Thursday, 25 March 2021
Tasmania: Housing Affordability
Tasmania is in the midst of a full-blown housing affordability and access crisis. We know what the problem is: a chronic lack of supply. Under Liberal governments in Tasmania, and here in Canberra, the supply of public and affordable housing has plummeted. As a result, we have young first home buyers competing with cashed-up investors. Increasingly, we have queues of desperate people, of all ages and from all walks of life, trying to find a place to rent. Many are being turned away and have to resort to tents, cars and sleeping bags in parks.
It doesn't have to be this way. It should not be this way. The chronic shortage of housing supply could have been fixed, but the simple fact is that Peter Gutwein in Tasmania and the Prime Minister here in Canberra have made different choices. Their priorities do not include making housing more affordable. We have learned in recent weeks of extraordinary levels of waste, and I do mean absolutely massive waste in the JobKeeper program. Don't get me wrong: I support JobKeeper. Everybody on this side of the House does. In fact, we support it more than the government does, because we don't think it should be ending in three days! But there has been a massive waste of JobKeeper because there has been massive incompetence by this Treasurer. At least $10 billion and as much as $20 billion has been handed to companies that did not need it. The Liberals threaten pensioners with prison for overclaiming a few dollars on Centrelink but they're handing billions of dollars to companies that do not need government assistance.
Because of this waste, the government does not have that $10 billion to spend on other things. It's a simple choice: with that money, the government could have built at least 40,000 affordable homes. What would that have done to the affordable housing crisis in this country? What a difference it would have made. Another choice the government could make is to keep JobKeeper going for another few months in sectors that have still not recovered from the travel restrictions that have so strangled businesses. Instead the government shrugs its shoulders and tells these wealthy companies and millionaire executives, 'Keep the money, don't worry about it'—prison for pensioners, taxpayer funded mansions for millionaires.
In three days, up to 150,000 Australians are expected to be told their jobs are gone. When the member for Rankin asked the Treasurer about this the other day, the Treasurer replied that he wasn't too worried about that because the unemployment rate wasn't expected to rise. The Treasurer was asked about people, real living breathing human beings with families to support, who in three days will be told they no longer have a job, and the Treasurer's response was to say that it wouldn't affect the stats. People are not statistics, Treasurer. The fact is that job security underpins everything for workers and their families. Without job security, there is no financial security. Without financial security, there is little ability to plan for the future—and there is anxiety that feeds into everything working families care about. Without financial security, working families have nothing.
This is why JobKeeper is so important: it isn't just about the money coming in the door; it's about keeping the connection with employment. We know that JobKeeper was meant to be temporary—we get—but if our international borders are still closed then life is not back to normal. If we are only at a fraction of the promised four million vaccinations by the end of March, we are not back to normal. If we are not back to normal, why is the government ending assistance to businesses still affected by the pandemic? The end of JobKeeper will mean many businesses will have to lay off staff. They simply cannot afford to pay the wages because their business is still crippled by the lack of custom.
Almost 13,000 Tasmanians are still dependent on JobKeeper. How many will be getting a pink slip next week? In my electorate 2,700 workers are expected to lose JobKeeper, with $1.3 million a week in support ripped away from my local economy. It does not need to be this way. If the government had not wasted $10 billion giving handouts to profitable companies, it could afford to continue to support businesses and business sectors still doing it tough.
Australians deserve a government that's on their side—and this government ain't it.