Wednesday, 15 February 2023
National Housing Supply and Affordability Council Bill 2023; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4), as circulated in my name, together:
(1) Clause 2A, page 2 (line 19), at the end of paragraph (b), add "(so that, by 2050, social housing represents 10% of Australian dwellings)".
(2) Page 8 (after line 20), after clause 4, insert:
4A References to affordable housing
To avoid doubt, a reference in this Act to affordable housing includes a reference to:
(a) rental housing; and
(b) housing that costs no more than 30% of income for the bottom 40% of households by income.
(3) Clause 18, page 18 (lines 22 and 23), omit subclause (7), substitute:
(7) A grant under subsection (1) must not be made to a person or body unless the person or body:
(a) is one of the following:
(i) a body politic;
(ii) a non-profit organisation;
(iii) a partnership, if at least one of the partners is an entity mentioned in subparagraph (i) or (ii); and
(b) has applied for the grant.
(4) Clause 56, page 43 (after line 9), at the end of the clause, add:
The Finance Minister must give 6-monthly reports to Parliament about the operation of the Housing Australia Future Fund.
The Greens have a series of concerns with the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council and a series of amendments to seek to address some of these concerns.
Firstly, we want to amend the bill to ensure that parliament can request research from the national supply and affordability council. We don't think it's adequate that only the minister can request research or that it seeks to conduct research independently. We think that this should be a research body. If it is going to be independent, then having the minister, or the government, be the only arm of parliament able to request research seems inappropriate.
Secondly, we want to make sure that the board is actually genuinely representative of Australian society. So we are moving to amend the bill to ensure that the Housing Supply and Affordability Council must include representatives from the social housing and homelessness sectors and must include representation from First Nations people, housing organisations, low income households, people with lived experience of homelessness, and social housing residents. We also want to make sure that it cannot include individuals with significant links to property development or to the banking sector. The Greens were disappointed to see the interim council include a previous former CEO of Mirvac, a major property developer. We believe that property developers as well as bankers already wield far too much power over the political system. Indeed, in my home state of Queensland, property developer donations have been prohibited precisely because of the undue influence that they wield over the political process. Again, we have defenders of the property developers over there. I'm sure that members of your electorate would be keen to hear about that.
Third, we want to make sure that we enshrine a target in the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council and that includes making sure that it reports on meeting the target of 10 per cent of the housing stock as social housing by 2050 in line with our amendments to the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. We also want to ensure that housing data and analysis, with the exception of direct advice to government produced by the supply and affordability council, is made publicly available. We think that is entirely consistent with a council that is meant to be leading and providing independent advice to the public and to government. We think it is only right that a taxpayer funded institution such as this one reports to members of the public as well, not just to members of the government.
We also want to make sure that the board membership, as I have mentioned before, includes a broad representation from across society. We think these are reasonable amendments. Including First Nations people on the board, including people with lived experience of homelessness, poverty and housing stress is entirely consistent with getting a good outcome and good advice for the government from the public. We think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that solving the housing crisis is not going to be achieved by relying on the advice of people who created the housing crisis in the first place. The enormous profits that are generated in our current housing system towards the big banks and property developers is part of the problem. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia just reported a record $5.3 billion profit, partly off the back of accruing enormous profits off mortgage holders going into further and further financial stress. We think a supply and affordability council independent of the financial interests that are currently making people 's lives so miserable is entirely reasonable and we strongly compel the government to accept these amendments.
I indicate that the government won't be supporting these amendments. We need to be careful that the supply and affordability council membership is based on skills. It is about a skills based board; it is not intended to be a representative board. We have said in the legislation that we do think that it should take into consideration some of the issues that have been raised. But it really is about being a skills based board and we want it to have the skills necessary to do the important task that we are asking of it.
I would also say to the member for Griffith: when it comes to having property developers on the council, I am concerned that he is having some sort of a go at the interim council and its appointments. I would say to him that the people we have selected, we think, are appropriate people to be on the board. I would also say to him that most of the community housing providers need to partner with somebody to build the developments and they are often property developers.
I share the views of the Greens on this issue very strongly, actually. But it is a long ball for the property developers. Some of them are really excellent people, but I would agree that the vast bulk of them fall into an entirely different category. For those that watch late-night television, the story of Juanita Nielsen, need I say more? They just said, 'Oh well, she is holding things up, so get rid of her.' The most prominent people in Australia were involved as property developers. I tread with great caution and I share the views of the Greens on this issue but don't exclude all of them when some of them are really excellent people. If you want to bring down the price of housing then you want a massive flow of housing blocks onto the market. Both in Cairns and in Townsville, I could weep blood. Part of my electorate, Bushland Beach—bushland!—now has five kilometres where you can walk from roof to roof. You will never be able to put in a pot plant. There is not enough room at the edge of the house to put a pot plant or a tree or anything, on either side or at the front or back of the house. Clearly, what they are creating is slum dwellings to make developers rich. You have to say: why did those councils agree to that? I've been around a long time. Where you see clearly a huge amount of smoke, you will find fire, and I just want to cry when I see out there the creation of slums.
But there are good guys who will go out there and give you a thousand blocks of land onto the market at a fairly reasonable, competitive price, and that is where the government is failing completely. They don't understand supply and demand. You are not increasing the supply. No less a person than the Treasurer himself put it perfectly. Affordability is about housing. Housing is about the regulatory impositions upon land. I quote the Treasurer of Australia in his budget speech. Well, I don't see any solutions here. Please, Minister: if you give us a tiny bit of money, we will give you 200,000 blocks in North Queensland for under $40,000, and you can live adjacent to Mission Beach, which for two years in a row has been voted one of the four most beautiful places on earth. We can give you land in that area.
It is a matter of supply and demand, and you are addressing the demand but you're not addressing supply. There is nothing—not a single iota of initiative here—that addresses the issue of supply. I, like my honourable colleague in the Greens over here, would be extremely cynical. I have to say I don't come here to make political points as such, but the Labor Party has an absolutely dreadful history, and I belonged to a party where we weren't exactly great heroes either, so I'll say that in conclusion. We strongly endorse the sentiments expressed.
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4) and (7) as circulated in my name together:
(1) Clause 5, page 3 (after line 4), after the definition of Chair, insert:
critical enabling infrastructure, for new social or affordable housing, means:
(a) infrastructure critical to support the new housing, including new or upgraded infrastructure for services such as water, sewerage, electricity, telecommunications or transportation; or
(b) site remediation works relating to the new housing, including the removal of hazardous waste or contaminated material.
(2) Clause 5, page 3 (after line 13), after the definition of member, insert:
regional, rural and remote Australia means an area that is classified as inner regional Australia, outer regional Australia, remote Australia or very remote Australia under the Remoteness Structure described in:
(a) the document titled "Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5—Remoteness Structure, July 2016", published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as amended from time to time; or
(b) the most recent replacement of the document referred to in paragraph (a) that is published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as amended from time to time.
Note: The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5—Remoteness Structure, July 2016 could in 2023 be viewed on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website (https://www.abs.gov.au).
(3) Clause 9, page 5 (after line 25), after paragraph (1)(b), insert:
(ba) to advise the Minister on matters relating to housing supply and affordability in regional, rural and remote Australia;
(4) Clause 9, page 6 (line 7), after "homelessness", insert ", critical enabling infrastructure for new social and affordable housing".
(7) Clause 22, page 13 (after line 29), after subclause (3), insert:
(3A) Despite subsection (3), at least one of the appointed members must have:
(a) substantial experience, expertise or qualifications; and
(b) significant standing;
in relation to housing needs in regional, rural and remote Australia.
As I've said, the previous government's National Housing Infrastructure Facility manifestly failed to build much-needed houses. No funding was directed specifically towards regional Australia—or to rural or remote Australia—in the way that we needed it to happen, and I don't want to see a situation like this again. I will keep working until I see government funds for housing go to where they are desperately needed: regional Australia.
The council's role is to advise the government on how the Housing Australia Future Fund should be distributed and to assist them in making well-informed decisions. The amendments circulated add two additional functions to the council: first, to advise the minister on housing supply and affordability in regional, rural, remote and Australia; and, second, to include critical enabling infrastructure when it's monitoring conditions that impact housing supply. I've said a lot about that already. I won't go over it. But, if the government are not receiving advice on these areas, they won't know where the problems are and they won't know to how to fix them.
I've said again and again that we can't fix housing supply if we don't fix critical enabling infrastructure. My amendments put regional, rural and remote Australia and critical enabling infrastructure on the council's agenda and, therefore, on the government's agenda. Again I call on all members of the House, most particularly members from rural, regional, and remote Australia—I note that the member for Bass gets this and has been thinking about these things and has been voting accordingly. I call on all members—sincerely, I do—to have a think about who you're representing and make sure that the regions truly get their fair share of this important legislation.
Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, I thank you for this opportunity to speak, and I call on the minister to support these amendments.
I rise to support the member for Indi's amendments. They're very sensible amendments. It's very hard, unless you live it, to actually properly, truly represent or provide advice, and that's why it's critical that on this council there be people who truly live and know what it's like to live in regional, rural and remote Australia. Housing needs are very different, particularly when we get into remote Australia, but the pressures on housing are also different in regional Australia. I talked earlier today about the fact that we don't have the public transport infrastructure. In lots of places in my electorate, people rely entirely on rainwater for their house and are on septic. We just don't have the infrastructure and resources that are readily available elsewhere. People in here talk about gas. My goodness, I don't think there's a place in my electorate where gas is mainlined. If you want gas, it's in a bottle. So if we're to look at all of the resources that are needed with housing, it's really critical that we have people from rural and regional Australia who know it, who get it and who live it to be part of this council so as to ensure that this council represents all Australians.
ER () (): The most extraordinary success story in housing was in Queensland. That story starts with Greg Wallace, a First Australian and one of the Rosendales from Hope Vale. He introduced Work for the Dole, and 60 Minutes, the first time they ever did a follow-up story in the history of the program, got a huge watching audience. Greg got Work for the Dole going. Gerhardt Pearson, Noely Pearson's brother, rang me up and said, 'Why don't we use the dole labour to build the houses?' I thought, 'I can't believe this.' I rang up Gerry Hand, who I think was the federal minister. He said, 'That didn't come from you, Katter. It's too smart for you.' Yes, all right, well, it didn't! The federal government agreed to it, and we cut the price of housing more than clean in half. We were flying in whitefella crews from Brisbane and from Cairns and Townsville. We had to pay for their accommodation, their flights in and out, living-away-from-home allowance—meals and accommodation was huge—and the cost of flying them in and out. We were doing that when we had people living there who could do the job. I doubted whether they could do the job, but I didn't have any power. The boys on the ground, First Australians, had the power, not me, so I had to go with it. Then Donnie Fraser rang me. His son, Troy Fraser, is an extraordinary, wonderful person. Troy is the CEO at Doomadgee these days and did a wonderful job running the rugby league up there. Donnie, rang me up and said, 'Why don't we make the concrete blocks? ' I think I used a rather crude phrase to him on the telephone, and we argued for a bit. I said, 'You can have one of these things—they're 80,000 bucks—and see how it goes. That's all you're getting.' Anyway, it was so successful we put eight in strategic locations. We cut the price of housing to about one-third of what it had been. Now, I shouldn't say 'we', because I had nothing to do with it. Each of those decisions was made by the people themselves. There's a wonderful book out, The Colonial Fantasythe whitefellas are never going to get it right. This was a classic case of it. When the whitefellas were running it, we were building 60 or 70 houses a year. When the blackfellas took it over, we were doing 300 a year!
So I make the point to you, Minister, that the way that you are building houses in remote Australia is costing the earth. If you'll just listen to the local people that live up there, whether they're blackfellas or whitefellas, you'll be able to cut very dramatically the cost of a house. We had enough money to build 400 houses in that six-year time frame. I think we built over 2,000 houses. So more power to the boys in the peninsula.
I did want to indicate to people, as I'd indicated before, that we do acknowledge the intent of these amendments. We're not going to be agreeing to these amendments, but we are willing to support some of the other amendments from the member for Indi and look, again, in the Senate process at how we make sure that regional and rural Australia get their fair share.
I'd also indicate that, in terms of the enabling infrastructure, there is the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, and we have obviously widened the remit of that to allow social and affordable housing, and that still includes all the enabling legislation.
I just want to put on record my appreciation, and the appreciation, I think, of all the crossbenchers, for the honourable member for Indi. She does the hard yards here. We can back her up, but she's doing the hard yards and the leadership here, and we very much appreciate the work she does.
The question is that the amendments be disagreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until the first opportunity on the next sitting day. The debate on this item is therefore adjourned until that time.
HAINES () (): by leave—I move amendments (5) and (6), as circulated in my name, together:
(5) Clause 9, page 7 (after line 2), at the end of paragraph (2)(c), add:
(ix) geographical location;
(6) Clause 22, page 13 (after line 22), after paragraph (2)(j), insert:
(ja) regional, rural and remote housing policy;
My amendments will ensure that at least one member of the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council has demonstrated and relevant experience or expertise on housing needs in regional, rural and remote Australia. Ensuring a member of this council has expert knowledge on the particular housing needs of regional, rural and remote Australia is crucial if we're going to address this housing crisis. We need to hear about the experiences, the challenges and the know-how of regional Australians. Otherwise, we're at the risk of another government policy on housing that does nothing for rural, regional and remote Australians. We need a truly representative council if the government is going to distribute the fund equitably and in the areas that need it most. These amendments that I put to the House today are one small way that we can ensure this.
My amendments will also make sure that the council considers the impacts of geographical location on housing supply, affordability and demand. Living in regional or remote areas of Australia presents challenges that are different from the cities, and we've heard a lot about that today. Incomes are lower, rates are lower, land availability is different, and the types of houses that we need are different.
I want to thank the minister for the way that she has engaged with me on all of the amendments I've put forward today. And I understand that she will be supporting these amendments. We'll continue working with them, and with her department. I thank her staff as well. I want to make sure—and I know my colleagues here want to make sure as well—that regional, rural and remote Australia is at the forefront of good, sensible housing policy.
I do want to indicate to members of this place that we will be supporting these amendments. I think that it will allow the regions to be highlighted for them to have to take into account geographical location. I also would like to say that I appreciate that the member for Indi has moved these amendments, and it is a shame that some of them haven't come from some of the people that purport to support regional Australia. But, as a party that does, on our side of the House we do want to support these amendments.
I just want to refer again to the most successful house-building operation in Australian history. The other two people involved were the heads of the department, Eric Law and Lester Rosendahl, who was one of the famous Rosendahl family. Eric Law, from Cherbourg, was very high up in the education department. He was deputy principal of the biggest high school in Queensland and was an outstanding rugby league player, as was his cousin Steve Renouf. Those two decided that all houses would be built by exclusively First Australian labour. Not only was I not in favour of this but I was very much against it, because about 30 per cent of those people can't read or write and about 30 per cent of them can't speak English. And they're going to build the houses, are they? I emphasise the point that I had nothing to do with any of these decisions. The people themselves made that decision, and Rosendahl and Law were backing themselves in on a very controversial decision, to impose upon all of the councils in Queensland that houses would be built by exclusively local blackfella labour, not whitefella. That was the fifth rung in the ladder of creating the greatest success story in the nation's history, from where I sit.
Question agreed to.
I move the amendment circulated in my name:
(1) Clause 22, page 13 (lines 26 to 29), omit subclause (3), substitute:
(3) In appointing members, the Minister must ensure that:
(a) the appointed members collectively have an appropriate balance of qualifications, skills or experience in the fields mentioned in subsection (2); and
(b) at least 1 appointed member is a representative of the Community Housing Provider sector; and
(c) consideration is given to appointing members who have personal experience of social and affordable housing; and
(d) there is gender and cultural diversity within the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the minister's efforts in ensuring that there is a diversity of experience across the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council. I agree with the minister that we should have a board with diverse skills and experience, but it must obviously have people with firsthand experience of community and social housing. It is therefore incredibly disappointing that the government won't be mandating a community housing provider representative. Without the government's mandate, the idea that it will happen—it just won't. To some extent I agree with the member for Griffith about the representation on the council, but co-investment from property developers and CHPs is crucial to the social housing sector.
I was raised in housing commission housing and lived in it from the time I arrived in Australia in 1979 until the time I got married in 1992. My sisters and I worked hard to try and break the intergenerational cycles that are all too common within the social and public housing sector, especially for single-parent households. In the last few decades, having worked as a local journalist for the Fairfield Champion and the Liverpool Champion, then becoming a Fairfield councillor and now a representative of the Fowler electorate, it has been very challenging to see an increase in the number of people, men and women, in my electorate of Fowler pleading for help to get support to have a home. It's really shocking to hear stories of people who have waited 20 years plus just to get into social and affordable housing. From people with disabilities to women fleeing from domestic violence, it has been truly difficult to witness and hear from them and feel helpless that, as an elected representative, I can't do more. As my colleague the member for North Sydney said yesterday, it's not just a house; it's a home.
I know all too well the importance of a safety net to help the vulnerable and needy, so I commend the work the minister is doing in having an ambitious aim to create 30,000 homes in five years. However, the council which is supposed to advise the minister on the housing needs of the country needs to also be representative of the people that it is serving. I've previously outlined the important work that community housing providers do. They not only provide a roof over people's heads, but many, such as those in my electorate of Fowler from Hume housing and St George housing, also offer individuals and families programs to help them rehabilitate from drug addiction, to upskill in their work and to gain long-term employment to break the poverty cycle. That's why I strongly urge the government to have people on the board who have had firsthand experience of social and affordable housing and to mandate a community housing provider representative who has on-the-ground experience of what it's like to run such services and programs.
We don't want men in suits from highly affluent suburbs who are networked and connected to the establishment to be the only ones shaping and informing the minister's ideas and thinking. These so-called experts will only be experts at knowing what to say and how to present themselves, and will be too detached from what's happening on the ground to be making decisions that affect the vulnerable. I have seen these professional boards filled with well-intentioned goals, yet many of these boards and body councils often do not have diversity of talent and lived experiences from the community.
I hope the government, in reforming this space, does not stack the board with union delegates and other associates, just like the previous government stacked the NHFIC board with some of their closest mates. We want to encourage consistent and collaborative delivery approaches across Australia and learn lessons from people who have had lived experience of the sector.
I rise to indicate we will support the amendment from the member for Fowler to the bill. One of the things the former coalition government did in establishing the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, soon to be renamed Housing Australia, was designate a spot on the board for a representative from a community housing provider because we sought to put community housing providers at the centre of what we did through that landmark achievement of the coalition government. So, similar to that, we see merit in the amendment moved by the member for Fowler to ensure that this crucially important sector, community housing providers—who, I think everyone in this House would agree, are able to get more out of every dollar than any other organisation, particularly state and territory treasuries—is represented on the council. It is a very worthy idea, and that's the reason why we'll support this amendment.
I rise to indicate the government is not supporting this amendment. We understand the intent behind it, but we believe the current provisions adequately cover this. On page 13, section 22(2) suggests people cannot be appointed unless the minister is satisfied that the person has:
(a) substantial experience, expertise or qualifications; and
(b) significant standing;
in at least one of the following fields:
(f) residential construction;
(h) social housing;
(i) social policy;
(j) housing and homelessness policy;
(l) the housing needs of Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders;
(k) regulation, taxation or government policy relating to housing.
We think it's adequately covered. The member would be aware that the current deputy chair of the interim council has the experience she's talking about.