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, you need to fulfil very basic needs—nutrition, shelter and safety. These are the key things before you can accomplish anything as a human being, before you can go up the pyramid towards self-actualisation. As we've heard from previous speakers, a central issue in this debate is that of housing affordability—basic shelter. More precisely, housing is actually unaffordable for most ordinary Australians. The many homeless people in our society are not even able to get to that basic need as a starting point.

        Many young people in my electorate of Wills struggle to get into the housing market and to own a home, and they also struggle with rent. According to a CoreLogic report commissioned by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, the median house price in my electorate is around $1 million. So it's little surprise that the rate of home ownership amongst those aged between 25 and 34 has plummeted from 60 per cent to 48 per cent in recent years. Many of those people have written off the idea of buying a home; it's become completely unrealistic to the majority. Of course, the casualisation of the workforce has a role to play in this regard. And, despite the sage advice of the former Treasurer—I'm being sarcastic—it's not as simple as getting a high-paying job. People end up in unstable rental properties and get stuck in an endless cycle of leasing. It makes it extremely difficult to save enough to afford a home loan and, on top of that, the expenses that living out of home comes with. So there is an urgent need to get a system in place that ensures sustainable renting while also dealing with the bigger overall issue of housing affordability.

        Having an affordable and secure home with reasonable access to services is essential to people's financial, social and emotional wellbeing—their ability to go up Maslow's pyramid of the hierarchy of needs to achieve and accomplish things in their life that are actually about helping others. All Australians have a right to secure, affordable and appropriate housing throughout their lives. Having a genuine chance to live near job opportunities is essential for Australians' social and economic participation. But, for too many people, the housing pressures they face are getting worse, not better.

        We know Australia has a housing crisis—a crisis of supply, a crisis of affordability and a crisis of suitability and sustainability. We are all familiar with the fact that the debate on housing affordability has been both fierce and well documented. I understand how out of reach buying a home can seem for many in this climate and how rent is so high. Negative gearing and existing capital gains tax concessions are making housing affordability worse by providing a large tax subsidy to investors, giving them an unfair advantage over first home buyers. This policy needs to change. Labor has a strong policy on affordable housing.

        My family were fortunate. We grew up in a housing commission house in the seventies and eighties in inner-city Melbourne, so we were given access to affordable housing, as well as access to universal health care and access to education. These things came out of Labor governments—the Hawke and Keating governments in particular. When I reflect on that opportunity that was given to me and extended to my family, I feel especially fortunate as I see the current state of affairs being so difficult for young people. Rates of homeownership have fallen at the same time that rental stress experienced by low-income households has actually risen to 40 per cent. Levels of homelessness are also rising.

        We heard from some of the previous speakers what a destructive and growing social and economic problem homelessness is. It's no coincidence that public housing stock has dropped from six per cent of total stock to just under three per cent over the past 25 years. It's unacceptable that in a country endowed with wealth and opportunity that many of our fellow Australians still have nowhere to call home. It should be an inalienable human right for all Australians to have access to safe and affordable housing. There's no greater or starker example of increasing inequality than many of our fellow Australians having to sleep in the streets, couch surf or live in overcrowded, unhygienic and unacceptable conditions while many others live in luxury and privilege by comparison.

        The key purpose of this bill is to amend the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 to repeal the current national specific purpose payment for housing services and replace it with new funding arrangements under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent on them being primary, supplementary and designated housing agreements. The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will provide $375 million over three years, from 2018-19, maintaining the current $115 million of annual homelessness funding provided under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. I note, though, that Labor's 2013-14 budget provided annual homelessness funding under the NPAH of $159 million. In the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-15 budget, $44 million a year in capital funding was cut from the NPAH. It was the view of the Abbott government that dealing with the scourge of homelessness was the responsibility of the states and not a matter for the federal government. Homelessness is clearly not defined to any state or territory. It's not geographic in that sense. It is a national issue, and I think it's a pretty simple proposition that it warrants the involvement of the Commonwealth.

        The current Turnbull government has walked back from that Abbott premise and announced its intention to negotiate a new NHHA as part of its 2017-18 budget measures. In doing so, the government has described these measures as a comprehensive plan to improve housing affordability. However, the government's supposedly comprehensive package of reforms has not been received at all well. That is not just by us on the opposition benches but by experts in the field. Mr John Daley, the chief executive of the Grattan Institute, said:

        I can't see any reason why this budget is going to make a discernible difference to housing affordability; a discernible difference on the number of younger people that buy a house.

        James Toomey, from executive operations and fundraising for Mission Australia—and they are on the frontline—said:

        Disappointingly, the Budget contained inadequate assistance for the many people in rental stress who remain just one step away from homelessness. Rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable for older and younger Australians alike, with those on Newstart and the age pension struggling to find a home within their means.

        This list goes on. There have been scores of criticism of the government's performance on this front. You just need to take a look at the evidence given to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill to see that.

        Many of the submissions received by the Senate committee expressed strong criticisms of the conditionality that the bill places on payment of housing and homelessness assistance to the states and territories. When the subject of tax reform comes up—and it was raised during the public hearing and in the submissions—the universal view is that Labor's policy of reforms to negative gearing negative and capital gains tax discounts should and must form part of any credible national housing affordability plan. Unfortunately, we know the Turnbull government has painted itself into a corner on tax reform, as with so many other issues, due to the weakness of the Prime Minister. The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, who was reportedly rolled in cabinet when he tried to curb what he called the excesses in negative gearing, has also ruled out any changes to capital gains tax concessions, despite calls from his own back bench to make some.

        Labor, on the other hand, took reform of negative gearing as a key policy to the 2016 election. That element of our policy proposal would also create more jobs in the building industry, because negative gearing could be continued on newly constructed properties. So we know that there are positives to negative gearing when it is well regulated and the policy adequately reformed, as we have suggested. While reforming negative gearing policy is an excellent start in taking on some of the elements of this issue, it's just the beginning. There are some areas of competing interests that will need to be rebalanced in favour of the thousands locked out of affordable, secure homes.

        We'll always be unapologetic in advocating for those that now see the housing market as unattainable. Housing unaffordability drives growing inequality in this country. There are many policy areas where there are opportunities for the entire community to be better off. I believe, as I think most people do on this side, that Australians have the right to secure, affordable, and appropriate housing throughout their lives, with a genuine chance to live near job opportunities, which is essential for Australians' social and economic participation. All it takes is a government willing to listen and to act in the interests of all Australians. Unfortunately, this government is merely tinkering around the edges in what is a very important policy area. I believe that the goal of affordable and secure housing can only be achieved through a future Labor government.

        12:50 pm

        Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

        Here we are, nearly a year later, actively contemplating the establishment of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation announced in the budget last year. Housing affordability has been a massive issue for the last few years, as a result of Labor's advocacy about the need to tackle this issue directly, particularly in relation to matters that I will reflect upon later in my contribution to this debate. We've been saying for some time that this is a big issue that is putting pressure on low- and middle-income families in this country and needs to be tackled seriously.

        The Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017, as I said, will finally, after all this time, effectively breathe life into an idea that was suddenly floated by the coalition in the early part of 2017, which was that they would provide for affordable housing bond aggregators, which would be administered through a National Housing Infrastructure Facility. It was intended that it would bring together lending requirements of different community housing providers and finance those requirements.

        We support this because—surprise, surprise!—yet again in the housing affordability debate, where Labor has championed particular avenues for reform, it has been the coalition that has had to then come in and follow. We announced in April last year, for instance, that we would establish a bond aggregator to help increase investment in affordable housing. So you'd obviously expect, as a result of that, that we won't oppose the measures put in this bill—and we will not. We announced the aggregator because we recognised it would help people access cheaper finance for new affordable rental housing, which is very important.

        The issue of affordable rental opportunities is one that's starting to emerge quite strongly. People are concerned, particularly in the part of the world that I come from, Western Sydney, about rental opportunities. Obviously, a lot of people are also concerned about buying their own homes, but having a roof over your head is absolutely critical. As the member for Wills reflected upon in his contributions to this debate, it's one of those threshold needs that people obviously have—the need to have a roof over their head and feel secure about the type of accommodation that they have.

        While I've said that we will support this particular proposition being put forward by the government, we have expressed concerns about the extent to which the facility will contribute to increasing housing stock, particularly affordable housing, as opposed to just facilitating greenfield development of new owner-occupied housing or private market investment or retail housing. We've put that on the record, but we're happy to work with the government on that.

        It is also important to note again that, while a bond aggregator is one step, we think that there needs to be significant reform to the taxation incentives that exist at the moment that may drive up the price of housing. We're not the only ones to say this. Last week, the International Monetary Fund released their latest article IV consultation with Australia, and it's noted in there that the IMF have endorsed, in effect, the opposition's policy on negative gearing and capital gains concession impacts on housing. The IMF believes that Commonwealth housing tax settings favour leveraged housing investments in upswings that might encourage excess demand for housing. This is what the IMF is pointing out. That's why we've been arguing for some time for reform of the taxation concessions that impact on housing demand. We believe that does need to be pursued. Pursuing these types of propositions that are being debated by the House will help in one part, but do you need to have a comprehensive view and a strong set of reform principles that we have been advocating for some time on housing affordability.

        When it comes to housing affordability, particularly in the area of social housing, in my part of the world in Western Sydney, particularly around Mount Druitt, we have many tracts of land that were converted over 50 years ago to public housing. At that time public housing was pushed to the urban fringes, because—I don't think I'm the first to reflect on it like this—it was out of sight, out of mind for policymakers back in those times: if they just created those public housing estates with cheap access to land, and then not provide the social support mechanisms, that would be satisfactory. Clearly it wasn't, and it caused a lot of concern. One of the big issues I get through my office is still people's concerns about the quality of social housing. There have been some not-for-profit operators who have been able to leverage themselves and provide social housing and new stock, and they were boosted by some of Labor's commitments during the GFC, where we provided for an injection of funds to see more social housing created, to get people off extensive waiting lists and also, importantly, provide funds for maintenance, because in many instances people in social housing are waiting for ages to get simple things repaired through state government instrumentalities. It is intolerable that people are forced to live in some of the conditions I've seen in our area. It is a big issue. Finding more options for people on low and middle incomes is very important.

        The whole issue of housing affordability is also a reflection of the way that cities are planned. Before he was vaulted to greatness, Philip Lowe, now the governor of the Reserve Bank, many years ago—nearly five years ago, off the top of my head—talked about the interconnectedness, the fact that transport infrastructure plays a vital role in housing affordability, because more often than not people move to the outer fringes of our cities attracted by the fact there's less competition for housing, but the reality is that all the services and all the infrastructure required is not there. So people have to make a big decision that says, 'If I'm going to buy a house, I have to move to the furthest part of the city to do so, and I'll have to put up with the fact the roads aren't there, the rail's not there, the hospitals aren't close by, the schools haven't been built, all the services and amenities required are pushed off to the never-never, and that's why it's more affordable.' That forces people to live for long periods without services they rightly would expect would be there earlier. Not right at the same time; there's an understandable pressure on state and local governments to provide certain services; but people would expect that those services would come in time.

        I note the presence of the shadow minister here. He and I have discussed the issues in my part of the world, and he's visited in Sydney's west—areas where we have been talking about finding a new, more comprehensive way to get people movement improved in our part of Western Sydney and the outer suburbs. This will require longer term vision, backed up by a longer term commitment in terms of financing. In terms of public and private transport, right now there are bottlenecks that are driving people nuts. The long commute that people have from the west to the east, not just going from Sydney's west to the CBD, but anywhere nowadays, is a struggle. As I have said to the House previously, I have stood on railway station platforms in Sydney's west, seeing rows of people five deep. They will stand for over an hour in a packed train, going from one part of the city to another. It's not any better on our roads either. Congestion on our roads, particularly on motorways—they once used to be called freeways in Sydney—every minute you put a new motorway up, there's a toll bucket on it. This is a big issue for Western Sydney as well. Every time you want to put in a road that alleviates some of the congestion, they're hit with massive tolls, and people in our area are getting sick of that imposition as well. It is becoming intolerable.

        I note that one of the self-appointed voices of western Sydney—there are a number of them—is David Borger. He's from the Western Sydney division of the Sydney Business Chamber. He managed to get a piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, which I'm a big fan of. I do love The Sydney Morning Herald, though on occasion I refer to it as the 'Eastern Suburbs Herald', because of its focus on issues involving anything other than the other half of the city.

        Government Member:

        A government member interjecting

        Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

        They do talk about housing issues. It does talk about issues, but not enough about Western Sydney. But David Borger managed to get a piece into The Sydney Morning Herald this week, talking about Liverpool as the escape route for frustrated commuters. Apparently it took David Borger to see a Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics study that showed that congestion was a big issue in Western Sydney. I do credit him for the fact that he does live in Western Sydney, but this has been a big issue for some time. And there are problems with thinking that Liverpool, for example, will suddenly open up as a potential new part of Western Sydney that will provide people with the ability to get jobs close to where they live and affect housing affordability in the longer term.

        In a lot of the CBDs in Western Sydney—Liverpool, Parramatta, Blacktown, Penrith and Richmond—we are forcing modern living on colonial grids that do not suit the times. It is too hard to move around these CBDs. In fact, I often say, 'If you're upset with a friend, force them to drive to Parramatta.' Any time you have to go into Parramatta is an exercise in self-loathing if you're using a car. I love the city, but it is near impossible to move around in. The same will be experienced in Liverpool. David Borger knows this because he relates it in in his story. This is the same David Borger, mind you, who, when I raised the opportunity for south-west growth centres to have a rival CBD within Sydney, described that as the stupidest idea he had heard. That was David Borger.

        What was his option? His option was not to put a new CBD area in the south-west growth centre. He thinks revitalising Liverpool will be the saviour—that it will open up new jobs and ensure that people can move more easily across Sydney. But there is all the money that then has to be devoted to the acquisition of property in the Liverpool CBD and the re-routing of traffic within the Liverpool CBD. Why couldn't that be better used for other things in that area, one might ask.

        Again, we need to have a much more far-sighted view about what happens in Western Sydney than we see in some of the propositions being put forward by some of the self-proclaimed voices of Western Sydney. We need to actually improve people movement, and, connected to that, housing affordability. But we have these types of people like David Borger, who manage to get one or two pieces published to assuage the conscience of The Sydney Morning Herald, which thinks it doesn't focus enough on Western Sydney—which it doesn't. This not good enough. Some of the people who push these ideas—from David Borger to Chris Brown—certainly do not represent Western Sydney, and their comments should not be taken as gospel on issues such as housing affordability and people movement in our area.

        Big projects are going begging. There is the upgrade of the Western Sydney line, the M9, which needs to happen much faster than is occurring right now. Not enough money has been dedicated to this to connect Western Sydney to the Illawarra and open up new paths of transport and people movement, that, in time, would help people who are stuck out on the urban fringe. Those people have had to pursue cheaper housing lots in Western Sydney, out on the urban fringe, because that's the cheapest they can get. But the infrastructure is not there. This is not good enough anymore.

        Again, things need to happen: the M9; a public transport plan for Western Sydney that will help actually alleviate the types of pressures being experienced by commuters from Penrith through to Blacktown; and investment in the train stations themselves so people can actually park their cars close to a train station and get onto public transport instead of being stuck on the roads. These are other thing that will help the people living on the fringes of the city with people movement and, again, with improving housing affordability. This needs a lot more than one or two op-eds in a Sydney newspaper. It requires genuine commitment from all levels of government, and business, to ensure that this becomes a reality.

        1:04 pm

        Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        I too want to make a contribution on the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. This bill is another example of the government's inaction when it comes to housing affordability. I happen to represent a very colourful, very vibrant area. It is one of the most multicultural areas in Australia and there is much to be proud of there. But it is certainly not a rich community. In Western Sydney, in my community of Fowler, housing affordability is one of the most dominant issues. Mums and dads work hard to put their kids through school. They talk to me about education and the importance of health. But they're also very worried about what will happen for their children when they leave home. A consequence is that many kids aren't leaving home at the moment—a great strain on the modern family—and I suppose that's apparent to most members here. The home ownership rate at the moment is at a 60-year low. We have people unable to get into the market in the first place. This is not just young people. This is people from various backgrounds, many of whom I represent, who can't afford repayments, let alone actually trying to get together enough funds for a deposit for housing in my community—and, as I say, mine is not a rich community.

        We need to have a comprehensive housing plan, not a one-size-fits-all plan, not a bandaid here and a couple of adjustments there. We need to move in a way that has a clear impact on housing affordability. When the previous member for North Sydney, Joe Hockey, on departing this place, gave his valedictory speech, he spoke about the need to review negative gearing and capital gains tax—what Labor is trying to do, oddly enough. As the then Treasurer, he said this was well overdue. By the way, this view was echoed by the then head of the Reserve Bank.

        These are matters that will make a difference. But, clearly, those on the other side have no stomach when it comes to actually addressing those real issues. Housing affordability is going to be a critical issue for all of us—I assume that most on the other side are impacted by this too—and that's why we are not going to oppose this bill. But that's not to say that this bill is all that's needed to address the issues in the market. Simply put, if this bill doesn't pass, the homelessness support that is dependent on this bill would be put in serious jeopardy.

        We have just heard the member for Chifley speaking about homelessness in Western Sydney, and I certainly know the level of homelessness in my electorate in Western Sydney. It's not necessarily just the people you see that might be sleeping rough or under bridges. There are people who are couch surfing or sleeping in cars, and they are finding it very difficult to make ends meet—and not just for themselves; the really regrettable aspect is that it involves their kids as well. These things are not hypothetical; they're occurring on our watch.

        It is all well and good to give $65 billion to big business if you can afford to, but there are some real issues that we should be addressing. This government is putting all its hopes in the trickle-down theory of economics. They are still maintaining their belief in this theory even though, while average company profits last year were 20 per cent, wages rose by only 1.9 per cent, barely keeping pace with inflation—for those lucky enough to have a job. There are many out there who cannot get employment. We need to do more to generate employment and we need to generate employment closer to where people seek to live. Hence, the issue of Western Sydney and the development of Badgerys Creek airport is, hopefully, going to be one of those generators of employment opportunity for many people in the west. If it's not, I think we're all in dire straits out there.

        This is not just about providing affordable and secure opportunities for people to buy into the housing market. The idea of having secure housing is essential for the social, financial and emotional wellbeing of people. People come to me on a regular basis—and I imagine it would be the same for many members here—thinking, 'You're a member of parliament; you can do lots of things.' I get asked regularly, 'Can you help us into housing?' I hear all the difficult stories we have out there: people who are trying to get their kids to school but who can't secure housing; people who have temporary housing but then have to move and, as a consequence, have to take their kids out of one school and try to get them into another school. It means social dislocation for families that are doing it tough.

        Quite frankly, too many people are feeling these pressures, and it is getting worse. In our own case, my daughter and her family live with us. I know that, for the sake of his family, we helped my son get into his place. I hate to give some credit to the leader of the government for saying that children need parents with some substance—or, as he said, rich parents—to help them into properties. Certainly, we did put our house on the line to help my kids secure a place in the housing market. But this is not the way it's supposed to work. We're supposed to be able to assist people, particularly people in need.

        As I started off by saying, mine is not a rich area. I certainly have an area that is heavily dependent on welfare assistance. There is another issue that I'm even more worried about. More than 50 per cent of the police work in my area is associated with domestic violence. Only this morning I was talking to Bonnie Support Services, which provide immediate assistance for women and children who are subject to domestic violence. They said that one of their basic issues is their need for access to crisis accommodation. Many of the public housing providers are withdrawing houses from the market. They simply are not in a position to refer women to crisis accommodation, because of the lack of affordable accommodation. These are issues that certainly are not theoretical. These are issues that need to be addressed, and addressed now. I hope those opposite can understand why we take umbrage at the fact that they want to trot out a signature policy of giving massive tax cuts to big business and multinationals whilst we still have such pockets of need in our respective communities. I believe that this is repugnant to any modern-thinking person who actually believes in community and the wellbeing of community.

        This bill, in effect, seeks to repeal the current national specific purpose payments for housing services and replace them with a new funding arrangement under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent upon their being a party to the primary, supplementary and designated housing arrangements. Whilst we agree that there is a greater need for accountability and transparency in this space in respect of all expenditure of Commonwealth funds, particularly in relation to the Commonwealth housing assistance payment, this bill, quite frankly, just does not adequately address the need. I know the minister at the table, when he addressed Sky News and spoke about the agreement, told us that the housing package would be extraordinarily large and would be far-reaching. He said it would be an impressive package and would be a well-received package. Well, I hate to burst his bubble on that, but it has not been quite as well received as he might have thought.

        I note that John Daley, the Chief Executive of the Grattan Institute and someone I regard as an expert in the field of housing, said, 'You'll need a scanning electron microscope to see an impact on prices,' and that you won't see a discernible difference in the numbers of young people who buy houses. Like him, we are not impressed. I also would like to refer to the comments that were made by Richard Holden, a professor of economics at the University of New South Wales. He said that the biggest disappointment in the budget was 'the absence of any measures whatsoever to address negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions for rental properties'. This simply makes it a pointless exercise. As I said, for the reasons that I've advanced, we will not be opposing the bill, but clearly more needs to be done in this space.

        I don't want to hark back to things of two weeks ago, but we had a Deputy Prime Minister who wanted to give gratuitous advice to people living in Sydney and Melbourne who might be affected by housing affordability. He came up with a very simple solution: why don't you sell up and move to Armidale? I don't think he meant they'd get the same deal in Armidale as he got, but that was his solution. Maybe he had his mind on other things, but one of the things he forgot was that it's not just the people who own a place who want to improve and buy a more expensive place or who are struggling with repayments; we are talking about people just getting into the market, first home buyers. There are also people who need socially assisted accommodation. The people at that end of the market are in particular need of assistance. Having said that, Labor will support the bill. But I simply indicate that much more work is needed to be done in this space.

        1:17 pm

        Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

        Firstly, can I thank all the members who have taken the time to contribute to this debate. As has been said, the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 reforms housing related payments to the states and territories, setting up a framework for payments upon meeting conditions and supporting implementation of one of the measures announced in the government's 2017-18 budget housing affordability package. This is part of the government's commitment to improve access to secure and affordable housing.

        We know that housing affordability is an issue affecting many Australians. Access to secure housing is a driver of social and economic participation and promotes better employment, education and health outcomes. It's clear though that more must be done to reduce and prevent homelessness, reduce the number of low-income or disadvantaged households experiencing rental stress and improve the availability of safe and affordable housing for all Australians. This is why improving housing affordability across the housing spectrum must be a key policy goal for governments at all levels. The Commonwealth and state and territory governments must therefore work together to reduce pressure on housing affordability and to assist Australians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

        Sadly the current approach under the National Affordable Housing Agreement is not delivering and has not delivered the outcomes desired. Current arrangements lack transparency and, most importantly, accountability. The 2016 COAG performance report indicated that three out of the four benchmarks under the NAHA have not been or are unlikely to be met. This is notwithstanding the Commonwealth government having provided the states and territories with over $9 billion in additional housing related payments since 2009. This is why the government's negotiating a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with each of the states and territories. The key difference from the status quo is that the bill provides a mechanism for the Commonwealth to require the states to meet certain conditions before payments are made. These include making public the housing and homelessness strategy of the state, matching Commonwealth funding on homelessness and committing to improved data and transparency. This approach will secure improved outcomes, but in a way that's achievable for the states without jeopardising the funding of core social housing and homelessness services.

        Currently, the only requirement for the majority of Commonwealth funding for housing and homelessness services is that it be spent on the sector and only the additional funding in the NPAH is tied to achievement of some outcomes. The new approach, in contrast, is intended to provide greater transparency and accountability in relation to Commonwealth funding provided to the states and territories for housing and homelessness. But, more importantly, it will deliver better housing outcomes for all Australians, particularly those in need.

        The Commonwealth believes that all levels of government have a shared responsibility for housing and homelessness and that no one level of government is able to solve all of the issues we collectively face in the housing and homelessness space. The government is working with the states and territories to agree on objectives and outcomes that we'll jointly aspire to achieve under the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. It's important to note that, whilst these changes are about better outcomes for all Australians, the government has for the first time committed to ongoing and annually indexed homelessness funding. This will provide greater certainty to the states and frontline service providers dealing with homelessness issues.

        In summary, this bill will facilitate a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with the states and territories that will include specific requirements to improve transparency and accountability and to improve housing outcomes across the housing spectrum, especially of course for those most in need. This is part of the government's broader comprehensive housing affordability plan and will improve the standards of living for all Australians. I, therefore, commend this bill to the House.

        Question agreed to.

        Bill read a second time.

        Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.