House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024


Regional Housing

7:30 pm

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

Last Friday, I attended the National Regional Housing Summit, held at Old Parliament House, here in Canberra. The event, organised by the Regional Australia Institute, brought together leading voices on the housing crisis from across regional, rural and remote Australia. I thank the Regional Australia Institute very much for their leadership in doing this.

As a regional Independent, I was inspired to hear from like-minded people and organisations, who are telling the federal and state governments to do better on regional housing. That's because regional Australia is in a housing crisis. Across the country, prices are higher than they've ever been, availability is at its lowest in decades and new builds are taking longer to complete. For so many families across regional Australia, interest rate rises and rent rises are making balancing the family budget harder than they've ever experienced. And, sadly, homelessness is on the rise across regional Australia and being seen in places we've never seen it before.

It was with these challenges front of mind that representatives spanning the sectors of real estate, finance, construction, planning and government from across the country attended this National Regional Housing Summit. They were ready to have frank discussions and, importantly, though, propose bold solutions. I was pleased to hear from the Real Estate Institute of Australia, the Master Builders Association and the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, to name but some—all key players in solving this housing crisis.

What I heard throughout the day was that the key to solving the housing crisis in regional, rural and remote Australia is to increase supply. We need to increase affordable housing located close to jobs, schools and public transport. We also need more housing of a diverse nature, including medium-density housing. No, I'm not talking about building high-rises in regional towns, but we must move away from the default that the ideal house in a regional area is on a quarter-acre block with four bedrooms. The regions are trying to attract more essential workers—workers in aged care and child care, teachers, doctors, nurses and allied health—and often these people are looking for two- or maybe three-bedroom units, and they simply don't exist in the numbers that we need.

At the summit, there was a distinct feeling in the room that the government has a blind spot when it comes to fixing the unique challenges of housing in regional Australia. The $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund—the government's signature housing policy—completely ignored the specific problems in regional, rural and remote Australia and failed to guarantee dedicated funding. I tried to amend the HAFF bill and the HAFF investment mandate to fix this, but the government refused. I then introduced my Unlocking Regional Housing Bill to the parliament. My bill would make funding for critical enabling infrastructure easier to access and would encourage the minister to secure at least 30 per cent of housing funding for regional Australia—proportionate to our population. The Unlocking Regional Housing Bill might not have passed in 2023, but I want to say: I'm not done yet. We need to see regional Australia receive its fair share of funding for housing, and I'll keep pushing the government to do more. I'm willing to work with members of this parliament from all parties to make progress.

I was encouraged to hear the shadow minister for housing, the member for Deakin, speak on Friday about the Commonwealth's crucial role in helping local councils fund the enabling infrastructure that is key to fixing housing supply issues. Without upgrades to sewerage, drainage, footpaths, power, pavements and poles, local governments and developers simply can't build the housing we need in regional Australia. Without investing in this critical groundwork, the dial won't shift. The government and opposition should support my calls for a $2 billion regional housing infrastructure fund. The government's $500 million Housing Support Program for critical enabling infrastructure is a start, but it doesn't touch the sides to meet regional Australians' needs. The people in the know—the builders, local governments and community housing providers—back in my solutions, and I call on the government to get behind this. Some delegates called for dedicated and increased funding for regional local governments for critically enabling infrastructure that guarantees that the HAFF funding will be invested in the regions.

Fixing the housing crisis will take the coordination of multiple levels of government, industry and community groups. But inaction isn't an option, because regional Australians, who feel they will never have a stable place to live, deserve more.