House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business


4:47 pm

Photo of Michelle Ananda-RajahMichelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) safe and affordable housing is central to the security and dignity of all Australians;

(b) the Government has committed to an ambitious housing reform agenda, which will boost the supply of all housing, including more public and social housing, more affordable housing, more homes to rent and more homes to buy;

(c) Australia's housing challenges did not happen overnight and cannot be solved by one government alone; and

(d) the Government is working with state, territory and local governments to deliver better housing outcomes including the work being undertaken through the National Cabinet;

(2) acknowledges the measures agreed to at National Cabinet, including:

(a) federal funding of $3 billion through the New Homes Bonus to help incentivise states and territories to build more homes where people need them;

(b) a $500 million Housing Support Program for initiatives to help kickstart housing supply, including connecting essential services and amenities to support new housing development and building planning capability;

(c) federal funding of $2 billion through the Social Housing Accelerator to deliver thousands of social homes across Australia;

(d) the National Planning Reform Blueprint with planning, zoning, land release and other measures to improve housing supply and affordability;

(e) A Better Deal for Renters to harmonise and strengthen renters' rights across Australia; and

(f) the National Housing Accord that will support planning and zoning reforms to deliver 10,000 affordable rental homes over five years from 2024, to be matched by the states and territories; and

(3) further acknowledges that:

(a) after a decade of little action, the Government is delivering measures to turn around the housing challenges in Australia today; and

(b) there is more work to do and we need governments at all levels to work together.

Bridging the intergenerational divide is one of the defining issues in this defining decade, and that means addressing two critical questions. One is on climate justice and the other is on housing affordability and access for Australians. These are two issues that were brought to my attention during the campaign, and they are still live issues.

On the climate action front, our energy transformation is well underway. That is evidenced by the fact that we have gone from 33 per cent renewable energy last year to 40 per cent this year as we accelerate to 82 per cent in 2030.

Housing, however, is a much more complex issue and one that we inherited due to a decade of inaction under those opposite. They essentially vacated the space. We understand that housing is foundational to Australians. It is foundational to our security and wellbeing. There is simply no opportunity to progress either economically or socially without a roof over one's head. However, new housing dwellings actually peaked in 2016 and have been declining ever since. Powerful demographic shifts have happened in that period of time. We've seen an increase in the population. We've also seen, since the COVID pandemic, a shift towards households of smaller size, and we've seen a new generation of young people who have now grown up and are wanting, justifiably, to live in places that are near to their work. So we have essentially created a perfect storm—the lowest level of social and affordable housing we've seen in a decade. A decade ago it was 4.8 per cent, and it is now 4.1 per cent. It was actually Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's National Rental Affordability Scheme, which was then axed by the Abbott government in 2014. A lot of those homes have been retired since then, and it has only added acutely to the housing shortage we have inherited.

However, the Albanese government understands that the cure for renters who are facing plunging vacancy rates and surging rents—they've increased at least 14 per cent in Melbourne in the year until March of this year. The cure for homeless Australians—and, according to the 2021 census, there were at least 122,000 Australians who were homeless. The cure for workers, particularly women and children, fleeing domestic violence and the cure for those at risk of homelessness, those workers who are in precarious jobs—loopholes that we are trying to address in the lower house. The cure for all these groups is actually supply, and that is something we in the Albanese government are laser focused on.

This is evidenced also by my own community members who attended a housing roundtable with the housing minister. These are some of the things they said: 'You can walk through any major shopping strip and there are homeless people begging for money. These people, it would appear, have multiple problems. If we could improve these people's lives and get them secure housing, we would all benefit.' I am concerned about the level of homelessness in Higgins, and I have seen it worsen over the last five years. The ongoing housing crisis in Australia is a pressing and urgent matter, with thousands of people, families and single mothers and the elderly struggling to find affordable housing. We hear these calls, and this is why we have a broad and sweeping housing agenda, which comes at a problem of this magnitude from different angles, as it should.

We have stretched out our National Housing Accord target to 1.2 million homes that will be well located and funded from 2024 onwards. We have brought together institutional investors and all three tiers of government to solve this problem. We recently announced the $3 billion new homes bonus to incentivise the states to build these additional 200,000 homes. We have a $500 million housing support program to ensure that we create the infrastructure, the sanitation and the roads to support these new builds. When we realised we had a surplus in the budget we announce a $2 billion social housing accelerator to build an additional 4,000 social rental homes in the next two years. And, pleasingly, today, the Prime Minister and the housing minister announced that the Housing Australia Future Fund will be passed, thanks to support from the Greens and the crossbench in the upper house. This is long overdue. It's an indictment on those opposite that they have not supported this bill, while they have the temerity to come into this House and criticise us for actually doing something on housing. That's exactly what the Albanese government has been doing. (Time expired)

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder for the motion?

Photo of Louise Miller-FrostLouise Miller-Frost (Boothby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

4:53 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's remarkable that the government is complaining about people being unhappy with their housing track record. It's not the people on this side who are unhappy; it's the Australian people who are unhappy. This government has failed every single objective measure of housing. First home buyers are down, not that we hear from the government about first home buyers. New home approvals are down. New home starts are down. In fact, we see now new homes being built at the lowest level since the Gillard government. At the same time as we have first home buyers down, approvals down, new home starts down and an industry that's really suffering at the moment because of the inaction of this government, we have a government that's determined to bring in 1½ million new migrants over five years with absolutely no idea where those people will live. I think most people in Australia and, indeed, in our chamber support a planned migration system, but the word 'planned' means you've got to know where on earth they're going to live.

Today we see the Labor salvo of this housing agenda, if you call it an agenda, being in absolute tatters. The poor old government, dancing to the tune of the Greens, have magically found $1 billion behind the cushions on the couch. They just found a lazy $1 billion as they were fossicking around, and that got the Greens over the line. Another dirty deal. One wonders why the member, who brought forward this motion, was not out there last week arguing about that extra billion dollars. She's very proud of it now. Where was she a week ago to proclaim the importance of that extra funding?

The truth is we've got a government with absolutely no idea what they're doing on housing. They've got a hapless housing minister with no idea what's going on. We were supposed to have this so-called Help to Buy program commence on 1 January this year. It's 11 September. Where on earth is the Help to Buy program that the government took to the election?

The Housing Australia Future Fund was supposed to have commenced on 1 July. Yet we now see in September they finally cut a deal with the Greens, but it's late and there's absolutely no guarantee of any funding out of that fund. What do we have in exchange? We've got, as the member outlined in her contribution, an extra $2 billion—a blank cheque—that was handed to the states. To all those Australians out there: never fear, the problems have been solved. The Prime Minister did a deal with his state Labor premiers. He handed money over and guess what?

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Higgins was heard in silence and will show the same respect.

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

In my home state of Victoria where the Labor government has been in government for a very long time, we've never seen longer waiting lists for public and social housing—never have they been longer. Any intellectually honest person on the Labor side would admit their abject failure to those people who are waiting on those waiting lists.

On this side of the House, we believe in aspiration and the worthy objective that every Australian should have, and that is the opportunity, should they choose to do so, of owning a home in their lifetime. The government has waved the white flag on home ownership for young Australians. They're not interested in talking about home ownership, whereas on this side of the chamber, when we were in government, we directly assisted 300,000 Australians into their first home. Whether it was through the HomeBuilder program, the Home Guarantee Scheme or the First Home Super Saver Scheme—all programs that were opposed at the time by the Labor Party, some of which have been enthusiastically adopted now because their agenda is so bereft. They have absolutely no idea. Even today their billion dollars of bribery to get the Greens over the line is an extra billion dollars in the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, which I set up as housing minister.

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Higgins.

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

So credit to the Labor Party for taking a proud coalition achievement—the National Housing Infrastructure Facility—but they should be honest with the Australian people: honest about what this deal was. Their heart was not in handing this money over to social and affordable housing. It was just a grubby deal to get this through the Senate. Had it been an honest attempt by the government, we would have had this motion last week, not this week. (Time expired)

4:58 pm

Photo of Sally SitouSally Sitou (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What an interesting contribution from the member for Deakin. If I were him, I would probably be hiding in shame, given my track record as the former minister for housing and homelessness. He failed to do anything in the nine years that the coalition government was in power.

We are now in one of the most unaffordable housing positions this country has ever seen. That is because of successive governments' failure, at the federal and New South Wales state levels, to adequately plan, fund and build housing.

The housing pressures on families across my electorate are serious. There is a high proportion of renters and mortgage holders in the electorate of Reid. Around 40 per cent of renters there are experiencing rental stress. Around a quarter of mortgage holders are experiencing mortgage stress. Increases in rents and interest rates have a disproportionate impact on my community.

A recent report by the Committee for Sydney found Sydney is second only to Hong Kong for housing unaffordability, with an average home costing more than 13 times the median salary. How did we get to this point? It hasn't always been this way. When my parents came to this country more than four decades ago, they worked hard and were able to buy a home in south-west Sydney five years after arriving in this country. Their story isn't unique. I met Josephina while out doorknocking. She was just 22 when she moved here from Chile with her husband and baby girl. Her and her husband worked hard, sometimes multiple jobs, and, within five years of arriving in Australia, they bought their family home in Silverwater that they still live in today. Australia's multicultural success story and the stories of my parents and Josephina's family and so many other migrant families are possible because of the stability given to them by affordable housing. But what would have happened to those migrants' stories if they had they come to this country not decades ago but today? Would my parents have been able to afford to buy a house in Sydney? I don't think so.

So how did we get here? A problem as big as this did not happen overnight. It has been brewing for years and years. We are here because of the decade of complete and utter failure and neglect by the federal and New South Wales coalition governments. Under their watch, we were left with a critical shortage of housing. After a decade of siloed state and territory policies where housing ministers barely met, the community rightly expects the Albanese government to get on with the job of bringing all levels of government together. While we can't fix a problem this big overnight, we are taking significant steps to help us get there. It falls to this Labor government to fix up the mess left behind by those opposite. It is up to us to build the homes and apartments this country needs, and that's exactly what we are doing.

Despite the best efforts of those opposite to block the housing affordability future fund, I'm pleased to see this key housing policy is set to pass the parliament. First and foremost, the housing affordability future fund is about providing the biggest boost to affordable housing in a decade, with 30,000 social and affordable homes to be built within the first five years of its establishment—secure and affordable housing for women and children fleeing family violence, for veterans and for frontline workers, nurses, paramedics, teachers. But it's not just about that; it's about providing a resilient and sustainable funding stream for social and affordable housing long into the future. I use those words very deliberately because, in all the political commentary about the housing affordability future fund, this key point might have been missed. I say we need a resilient funding stream because, by developing the community housing sector, it stops future Liberal-National governments from selling public assets like the former Liberal government did over the last decade in New South Wales, and I say 'sustainable' because it's so important to keep the supply of social housing consistent so that it can continue, whoever—Liberal or Labor—is in government, so that we are never again finding ourselves in the situation we are in now, where housing unaffordability is at record levels.

5:03 pm

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak today to support the motion of the member for Higgins. Housing should be regarded as a basic human right. But in Australia successive governments have seen housing primarily as a means towards accumulation of wealth. Both the ALP and the LNP have historically demonstrated a bias towards house price speculating investors, neglecting the needs of householders who rent and people who want to purchase the home in which they wish to live. As a result, we have some of the most expensive housing in the world.

Expensive housing, high interest rates and soaring business costs have combined to delay when our young people can partner with others. Some report that, because of the cost of housing, they are now deferring having their first child or choosing not to have children at all. The Australian capitals—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth—rank in the least affordable urban areas in the world. Our household debt to disposable income ratio is over 200 per cent. Banks have changed most of our mortgages from 25 years to 30 years, but we've still basically priced young people out of the housing market.

Before COVID, Australia had about 400 homes per 1,000 people. This was one of the lowest supplies of housing stock in the developed world. During the pandemic, the number of people per household fell sharply as people fled share houses; those working from home wanted those extra bedrooms to become offices; and the pressure of lockdowns contributed to the divorce rate jumping to a decade high. Many people continue to work from home.

Oxford Economics estimates that Australia currently has a housing gap of more than 750,000 homes. The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation's recent State of the nation's housing 2022-23 report estimated that the gap between the number of new households and additional housing supply will be more than 106,000 over the next four years. Houses currently can't be built fast enough to supply demand.

Since the 1970s, Australia has consistently completed construction of between 22,000 and 29,000 homes every quarter. That actually hasn't changed over time. We just don't seem to be able to build more quickly than we are now—but we must. We also need to remove some of the constraints around building more homes in established suburbs to address chronic shortages and to allow people to live close to where they work.

We know that the rental market is very difficult. The lack of rental accommodation is profound. The number of available rentals has been at historical lows for some time now, and, in many capital cities, the vacancy rate sits below one per cent. Cost-of-living constraints are creating an enormous burden on renters. There is not enough housing to go around. Rents have nearly doubled since 1994, roughly in line with inflation, and are now rising as much as 15 per cent a year. More than half of all low-income renters are facing rent stress and half of all retirees who rent are living in poverty. In my own electorate of Kooyong, reputedly a wealthy electorate, one-third of renters and one in five mortgage holders are in financial stress.

The Albanese government lifted the maximum rate of Commonwealth rent assistance by 15 per cent in May 2023. This increase was only $16 a week. It no doubt helped the 1.3 million concession card holders who received it, but it was disappointing that the Treasurer did not act on the recommendation of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee to increase the CRA in line with rents actually paid rather than the consumer price index.

We need long-term planning and government ownership of this wicked problem. The provision of more social and affordable housing will reduce homelessness. It will improve productivity, increase economic growth and drive better health and income equality outcomes. We need our federal, state and local governments to work together on this most important of issues. I will continue to push this government to accelerate the supply of social and affordable housing and to provide meaningful financial support for renters and mortgage holders.

5:07 pm

Photo of Cassandra FernandoCassandra Fernando (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

ERNANDO () (): I want to thank the member for Higgins for bringing up this great motion. I am pleased to speak on one of the most pressing issues facing our nation—housing. The Albanese Labor government recognises that safe and affordable housing is not just a basic necessity; it's central to the security and dignity of all Australians. Far too many Australians are galloping with the burden of growing rents, making it increasingly difficult for them to make ends meet. The dream of owning a home has become an elusive goal for many as the barriers to entry continue to rise.

I am proud the Albanese Labor government is taking firm action. We are implementing a comprehensive set of reforms aimed at ensuring every Australian has a place to call home. Over the past decade, the proportion of social housing in Australia has declined from 4.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent of all housing stock. The Albanese Labor government is unwavering in its commitment to reversing this trend and ensuring that all Australians have access to secure and affordable housing.

I am pleased the Albanese government reintroduced legislation to establish the Housing Australia Future Fund. This fund will provide a sustainable and ongoing source of funding to build the social and affordable homes that Australians so desperately need. What is heartening is that this legislation has garnered support from everyone in this House, except for those who are out of touch with everyday Australians, like most of the coalition. This fund will be instrumental in achieving the ambitious target we took to the last election—building 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes within the first five years of its establishment. This is the most significant boost to affordable housing in over a decade. Importantly, we ensure that these homes are distributed fairly and credibly across our great nation. They will be found not only in our cities but also in our towns, as well as in regional and remote Australia. Our efforts do not end here.

We are also dedicated to helping Australians achieve their dream of home ownership. We inherited an economy where many Australians struggled to save a deposit and buy a home. However, we are determined to deliver solutions to fix this problem. One such solution is the Help to Buy scheme, designed to support eligible Australians on low to moderate incomes in purchasing their own home with a smaller deposit, resulting in more manageable mortgage payments. This scheme is a lifeline for up to 40,000 low- and middle-income families over four years, making home ownership a reality for those who feel locked out of the housing market.

Under this program, the Albanese Labor government will provide an equity contribution of up to 40 per cent for new homes and 30 per cent for existing homes. We are working tirelessly to ensure that this scheme is accessible to all Australians in every state and territory. As well, states agreed at national cabinet to progress legislation to implement the scheme nationally. In fact, since the election, the Albanese government has assisted more than 67,000 Australians in achieving home ownership.

Furthermore, our recent budget announcement expanded the First Home Guarantee Scheme to include any two eligible borrowers beyond just spouse or de facto partners. It is also now available to non-first home buyers who haven't owned a property in Australia in the last ten years, providing support to those who have faced financial crisis or relationship breakdown.

Moreover, we have extended eligibility to borrowers who are single legal guardians of children, such as aunties, uncles or grandparents, in addition to single, natural and adoptive parents.

The Albanese Labor government is committed to building more social and affordable housing, while helping Australians achieve their home ownership dreams. We understand the challenges that many Australians face, and we are taking decisive action to ensure a brighter and more secure future for all. Together, we can provide every Australian with an opportunity to have a place to call home.

5:12 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Members of the government are keen to list the ways they're addressing the housing crisis across Australia, but I do want to put a spotlight on what is missing from this discussion on housing. That spotlight needs to go on housing in regional, rural and remote Australia.

I thank the member for Higgins. I know she cares about housing, but not once does this motion mention regional, rural or remote Australia—not once. Out of the billions of dollars of funding this government has announced, there is no dedicated, guaranteed funding for regional Australia. That includes the announcement today that the government and the Greens have agreed on a further $1 billion in immediate and direct spending in community housing through the NHIF. But, again, there is a complete blind spot when it comes to the regions.

This is despite one in three Australians living outside a major city and the housing crisis hitting hard in these areas just as much as in the major cities. In Wangaratta where I live, I see people living in caravans and tents along the river. One of these people I met—let's call him Richard—is a qualified chef. But, after mental health challenges and struggles with addiction and relationship breakdown, Richard lost his home and couldn't find anything affordable. He now lives in a tent. Sadly, all his tools of trade were recently stolen. Theoretically, Richard could walk into a job in just about any hospitality venue in north-east Victoria because they're screaming for chefs, but his housing situation has made that virtually completely impossible.

There are many more people like Richard, sleeping rough in tents or caravans. We know there are probably many more women who are experiencing homelessness now too, who are more likely to couch surf and stay with friends and family. Women over 55, as we know, are the fastest-growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness, and this includes women in rural, regional and remote areas. It's these men and women who drive me to keep fighting for a dedicated regional housing fund from this government. It's why today I introduced my private member's bill: the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment (Unlocking Regional Housing) Bill. This bill would allow the main government body that finances housing, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, or NHFIC, to specifically target an equitable portion of this funding at regional, rural and remote Australia. This bill also directs the NHFIC to proactively identify and support housing proponents to apply for the funding—proponents like local governments, who are often responsible, especially in regional, rural and remote areas, for funding the critical, enabling infrastructure that unlocks housing supply. But, with small ratepayer bases, regional councils often do not have the funds to deliver the poles and the power lines or the sewerage and the drainage on their own.

In Wangaratta, there's a perfect example of why my bill is needed and how it addresses these major factors in the regional housing crisis. Nestd, a not-for-profit social enterprise, are working with the Rural City of Wangaratta to deliver their vision of 200 safe, quality, energy efficient and beautiful houses for young people, pensioners and essential workers. This is the social and affordable housing this government talks about. But Nestd needs funding to clear the site, including asbestos removal. They also need to build water and sewerage infrastructure, and then get going with the building. They need funding for critical enabling infrastructure for the housing, and right now they're struggling to get funding from NHFIC. They say my bill would help open the door for them, so that Wangaratta, where homelessness has gone up a staggering 67 per cent since 2016, can get the social and affordable housing it desperately needs.

I met with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing about a need for a regional housing infrastructure fund, and they showed me they were starting to listen to me when they announced the $500 million Housing Support Program, which will offer payments for connecting essential services and providing amenities for new housing developments. But they only half listened, because this announcement had absolutely no guaranteed funding for the regions. As this government motions says, 'Safe and affordable housing is central to the security and dignity of all Australians.' I can only assume that the member includes regional, rural and remote Australians in this, because so far this government have utterly failed to explicitly mention us—regional Australians—in their myriad announcements.

This must change, and it must change now. We can't assume. We have to make sure. We have to make certain. We need to make the legislation explicit. I hope the next time the government lists all their housing programs, there's one with 'regional, rural and remote' in its title.

5:17 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Higgins for this motion on affordable housing. The Albanese government knows and understands that too many Australians are facing serious housing challenges, and I do commend most of the earlier contributions. There was one in particular I didn't appreciate. Everyone who is here to speak knows that everyone needs a home.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They were male! As the member for Kooyong pointed out, we have a gap of about 750,000 dwellings at the moment. No-one can go about their life without a safe and stable place to call home where they can raise a family, go to work and stay healthy. We know how important it is for everyone to have a secure, safe roof over their heads, and Labor is more than committed to tackling the nation's housing challenges, following from nearly a decade of inaction from the former Liberal-National government.

At the last election, we put an ambitious housing agenda to the Australian public. Since then, we've built on that agenda to work with and support the construction industry as we work towards that promise of significantly increasing the supply of new homes. We're doing that because all the experts tell us that supply is the answer. There are some tax things that we could go into, but supply is what we have to be focused on. A lot of people talk about social, affordable and all types of housing both in and outside of this parliament. Having formerly been on the board of Kyabra—something I had to give up when I was elected—I know how hard it is to roll out social and affordable housing. But, when it came to the crunch, when we introduced a bill in the parliament that would actually start to solve the problem, some people just said no from a party position and some people literally ran away from voting for it in the House of Reps. They're quite prepared to stand, make speeches, complain about the housing crisis and say what they would have done in their 11th year of government. If you meet with any community group or organisation that actually deals with housing and homelessness, they will tell you how frustrated they've been because of the delay in the passing of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. My organisations that deal with homelessness and housing on the ground really want certainty around long-term investments so that they can get those projects started.

Today I was pleased to hear that the Greens political party and other parties in the Senate announced they're now supporting the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill, a bill that will deliver the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing in more than a decade. It's good to see that the Greens now recognise this and will work with us to deliver more affordable housing to the Australians who need it most. Working together is the key to starting to solve this wicked housing crisis. That is the kind of parliament that Australians want to see: politicians working together in the national interest.

Our funding commitments in housing through the Housing Australia Future Fund, the Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator—which I think is a wonderful initiative—the National Housing Infrastructure Facility and the National Housing Accord are all about new, social and affordable rental homes. These are homes that will be owned in perpetuity by the state governments or the registered community providers, and will be provided at concessional rents to key workers and people who need them most.

We're also introducing incentives to increase the supply of rental housing by improving the arrangements for investments in build-to-rent accommodation. We know a lot of people across Australia are finding it tough to find an affordable place to rent. I hear horror story after horror story in my electorate. The last census found that more than 30 per cent of Australians were renting, and we know that we need to do so much more. This $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund will create that secure, ongoing pipeline of funding for social and affordable rental housing. That's the promise we took to the election.

When National Cabinet met just under a month ago, they committed to a better deal for renters and to harmonise and strengthen renters' rights across Australia. Without going into boring constitutional law, we're doing what we can with the state governments that work in this area to develop a nationally consistent framework with a requirement for genuine, reasonable grounds for eviction; moving towards limiting rental increases to once a year; and phasing in minimal rental standards, among other changes, to make renting fairer, but not doing it in such a way that we're going to decrease supply and that investment supply line. These changes will make practical impacts to Australian renters. These changes will change lives and save lives. We have committed to an ambitious housing agenda reform agenda. Let's get on with it.

5:22 pm

Photo of Dai LeDai Le (Fowler, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the member for Higgins for bringing this motion to the House. It's great to hear this afternoon that the HAFF Bill will now pass with the support of the Greens and the crossbench, securing an additional $1 billion overall in direct funding for public and community housing. It will certainly kickstart the process and enable more affordable housing to be built. This is welcome news, especially in electorates with high social and affordable housing needs such as Fowler. But we will see how fast construction will begin from this.

I grew up in public housing, and I can't stress enough the importance of having a roof over our heads when we first arrived in Australia. It helped my late mother tremendously to know we had a temporary place to call home while she was working out how to raise her three daughters and acclimatise to the new country. This public housing was a stepping stone for my late mother, and from that we were able to slowly rebuild our lives. Today, my sister and I can proudly say we have worked hard to contribute back to Australia, and we are in a position to pay for our own homes. But, as we know, it is becoming harder and harder to own a home in today's economic climate. We have seen 13 interest rates rises in 15 months. We are yet to see the ramifications of that on families who are now struggling to pay for their mortgage, electricity bills, car and house insurance and groceries.

Housing availability and affordability are at an all-time low. The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics put the cost of building a house at nearly $450,000 in February this year. The same house cost just over $300,000 to build in February 2021. That's a massive increase of more than $130,000 in just two years. When speaking to business owners and ordinary people in Fowler, they're telling me everything has gone up since COVID. In a country where most of us have been raised to believe that, if we worked hard, we could one day own our own quarter-acre block in the suburbs, it's just a pipe dream.

My electorate has the fourth-worst rental affordability in Australia, where 45 per cent of families spent more than 30 per cent of household income on rent. We also have the fourth-worst mortgage affordability in Australia. Nearly 25 per cent of our households spent more than 30 per cent of their household income on repayments. While I acknowledge the housing crisis impacts every Australian, regardless of their background and postcode, I want to highlight a devastating effect of this housing crisis on people from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

In my electorate of Fowler, 42 per cent of the community are renting. I learned recently, during a school visit, of a family being thrown out of their rental accommodation who were looking for emergency accommodation. We need to provide greater rental assistance so that families don't end up in streets. There's a huge waiting list of approximately 175,000 people wanting to access social and affordable housing. That's a large number which could mean up to a 10 year waiting period, or longer. I know for a fact that, in my electorate of Fowler, the high cost of housing forces low-income families to sometimes make difficult choices between housing, renting, food and health care.

But housing development goes beyond just funding. No matter how much money you throw at the problem, you will not fix it. We need to address the construction costs—which, as I said, have gone up—workforce shortages, bureaucratic red tape for DA and planning approvals across local governments. We need to make sure these different levels of government work together to ensure a faster process to get property development happening. Therefore it's imperative that we work together. We must engage every level of the community to promote better housing outcomes.

There's so much more that needs to be done, starting with a commitment to increase a real and sustainable investment in social and affordable housing, by working with community housing providers, developers, investors and the building industry. Social housing and affordable housing is critical, especially for families in migrant and refugee communities, and, as the member for Indi said, for regional communities as well. We need to ensure that there is targeted funding so that these communities can have a starting point for people such as my family and my mother.

5:27 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the excellent member for Higgins for this excellent motion. The Albanese government, our government, understands that Australians are facing serious housing shortages all around the country. We are also focused on addressing the economic situation that we've inherited, including the rising cost of living. We want every Australian to have the security of a roof over their head, but it is true that a decade of little action by the former coalition government has left us with significant challenges across the nation. That's why an ambitious housing agenda, such as the one we've got, is needed.

All jurisdictions—including Tasmania, where there's a Liberal government—have now agreed to a $3 billion new-homes bonus to extend the National Housing Accord target to 1.2 million new homes over five years. So that's an additional 200,000 new homes above the target that was agreed by all states and territories last year. This target will be implemented through the housing support program which is a $500 million competitive funding program for local and state governments to kickstart that housing supply. In June, we announced a further $2 billion in new money to build more social housing rentals over the next two years. This is the most significant housing reform in a generation.

The Albanese government understands safe and affordable housing is central to the dignity of Australians. Far too many Australians are being hit by growing rents, far too many Australians are finding it too difficult to buy a home and, sadly, far too many Australians are facing or experiencing homelessness. We have now reintroduced legislation to establish the HAFF, the Housing Australia Future Fund, which will provide a sustainable and ongoing funding stream to build the social and affordable homes that Australians need. This legislation is supported by every member of this House, save for most of those in the Liberal and National parties and the Greens political party. Thank you to those members of the crossbench who supported this legislation. This fund will help deliver the ambitious target we took to the last election to build 30,000 new social and affordable homes within the first five years. Importantly, we will make sure these homes are fairly and equitably spread, including in regional and remote Australia.

The HAFF builds on our other initiatives, such as the National Housing Accord, which will deliver 10,000 affordable homes in the five year from 2024, matched by the states with another 10,000 homes. The expansion of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility will release an additional $575 million for more social and affordable homes right now. In addition, the Social Housing Accelerator provides $2 billion to build up to 4,000 new social rentals in the next two years.

Over the past decade, the proportion of social housing in Australia has fallen from 4.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent of all housing stock. At the exact time that we needed more social housing, those opposite have left our nation with less social housing. We are committed to turning this around.

In the time remaining, I want to pay tribute to some organisations that are helping Territorians in my electorate and throughout the Northern Territory to find affordable housing. Champions of the sector, like CatholicCare and Anglicare, are providing invaluable work in the NT. For renters, it's a dire situation. There is a three per cent vacancy rate. In my electorate, there is a less than one per cent vacancy rate in Darwin and Palmerston. This obviously hits people on low incomes especially hard, because few of these rentals are actually affordable.

I also acknowledge NT Shelter and its important work, and, of course, Vinnies, the St Vincent de Paul Society, for their proposal to build some interim accommodation on Crown land in Darwin, and also a proposal for more affordable housing on Westralia Street in Stuart Park. We are also committed to helping veterans at risk of homelessness and all homeless veterans through the Scott Palmer Services Centre in Darwin. That is really important.

5:32 pm

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this motion brought by the member for Higgins, and I thank her for bringing this motion. I don't agree with a lot of the parts of the motion, but it concerns housing affordability. Housing costs at the moment are a key driver of the cost-of-living crisis facing Australians under this Albanese Labor government. High inflation is pushing up rents and pushing up mortgage repayments, because the RBA has been left to do all the heavy lifting on getting inflation down—whether it be the 12 interest rate rises that have seen the average Australian mortgage holder now pay $22,000 more per year than they were paying under the former coalition government, or whether it be that the average Australian renter is now playing 11½ per cent more than they were last year. To put it this way, in my electorate of Hughes the average rent on an apartment is $700 per week. If those renters were paying $700 last year, they are now paying $780 per week at least.

The motion speaks of safe and affordable housing being central to the safety and dignity of all Australians, and that is certainly the part of this motion that I do agree with. But there are some glaring silences in this motion. The member for Indi pointed it out when she said there is nothing here for the regions. It's also completely silent about incentivising private homeownership. When more Australians own their own homes, over decades and decades it has been proven that our economy is stronger. Private homeownership is a glaring omission from this government's housing policy.

Housing is unaffordable in this country because of a lack of housing stock—insufficient supply to meet demand. It's basic economics. I have spoken before in this place about the federal government incentivising state and local governments to bring about planning reforms, to cut the red tape and delays in rezoning and development applications. Before I came to this place I worked in and around the planning and environmental law jurisdictions of New South Wales. I worked in the private sector and also in the public sector.

This motion speaks of a government with an ambitious housing agenda. But ambition in and of itself is not enough. As said by Macbeth, vaulting ambition which overleaps itself and falls on the other; in other words, it is all very well for the Albanese Labor government to have ambition towards its housing policy, but, after 16 months, its housing policy has not delivered a single house. Its policy has fallen on its face. Today we've heard it has now signed up to some cosy deal to appease the Greens to get support for its troubled Housing Australia Future Fund.

What are some of the other components of this so-called ambitious housing policy? Let's look at the $2 billion accelerator fund. This was a panicked announcement payable to the states and territories on 17 June. On the face of it, it sounds very good: 'Let's incentivise state and local governments.' I agree with that. However, this fund has provided no detail as to where these houses will be located, when they will be built or who will build them. It'll do nothing for renters in the private market and nothing for Australians trying to purchase their first home. Treasury officials have confirmed that these payments, $2 billion worth, to the states and territories were not linked to any requirement to reform planning or zoning, development regulations or productivity. In other words, this is simply a blank cheque being given to the states: 'Please, you try and fix it, states, because we don't know how to as the federal Labor government.' Treasury officials confirmed that the money has been committed without even a requirement for the states and territories to nominate how many houses will be built, despite the Prime Minister saying last week there would be thousands in the coming years.

I heard the housing minister say originally there were going to be a million new homes built. I will pretty well guarantee that this will not deliver one single new house. If Labor really wanted to help Australians with their housing costs, they would look at what they could do to incentivise private homeownership. They would look at housing in the way it should be. Housing is a continuum. We get more people into private homeownership and private renters into their own homes, and then everyone can move up the housing continuum. It allows far more money to then be available for social and other affordable housing.

This is going to be a failure. The motion was probably brought with the best of intentions but it has no real deliverables.

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.