House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment (Unlocking Regional Housing) Bill 2023; Second Reading

10:04 am

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Housing is one of the most important issues facing my electorate of Indi.

A stable, safe, comfortable place to call home should be available to everyone.

Yet we know that too many Australians are struggling to find a home to rent or to buy right now, facing rent increases and high interest rates.

Regional, rural and remote Australians are not immune from this crisis. But we are often ignored in the debate about measures to improve supply. There are multiple policy solutions on offer from the government but not one of them specifically targets the context of rural, regional or remote Australia.

This bill, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment (Unlocking Regional Housing) Bill 2023, would kickstart housing supply in regional Australia. It offers solutions on how to equitably and practically fund more houses in regional, rural and remote areas by addressing a major handbrake that rural communities face when creating new places to live. That handbrake is the infrastructure that supports creating new dwellings before you even get to the front door—sewerage, water, power, pavements.

Testimonials and data

This is what the housing supply crisis looks like in regional Australia.

National campaign Everybody's Home found that essential workers in north-east Victoria spend, on average, 44 per cent of their income on rent. The threshold for rental stress is when you spend 30 per cent of your income on rent. In many, many regional towns, rental vacancies are often below one per cent. It's why we are seeing for the first time dozens of people living in tents in forests and by the rivers.

I'm constantly hearing from businesses in towns about how hard it is to find accommodation for their workers. The workers in our hospitality venues, factories and health services often can't afford the rental prices. Major employers are scaling back operations because of staff shortages associated with the lack of housing. Even locum doctors to the smaller towns without GPs simply can't find a house to rent.

It's clear we must urgently do more to unlock housing supply in regional Australia, and in doing that we need to understand one of the reasons holding back that supply is that, as the people have come, the services that support that growth simply have not kept up. This bill seeks to address that part of the problem.

This bill amends the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Act. The NHFIC, set up under the act, administers the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, the NHIF. The NHIF is a $1 billion fund set up in 2018 to fund housing-enabling infrastructure, like sewerage, water, electricity, and roads.

But the NHIF has fallen significantly short of achieving its aims.

A 2021 statutory review found the NHIF has been 'difficult to access and was poorly understood'. Not one local council has successfully applied for NHIF funding to deliver housing-enabling infrastructure.

Most importantly, the NHIF has not delivered equitable funding for regional Australia, with annual reports showing an overwhelming majority of projects in the metropolitan areas.

I have raised these issues with NHFIC itself. And I'm grateful to the CEO, Nathan Dal Bon, for accepting my invitation to visit Indi and hear directly from our local governments.

I've also taken these issues directly to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing. They've started to listen to me by announcing a $500 million Housing Support Program, to connect essential services and amenities for new housing developments. But $500 million is not nearly enough, and none of it is guaranteed for regional Australia.

This bill addresses this gap, so that NHFIC can specifically and equitably distribute its funds to regional, rural and remote Australia.

First, the bill adds an object of NHFIC to provide funding for housing-enabling infrastructure in regional, rural and remote areas.

Second, the bill requires the minister to scrutinise what action needs to be taken so that the NHFIC distributes at least 30 per cent of its funds each year to projects in regional, rural or remote areas.

With almost 30 per cent of the population living outside a major city, regional Australians deserve their fair share of housing funding.

Third, the bill clarifies that local governments and utility providers can receive NHFIC funding, and requires NHFIC to be more proactive in identifying where this funding should go.

Fourth, the bill requires regional housing expertise on the NHFIC board. If decision-makers have specific knowledge about the unique housing needs in regional Australia, there are better outcomes for regional Australia.

Fifth, the bill requires NHFIC to include in their annual reports how NHFIC's funding was distributed amongst the states and territories, local councils, and regional, rural and remote areas. Right now, we don't know exactly how NHFIC funding is being spent. NHFIC must be transparent about where NHFIC funding is going, so we know if it's going to the right places.

I've spoken to local councils, community housing providers, not-for-profits, and organisations like the Regional Australia Institute, the Real Estate Institute of Australia and the National Farmers Federation about this bill, and I thank them for their valuable input and their support.

Back in February I supported the government's Housing Australia Future Fund bills, the government's signature policy to address the housing crisis. I attempted to amend these bills in a similar way that this bill amends the NHFIC Act today.

But the HAFF bills are at a political stalemate with no guarantee on their future.

I acknowledge the government has made multiple funding announcements for housing supply in recent months, but not one of these is dedicated to regional, rural and remote Australia. There is a blind spot that I am seeking to fix.

We need action now, and that's why I'm introducing this bill. The housing crisis in regional, rural and remote areas cannot wait any longer, and I urge the government to get behind me and back this bill.

I commend the bill to the House, and I cede the rest of my time to the member for Calare.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:10 am

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I rise in support of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment (Unlocking Regional Housing) Bill 2023, which amends the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Act 2018. I commend the member for Indi for bringing this very important bill to this House. The reality is that, despite the farm-fresh air, homegrown produce and relaxed way of life, the further away you live from the city, the more likely you are to miss out on the essentials, and that includes housing. That's the cold, hard truth. That's why I am strongly backing in the member for Indi's bill today.

The Central West of New South Wales is a wonderful place to live, so much so that we are seeing year on year growth to our population and the great tree change still in full force. But with a rising population there comes rising pressure on housing, health care and essentials. Something must be done to ease this pain and ease this pressure. Constituents of the Calare electorate are frequently contacting me to indicate just how difficult it is to find a place to live in our area, or with innovative proposals to address the housing crisis. For example, the population of Bathurst is expected to grow by 30 per cent to 2041. Our time to act is now. Our constituents want these innovative solutions, and they need help on the double.

In a recent report completed by Shelter NSW, it was determined that 31 per cent of low-income households in the Cabonne area in my electorate are experiencing mortgage stress, while 42 per cent are experiencing rental stress. In Orange, 61 per cent of low-income households are experiencing rental stress and 39 per cent are experiencing mortgage stress. With the rising cost of living, these statistics are only going to get worse. The people of regional Australia need help, and your postcode or socioeconomic status should not determine whether you have access to safe, secure and affordable housing. Time and again, those in our region feel like being west of the Great Dividing Range means they will be forgotten—just look at the recent response to natural disasters in our area and you'll understand why. The member for Indi's proposal to ensure that the National Housing Infrastructure Facility distributes at least 30 per cent of its funds to regional, rural and remote Australia, which is in line with the population of our regions, is a very important step forward.

It's important to recognise that additional funding and support for homeowners and affordable housing is one important step in providing a roof over people's heads, but the other important element is ensuring that local governments are adequately resourced. Councils like Cabonne Council in my electorate have unfortunately worn the impact of a natural disaster spanning many towns, and their bank accounts are looking much more worse for wear. As with many country councils with a small ratepayer base and significant increases in anticipated population, both councils and residents alike need assistance and funds to provide enabling infrastructure like sewerage, water, electricity, transportation and roads. A solution for this problem is proposed in the member for Indi's bill today.

I'm proud to support the member for Indi's bill. The people of regional Australia need their voices heard and their needs met, just like their city counterparts do. It's proposals like this one here today before us that bring us one step closer to bridging that great divide between cities and regional Australia. I commend to bill the House. (Time expired)

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next setting.