Wednesday, 28 September 2022
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Mayo proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
Housing affordability in Australia—has the great Australian dream become a nightmare?
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—
I rise to speak on this matter, which I believe is of great public importance—housing affordability in Australia—because I believe what has always been a great dream for generations of Australians has become a nightmare. Australia is now among the worst in the world for housing affordability. I think we're No. 2, behind Hong Kong. Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth—all of those destinations—are within the top 20 least-affordable cities in the world.
This has happened in one generation. As a young woman at 24 years of age, I was able to build my own home. It is very rare for a 24-year-old to be able to do that today. Indeed, we've gone from a median house being about 2.4 times the average annual income back in 1980 to now being around 10 times the average income. That's happened, really, in one generation, and it's largely because of the policies that have happened in this place and in various state parliaments. This will have a huge effect for generations because we know that if home ownership decreases that as people get older their ability to live a life in their older years without poverty also diminishes significantly. And those who are lucky enough to own their own home right now are feeling immense pressure with the rapid increase in interest rates.
How did we get here? We have, for much of my time in this parliament, always looked at the demand side, and we've put through policies that really do increase demand without necessarily looking at supply. I also draw the attention of the House to an excellent report recently released by the Grattan Institute called The great Australian nightmare by Brendan Coates—it was released just a couple of weeks ago. There are other factors as well that have created the nightmare that we're in right now.
Post 2005, surges in migration led to dramatically significant increases in rents to the point that, the Grattan Institute says, it was increased by around nine per cent higher by 2018 than it would have been if we did not have that high level of migration from around 2005. Now, that could have been addressed if we had increased housing supply at the same time as bringing more people into our nation. I don't want to sound like a NIMBY here, but, if you're going to bring more people in, naturally you have to have the houses for them to live in; otherwise, you just create more and more pressure.
Right now in my electorate we have people who are living in tents. They are living in caravans. These stories are filling my inbox and I'm sure they're filling everyone's inboxes right now. Just today a woman contacted me. She's in Normanville. Her adult son is living in a caravan out the back of her house because he's on JobSeeker and he can't afford even to share a place and certainly can't afford to rent his own place.
We also need to look at NRAS. I've talked myself blue in this place about the National Rental Affordability Scheme. While I really do commend the government on their plan to build an extra 30,000 social and affordable housing properties with the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, my concern is that there are currently 24,000 properties in the NRAS scheme that are going to expire by 2026. The great problem we have is that we're going to have a valley of death, because many of those properties will be sold. I know the minister thinks that they will just continue on, but I urge the government to consider extending those currently in the scheme, because you're not going to have enough of a replenishment of stock in between.
The crossbench today is very keen to talk about this. We can fix this. We can turn this around. We need to focus on trades and skills to get the next generation of carpenters and builders. Not enough young people are going into apprenticeships in this space. We need to fix land use planning. We need state, federal and local government to work together. We need to make sure the NRAS continues. I also believe we need to raise rent assistance, because it is just unaffordable. I can't have people in my community living in tents for months on end.
My electorate of Curtin has a slightly higher proportion of households owning their house and a slightly lower proportion than the national average paying off a mortgage, with a fairly average 31 per cent renting. But, even in this context, one in four renters in Curtin are paying more than 30 per cent of their household income in rent and there are plenty of examples of housing stress in my electorate. For example, Lucy contacted the office for assistance with her elderly friend, Margaret. Margaret's in her 70s, and the home she rents in Swanbourne had recently been sold. When she contacted us, Margaret had six weeks to find another home but was having trouble accessing affordable rental. Margaret was distressed and confused about her rights as a renter as well as government support options. She didn't want to leave her community or her local part-time dog-walking job.
There are two main issues with housing, and both require a long-term approach. These are affordability and access. Affordability is an issue that isn't going away. When I bought my first house in the nineties, the median house price was, as pointed out by the member for Mayo, 2.5 times the median income, and now it's up to 10 times. To address household affordability, we need to balance the interests of four different groups: current homeowners, who have their savings tied up in their houses as their key asset; prospective owners, who want to own a home but can't get into the market; renters, who may not want to or be able to get into homeownership; and investors, who may have invested their superannuation or other savings in property based on expectations about the regulatory environment in the property market. All these groups have valid concerns, some of which are in direct conflict.
To address these conflicts fairly, we need to take a long-term view and return to the purpose of housing, which is to provide people with homes. Successive governments have taken a short-term approach to this issue, throwing fuel on the fire, increasing demand and putting upward pressure on housing prices. Government assistance has mainly pushed up purchase prices for first-home buyers rather than making the first purchase of a home more affordable. Our tax settings are aligned with maintaining or increasing house prices. They favour property investors at the expense of people trying to buy a home, which fuels speculative investment, causing house prices to rise much faster than incomes. It's understandable that successive governments have shied away from addressing underlying affordability issues, because the decline in house prices is politically unpalatable for those who are already in the housing market as owners or investors. We can't ignore this issue. It will require a long-term approach, including the community in conversations and phasing in changes over time to minimise the impact on current property owners.
The second key issue is access; access to safe housing is absolutely vital. Yesterday I met with Angie, who was deeply worried about the security of her housing. She was renting privately with her three kids and because she was owed, but hadn't been paid, child support her Centrelink payments had been unilaterally cut. This means she's now paying 70 per cent of her income to maintain her housing. If you don't have stable housing it's very difficult to provide a stable environment for kids, let alone address mental or physical health issues or find a job. Housing is increasingly seen as the foundation stone for people to get their lives back together when they're experiencing hard times.
As of May 2022 there were nearly 19,000 households on the social housing waitlist in my home state of WA, and 163,000 across the country. In WA, the average wait time for social housing is more than two years. Even on the priority waitlist—for example, people who have young children—the average wait time is 43 weeks. If you have a disability the situation is even harder; Western Australia has not picked up the amendments to the National Construction Code that require all houses to have minimum levels of accessibility, so there are limited numbers of homes that are suitable. The proposed Housing Australia Future Fund is a start but, with the provision of 20,000 homes for social housing over the next five years, it will only meet one eighth of the social housing waitlist.
We must do better than this. We must decide whether we want to live in a country where people have access to safe and affordable housing, and can reasonably aspire to home ownership, and then set our policy priorities accordingly.
I genuinely want to thank the member for Mayo, the crossbenchers and the member for Curtin for raising what is really a very serious issue. Housing affordability across the country really is a very desperate challenge for many Australians—for far too many Australians. It is incredibly difficult for too many Australians to find a safe, affordable place to call home.
Indeed, as a local member—and even before I became the Minister for Housing and Minister for Homelessness—I had seen quite a change in the last 18 months. As a local member for 14 years, I had not seen so many people contact my electorate office or come to see a local member of parliament about insecure housing. Many of them were actually at risk of homelessness. Surprisingly, there were two-income families with children coming to say that their lease was up and there was actually nowhere to rent. Whether they could afford it or not, there was actually nothing available. I know that in my home state of Tasmania, the vacancy rate for renters in Hobart is less than 0.4 per cent. And I know it's pretty diabolical in Adelaide, Perth and other parts across the country. It really is a very critical issue, and we do need to do better—we absolutely need to do better. Indeed, the last census, back in 2016, said that there were 116,000 Australians who had nowhere to call home. I am concerned about when we get the data next year from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that it would have increased significantly. I'm very concerned about that.
I understand how important having a safe and affordable place to call home is. I'm one of the few members in this place who has lived it. I spent my early childhood in a broadacre public housing estate—indeed, the poorest suburb in Tasmania at the time. Like the Prime Minister, I know how difficult it was for my family to lift us out of poverty and how difficult it can be. But it should be possible—it should be possible in Australia and, sadly, I think it has become less possible than it used to be. The member for Mayo is absolutely right: for the last decade, under those opposite over there, we've had very little action when it comes to a coherent national strategy or policy around housing and homelessness. Indeed, some of their policies, as the member for Mayo indicated, have increased the cost of houses. What we've seen in the last decade is construction costs up 46 per cent—half of that in the last 2½ years. We do understand that some of it's in relation to the pandemic and supply chain issues in relation to the Ukraine war, but it is increasing the cost of building new homes.
There are also of course really significant constraints in the construction industry at the moment. They are averaging about 200,000 new dwellings across Australia each year, and of course the completions are the issue, because there simply isn't the labour and there aren't the materials to build much more than that. That is the critical point here. In our discussions with the construction sector, and indeed with the industry more broadly, what we're hearing from them is that they expect things to ease in the second half of next year—as I've discussed with quite a few members of the crossbench who have come to see me or have written to me who are concerned about this issue. Indeed, we did go to the election with a fairly ambitious housing agenda, in terms of housing reform, so I do just want to run through, for the crossbench, our housing agenda.
We are going to have our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee scheme. That starts this weekend. We've brought that forward because we know that, for many people living in regional Australia, rents have increased considerably and many of those who are paying rent could service a mortgage. But we know that that 20 per cent deposit is a barrier that they can't get over. So, with a deposit of as little as five per cent, we can get more people into their first home, with those 10,000 places across the country from 1 October.
We also understand that this is an immediate issue and some of our other reforms will take a bit of time, and, through the Jobs and Skills Summit and the discussions that we had there, we understand that, in particular, workers' access to housing has been really critical. So we are widening the remit of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility. Previously it was available just for head works, for local governments and state governments, but that fund wasn't being utilised. So there will be up to $575 million available for investment in social and affordable housing. What we also want to do with that is to try to leverage private investment and investment from superannuation funds, to try and get more homes on the ground sooner, while we legislate our Housing Australia Future Fund and then invest that and wait for the returns from that. So those are two things that we're doing really quickly that we want to be able to get to work on.
We also, of course, have had two ministerial council meetings—meetings with state colleagues. Now, when I had the first meeting in July, it was the first meeting of housing ministers in almost five years. That shows the lack of leadership that we've had. It was a terrific meeting. The enthusiasm and encouragement from the state ministers left me feeling quite optimistic that we could actually get some movement here. Then we had another meeting at the end of the last sitting week, where we talked more about how we were going to work together. We all have a view that not one tier of government alone will solve this—that we're going to need all three tiers of government, but working, importantly, with homelessness services, social housing providers, investors and superannuation funds. We all need to be working together and heading in the same direction if we're going to try and solve this housing affordability issue that we have at the moment. Unfortunately, some of that is going to take some time. That is why we're doing some of those immediate actions now.
We also made an election commitment around the government equity scheme, to get more people into a home, and that is available even for people who've owned a home before but currently don't own a home. So it might address some of those older women who have not been able to maintain a family home after divorce and things like that. That's the Help to Buy scheme. We're looking at how quickly we can introduce that. That is government equity of up to 30 per cent for existing homes and up to 40 per cent for new homes. So we're working on that quickly.
The Housing Australia Future Fund I've talked about. That is 30,000 social and affordable homes—20,000 social homes and 10,000 affordable homes—in the first five years of the fund. From our conversations with social housing providers, the construction sector and the state and territory governments, as well as local government, we think that that will be achievable.
We are concerned, though, about some of the constraints in the construction sector at this time. We also want to get up an affordability and supply council. We need to look at some of those critical issues that are stopping more properties coming onto the market more quickly. What can we do? Which tiers of government have the levers?
But, importantly, we also need to ask: what is the evidence around what those interventions actually do to the market? We need to have more evidence based policy about the interventions that are taking place and how they're impacting across the sector, because there are so many inputs into the housing sector in Australia. You can do something on one bit and it impacts everywhere else. We need to be really careful about the interventions and innovations that we're doing, so we understand exactly the impact it's having across affordability in the entire housing spectrum. We want to get that affordability and supply council up and running. I'm hoping to have it up and running late this year or early next year. Then, more long-term, we want a housing and homelessness plan, whereby we have short-term, medium-term and long-term agreements on which direction we're heading in. We need to be able to work together and we need to be able to say, 'This is what we are all going to do in the short term, the medium term and the long term.' The other thing we need is some accountability around that and some measurement about how we are travelling in terms of what our plan is and where we want to be.
We do need to do a lot of work; we need to bring a lot of people together and get a lot of agreement. So it's not going to be an easy task, but I can assure the members that I have been from Gladstone all the way down to Greater Hobart in my own state, talking to stakeholders, talking to the construction sector, talking to homelessness providers, talking to people with lived experience of homelessness, talking to many of the people that are writing to me and talking to me about the critical situation that we're in right across the country.
I've also got a lot of caucus members over here who are critically concerned about this really serious issue and who are contacting me and making sure that the government doesn't lose sight of how critical this is for people in their electorates as well. We are all getting this, as the member for Mayo said, in our electorate offices. I have never seen it quite so much. We need to do a lot more to make sure that more Australians have a safe, affordable place to call home, and I'll be doing my best every single day.
I wish I had 15 minutes on this. I had enough money to build 400 houses when I was a minister in the state government—400 houses! Thanks to Greg Wallace, Gerhardt Pearson, Lester Rosendale and Eric Laws—all First Australians—we built 2,000 houses with the same amount of money. Unfortunately, Minister, all you talked about was increasing demand. You're going to help them get deposits, so that'll increase demand. The member for Mayo quite rightly pointed out that this is not a demand problem; this is a supply problem. Heavens, you live in a country where the average price of land is $400 a hectare. Why are we paying $400,000 a hectare? I'll tell you why: it's because of the cancer of government intervention.
In Charters Towers—as with 700 major towns, Gympie being one of them—we were under the Mining Act, and under the Mining Act we walked in and said to a local bloke, 'Can I have that piece of land divided into three?' And he said, 'Yes.' We signed a form, walked out and sold the land the next day. That was the process of subdivision. In Queensland now, it will take you 3½ years and cost you on average about $25,000 to get through the barriers that have been put up by the government.
It's government that has created this problem. Not only that, they've restricted the provision of—let me use an example. If we dig a tunnel through the range at Cairns, which will cost $2,000 million, we'll open up 20,000 housing blocks within 20 minutes of Cairns, a city of arguably 300,000 people. It's as big as Canberra. We can do that. All you need to do is to give us $1,500 million to $2,000 million to build that tunnel through the range. So give us the infrastructure, and we'll give you the cheap land.
But you need to take away the restrictions not only on the land but on the housing. There's another $15,000 in environmental demands coming upon housing, which is already $25,000 in environmental demands, and the safety requirements are another $35,000 on top of that. You added, with your legislation, nearly $100,000 to the price of a house to deliver absolutely nothing. In fact, what you are demanding of housing architecture in Queensland is entirely inappropriate for the housing that is required.
Look no further than Malcolm Turnbull who did a report on this with an Oxford don, and he said the problem was supply not demand. If you increase the demand, the problem gets worse. You increase the supply. Supply is the chokehold of government on the subdivision of land. To have this situation in an empty country is just appalling, and it reflects upon the intelligence of this place.
I've spoken many times in this place about the importance of affordable and public housing. I come from a migrant family; my parents came from Egypt in 1971, with not much. But we got a roof over our head—we got access to public housing. That allowed me to get a good education. It allowed me to make a contribution. It was really thanks to Labor governments, at both the federal and state level, that my family got that fair go.
Now, we've got a Minister for Housing who also grew up in public housing. We've got a Prime Minister who grew up in public housing. We're all housos—the three of us! So we know how much that means to tens of thousands of Australians across this country—to have a roof over their heads, and the very fairness of that. That fairness, in many respects, embodies the Australian spirit of the fair go—that, no matter where you come from, no matter what your background is, socioeconomic or ethnic, you get a fair go. You've got housing: the baseline that allows anyone, any Australian, through their hard work, to achieve their goals, to get that good education, to get a job that gives them a sense of purpose—to achieve their dreams.
Yet today, after nine long do-nothing years of coalition government, the security of housing, the access to affordable housing, is now often out of reach. Year on year, house prices continue to rise.
We know that, over recent months, particularly this year, the challenges—the exacerbation of global inflation and the war in Ukraine—have had an impact as well. But it can't be a free pass for the mob on the other side—the opposition, the former government. For nine years, they oversaw an increase in housing construction costs: 46 per cent over the last decade. Their legacy is of higher house prices, higher rents and greater housing stress—a legacy that has left many Australians unable to buy their own home and many in my electorate of Wills knowing the knock-on effect, as renters, and the stresses.
My community is made up of people from all walks of life, and they're stressed in the community. Whether it's the young family trying to manage alongside child care fees—although we're doing something about that, as we have heard—or whether it's the university student juggling study with part time work, or whether it's older Australians, who are relying on their pension or their super, housing affordability and rental stress are issues that cut across all sectors of our community. And of course we have far too many Australians experiencing homelessness.
Now, the Albanese government, being made up of some very significant housos—and I'm talking more about the PM and the minister—at its core believes in safe and affordable housing as an essential part of people's dignity. It gives them that dignity that we all deserve. That's why we're taking action to make housing more affordable by bringing forward the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee to 1 October, helping up to 10,000 eligible Australians into home ownership sooner, and unlocking up to $575 million by widening the remit of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in social and affordable housing, providing opportunities to partner with other tiers of government and social housing providers, and enticing private capital to invest in the provision of affordable housing. It also allows us to fulfil our commitments as part of the Housing Australia Future Fund, with a $10 billion commitment to build 30,000 new social and affordable houses in the first five years of our government—supplemented by the states, who are building another 15½ thousand houses. So there's your answer on supply by 2024.
What did the other mob spend? Was it even $10? We're spending $10 billion. I can't get an answer because none of them are here.
The fund will provide social and affordable housing providers with the certainty and the capital to invest in building more affordable homes. We've got the Help to Buy program. We've got the National Housing and Homelessness Plan which the minister is developing. We're taking real action on these issues to provide durable solutions to people in extreme housing insecurity, because, for the Albanese government, housing is not a privilege; it's a necessity. It is literally the basic building block to a successful life. It is essential to everything else in our lives, whether it be to get education or to secure a decent job. So I say to those opposite and to the crossbench: join us. Join us and support the government's plans to make housing more affordable for all Australians.
Housing affordability is one of the critical challenges facing this parliament. The government has appointed a Minister for Housing and plans to legislate a Housing Australia Future Fund. Their policy is to build 30,000 new homes, mostly social housing, over the next five years. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but let's be honest: this is absolutely a drop in the ocean compared to the fundamental shift in housing that we need in this country if we are fundamentally going to address housing affordability for everyone.
Australia has 400 homes per 1,000 people of our population. That puts us among the lowest in the OECD. We would need two million more homes in this country to reach the OECD average of home supply in the world. We've talked about 30,000 more social housing homes, and I applaud that, but we have 163,000 people on the social housing waitlist. We need to address this at all levels of government and at all levels of society.
Let's look at the consequences that this is building in our community. I come from Wentworth, and in Wentworth this is an issue that is raised with me constantly. People are concerned for their children. I have many people who have built wealth and happiness having a house, but they do not believe that their children will have the ability to do that. I hear deep concern from my schools and my health communities about how nurses and teachers cannot live in our community because of housing affordability.
I went recently to Friendship Circle's Friendship Walk, which brings people who have children with disabilities together with other families around the community. During that walk, I spoke to so many parents who said their children are going to need to have housing as adults, independent housing for people with disabilities, and there is absolutely no chance of that being built in the community of Wentworth. I applaud those parents for their concern. Because of housing affordability, there is no chance that they're going to be able to live near their children when they move into independent care.
I'm talking about this in compassionate terms, and these are compassionate issues, but this is actually absolutely an economic issue. This is an issue that goes to the heart of our productivity as a nation. The consequences of a dysfunctional housing market are much more deep and more damaging to the economy than so many realise, and many of the problems that our society faces are because of worse housing affordability. It pushes people away from where they want to live into where they can afford to live. It imposes huge costs in terms of billions of dollars building roads and public transport systems to move people around, and this also generates pollution. It is detrimental to our overall productivity, because our housing structures mean that people do not change their modes of housing and we do not have the right sort of housing to meet the needs of our community. Even with those who are trying to build a business, for example, if they're trying to turn their business plan into reality, they realise that commercial and industrial space costs can also be prohibitive. It's not just housing costs that are important; it's our broader cost of living and the cost of commercial property.
Fixing housing, as we have talked about tonight, will take a lot of changes, big and small, but the heart of this is supply. We need to build more homes. We need to build them in the CBDs and inner cities where so many people want to live. We need to build them close to active public transport options. Supply won't solve every problem—we need more action on social housing and we need rental assistance—but supply is absolutely crucial to this solution. I will say again that if we were making the OECD average in terms of the supply of housing per 1,000 people we would have almost two million more homes in this country. There is not a single part of this government or previous governments that has really dealt with this as an issue.
Housing is primarily a responsibility of state and local governments, but this is a national problem, and the Commonwealth must take a lead on this. The Labor Party is in government in many, many states in this country. This is the opportunity for the government to take real leadership and truly make a difference here. I think that we need to pull every lever we can on housing, but we absolutely need to focus on supply if the idea of having a house in Australia is not going to become a dream for past generations.
I want to thank the crossbench for bringing forward this matter of public importance today, because I believe every member of this chamber would agree that housing affordability is absolutely a matter of public importance in all of our electorates across this country at the moment.
I'd also like to thank Minister Collins for her speech and her commitment, in all the work she is doing at the moment, to addressing housing affordability, as well as for sharing her own story and firsthand experience of understanding exactly why this is so important. I thank her for her work to get the government's national housing and homelessness plan off the ground. She has already held two meetings with state and territory housing ministers to help deliver our reform agenda, and I would encourage all who are speaking today to contribute to that process.
I want to start my contribution by briefly talking about a constituent of mine, Nick, who is a bright young man I first encountered last year during the Raise our Voice Youth Voice in Parliament competition. Nick, who was 18 at the time and experiencing homelessness, wrote me an incredibly powerful speech, which was the speech I chose to deliver in the 46th Parliament. In his speech he said:
The pathway to end homelessness won't be easy. It will involve more funding, more NGOs, more youth workers and overall more care for the tens of thousands of young Australians each and every night that face homelessness. But I truly believe that with these steps, and more, in 20 years no-one else like me will ever have to wonder: where will I sleep tonight?
Nick made some really important points in that speech. We know that fixing the housing affordability crisis and getting people into secure housing is going to be difficult. We need to have the ambition, as Nick does, that we can make that happen, because affordable housing is central to the security and dignity of all Australians, as the minister has said.
In my electorate of Canberra we have high median incomes and relatively low unemployment. We also have the highest rents in the country. It's this reality that makes our city a particularly difficult place to be on a low income. I have met again with Nick since the election, and, devastatingly, he is still experiencing insecure housing. He said to me that, in spite of working and studying and doing everything right, as he put it, he still cannot get the housing piece into place for himself. We all need to do much better to address that.
The reality is that in Australia we are in the middle of a housing crisis. It's tough to buy a home, tougher than ever before. Research by the Grattan Institute found that 40 years ago almost 60 per cent of young Australians on low and modest incomes owned their own home but, sadly, now it is only 28 per cent.
I'm really proud that housing was a central part of the agenda that Labor took to the election and that, as a government, we are already doing important work to address this national crisis. One of the most important parts of that agenda is the national plan for housing and homelessness. Fixing our nation's housing issues requires all tiers of government to work together towards a commonly agreed objective of providing shelter for all Australians. As I mentioned earlier, housing ministers from the states and territories have already started meeting to coordinate our efforts to deliver these reforms and work together on a new national housing and homelessness plan. This plan will set and deliver short-, medium- and long-term goals to improve housing outcomes across Australia. It will be developed with the support and assistance of key stakeholders.
The Housing Australia Future Fund was also one of Labor's key commitments. The $10 billion of this fund will help end a decade of underinvestment and neglect. It will help ease pressure on people right across the country who are trying to find somewhere to call home. It will build 30,000 new affordable and social housing properties in its first five years, and states and territories have committed to building around 15,000 properties in addition to those. This will include 20,000 social housing properties, 4,000 of which will be allocated for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and for older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness. We also have the Help to Buy program and our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee, which, as Minister Collins has said, we have brought forward. I'm nearly out of time, but I want to also mention federal Labor's commitment to Canberra's Youth Foyer, which will help assist young people in Canberra experiencing homelessness.
I also grew up in housing commission and know too well the challenges of buying one's first home. I thank the member for Mayo for raising the issue of housing affordability. The Australian dream of buying a first home to start a family and raise your kids is now just that—a distant dream. According to an international study by Demographia, Sydney is now one of the top three most unaffordable cities in the world to own a home. ABS data shows that Fowler has the fourth worst housing affordability in Australia after Blaxland, Watson and Reid. This is before the upcoming interest rate rises foreshadowed by economists. In Fowler, where the median income is 20 per cent less than in the rest of Australia, homes have also hit the million-dollar mark.
One of my constituents, Simon Chau, came to our office. Twenty-seven years of age, employed and living with his parents, he was looking for a financially realistic option to buy a house. He wasn't optimistic that young people like him would ever own a home. I feel for young people like Simon. Many like him will be forced to rely on their parents as a guarantor just so they can enter the property market. The 'bank of mum and dad' is now the standard and no longer an anomaly.
Across NSW, the median house price is $1.1 million. I can't see how low-income families and young people can ever afford a million-dollar home, let alone a deposit. Homeownership is falling fast for this group of Australians. As many members have mentioned today, the Grattan Institute shows that homeownership rates amongst people aged 25 to 34 fell from more than 60 per cent to 40 per cent between 1981 and 2021. For low-income earners aged 45 to 54, homeownership dropped from 71 per cent to 53 per cent. A recent report from the ANZ says it could take nearly 11½ years for an average-income household just to save a deposit for a $750,000 home.
But housing affordability isn't just for those who have mortgages. It's also hitting the hip pockets of those who rent. According to ABS census data, 42 per cent of my electorate of Fowler rent rather than own their own home. That is nearly 10 per cent more than the national average. Fowler also has the fourth worst rental affordability in the country, and 46 per cent of our rental households have rental repayments 30 per cent more than their household income. With the cost-of-living crisis hitting the hip pockets of many Australians right now, how can people afford to save for a deposit while they pay rent? When they're struggling to simply put food on the table, pay for petrol and buy medication, how can hardworking families that are renting ever save enough to get off the rental cycle?
It doesn't have to be this way. There are measures both state and federal governments can take to ensure the next generation can afford to buy and live in their own homes. I look forward to seeing the federal government's plans for the upcoming budget, in particular to see how they will deliver on their promise to improve the 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties for our most vulnerable as well as for our frontline workers.
While I'm a huge supporter of migration and the contribution migrants make and will provide to our nation, I ask whether the government's plans to allow an intake of 190,000 migrants include measures to mitigate additional housing pressures on the migrants and first-home buyers who will be competing for housing. According to the Grattan Institute, building an extra 50,000 homes a year for a decade could leave Australian house prices five to 20 per cent lower than what they would have been otherwise. With close to 200,000 migrants proposed to enter Australia each year, even the building of an extra 50,000 homes would only accommodate their needs for a roof over their heads.
Let's look at how countries like New Zealand and Canada tackle housing affordability. The former has banned non-residents from purchasing homes, and the latter is introducing new measures to implement a ban for two years. With some of these measures in place, it will be a small but significant step to helping low-income households and young people buy their own homes.
I'm pleased to follow the member for Fowler, another aspirational immigrant just like me, and I thank the crossbench for raising this very important issue. Let me begin by saying that the sins of society wash up in two places. They wash up in public hospitals and they wash up in the judicial system. In my 26 years on the front line in one of the busiest hospitals in this country, I lost count of how many patients I looked after every single day who were homeless.
Let me describe one person to you: Brett. I will never forget Brett. I met him in the emergency department. He was a gentleman in his 30s and he came in with an infection of his leg called cellulitis. It's a common infection. Brett was an otherwise fit gentleman, and he broke down and cried when I saw him. And it still affects me. He said to me: 'Doc, every night I get harassed by the construction workers. They move me on. They don't want me there. They come and push me away, and I have to find another place to sleep.' And so my daily routine with my patients who were homeless was always the same. I would keep them in hospital, and I would usually keep them in hospital longer than necessary just so that they had a feed, had a shower and had somewhere safe to be.
And then, inevitably as night follows day, they were offered crisis accommodation by our hardworking social workers. Crisis accommodation is really not fit for purpose, at least not where I worked in my area. It was often boarding homes with people who had significant mental health issues or drug and alcohol substance abuse problems. They were chaotic, unsafe places, and this is where we discharged our homeless patients to.
But that is not the only face of insecure housing. In my electorate of Higgins, one of the wealthiest electorates in this country, disadvantage hides in plain sight. The median age of my electorate is 37, which means half my population are young people, and in my electorate 42 per cent of private dwellings are renters. They're mostly young people. Fourteen thousand people—adult children—are still living with their parents. During the campaign I doorknocked thousands and thousands of homes, and I frequently was greeted by a young adult, someone in their 20s or sometimes early 30s who would greet me, and I could see clearly from the electorate roll that there were other young adults living in that house.
I met one young woman: Jess. An accomplished young woman in her early 30s, she was a teacher working full time. I met her in an apartment block. She was renting and she pleaded with me. She said: 'Michelle, I have done everything right in life. I have acquired a skill. I have a full-time job. I pay my taxes. I work hard. And I will never be able to own a home.' And she's right. In South Yarra, the median price of a home is $2.2 million. 'Median'—which means half the properties are below that and the other half are above that. Who on earth can afford to live in South Yarra? And yet so many young people gravitate to that area because it's a village and they love it—and why wouldn't they?
So it is of some cold comfort that we have been labelled the richest people in the world. Clearly that is not the case. A week ago Credit Suisse told us that the median wealth for Australian is over $400,000, but clearly a lot of Australians are being left behind. We are taking this problem of housing affordability seriously. You have heard from the other speakers on my side what we doing. The Housing Australia Future Fund is $10 billion devoted to building 30,000 social and affordable homes over a period of five years, of which 10,000 will go to essential workers like nurses, policemen, and people in the emergency services. We've got the Help to Buy scheme, a shared equity program that will release to 10,000 Australians a year, which will help cut the cost of buying a home by up to 40 per cent. We are going to be working with the states and territories, in all three tiers of government, to resolve this wicked problem after a decade of inaction.
It's abundantly clear that Australia is facing one of the worst housing crises in our country's history. We have millions of renters facing some of the worst rental stress they've seen in their lives. In fact, we know that rents have increased seven times faster than wages since the pandemic began. We know that mortgage holders, who were encouraged to take on significant debt under the promise that interest rates wouldn't increase over this period, are now facing skyrocketing mortgage repayments. We know that right now there is a need for over half a million social homes. We know the social housing waiting list alone, which continues to be restricted by government criteria, is now 163,500 people. There are also over a hundred thousand homeless people in this country. We know that it will now take 11 years for the average person to save a deposit on a home, and that's only going to get worse. And that's before you take into account all the other debt, low wages and other significant financial stress people face in buying their homes.
Today in this place we've heard a lot of stories of MPs doorknocking—which I'm very glad about; it's good to hear that MPs are doorknocking—when, time and again, they encounter people who (a) realise that maybe their kids won't be able to buy a home in the area in which they grew up, (b) are themselves struggling to pay the rent, or (c) are stuck on a social housing waiting list. It's good to hear that the government have recognised this as a problem, but it's important that we break down just how deeply inadequate Labor's housing plan is.
The reality is that under Labor's housing plan the situation will get worse. It not a marginal improvement, not a tiny improvement in people's lives; the situation will literally get worse. The first thing to say is that 20,000 social homes over five years breaks down to about 4,000 social homes a year. Since 2018, the social housing waiting list in Australia has increased by 7,600 applications. That means that the increase in the social housing waiting list is greater than the number of homes Labor plans to build every year. That's before you get to the total need for social housing. We know that over the next 10 years there will be a total need of about 800,000 social homes in this country. Labor's plan addresses three per cent of that.
Government members interjecting—
Once again we hear objections from the Labor government in this place, from people on the Labor side of this House. Why is it that, whenever we get up and talk about the inadequacies of your plan, instead of your contemplating it we hear rhetoric and defensiveness? Get angry about the fact that your plan will see more homeless, more people on the social housing waiting list, more people struggling to pay rent—more people in tougher lives because of the deep lack of ambition of this government.
It is beyond frustrating when we know that the solutions are staring us in the face. In the first instance, we keep hearing talk about rental stress but complete rejection of the notion that we could freeze rents right now for the next two years. Scotland has just done it; there's no reason that we can't do it here and finally give renters some relief. We could, finally, phase out capital gains exemptions and negative gearing—something that Labor now pretend they're never going to touch—because we know that they continue to drive up property prices and make it easier for someone to buy their fifth investment property than it is for someone to buy their first home.
Finally, we need actual ambition when we talk about constructing social housing. We should be planning how we build a million social homes over the next 20 years. Any expert will tell you that 50,000 social and affordable homes per year is the ambition we need right now. And there are places around the world where this has been achieved. I met some people from Vienna recently. Twenty per cent of Austrians live in some form of social housing; 60 per cent of those in Vienna live in some form of social or affordable or rent-subsidised housing. It means they have some of the lowest rates of homelessness and housing stress in the world. There is absolutely no reason why we can't build beautifully designed social homes not just for the people who are on the waiting list right now but for the teachers, nurses and other workers right now who need a good home to move into. There is absolutely no reason why we can't do that.
It remains deeply frustrating that, instead of looking at what works around the world, those opposite do a tiny bit on the side that allows them to get the media bite. We know what works around the world. It is significant investment in social housing. It is about removing tax breaks for property investors and about building a housing system that isn't designed to generate millions or billions of dollars in profit for property developers and banks, who happen also to be some of the major donors to the major parties. It is thinking about housing as, first and foremost, a way for someone to build a good life, raise a family and get on with living without having to worry about how they're going to pay the rent or make their mortgage repayments. That's what the Greens are fighting for.
Having secure, affordable housing provides so much, allowing you to find secure work, perform better at school and reduce stress. Like the member for Wills, the Minister for Housing, the Prime Minister and so many others in this House, my parents first rented in a public housing flat. They then bought a home, through a rent-to-buy scheme, from the Housing Commission in the 1960s. That made so much of a difference to my sister and me. It meant that I'm here. It meant that she has a PhD. That's what a difference secure housing makes. These experiences shaped the way that I feel about the importance of affordable and available housing.
It's a common theme throughout the entire country, in all communities. We're seeing the struggles across all generations and too many people who've entirely given up on owning a home. It's been an issue for more than a decade, and, under the previous government's watch, housing became more unaffordable and out of reach for ordinary Australians. The legacy of the previous government has only compounded the pain that Australians are feeling. The decade of deliberate wage suppression under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments left workers financially insecure and unable to juggle the rising costs of living and increasing price of housing. Insecure work means you can't get a loan, let alone anything else.
According to the ABS producer price index, house construction costs have increased 46 per cent over the past decade. The actual materials have been so hard to get because of COVID. That's the previous government's legacy—a legacy that's still being felt by every Australian renter and prospective homeowner, with rising interest rates and rents. What was the previous government's solution to this? It was to allow workers to raid their super so that they could buy a house. That was their really brilliant idea. They wanted young Australians to pull out $50,000 from their super, not taking into account that the median superannuation balance for those aged 25 to 34 was probably less than $25,000. It was an incompetent policy from an incompetent government.
The situation left us behind and is an incredibly difficult challenge, but it's a challenge that the Albanese government realises and, moreover, is committed to taking a leadership role to address. We won't sit on our hands and pretend there's nothing government can do to ease the pain of all Australians. We understand that no one policy can solve this challenge. That's why the Albanese government will use the multiple levers available to us in order to get Australians into their own homes.
There are immediate actions, which our government has already taken, as well as medium- and long-term goals to help. We've brought forward the regional first home buyer guarantee to 1 October this year. That will get 10,000 eligible Australians into homeownership. We've already acted to unlock $575 million through the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in social and affordable housing. We've taken these immediate actions alongside holding meetings with federal, state and territory housing bodies. These are the first meetings in five years. Housing will require leadership and initiative at all levels of government, from local to federal, and we are committed to ensuring that we talk to every level and that we work together.
In the medium-to-long term, we'll build 30,000 new social and affordable houses under the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. Twenty thousand of them will be social housing, 4,000 of which will be for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and for older women who are at risk of homelessness. The remaining 10,000 will be affordable houses for our frontline workers, such as police officers, nurses and teachers, who kept us safe during the pandemic. They deserve to be able to own a home where they live, close to where they are.
Multiple policies are what we have to offer, and we will not require Australians to sacrifice their financial security in retirement just to put a roof over their head. The Albanese government understands that Australians deserve a government that will support and ensure that the Australian dream of owning a home is available to all Australians, especially our younger Australians to come.