Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Denison proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgent need for a national housing strategy.
I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
It goes without saying that Australia is a very lucky country. Australia is a very rich country. We have the 13th biggest economy in the world, and our per capita national wealth is second only to the Swiss. So it beggars belief that in Australia these days so many people are finding it so difficult when it comes to housing accessibility and affordability. Indeed, when I look at the most recent 2016 census figures, I see that 116,427 people are homeless. In a country with a relatively small population like our own, over 100,000 people are homeless. Even in my small state of Tasmania, over 1,500 people are homeless. In the electorate of Denison, over 500 people are homeless. It beggars belief. In fact, those who have been following the Tasmanian media in recent months would have seen the appalling situation of whole families camped out in tents at the showground. We even had a short period where people were camped out in tents on the lawns of our state Parliament House.
And that's just the homeless. When it comes to disadvantaged people who are relying on public or social housing, the latest figures are, just in Tasmania, over 3,400 families on the public housing waiting list. That's over 3,400 people and families on the public housing waiting list, and the delay to get public housing in Tasmania, for priority applicants, has now blown out to 63 weeks. When it comes to people buying a house, it's now judged that Australia is second only to Hong Kong when it comes to the unaffordability of buying a property.
It's not just Sydney or Melbourne, which do soak up a lot of the media attention. Just in Hobart in roughly the last 12 months, our market price has gone up by over 13 per cent—an unsustainable growth in the price of property and in buying property. Moreover, the affordability of rent is likewise going up steeply. When I look at the latest Rental Affordability Index, I see that Greater Sydney, Greater Adelaide and Greater Hobart are all judged as being unaffordable. When I look at the regions, the rest of New South Wales is judged as being unaffordable. This is a remarkable situation. The most unaffordable rental market in the country is Hobart. When you look at average local wages versus average local rents, you see that we are now the most unaffordable capital city when it comes to renting a home. This affects a whole raft of suburbs. The Hobart CBD, Sandy Bay, West Hobart, South Hobart, North Hobart, Kingston, Margate and Sorell are all judged as being unaffordable according to the latest Rental Affordability Index.
I'm not having a go at any one state government, any one council or any one party here in this place. When you take a step back and look at the situation holistically, you can see there has been a failure of public policy right across this country—at the federal level, at the state level, at the local government level—for many years. This is a housing accessibility and affordability crisis in this country that has been coming for many years, and no party, no level of government, is beyond sin. However, just as it's been the federal government, the state governments and the local governments that have caused this problem, it is similarly within the power of the federal government, state governments, territory governments and local governments to fix the problem. But fixing the problem needs to start with a genuine national housing strategy. We need to take a step back and we need to look at how we can possibly combine public policy, the use of resources and the expenditure of money at the federal level, at the state and territory level and at the local government level to ensure that every person in this country has their fundamental right to a safe and comfortable roof over their head met. It's only when we take the politics out of this and we work collegiately in places like this—work collegiately between Canberra and the state and territory capitals, and local government—that we can really pull together a genuine national housing strategy.
I'll give you a few ideas about the sorts of things that a national housing strategy might include. For a start, we need more crisis accommodation, because the people most in need of a roof over their head are those in crisis—people who, through no fault of their own, are literally sleeping in the bush, under bridges, in someone's garage, under their house, in their laundry. We need much more investment in crisis accommodation. I make the point again: measured by per capita national wealth, we are the second-richest people on the planet. Surely in a country as rich as ours, we shouldn't have over a hundred thousand homeless people, and many of them in abject poverty and in crisis. Surely we can afford to put a roof over their head. And we need more public housing and other social housing. Again, we can afford it. It's madness that in a place as small as Tasmania, in a country as rich as ours, we have over 3½ thousand families and people waiting for public housing and that the waiting time for priority applicants is over 60 weeks. That is unforgivable. And we need more supported accommodation for people with specific needs. We talk a lot about mental health in this place, although not nearly enough. We should be talking more about supported accommodation for people with specific needs. That's the way to start addressing things like the mental health crisis in this country—and for other people who have special needs. And we need to regulate Airbnb. I'm not anti Airbnb, but when you see a place like Hobart, where so many long-term rentals are being turned into short-term holiday accommodation, you start to understand why there are not long-term rentals available for Australians who need it. Airbnb needs to be returned to its original purpose of making spare rooms available.
We do need to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax. It's regrettable that this issue has become a political football for the government and the opposition to just kick backwards and forwards. Why don't we put our heads together and say, 'Well, how can we genuinely reform such measures to make accommodation in this country more affordable and more accessible?' The states, particularly my home state of Tasmania, need to consider rent-to-buy public housing, which used to be the case around this country and is still the case in other countries. This is where particularly disadvantaged people on low incomes who, when they're paying that rent, are actually paying off that house, with a reasonable hope that one day they will own that property and turn that family's fortunes around.
What about a 30 per cent increase in Commonwealth rent assistance—$20 a week? Just imagine what that would do for housing affordability and accessibility for disadvantaged and low-income people in this country? It would really start to turn it around. It would be a modest cost to the budget. The budget this year is about half a trillion dollars. We can afford to double our submarine fleet. We can afford our people in this place to be on $200,000 a year for sitting on the backbench and doing bugger all. Yet it's so hard to get $20 a week extra for people who most need it.
The Commonwealth could abolish Tasmania's Commonwealth housing debt, because half of the money that comes to Tasmania for public housing goes straight back to Canberra in interest payments. The Gillard government, when it needed the support of South Australia for the Gonski reforms, was happy to waive the debt then, because it was politically expedient, but won't waive the debt now for a state like Tasmania, which would benefit mightily by the Commonwealth axing that debt.
There are so many other things we could do, such as greater restrictions on foreign investment. I note that in 2015-16 foreigners bought over $40 million of residential property in Hobart. In 2016-17, foreigners bought over $20 million of residential property in Hobart. No wonder the price is going up. No wonder there is no property for local people to buy or to rent; it's because of forces like that.
There are other innovative measures. I had an email just in the last several weeks from a constituent who said, 'What about not-for-profit funds where people could invest their spare money and then those funds could buy low-cost housing for people to rent, to make housing more affordable?' There are 1,001 ways that we could make property much more affordable and accessible for people in this country, but none of it will start until we get a national housing strategy to pull it all together.
I thank the member for Denison for this matter of public importance. I'll touch on some of the specific points that he has raised in relation to the government's strategy, but I would encourage the member for Denison, if he is indeed interested in this issue, to perhaps come and see me and speak to me about some of the measures the government has undertaken, because a range of the issues that the honourable member has raised are actually things that have been addressed either in last year's budget or in this year's budget.
Firstly, the government's very strong view and consistent with our values is that secure, stable, affordable housing is one of the most important things for Australians. It's not just about having a roof over your head. We know, through all of the evidence, that, if you have secure housing, if you are, indeed, fortunate enough to own a home, the benefits that it has for your life, your family and your health, even, are quite significant. That's why, in the 2017-18 budget, I think it's fair to say that this government, the Turnbull government, took the most unprecedented steps into the housing market of any federal government in history, and that work has been led by the Treasurer, and that work continues to this day in bedding down a range of the measures, which I'll take the honourable member through. That was further supported by additional measures that we took this year in the 2018-19 budget, because, as the Treasurer and I promised in 2017-18, housing under a Turnbull government will be a permanent feature of our budgets. It's an issue close to our hearts and it will be an issue that we address in every single budget.
Let me take you through some of the specific measures from the 2017-18 budget and how they are progressing. Firstly, we've engaged in negotiations with the states and territories, and the honourable member speaks about working collegiately with the states and territories to reform our National Affordable Housing Agreement. When we came into office, the Commonwealth was spending $1.3 billion a year in payments to the states through the National Affordable Housing Agreement. Notwithstanding those payments, which amounted to about $9 billion, we saw, on almost every measure, those KPIs go backwards—whether it was the amount of public or social housing stock or whether it was the quality of that public or social housing stock. Clearly, there were issues with that spend. So, we committed to reforming the National Affordable Housing Agreement, and through that process it's now become the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
One of the key matters that we sought to address in changing that agreement goes to a couple of the points that the member for Denison raised. Firstly, the MPI talks about a housing strategy. One of the conditions of the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which the Northern Territory has recently signed up to, and we are very thankful for that, is that every state and territory have a housing strategy. It might be a surprise to some members in the House, but not every jurisdiction in this country even had a housing strategy to start with. So, in making that request, I note that some jurisdictions have been a little tentative—that's probably a diplomatic way of putting it—in agreeing to a housing strategy, but I think we've got them all over the line and they've agreed to at least have a housing strategy themselves.
Why is that very important, Member for Denison? It's important because, as you rightly point out, the issues that you're facing now in Tasmania—and that you've referred to specifically for Hobart—will be, in many respects, unique. Many of the issues that were issues in my electorate, and continue to be issues in my electorate in outer suburban Melbourne, particularly for first home buyers, were similar issues to those being faced in much of Sydney. Those issues were different to the issues that people were facing in regional Queensland, in Western Australia or in South Australia, for that matter. So, having every jurisdiction have its own housing strategy, we felt, was very important. That's one aspect of the reformed National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
We have worked very collegiately with the states and territories to do that. We've also asked the states and territories for much better data: what is the money being spent on, and how could we assure that that money is, in the end, doing what you've also pointed to, Member for Denison, which is to get more social and public housing dwellings on the ground? Because we saw, after eight years of the National Affordable Housing Agreement and $9 billion of additional funding from the Commonwealth, that on every measure, whether it was public or social housing, the number of dwellings went backwards and the quality of the dwellings went backwards as well. So, that reform is something that we have been very proud of.
In exchange for some of the effort we're asking from states and territories now in developing those strategies and giving us real-time data, Treasurer Morrison announced that for the first time we would permanently index homelessness funding. An additional $620 million was provided in the 2017-18 budget—matched, I might add, by the states and territories—and for the first time ever it's guaranteed and it's indexed. The issue for a lot of homelessness providers in the past has been that the sword of Damocles hung over their head: would the agreement be extended and would funding be extended? No longer—that funding is now guaranteed. And not only is it guaranteed, it's indexed. Notwithstanding many of the issues we had with the Affordable Housing Agreement, it was clear to us that the homelessness providers were doing an exceptional job.
A second aspect of the housing package was the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation. This is a government body that will, essentially, fulfil two functions. Firstly, it will administer the $1 billion infrastructure facility. The sole purpose of this $1 billion infrastructure facility, which is represented by $825 million in concessional loans and $175 million in grants, will be to help projects get over the line to get more houses and more dwellings into the market. Because, in the end, one of the issues that we found, particularly in the top of the markets in Sydney and Melbourne, was the inability of the market to respond quickly and get new dwellings into the market. What is the job of the infrastructure facility? It's not there to gold-plate projects that were going ahead already; the infrastructure facility will be there with an additionality principle, meaning that it will commit either a concessional loan or a grant only to help get over the line a project that otherwise wouldn't happen. If the member for Denison comes to see me, I can give him many examples of proposals that we are very confident will be put before the National Housing and Finance Investment Corporation on 1 July that require just a little bit of government investment to help all of a sudden unlock in some cases thousands of new dwellings, including affordable housing.
The second aspect of the Housing Finance and Investment Corporation which commences on 1 July is the bond aggregator. The bond aggregator is there to help funnel low-interest loans to community housing providers. Community housing providers were very pleased last year when I announced that it would be backed by a full government guarantee, which means that community housing providers, instead of having to go out and source their own loans in a credit-constrained environment, will now be able to get the lowest rate of interest possible and, in an aggregated fashion, access even more money to help them fund additional projects. The community housing providers sit on large assets. How can we make those balance sheets work for the community housing providers? If we do that, we get more affordable housing and social housing into the market.
Two other aspects of the government's housing affordability plan have been the first home super saver scheme, a tax cut to encourage first-home buyers to save through concessional contributions in superannuation rather than through their bank account. They get a huge tax cut on the way through, and they also get additional earnings in their super fund. The only condition is that money has to be used to buy a house. It's $15,000 a year to a maximum of $30,000, or $60,000 for a couple, which we know will accelerate the saving rate for first-home buyers by about 30 per cent, because one of the issues for first home buyers is that, as they're saving, the market has kept rising. Finally, our downsizing policy allows those who are downsizing from a family home to contribute up to $300,000 per person, $600,000 for a couple, into their superannuation if that's the proceeds of downsizing, because we don't want those people living in big family homes; we want them to sell them. There are a range of measures, and I'd encourage the member for Denison to come see me. (Time expired)
In Tasmania today people are camping out in tents in the Hobart Showground. One of them, Rachel, is due to give birth in October, and she is having to suffer through icy Tasmanian temperatures. She says:
… if I can't see it, it's not happening. Just stay in a ball and you'll be fine.
That's Rachel's way of dealing with the homelessness crisis Tasmania is currently struggling with. One of my own constituents, Adrian, wrote to me about his family's struggles. His children and grandchildren are finding it difficult to get into the housing market. He currently shares his house with his married daughter and her husband. Since his eldest was born 40 years ago, he has had only six months of living without his offspring. Lina, a woman in my electorate, recently wrote to me about living out of a suitcase after losing her mother. Annie, an older woman, has been left with few housing options after finding herself with little superannuation and no family.
Australia's homeownership rate is now at 60-year lows, and for 25-to-34-year-olds, the homeownership rate has collapsed from 60 per cent to less than 40 per cent over the past 30 years. Just in the time that the government has been in office, capital city house prices have soared by 30 per cent, with nearly 50 per cent increases in Sydney. Recent Reserve Bank analysis by Gianni La Cava, Hannah Leal and Andrew Zurawski measures the house-price-to-income ratio, and shows that in the early 1980s, it was less than two, and now it's over five. They ask what share of homes would be affordable to the typical first-home buyer, and find that nationally it is 32 per cent. In Sydney, it can be as low as 10 per cent. Compared with recent years, first-home buyers are finding themselves only able to afford homes with fewer bedrooms, further away from the centre of the city.
Now, there was a time when the Liberal Party was the party of home ownership. In his The Forgotten People speech, Robert Menzies said:
The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.
He didn't think that the policy of the government ought to be to look after the rich. In fact, he said:
… in most material difficulties, the rich can look after themselves.
But the successors to Menzies don't have the same attitude. When asked about housing affordability, the Prime Minister told ABC host Jon Faine just to 'shell out' and help fund his kids' entry into the housing market. The member for New England told people who couldn't afford rent to move to the country. Joe Hockey said people should just 'get a good job that pays good money'. Indeed, two years ago we had the spectacle of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer posing with the Mignacca family, who had just purchased a property for their one-year-old child, Addison. What kind of a country is it in which the party of Menzies is now the party defending negative gearing for one-year-olds? Under Robert Menzies, we saw the home ownership rate go from half to nearly three-quarters of the population. But under the Liberals we're seeing home ownership at a 60-year low.
Labor believes that the great Australian dream has turned into a nightmare under Malcolm Turnbull. We will do something about housing affordability through a plan that will reform negative gearing and the capital gains tax concession. It's a plan which is backed by experts across the political spectrum: Saul Eslake, Chris Richardson, Jeff Kennett, Joe Hockey, the Murray review, the Henry review and the Reserve Bank of Australia. Labor's policy will see the construction of over 55,000 new homes in Australia over three years, creating over 25,000 new jobs. We'll close a tax concession used disproportionately by the most affluent, with surgeons 16 times as likely to negatively gear as nurses. We'll also limit direct borrowing by self-managed superannuation funds, boost homelessness support for vulnerable Australians, get better results under the National Affordable Housing Agreement, re-establish the National Housing Supply Council and re-initiate a minister for housing.
Every Saturday in Australia, first homebuyers are being outbid at auctions by home speculators. It wasn't always the way. If you go back to the 1990s, the value of loans written for first homebuyers and investors was about the same. Now the ratio is four to one in favour of investors. Prior to the 2017 budget, Minister Sukkar told Sky News, 'The housing package will be extraordinarily large; it will be far-reaching.' But as John Daley from the Grattan Institute said afterwards, 'I can't see any reason why this budget is going to make any discernible difference to housing affordability.' This government has no plans for housing affordability. Labor will tackle the crisis.
The Labor Party and the opposition have absolutely no business lecturing the government on housing—or on anything else, for that matter. I think that many Australians will remember what life was like in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. It was a shambles; it was a litany of mismanagement, from the appallingly managed pink batts scheme, which remains a source of shame for those opposite, to the failed Building the Education Revolution, which was shockingly managed. And, of course, now they want to rip $60 billion from Australia's retirees. Australians don't trust those opposite to manage anything.
But, unlike those opposite, as the minister just pointed out a few minutes ago, we do have a multifaceted strategy—a multipronged strategy—to deal with housing. Obviously, firstly, there is the First Home Super Saver scheme, allowing first homebuyers to save for a deposit through superannuation. That's the first point. We're also helping older Australians to downsize by enabling them to make non-concessional superannuation contributions of up to $300,000 for singles and $600,000 for couples—again, to ease pressure on the housing market.
As the minister just pointed out a few minutes ago, we're indexing the homelessness budget, which provides certainty to providers. We've tightened up the capital gains tax laws and exemptions on foreign residents, again, to ease pressure on the housing market. We're establishing the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation and also the National Housing Infrastructure Facility.
We're also delivering a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with the states and territories. We are going to make sure that we get better outcomes with respect to the National Affordable Housing Agreement. This strategy goes across all sectors and touches Australians from all walks of life, including those with disabilities. I point out an example of that in my electorate. Through the government's Specialist Disability Accommodation Initiative, last year we turned the first sod on a new $830,000 facility to house people with disabilities in Orange, which is in the Calare electorate. The total spend is $1.6 million. It's a project of four units. It will have a counselling room and carers accommodation. I congratulate Housing Plus for undertaking that work.
So it is a multifaceted and multipronged strategy. It's taking place against a backdrop of a softening housing market. National dwelling prices have softened in recent months, following several years of strong growth. National price movements have been led by developments in the Sydney and Melbourne markets. I point out that annual dwelling price growth across the eight capital cities fell by 0.3 per cent through the year to March 2018, marking the first negative through-the-year growth in capital city dwelling prices since 2012, with price declines being most pronounced in Sydney, where prices for both houses and units have declined steadily since peaking in the September quarter 2017. So prices are heading in the right direction.
Rental vacancy rates and rental price growth have remained stable at around five-year averages. Rental price growth is subdued and rental yields remained low but stable at 2.9 per cent in December 2017, just under the five-year average of 3.1 per cent. National auction clearance rates have also moderated since the beginning of 2017, falling from nearly 80 per cent in February 2017 to around 63 per cent in March 2018, just below their five-year average.
In terms of home building, we've experienced one of the largest booms in home building in recent years, with record levels of high-rise construction in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. While the pace of construction has softened in recent quarters, going forward high levels of work in the pipeline, as well as recent strength in new approvals, are expected to keep dwelling investment and approvals elevated by historical standards. So the recent budget forecast dwelling investment to fall by three per cent before rising slightly by 1½ per cent in 2018-19 and remaining flat in 2019-20.
Nobody trusts those opposite to manage anything. Contrast with that, on this side of the House we have a multifaceted plan for housing. (Time expired)
I first met Penny about six years ago. It was about 2011 or 2012. She came to a meeting that I held in Ascot Vale, a suburb in my electorate. It was a meet your local MP meeting. She came along and sat quietly for a while. Eventually she spoke up. She was quite reserved when she did. She said: 'I've never been to one of these things before, but I'm here because I went to uni and I've gone out and found work, but most my work is on contracts and it is a bit insecure. Rent is going up so much now that I can't afford to live near where I do most of my work, which is in the city. I just don't know what to do.' She was almost in tears. She said: 'I just don't think government and politicians understand. Why is it that you can do the right thing and still not be able to afford a roof over your head?' It's a very good question, and it has stayed with me for the last six years.
We are now becoming a society where doing the right thing is no longer enough. Doing the right thing will no longer guarantee that you will have a roof over your head. Part of the reason is that in this country we look at housing and our national tax system treats housing as if it were an investment class, like shares, not a human right. As a result, we've got a tax system that makes housing less affordable, all the while people are being locked out of getting a roof over their head.
What if we turned away tens of thousands of kids from schools every year? If we said to parents, 'You can't send your child to a public school because we just haven't built enough schools,' there would be an outrage, but it seems okay for us to have people sleeping on the street, people couch surfing and people homeless because the government hasn't organised to have enough affordable housing built. We need to start thinking about housing in the same way that we think about schools or think about health care. It is a public right to have a roof over your head, and if people in this country are going without one, we need to do something about it.
Mr Deputy Speaker, do you know how many rental properties in the whole of Victoria were affordable for a single person on Newstart? Zero. If you are on Newstart and you are a single person, you cannot find an affordable property in Victoria. Because youth allowance hasn't increased, students now find that pretty much all of their youth allowance goes on just paying for usually part of a room, not even a whole room. This means that they have to work around the clock to make ends meet in order to progress their studies. If you're lucky enough to finish your TAFE or university and then go out and start to look to buy, well, you are almost priced out of the market now. It is almost a dream. If we go back to the 1990s, an average house cost six times an average young person's income. Fast forward a couple of decades to now, an average house costs 12 times a young person's income.
We need to have a rethink about how we think about housing. The first thing we should do is get rid of negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions. We should phase out capital gains tax exemptions completely and get rid of negative gearing for all new properties and say to people, including those members of parliament who have multiple investment properties, 'You can only have one investment property if you want to claim it on negative gearing, because housing is a human right; it's not there for you to use as an investment class to boost your own income, with the taxpayer picking up half the tab.' If we got rid of those unfair tax breaks, we would have an extra $5 billion a year. An extra $5 billion a year would build a lot of affordable housing. If we had rent control and European-style long-term leases, we would go a long way to making life more secure and more affordable for people who can't afford to buy their own home.
The one thing that no-one seems to talk about, because it seems to be a dirty word now, the one way of bringing down rents and also increasing stock is building more public housing. Let's put some of that $5 billion into public housing, where the government says: 'If you live there, you pay 25 per cent of your income in rent. You stay there and we will look after the property.' We haven't had a large-scale public housing development built in Victoria—certainly in my area of Melbourne—since the 1960s, and as a result we have about 40,000 people on the waiting list. There is a big slab of public housing land in Flemington around the corner from me, in my electorate. The Labor government is about to knock down some of the public housing. They're about to build 820 new private developments and only 20 new public housing developments. If we're serious, let's have a rethink. Let's stop the sell-offs, build more public housing and have a national housing strategy.
I must say that the inference by the mover of this matter of public importance that there is not already a strategy in place for housing in this country is one of the most blatant cases of fake news I have come across. This coalition government has a strong and sensible strategy to continue to improve the opportunities for Australians to have and to own a house. These measures are many and varied, but I would like to focus on just a couple.
The government is establishing the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. The NHFIC is a new corporate entity dedicated to improving housing outcomes for Australians. Set to be established by 1 July 2018, the NHFIC will house a $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility, which will partner with eligible recipients to finance critical infrastructure to unlock new housing supply. The NHFIC will also include an affordable housing bond aggregator, AHBA, which aims to provide cheaper and longer-term finance for community housing providers that will drive efficiencies and cost savings in the provision of affordable housing. These are real, sensible measures to deliver a market outcome, without punishing those hardworking Australians who have invested in the housing market, as those opposite would have us do.
We've heard them mention negative gearing changes, but that's all we hear from them: 'Get rid of negative gearing and everything will come good.' It is a lie, Deputy Speaker. It is a lie they are trying to use to be popular, but it is a deadset falsehood. The most important thing we can do to help people afford their housing needs is to ensure we provide them with a strategy for a strong and vibrant economy. This fundamental need has been a driving force for me during my time in this place, and it is one that I'm proud to say my colleagues on this side of the House share. This coalition government—that has committed itself time and time again to improving the lives of our constituents and giving them more opportunities—takes from them less tax. On the job front, there are plenty of commentators and observers, including those opposite, who do not believe it is possible for this coalition government to deliver on its promise to create one million jobs. We made that undertaking and we delivered on that undertaking: more than 400,000 of those jobs were created across the country last year alone, an incredible feat.
In dealing with the need to grow the economy, it is abundantly clear that you need to deal with real, job-creating infrastructure—real, job-creating infrastructure like better highways, like mobile phone towers, like damns and weirs, andreal, job-creating infrastructure like Rookwood Weir. Right across this country, this government has committed to real funding to see new water infrastructure developed. A suite of dams and weirs across the country received funding to see their feasibility tested. The long-awaited Rookwood project near Gogango received not only the $2 million it needed to conduct the business case study but also $126 million towards its construction. This contribution, once it is eventually matched by the Labor state government, means all required construction funding is on the table. Why has the state government not started building?
Rookwood Weir promises to deliver over 200 jobs through construction and to produce an economic boom for Central Queensland worth over $1 billion and over 2,000 jobs. This is a huge benefit for our region and one that would see the cities of Rockhampton and Gladstone as well as the Capricorn Coast provided with the water security they deserve and need. The vast majority of jobs delivered in the long term will be through increased agriculture output thanks to the extra water landholders will have access to. We all know the phrase 'water is life', but what many don't realise is that water is life for not only plants and animals but communities. We need projects like Rookwood Weir to make our regional communities like Rockhampton stronger.
Stronger regional communities with stronger regional economies mean more money in people's pockets and, therefore, greater access to housing. The Labor Party has made it abundantly clear that their support for major infrastructure projects is entirely dependent on political outcomes. They have no interest in supporting a project because it's a good idea—hence the long, drawn-out chain-dragging we've seen from the Queensland government on this project. It is hugely disappointing to see members opposite accuse this government of not helping Australians get in their own home, when it is only this coalition government delivering on the jobs and economic needs for all Australians.
While I'm delighted to make my contribution to this debate, I just can't let the comments from the member for Capricornia go unanswered. I'm a great supporter of infrastructure and know how important it is in our regions, and I understand the member for Capricornia is a really hardworking, sincere member of parliament, but what we need in this national strategy is real wins on the ground. While many of the things that she says might be true in Queensland, in my electorate of north-east Victoria we certainly have a real problem. I'd be calling on my colleagues in the National Party, many of whom are in the House today, to seriously work with their Liberal colleagues on developing a strategy for rural and regional Australia that addresses the real and significant problems that we are experiencing.
Let me talk, for example, about some of the statistics in north-east Victoria, and I will talk about my major towns of Wodonga and Wangaratta. These statistics are provided by Beyond Housing, which is a community housing authority. They saw more than 2,700 people in the last year: 52 per cent were women, 42 per cent were families and 136 people in Wodonga and Wangaratta were sleeping in the open, in a tent or in a car. If you add that to that the story we've just heard about Denison, it's clear we're not making this up. These are people without housing, in the cold, in winter. So, there is a real problem in my electorate, and I'm really pleased to be part of this debate today. I did hear the minister speak. If he thinks he's doing enough, he is absolutely deluded. I'm here as a crossbencher, not a member of the opposition; my job is to speak for my electorate and to try to make the government's programs better. To support what I'm saying, I have some research that was done by La Trobe University, Housing affordability and homelessness in the Hume region – Victoria, which I would like to address. I would also like to finish on a very positive note. As is traditional in our country areas, and certainly in my electorate, my community is actively acting and doing something about this housing crisis. I would like to make reference to a forum that was held in Yackandandah two weeks ago to do something locally about this problem.
In the La Trobe study, they are telling us that housing affordability and homelessness are significant right across Australia, and they've got the data. They say that housing issues effect the population as a whole, and we've heard the story about that. We've heard that homelessness is complex and it's not solely related to housing; it's the lack of access to suitable forms of housing, transport, income and wellness in yourself. The absence of current policies targeting housing affordability and homelessness at both the Commonwealth and state level is problematic, says La Trobe University. It's totally independent and a very factual report on what we are trying to deal with. I would encourage my colleagues in the National Party to have a read of the La Trobe report and pay some attention to it. We've got a significant problem, and it doesn't only come out from the housing organisations or the service organisations that try and support people with emergency food, with travel, with trying to get to a doctor and with the counselling that goes with it. They are all coming to my office and saying that things are not working out well. It's a significant problem.
I would like to spend a few minutes of my time to talk about what my community is doing. Two week ago, in Yackandandah, 120 people turned up for an innovating housing forum, to look at how small rural communities can do something about what's actually happening in our community. They had a fantastic day, with attendees from Benalla, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Tallangatta, Mount Beauty and even Melbourne visiting. Not only did we hear ideas about the role of local government and about design; we also talked about the role of the health service providers. Annette Nuck, the CEO of Yackandandah Health, told the audience of the radical ideas that aged-care and health facilities are planning for Yackandandah. What's clearly evident is that our people and communities want to be part of the solution. They have ideas about what will work for them. They want to be part of the answer, not just a top-down government telling us what to do. Really and truly, we could involve our communities. Particularly, our regional communities are so keen to make sure that not only the homelessness problem is addressed but also in our old age we've got housing that actually works to our needs and works towards the long-term survival and sustainability of our country towns.
The final thing I want to say about the housing stuff and to the minister present is that it's not just a government solution by itself; you've actually got to work with communities, with local government and with the housing authorities. Clearly, and strongly from the backbench and the crossbench here, what you're doing is not working and it's certainly not working in my area of regional Australia.
It was very pleasing to hear the member for Fenner's contribution during this debate, talking about Robert Menzies's 'The Forgotten People' speech. I hope the member for Fenner reads that and studies it. He may learn something so that he can make a valuable contribution to this House rather than some of the rants that we hear.
When we talk about housing affordability—and I would like to congratulate the member for Denison for moving this motion, because, honourable member, you are correct: we do have an issue in this country with housing affordability and housing. You're absolutely right. We only have to look at some of the recent numbers. The median house price in Sydney is currently over $1 million. The median price is $1,180,000 in Sydney. In Melbourne, the median price is over $900,000. Now, if we make some comparisons to the USA, we look at places like San Antonio in Texas. The equivalent median house price there is $357,000—and that's Australian dollars. That's one-third of the median price in Sydney. In Austin, Texas, it's the equivalent of A$446,000. In Houston, Texas, it's the equivalent of A$399,000. In Dallas-Fort Worth, it's the equivalent of A$485,000. We can see how the cost of housing in this country has got out of control for the average Australian.
We ask why. The simple reason is that it goes back to those old equations of supply and demand. During the Howard years we had an average rate of migration of around 100,000, 110,000 or 120,000. Even then, we were struggling to keep up the supply of housing for that rate of migration. I'm not saying migration should be higher or lower; all I'm saying is that, whatever rate we have, we have to make sure that we match that with the housing starts.
But in 2007, during the first years of the Labor government we saw that, instead of the 100,000 we'd been used for the 10 years before, we had a net migration rate that was kicked up to 244,000; in 2008, it was kicked up to 315,700; and in 2009 we still had 264,000. So, in the first three years of the previous Labor government we had a net migration rate of 806,000 people. I am not saying that's good or bad. The problem is that we didn't build the houses to house those people. You cannot have a net migration rate of 800,000 people over three years without that number of housing starts. That is what has happened, and we have seen prices explode across the nation. For the average Australian, it is a false economy to think that your house has gone up in price, because all it means is that the gap is bigger if you want to upgrade. So, for most Australians, the increase we have seen in housing costs has benefitted only a small number of people.
We hear the policy prescriptions. The coalition, as the minister at the table said, is working on a suite of policies to tackle this housing affordability issue. But what do we hear from the Labor Party—the old chestnut they dig up, the class warfare rhetoric? They want to tackle the so-called problems of negative gearing. We saw exactly what happened when Labor tried this policy before. Remember when Paul Keating did it—we had to tackle negative gearing, this horrible thing. And what happened? The price of rents in Sydney went through the roof. Where demand was tight and you got rid of negative gearing all that happened was that people didn't invest in investment housing that was needed for people who were renting, and chose to rent, and that put rents through the roof. Again, a typical Labor policy that causes more harm than good. That is exactly what the Labor policy would cause.
In contrast, I'm glad to see that we are doing many things, and I'm especially glad that we are doing something with superannuation. When I first started to work, superannuation was only three per cent and I was able to put some income away for a deposit on a house, rather than the government tell me what I had to do with it—to put it into some compulsory account where people would take fees and charges out. We are enabling young Australians to put $15,000 a year—a $30,000 maximum—into their super to use for housing. We need more of this and we need to work on this issue in a bipartisan way. (Time expired)
I'm pleased to stand here to speak on the urgent need for a national housing strategy and to follow the member for Hughes to provide some sensibility around this debate and not talk about house pricing in Texas. Recently, there was a second forum in my electorate of Lindsay, which was hosted by the Sydney Alliance and a number of housing providers. Not one single Liberal representative turned up—not a councillor, not a state MP, nor the duty senator. This isn't the first time they've snubbed their nose and not turned up. They weren't present at the last one I was at, back in February, either.
This tells you two things about the Liberal Party. They don't see housing as an issue worthy of their time or they don't care about those who are affected by homelessness or housing stress. Before I arrived in this place I was an active volunteer for Pay It Forward and the chair of the homeless interagency convened by Penrith City Council. Both of these gave me the opportunity to understand the complexities that contribute to and create the 116,500 homeless people, as counted on census night. I thank both of these organisations for their work in our community.
The number of homeless people aged 12 to 24 is over 32 per cent—which should bring us to our knees—which is a significant number of young people. The number of homeless people aged over 55 has steadily increased over the past three census counts. In fact, the fastest growing group of homeless people are older women—women who are have retired without enough superannuation, have been through a divorce or have had their casual job hours reduced, not to mention the persistent gender wage gap during their entire working lives.
Australians need a government with a plan. We need an urgent housing strategy that addresses the issue, not a government who's only plan is to fund an $80 billion windfall for big businesses. For a government who hates those who need help the most we shouldn't be surprised by this, though. They come in here all the time and beat up on people who are on support payments, telling them to get a job, a better education or rich parents. You could almost start a board game of 'They said what now?' and attempt to guess which politician made the most outrageous statement.
We know that the best contributor to reducing welfare dependency is stable affordable housing and that the opposite of that is one of the largest contributors to intergenerational inequality. You only need to look at our First Nations people to understand that.
We need a government with a housing strategy, not a Prime Minister who is so out of touch that his own housing arrangements include not moving into the prime ministerial residence at Kirribilli, preferring to stay in his own home at Point Piper, because it would be a downgrade. How would anyone as out of touch as that know what it's like to sleep rough or to be in housing stress, or what it's like to apply for five rental properties as a single parent and be denied every single time simply because you're a single mum?
We need a plan and a government to champion the people, not a government that sees rental stress on the rise—it has gone up more than 40 per cent since this government came to office. Since this government came to office, home ownership is now at a 60-year low, having dropped more than 40 per cent in the last 30 years.
We need a government that won't just champion big business tax cuts, hoping that it somehow magically trickles down if you shake the tree enough. It's now 12 months since the 2017 budget decision to establish a bond aggregator through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Bill. I'd like to add, proudly, that this was a bread-and-butter Labor policy that we announced, and a policy the government has adopted. Congratulations! We welcomed this. But not one single state or territory jurisdiction has signed on.
We need a plan, and this government simply doesn't have one. It doesn't have one when it comes to wage theft, to closing the gender pay gap, to addressing unemployment or to fixing the housing crisis. Only Labor has a plan. A plan that begins with understanding the issue would be a great start for this Prime Minister.
The latest Productivity Commission report found that there are 527,588 households in rental stress—that is more than half a million people—defined as spending more than a third of their income on housing. Imagine that if you were a Newstart recipient. It's a shame that the member for Chisholm is not here. The effects of housing stress are well known, and, as this report finds, housing instability and homelessness can, in turn, increase vulnerability to adverse social and economic circumstances through, for example, poor outcomes in education, employment and health, and an increased risk of involvement with the justice system.
In my electorate of Lindsay, there are over 2,000 state-housing-authority-owned dwellings. The people of my community work hard for what they earn. However, the odds are stacked against them, sadly.
We have a plan for housing affordability. It's a plan that is good for the budget, good for productivity, good for jobs and good for my community in Lindsay. We have a plan to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax. I have somebody in my electorate who owns so many rental properties that his income from those rental properties is $1 million per month. He's also getting negative gearing tax credits on that. We need a government with a plan, not this shabby mob on the other side.
I've listened to the various contributions from honourable members on the need for a national housing strategy to promote housing affordability for all Australians. The coalition government has implemented a number of measures to promote investment in the housing market through increasing the supply of residential lots and the construction of dwellings to meet demand for housing, thereby promoting greater housing affordability.
Prior to entering parliament, I came from a local government and property-development background. Housing affordability is closely related to the release of land. What is required is a more streamlined town-planning and environmental-approvals process, working closely with state and local government authorities to ensure that new lots can be efficiently serviced with electricity, water and gas, sewerage and telecommunications. In addition, investment in infrastructure—roads; rail; transport infrastructure—by the federal government lays the foundation for more land releases in suburban areas around our cities.
As financing and holding costs account for a significant proportion of the cost of land, timely approvals processes and construction are an important factor in keeping costs under control. The promotion of medium-density development, smart cities and livable neighbourhoods is brought about by existing government policies and by working in partnership with the private sector through developer-contribution schemes for the provision of infrastructure and community facilities.
Similarly, the coalition government has a number of policies which promote investment in property development and create supply in the housing market. One such measure is maintaining the current capital gains tax discount at 50 per cent for assets held more than a year. In contrast, under Labor's proposal 75 per cent of capital gains will be taxed at an individual's marginal rate. A coalition government will also maintain the existing negative gearing arrangements to assist people to save and invest in property for their future financial security and independence.
To help create more housing supply, the government is replacing the National Affordable Housing Agreement, which provides $1.3 billion a year to the states and territories, with a new set of agreements requiring them to deliver on housing supply targets. The government is also establishing a $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility to fund City Deals that remove infrastructure impediments to developing new homes. The government is creating an online Commonwealth land registry detailing sites that can be made available for residential development such as the sale of surplus Commonwealth land such as that surplus of Defence Force requirements. The coalition is establishing a new Housing Finance and Investment Corporation to provide long-term, low-cost finance to support more affordable rental housing. We're also allowing managed investment trusts to be used to develop and own affordable housing, providing investors affordable housing with a greater income certainty by enabling direct deduction of welfare payments from tenants and increasing the capital gains tax discount tax for 60 per cent for investments in affordable housing. Finally, there is the First Home Super Saver Scheme, which allows individuals to make voluntary contributions up to $15,000 per year and $30,000 in total to their superannuation account to purchase their first home.
Housing affordability is one of the six focus themes that the coalition government has identified for action by City Deals depending on local priorities and issues, increasing the availability and affordability of housing near job opportunities and transport connections, which will deliver important social and economic outcomes while also contributing to improved liveability through smart design and reduced travel times. In addition, the budget, through disciplined fiscal management, ensuring that wage growth is matched by productivity growth, helps keep inflation under control, which in turns take pressure off interest rates. Maintaining a low-interest-rate environment is important to ensure housing affordability for millions of Australians paying off their mortgages in our suburbs.