Thursday, 18 March 2021
Matters of Public Importance
Homelessness, Housing Affordability
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Clark proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The need to solve Australia's housing crisis.
I call upon 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—
Australia's housing system is broken, as evidenced by the fact that our 30-year housing affordability decline has been among the worst in the developed world. Moreover, according to the 2016 census, homelessness has increased 13.7 per cent in five years, and housing prices across Australia continue to rise, with a jump of 2.1 per cent in February this year, the largest national monthly rise since August 2003.
In my home state of Tasmania, the median house price for first home buyer purchases hit a record high of $355,000 in 2020, compared to $335,000 in 2019 and $268,000 in 2015. Reports suggest this could be attributed to a serious undersupply of residential housing in Tasmania. Furthermore, Tasmania is now the most expensive place to rent compared to anywhere else in Australia, with rents rising 36 per cent in the past five years. No wonder the Real Estate Institute of Australia estimates the proportion of income required to meet rent payments in Hobart is now a staggering 29.5 per cent, 5.5 per cent higher than the national level.
The consequences of this are very human, with over 8,000 households in the private rental market now in housing stress in Tasmania. For example, today an article in the Mercury newspaper reported that one woman was told by her real estate agent that her rent was rising from $220 a week to $350 week, a 59 per cent increase. Moreover, there are 3,373 Tasmanians on the waitlist for social housing, with priority applicants waiting an average of 64 weeks to be placed. Tasmanian people aged 16 to 24 account for one-third of this waitlist and, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in four Tasmanians accessing specialist homelessness services in 2020 were young people. In fact, on any given day, 499 young Tasmanians aged 16 to 24 are seeking housing services support.
My office has been inundated with people who have been sleeping in cars and on friends' couches for over 12 months. Many of these people are mothers with young children who have either been turned away from crisis accommodation, which is also at capacity, or been unable to go to crisis accommodation because it's simply unsuitable. Obviously, these people simply cannot afford private rental and have nowhere to go while they wait for public housing.
Furthermore, the National Rental Affordability Scheme, a federal initiative which offers subsidised rent at 80 per cent or less of the market value rent, has started to expire in Tasmania, leaving people unable to afford private rentals. Again, the consequences of this are very human. One person in my community, a disability pensioner, is facing life in a caravan park after losing financial support to pay the rent on his home via the NRAS.
Then there is the impact of short stay accommodation, such as Airbnb, and the effect it's having on the rental market in Hobart. A report released by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute shows that, worryingly, Hobart has the highest short-stay density in the country and one of the highest Airbnb densities in the world. Obviously, the lack of regulation in this area in Tasmania has led to more people converting their properties to short-term accommodation rather than making them available as long-term rentals, something that is urgently needed in Hobart. In fact, I understand that about 10 per cent of residential property in Hobart is now short-stay accommodation.
Significantly, the economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 has also placed many in the rental market at risk. Furthermore, the fact that JobKeeper and the JobSeeker supplements are finishing at the end of this month is going to cause a whole new level of trouble. A study by ANU suggests that winding back these payments will push an extra 740,000 Australians across the country into poverty. These people will be forced to choose between paying their rent and bills and feeding their family. This is clearly unacceptable in a country as rich as Australia. This research that we're seeing coming out is entirely consistent with recent research from Finder which shows that almost half of Australia's workers would run out of money in under a month if they lost their jobs and one in five people have less than $250 in their savings accounts.
Clearly, federal and state governments—and, when it comes to short-stay accommodation, also local governments—have to do something about this housing crisis, which is across the whole country, not just in Tasmania. We need dramatic policy change at all levels of government, and we need more crisis accommodation. In Tasmania, we need more Housing Tasmania properties and other social housing. We need more supported accommodation for people with special needs. We need tax reform, including watering down negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions. We need to introduce rent-to-buy public housing in jurisdictions where it doesn't exist. We need a 30 per cent increase, at least, in Commonwealth rent assistance. We need permanent and improved grants and access to low-interest loans for first-home buyers. And, in my own city of Hobart, we need better public transport, such as light rail, to better link areas of new housing growth with jobs and with hospitals and other services.
We must also return Airbnb and other short-stay accommodation to the original model, which was where locals could make a bit of extra money from their spare room or granny flat or having an airbed on their lounge room floor. That way, tourists could enjoy an authentic local experience, without permanent residents—in my home state, Tasmanians—being squeezed out of their own communities.
What I am talking about will obviously cost money. It will cost a lot of money, but we're a rich country and we can afford to ensure that there is a roof over everyone's head. It's as simple as that. The GDP in Australia, just before coronavirus, was almost $2 trillion. I'll say that again. Australia's GDP just before COVID was worth almost $2 trillion a year. We're estimated to have the world's 14th biggest GDP and the 11th highest GDP per capita. Before COVID, we had had 28 consecutive years of growth, and we are one of the few economies in the post World War II period to achieve this.
Hear, hear! We are a rich country. We can afford this. Tasmania, compared to the rest of the world, is a rich state, as are all of the other jurisdictions that are represented by honourable members. Compared to the rest of the world, we're among the richest people in the world. We can afford the solutions. We can all afford more crisis accommodation, more public housing, more supported accommodation, sensible tax reform, and the introduction of rent-to-buy public housing. We can afford, if nothing else, to increase CRA by at least 30 per cent.
Through you, Deputy Speaker, I say to the minister that these are the sorts of initiatives that are within the domain of the federal government, or there are opportunities for the federal government to work with the minister's counterparts in the states and territories to try and solve these crises. I refer honourable members to my question today, which is another relevant point—the fact that the government is ceasing the Equal Remuneration Order supplement for homelessness services at a time when, as we're discussing right here in this place right now, there is a homelessness crisis in this country.
One of the fundamental duties of a federal government is to ensure that people have a roof over their head. With that roof comes security and safety, better job opportunities, better health and a better upbringing for our children. So much of it flows from having a roof over our heads. Yet, in this country, one of the richest in the world, there are way too many people who are sleeping rough, who are homeless, who are in tents in the park, or who are in their mate's laundry or on their couch. We could do so much better.
I thank the member for Clark for today's MPI on housing. Whilst I may not agree with every single statement he has made in his contribution, I do thank him for his ongoing commitment to these issues. Indeed, the member for Clark's involvement was quite integral to a range of measures that the government took in 2019 with respect to housing in Tasmania, whether it was the Hobart City Deal or forgiving Tasmania's historic housing debt, which is delivering so much for his state. So I certainly thank him for his long-term interest in these issues, notwithstanding the fact that I don't agree with all that he has said today.
If we look back at where we were 12 months ago, things were obviously very dire with the pandemic hitting, and a range of measures—such as the moratorium on evictions, the JobKeeper program, JobSeeker and, of course, in my domain, HomeBuilder—by the Morrison government, in conjunction with the states and territories, sought to address and alleviate many of the issues that the member for Clark has spoken about today. That range of measures has ensured that, during a tumultuous economic period in Australia and also throughout the world, we've been able to maintain stability in the housing market and we've been able to maintain stability for people in the private rental market. Notwithstanding many of the decades-long issues with social and affordable housing, we've still been able to make some headway in the right direction in conjunction with the states and territories.
I think it's worthwhile reflecting on what we have been able to achieve in that 12-month period, when, quite frankly, many people in this place and around our country questioned what sort of certainty there would be for people. What the member for Clark and I agree on—and I suspect everyone in this House does too—is that having a secure roof over your head is a foundational building block for so many aspects of success and happiness in your life. That's why the government is so committed not only to first home buyers, which I talk quite often about in question time with respect to HomeBuilder, but also to everybody on the housing spectrum, whether we're talking about people in private ownership, private rental, subsidised rental, social and affordable housing or, down the housing spectrum, those who are suffering, or at risk of suffering, homelessness.
In the context of some of the specific issues that the member for Clark raised with respect to Tasmania and around his seat in Hobart, I think it is worthwhile reflecting on what the government does do. The member for Clark recognises that the states and territories have primary responsibility for these matters. But the federal government has a big role in funding, supporting and assisting states and territories to deliver the programs for which they are constitutionally responsible and for which they have day-to-day responsibility. The member for Clark referred to Commonwealth rent assistance and his request to increase it. It's around $5½ billion a year now. That has risen quite substantially in recent years. One of the reasons it's risen is that, as tenants transfer from public housing stock into the community housing sector, they become eligible for Commonwealth rent assistance. We are encouraging, in some respects, the transfer of individuals who wouldn't otherwise be eligible for CRA. That's why we are spending $5½ billion.
In question time, both the Prime Minister and I referred to the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which commenced in 2009. I still think it is fair to say that, to this day, there are inadequate lines of oversight in the agreement, from a Commonwealth perspective, about what exactly that money is spent on by the states and territories. But it has $129 million of guaranteed homelessness funding. As part of renegotiating the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, when the Prime Minister was Treasurer and I was his assistant minister, one of the key things that we did, as the Prime Minister outlined in question time today, was to provide funding certainty. We also indexed the payments so that they grew in real terms and were able to take fluctuations of not only CPI but also population growth.
All of those things work in combination to support the states and territories, which, again, have primary responsibility. The member for Clark rightly points out that the supply of housing is essentially the main game when it comes to every single cohort along the housing spectrum, whether it's the supply of housing through the private market, through public housing in the states and territories or through community housing providers. One of the things that the government has done in recent years, which members in the House are aware of, is establish the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. This was the first time that the federal government established a body to primarily support community housing providers throughout our country. It's been a remarkable success in the time that it has been in place. The two primary aspects of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation are its bond aggregator and the method it uses to channel government-bond-rate debt to Commonwealth housing providers, who sit on large portfolios of assets but are unable to deploy and obtain finance at the levels they can through NHFIC. That has led to more than $1.8 billion going to community housing providers. Let's remember that community housing providers not only manage their own stock of social and affordable housing; in many instances they are contracted to manage stock that's owned by state and territory governments. What that $1.8 billion has done is deliver over 2,700 new affordable homes and support the existing housing stock of those community housing providers—6,500 homes. So we're talking nearly 10,000 dwellings that are being supported simply through the mechanism of the bond aggregator which was established by this government—the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation is a creation of the Morrison government. We've also approved more than $227 million to support 4,500 homes through the National Housing Infrastructure Facility.
We have also been a government that is remarkably focused on first-home buyers. It's pleasing that, in the midst of a pandemic, Australia has moved to first-home buyers being at the highest proportion in over a decade. It's a time when first-home buyers are displaying the confidence to take that huge step of purchasing their first home. We are unashamedly, and we are unquestionably, a government that is focused on supporting people who have the aspiration to purchase a new home. And the way we've done that, in the midst of a pandemic, is through a range of measures. One is the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. The member for Clark referred to a range of schemes, including the Shared Equity Scheme and others. The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme displays many of those characteristics. In essence, it allows first-home buyers to purchase a new home with a deposit of as little as five per cent. Those who have constituents emailing and calling them, as I do, would know that banks requiring a 20 per cent deposit is very prohibitive.
Then, of course, there's HomeBuilder, which previously provided a $25,000 grant and now provides a $15,000 grant for people purchasing a new home. It was put in place to ensure that the million employees in the residential construction industry were able to remain employed, but it is also supporting people in purchasing a new home. Importantly, when we come to the biggest single issue of housing in Australia—supply—HomeBuilder has ensured that the supply of new housing is actually higher now than it was before the pandemic, which, again, is quite a remarkable feat.
So there's a lot of work to be done. States and territories need to work on planning and zoning, making sure that the new supply is in, and making sure the money that's being provided by the federal government is spent well in supporting the people that the member for Clark has spoken about. In that, he and I can agree. (Time expired)
I asked a lady called Alannah Tomlinson why she would run for us for a seat in the Queensland parliament. She said: 'Affordable living. I can't afford to live. I've got two kids and oftentimes the two stepkids as well. My husband has a good job, and I'm working every single night from half past five to 11 o'clock at night, managing a restaurant, and twice a day during the week as well, and I simply can't make ends meet.'
And why would she be able to? The average cost of a house in Australia is $670,000. The enlightened policies of government, in this place and the state parliaments, have taken that from $62,000 in 1990, which was the start of the wonderful free market policies, to $670,000 now. There's no great secret about what the problem is. I am sorry, Minister; when you say that the solution is to provide more money so people can buy houses, you simply increase the demand.
Far be it from me to quote Malcolm Turnbull, but Malcolm Turnbull and an Oxford don—he's an Australian, but he's a professor at Oxford—put out a paper and they said that the problem is not with increasing the demand. Giving everybody $7,000 to help them buy a new house will just increase demand, but the problem is supply. It is nigh on impossible to do a subdivision in this country, to jump through the environmental hoops and the economic hoops and to navigate the council charges, the state government demands, the headworks charges and every other cost that everyone wants to put on it by the time you've finished—if you can get it done in one lifetime. I'll quote the leading developer in North Queensland. He died recently. The biggest developer said, 'I have not got enough years in my life to do the subdivision at Tolga,' and he just sold the farm to somebody else, so we didn't have 200 housing blocks coming on the market to damp down the spectacular rising costs.
The best case I can use is Charters Towers. It was under the Mining Act, so a clerk, a local boy, made the decisions if you wanted to do a subdivision. My wife went in and applied for a subdivision. She completed paperwork within half an hour and got the subdivision entitlement the next day. Cost? Twenty bucks. Now, if she attempts to do it today, the cost will be $20,000 and it will take her two or three or four years to get the process completed. So you've made the cost of government. I know it's a cliche, but it is a very accurate cliche.
The great case is Port Hedland. When I went there, land was $12 an acre. If you wanted to buy a station, a property or a farm, it was $12 an acre. The cost for a housing block in Port Hedland was $72,000 for a quarter-acre, so the cost has been created by governments. And in Charters Towers, at the time when we last had the power and control over our own affairs in Charters Towers, the price for a block of land was $6,000. Within three years, it had gone to $70,000. It's come to rest at a bit under $100,000, as I quoted before.
As for housing, when I was the minister for what they called 'Aboriginal affairs'—I don't like that word, so I will say 'First Australian affairs'—I had enough money to build 400 houses over a period of about 3½ years. Greg Wallace, a First Australian, said, 'We will introduce Work for the Dole.' People were sitting around doing nothing, and he got them working for the dole. Gerhardt Pearson, the brother of the famous Noely Pearson, said, 'Why don't we utilise Work for the Dole labour to build the houses?' Then Eric Law and Lester Rosendale said, 'All houses will be built exclusively by local Indigenous labour—no more flying in whitefellas costing us a fortune.' Instead of building 400 houses, we built over 2,000 houses, with all done, every decision done, by a First Australian. There lie your answers. Don't keep throwing money at the program and increasing demand. Start increasing supply. This is an empty country. (Time expired)
I thank the member for Clark for bringing this MPI forward. Australia's housing sector is a pillar of resilience in our recovery from COVID-19. It characterises our nation's grit and determination and gives Australians confidence about what we can achieve and what is ahead.
I recently congratulated a young woman in this building on buying her own home. She said to me that open homes were busy, they were flat-out, and it was quite daunting—this is in Queensland—but she kept going with the confidence of it being a good investment in her own future. Well done to her. She said: 'I knew it was setting me on the right path. I felt it was a step in the right direction.' I said: 'You had a great deposit. Who helped guide you towards that?' She thanked her dad as well, and she said her dad gave her great advice. I can relate to that; my dad gave me good advice too.
For those people that might not have someone mentoring them in this space, the federal government also has the moneysmart.gov.au website. Every member—every opposition member, every government member, every Independent—should promote those sorts of products. That's moneysmart.gov.au for those people listening. It's empowering when people buy their first home, and it's shared by 20,000 first-home buyers in 2020. I'll repeat that: in 2020, 20,000 Australians bought their first home, and that was just under the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme alone. The young lady that I spoke about didn't need the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme.
We also have the First Home Super Saver Scheme, which I think is really important. My father taught me early the value of superannuation. As the Assistant Minister for Youth and Employment Services, I'm inspired by young people getting ahead and being assisted, through their superannuation, to buy their first home. To 31 January, the First Home Super Saver Scheme was used by 16,400 individuals, to the value of around $216 million. The opposition's policy is to abolish the First Home Super Saver Scheme. That's what they took to the last election. I think it's wrong, it's reckless and it won't help. I would ask the Independents to promote the First Home Super Saver Scheme as well. It's a great way for people to save tax and get into their first home. They don't have to buy a new home; they can buy an existing home as well. The Morrison government's commitment is that we will do all we can to help Australians get into a home sooner.
The member for Clark's not here. It was good to hear from the member for Kennedy as well. But, to the member for Clark, I would note that the federal government has invested $30 million or so into the Hobart City Deal, which includes social housing. When I was the responsible assistant minister, I was working with the department to help deliver that. As for the NRAS, a system that's coming to an end, the only problem with that is that it was poorly designed, such that at the end of 10 years the price goes up. After 10 years, it ended. So what do you do with all those tenants that have been there for a decade? There you go! Airbnb has been an issue in Tasmania, as the member for Clark said. But we know, through COVID, that tourism sector was smashed and most of those homes in Hobart were put back into long-term private rentals, which was important. The price of a home down there is obviously a lot less than in the capital cities of Melbourne.
The member for Clark also mentioned young people who have been couch surfing and so forth. The federal government does provide the Reconnect service for young people to help reconnect them with families. In my own electorate of Petrie, I recently assisted a young man who had been couch surfing. I rang up an employer in my electorate, Kennedy's Timbers, and said, 'Can you give this young man a job?' He was a good young man. He just needed a go. He received that job, and I want to thank Michael Kennedy from Kennedy's Timbers for putting him on. He's been there ever since, and he's actually helping to train others now.
The key thing I would say is that the way we help those people in need is to get them back into work. That's why the federal government has come up with JobMaker, the JobTrainer scheme, the Transition to Work programs and PaTH. The IR changes that we're trying to get through parliament at the moment will help more people into work as well. These are important things. I'd say to the Independents: make sure you're across those and promote government policy where you can. Whilst you are Independents, there are a lot of good programs that the federal government is doing. We also have job fairs that, as the Assistant Minister for Youth and Employment Services, I'll be rolling out through the country. I'm happy for Independents to get involved. (Time expired)
A few years ago, I was sitting at one of my local listening posts, and someone called Penny came along and said: 'I've never before been to one of these things where you sit down and talk with your local politician, but I just wanted to come and talk about how tough things are. I just don't think politicians understand that things in Australia have changed so much that you can now do the right thing, look for a job, get a job, find yourself working casual arrangements and insecure work even after you've gone and studied and got a degree, and still not be able to afford a stable roof over your head.' She was struggling to hold back the tears as she said: 'Don't politicians understand? If you can't create a system where all of us are guaranteed a roof over our heads, what is the whole point of it?' She was right, and Penny's words have stayed with me throughout the years I have been in this place.
Housing in Australia is absolutely cooked. In a wealthy country like ours, everyone should have a roof over their head, especially those lucky enough to find work. But we have a situation at the moment where, even if you find work, you can't be guaranteed to be able to afford to rent or even buy a house within a reasonable distance of where you work, let alone if you happen to find yourself being one of those two million people who either don't have a job or don't have enough hours of work.
Why is this the case? It's the case because the government is taking billions of dollars of public money and using it to push up the price of houses in this country. First home buyers or aspiring first home buyers are going along to auctions and finding themselves outbid by someone who already owns two, three, four or five homes because they know they can write off the loss as a tax loss. If you already have a house—or two, or three, or four of them—the government will write you a cheque to go and buy more, which pushes up the price and makes it harder for first home buyers to get into the market.
Meanwhile, the cost of rent goes up and up and up. One of the key things that governments could do to bring down rents and make sure housing is more affordable is to build more public housing. If you build more public housing, you deal with waiting lists. In my state of Victoria, it's getting towards 100,000 people waiting for a roof over their heads. Every day in my office I find myself talking to mothers who have been on the public housing waiting list for years, who are couch surfing with kids and are homeless—the definition of homeless. They are homeless, and they still cannot find a space in public housing because we haven't built enough public housing. If we invested in public housing, we'd not only create jobs and help recover from the pandemic by giving jobs to people and apprentices but we'd help reduce inequality in this country. It would also help bring down rents for everyone else because we'd be introducing a whole lot of stock at the lower end of the housing market, which would make rents cheaper for first home buyers and people who are looking to get into the market in the first place.
So, as we recover from this pandemic, and as we deal with the housing crisis in Australia, what we need to do is to stop giving tax breaks to billionaires and big corporations and stop giving tax breaks and public money to people who have already got three, four, five, six or seven houses, and instead use it to invest to build large-scale public housing in this country. If we had the courage to invest to build a million new public homes in this country, if we were to wind back some of the unfair tax breaks for the big corporations and billionaires who don't need them and instead put that money into building public housing, it would create in the order of 80,000 jobs and 8,000 apprenticeships, help solve the housing crisis we have in this country and bring down rent for young people who are struggling to get into the market and save that deposit.
There's a solution to all of this. It's a win-win-win. If you go to the doctor and the doctor says, 'You have three things wrong with you, and I can give you a medicine that fixes one or I can give you a medicine that fixes all three,' you take the medicine that fixes all three. That's why the Greens are saying that the key to recovering from the recession we are coming out of, reducing inequality in this country and ensuring that, in a wealthy country like ours, everyone has a roof over their head is to wind back the tax breaks, make the billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share of tax, and use the money to invest in nation-building, job-creating projects that will cut inequality, like building public housing.
Secure and safe housing is absolutely essential and fundamental to strong communities, individuals and families for their aspirations and success. Having worked at a community housing provider, working with people experiencing homelessness, I understand that we do need a good mix of social and affordable housing in our communities. That's why the Morrison government is working on these particular issues in supporting community housing providers. Community housing providers could be managing public housing for the states, which is their job, or they could be building more affordable housing. We're supporting these community housing providers through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation bond aggregator. I think community housing providers could be playing an even greater role in the supply of social and affordable housing across our country. The fact is that we're backing them, and also through Commonwealth rent assistance.
I also think that, through the financial support we're giving, community housing providers could be looking into and providing a more effective product when it comes to supporting older women who are experiencing homelessness. This often happens because women haven't accumulated superannuation. They find themselves alone in older age, and they may be couch surfing. There does need to be more work done by community housing providers, particularly in this space. But the bond aggregator is working. I have seen it work in my community of Lindsay. I joined the Minister for Housing in 2019, just after I was elected. It was really great, coming out of a community housing provider, where I saw this work being done on the ground—to actually see it, as a member of parliament. I joined the minister at Evolve Housing. Evolve was one of eight community housing providers who were granted a first issuance of the bond aggregator, which enabled up to 300 new rental dwellings. One of the best parts about this was how it's impacted people's real lives—seeing a woman who had escaped domestic violence for the first time in a long time being able to feel safe and to have a place that she could call home. I've seen that in a number of ways. I saw it in my work in community housing, particularly when it came to women being able to renew their lives, to feel safe and to get on with their lives.
One of the other things I found, working in community housing, particularly in this space, was that women who had experienced intergenerational welfare or who were escaping domestic violence sometimes weren't able to get into the housing market. I established a program to support and mentor women in the community in social housing on economic and housing independence. It is amazing how lives can change when somebody has housing independence. I fully support programs like that being done by community housing providers. As I said, public housing is predominantly a state issue, but the important role we play is supporting community housing providers to build more affordable housing and social housing in areas that are most in need.
The other thing we're doing, in addition to the provision of support for affordable housing, is supporting first home buyers into their home and getting them into the market. That's a tremendous thing that we have done with the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. I saw that firsthand when I went with the Minister for Housing to a property in Lindsay to officially open the extended places for applicants, and we visited a house under construction in Mulgoa, where it was great to see there were 40 local tradies—and this was during the pandemic—working on the site. In this scheme we are not only supporting first home buyers into the home but also supporting local jobs. I really support that too.
So there are a number of things the Morrison government is doing in the housing market, right across the housing spectrum: from supporting social and affordable housing to people getting their first home and beyond.
I thank my colleagues across the House for this debate, especially my colleague the member for Clark, for bringing this important motion for debate. Surely, it is indeed a cry from the heart for a roof over our heads for all Australians.
But I want to place my comments around regional Australia today. COVID-19 has changed us in many ways, but perhaps one of the most unexpected is that it has sparked a wave of migration out of the cities and into the regions. Last year, the ABS recorded the biggest internal migration to regional areas on record, with the net loss of 11,200 people from Australia's capitals to the regions. In many ways, this is really good news. More people moving into the regions is critical for our future. It is critical to sustaining our schools and health services and providing the employment base to maintain economic activity into the long term.
But, if we fail to plan properly for an increased population in the regions, then simply adding more people and encouraging more people to move to the regions will be creating a whole new set of problems. The lack of affordable housing in many regional communities is perhaps the clearest example of that. Last year, house prices in regional Australia rose by seven per cent. In contrast, in the city, they rose by just two per cent. That's the first time in more than 15 years that house prices in the regions rose by more than those in the cities. Anecdotally, I see this right across my electorate. In towns like Mansfield, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Benalla and Bright, the availability of homes to rent or buy is going down and the prices are going up.
I've met with many businesses who tell me that they're advertising for jobs but it's simply impossible to get somebody to move to town because there aren't houses available for them to live in. Last week, I heard from the CEO of Corryong Health that one of the reasons it's so hard to recruit nurses and mental health practitioners to Corryong is that they have absolutely nowhere to live there. This week, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
You could live like a king or queen in regional Australia with, you know, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, three-car garage, huge backyard…
This might be the case if you move from Sydney or Melbourne and you can work remotely in a high paid job. But for most people, the idea that just anybody can afford to purchase a palatial five-bedroom home in regional Australia is pretty ridiculous.
I hear from people in tourist towns, like Bright and Beechworth, that, increasingly, many houses purchased by investors are being used for Airbnb. This could be great for tourism economy but it's really not good for the young family trying to find a family home, or the jobseeker looking to move to that town to take up work. I fear that, too often, the government seems to think that their role in developing regional Australia consists of simply spruiking about regional Australia. If we want regions that are growing, that have sustainable job creation, which are developing industries that will last well into the future and where people can afford to purchase a house and raise a family, then the government actually needs to step up. They need to make sure that we're building the mixed stock of houses in regional areas, that we're providing the education and health services, that we're building the roads and investing in things like child care that enable people to live and work and ultimately purchase a home in regional Australia.
This week, the Regional Australia Institute launched its Move to More campaign which aims to encourage people to move to regional Australia. I commend that campaign and the work of the Regional Australia Institute in advocating for the regions and putting out detailed policy proposals to drive regional development. We need government to listen to voices like this and actually back up the big talk with big action. To solve the housing affordability challenges in regional Australia, we need to listen to people like the professors of housing, Hal Pawson from the University of New South Wales and Wendy Stone from Swinburne University, who tell us that we desperately need a national housing policy—we simply haven't had one since 1945. We need short-term rentals for seasonal workers and backpackers so that they've got somewhere to live for a ski season, a harvest season, a shearing season or, indeed, summer fruit picking. We need medium-term one bedroom rentals so that young single people can move to the regions for a few years on placement or take their first job. We need long-term rentals for people who are unlikely to ever be able to afford a home and we need pathways to homeownership for diverse demographics like younger families and retirees. All Australians should be able to find a home in the regions. I call on the government to do more than just talk but to act and really make it a reality.
The temptation in this palace of democracy is to think that every issue can be solved from here back out to community, but I think it's incumbent for us to acknowledge spheres of responsibility, and here is a classic example of where that sphere rests with state governments. Day-to-day housing and homelessness services are the purview of state governments—always have been, always will be—but that's not to say that the Morrison government isn't leaning in in respect of this challenge. Of course, $8.2 billion is expected to be expended by our government for housing and homelessness initiatives over the 2020-21 year alone. That includes a suite of measures, not the least of which is $5.5 billion for Commonwealth rent assistance. But I want to focus my time not on what we're doing in that space but on talking about the issue.
The issue is effectively driven by stock. I hear those opposite say, 'The way you solve this crisis is to constrain supply.' That's a very interesting way to think about this problem, but it's completely wrong. The reality is we need to drive supply up. The issues around access to affordable homes and affordable rentals aren't going to be addressed by constraining supply but by increasing supply. I think we need to understand that this exercise occurs across a continuum. That continuum includes those people who unfortunately are not in a position to have secure housing, people who are renting, first home owners, and investors, who add to the supply. One of the things we ought to be doing, if we want to free up the housing stock for people who don't have access to stable accommodation, is to move people from renting to owning and to build more houses. What are we doing in that regard? The data is with us. First home owner-occupier loan commitments are 70 per cent higher than 12 months ago. There are more people transitioning from renting to owning. The HIA indicates that first home buyers now account for 43 per cent of homeownership loans. People are transitioning and leaving behind them access to other stock.
More than that, HomeBuilder, which gets a lot of attention in here—it gets a lot of love from the relevant minister, of course—is pointing at exactly this issue. Ours is a government that wants to see Australians owning and occupying their own homes. But the runaway success that HomeBuilder has been has meant that a whole additional cohort of stock is being built. I can tell the chamber I know how much timber mills in my electorate are having to rise to the challenge. It is a 24-hour-a-day exercise to cut the timber that is going into the frames of these new homes. Talk to any timber worker in my electorate and they will tell you that the residential construction sector is going gangbusters. They know because they're all working additional shifts and production is at the highest level possible.
We've heard from others who have contributed to this debate about the other very significant measures that our government has embarked upon, all of which I'd respectfully suggest to you are tailored to ensuring that people can get into their first home, because there are so many more benefits to the stability of the home unit than just economic security. We have the First Home Super Saver Scheme and the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. The member for Indi raised important questions about regional Australia while she was speaking, and I share her view that not everyone can jump into a five-bedroom home in certain areas. But I did a quick search for a town in my electorate I have really come to adore, Lameroo, which is deep in the Mallee. There is a critical shortage of workers in that community right now. You can get a three-bedroom home on a 1,000-square-metre block for $127,000, and, if that doesn't suit you—those who live in metropolitan communities won't believe this—you can buy a three-bedroom home with an eight-car garage on a 2,000-square-metre block for—wait for it—$39,000.
Well, The Wizard of Oz got it right: there's no place like home. Home is the physical embodiment of the people who inhabit it. No wonder it's such a special place for so many. For most, home has taken on a special significance in the last year. The problem is that the COVID situation has actually exacerbated housing issues in the nation, particularly in my community. I would argue that we are facing a tsunami in the months ahead with respect to housing security and housing availability, both in the private rental market and in the home-buying market, for low- to middle-income earners.
When I was in my early 20s and buying my first home—something that very few people in their early 20s can do now—the average house price in my community was around three times the average annual income. Housing affordability has stretched, and average house prices across the nation are now up to 12 times the average income. This is just not sustainable. As for rentals in my electorate, I can tell you there is no rental stock. Airbnb is huge in regional areas. It may not be huge in the town of Lameroo, in the member for Barker's electorate, which is clearly very affordable. I can tell you, if you have an electorate that has the ocean or that has wineries, Airbnb is huge. What that means is that it takes properties out of the usual rental market.
Down in Victor Harbor, in the south coast area of my electorate, if you do a realestate.com search and you look for properties under $300, you can get a lined shed in somebody's backyard for $145; you can get a one-room—one room, not a bedroom plus a room—bedsit for $185 a week, which is like a motel room; and, in Port Elliot, there is one small two-bedroom unit for $220 a week. That's it, for a population of more than 15,000. There are just two three-bedroom homes, and they average around $380 a week. If you look in the Hills part of my electorate, the township of Nairne does not have one single rental property for under $400 a week—not one. In the Mount Barker area, there is not one single house or unit under $307 a week, which is the new JobSeeker amount. In fact, the cheapest place listed is a two-bedroom unit, at $340 a week.
So, really, with the high cost of rentals and the lack of rental availability, is it any wonder we have more and more people in our communities who are living in tents, in caravan parks or in their cars? Families are living in cars. In 2001, just 20 years ago, I don't think anyone would have believed it would be commonplace for families to be living in cars, but it is in 2021. And it is not just families. Older women are the fastest growing group of homeless people. They are at such risk, with such vulnerability.
The reason why I said there's going to be a tsunami in housing affordability is that the National Rental Affordability Scheme that the government, in their wisdom, decided to cut eight years ago—they thought there were rorts going on—was never replaced with another rental affordability scheme. That scheme meant that there was a stack of housing stock on the market, around 35,000, from memory, and they were to be available at no more than 80 per cent of market rental in the area. There was a 10-year agreement, so those properties were tied to that for 10 years, but they are ageing out. We just had 3,000 age out nationally last year, and another 33,800 are going to come out from now over the next five years. That's 33,000 rental homes that will no longer be on the market.
Average house prices in Adelaide have skyrocketed. The average house price is now $510,000. Is it any wonder that young people can't afford to get in?
So what do we need? I believe we need a new national strategy, a new version of the NRAS, perhaps with mum-and-dad investors involved as part of the solution to affordable rentals. We need the state governments around Australia to open up land. They don't do it, and so the price is skewed by your house build, where everything is in the land and not in the purchase of the house. We need to ensure that state taxes around stamp duty are reduced. And this government needs to have a plan for vulnerable older Australians, and it doesn't.
Dorothy said, 'There's no place like home.' Let's fix this. We are capable of doing it. Let's stop just wasting time in this place, as we have for years.
We've all seen the recent media reports, and the current housing crisis in Australia is very concerning. Much of that coverage is about the extraordinarily high returns currently being experienced at property sales and property auctions. But, in my electorate, up in Coffs Harbour there was almost an auction for a rental. There were 148 applications for a three-bedroom home—to rent. We've never seen it before. The housing squeeze is not just a city-centric issue; it's now become a regional issue, one for all of us.
In my electorate, COVID-19 has changed the face of housing in a short period of time—in 12 months. People were able to work from home. What we're seeing is people who had invested wisely in the beautiful locations around my electorate realising that they can do that from my electorate, rather than living in Melbourne or Sydney or elsewhere. So they're moving back, taking up those properties, and the people who had rented them for five, 10 or 15 years can't find anywhere. I had a teacher on the telephone the other day saying: 'Pat, I've been in this house for nine years. I've got six kids. Now I've got four weeks to find somewhere, and I can't find anywhere.' Fortunately, we worked together and we did find something, and that person was very grateful, but that person is not alone.
I note the comments by the previous speaker about women over the age of 55. They are the highest represented people for homelessness in terms of domestic violence, particularly in Bellingen, in my electorate. I've been trying to work with the Bellingen council and other councils on this issue. It's a very, very real issue, and it's a very live issue. Yes, it is a state issue, but we can't say it's a state issue. We have to work together, we've got to take it all on board, and we have to meet with our state counterparts and our local council counterparts and say, 'What's the plan?' That's because the plan will be different for Coffs Harbour. The plan will be different for Bellingen. The plan will be different for Port Macquarie. We have to have a plan. We have to work towards that plan. Without one, you will have people living in cars.
I was in Kempsey the other day. I pulled up in a car park. There were three cars, and people were living in those cars. In one of them was a family. We can't just say it's a state issue. We can't just say it's a state responsibility. We've got to work together. There are a number of really innovative ideas that we can work with. We've got to look outside the box.
I recently met with the owner of Buildonix. He can put a house together—a one-bedroom, one-bathroom house—in three days. He was a recipient of a federal government grant. That's good work from the federal government in thinking outside the box. It's build and click, and it was a beautiful home. He can put that together in three days. There's not that cost of the delay in building, there's not the cost of the three-month or the six-month build, and there's almost that instant gratification of having a home. It was a home that, if I were a single person, I'd be proud to own. I'd be proud to live in it. And then, as your family grows—if you're a young person—you just click on another room and put the cot in there. They are strong and sturdy buildings.
They're the types of things we need to look at, but we need to release land. The councils need to look at the way they operate. They need to reduce the red tape, allow that land to be released and reduce the costs of building. Councils need to not put so much pressure on developers—whether it be a big developer or a mum and dad who decide to divide up their block and put a granny flat on there or sell that block—that they turn around and say, 'We can't do it.' Until we do that, until we change our thinking and until we think outside the box, we won't be able to fix this problem.