House debates

Thursday, 15 February 2024


Help to Buy Bill 2023, Help to Buy (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2023; Second Reading

11:03 am

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

With this bill, the Help to Buy Bill 2023, we have a good opportunity to do a bit of a stocktake of where housing policy sits in Australia at present and to give an explanation as to why the coalition, consistent with our position before the election, will be opposing this bill. Here we've got a promise that was taken to the 2022 election by the Labor Party. It was promised that this shared equity scheme would commence on 1 January 2023. We're now into February 2024, and this bill is just arriving in the House.

The first point to make here is: what on earth has the housing minister been doing? What on earth has this government been doing in being so slow and in breaching an election commitment? That's another broken promise from this government, who said they'd have this scheme up and running by 1 January 2023. In order to have a scheme like this in operation by 1 January 2023, they really needed to have introduced this bill into the parliament in late 2022. It was nearly 18 months before this thing even ended up in the House. Australians around the country are within their right to say to a minister like the housing minister, 'You get paid very handsomely to do some work, and you're given responsibilities to actually deliver on your commitments.' The fact that this is just arriving in the House more than a year after it should have commenced is an absolute indictment on this minister and is yet another reason why the Prime Minister needs to move this housing minister on.

In this country right now, we have housing approvals and builds at record lows, and homebuyers are at their lowest levels since the Gillard government. We've got rents skyrocketing, vacancy rates at record lows and record migration. At a time when fewer homes are being built and being approved and it's tougher to find a rental, you're dealing with rental increases, and you've got record migration. There were more than 520,000 migrants last year alone. That's an absolute world record in migration. We have absolutely nothing from the government on housing. What do we get? Eighteen months late, we get this pitiful offering here. In addition to a bill that I spoke about earlier this week in relation to vacancy fees, this is the sort of stuff you do when you want to be seen to be doing something, but you're doing nothing at all.

Let's be clear. This so-called Help to Buy scheme is a vanilla shared-equity product, where the government owns, in this case, up to 40 per cent of a home. There are shared-equity products offered by state governments throughout this country. If somebody in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or Western Australia wants to co-own a home with a government, there are already plenty of opportunities for them to do so. The South Australian scheme is a useful example of the point I'm about to make. There are more places than people wanting to take them. There are available places because people don't want these. People don't want to co-own a home with a government, so what did the geniuses on the other side do? They thought, 'Let's bring in our own shared-equity scheme, even though there's one operating in most states in this country and even though there are available places under the existing ones throughout this country.' It's clearly something you do when you want to be seen to be addressing the absolute housing crisis in the country, but you've got no idea on what to actually do. You'd think that, if you were 18 months late in bringing forward legislation like this—if your homework was 18 months late—you'd be looking at something that was in perfect condition and perfect order, with dotted Is, crossed Ts, every single question answered and every single eventuality considered. But what have we got here? This is the most half-hearted offering in a bill that I have seen in a very long time, and I'll explain why. Again, you'd think that every single question would be answered. You'd think, whether you were the opposition or the Greens political party asking question of the government, that, if they were 18 months late, that means they were really working on all the detail.

Here we've got a shell of a bill and we've got a range of things that are not answered. And I'm not talking about minor details around the edges, I'm talking about the following things, and I'm talking, in some respects, to the Australians in the gallery right now. These are not technical questions, but these are the questions that this bill does not answer, believe it or not, after being 18 months late. What are the scheme's eligibility criteria? Who is eligible to apply? Now, you'd think the bill would want to make that pretty clear. You'd think the bill would want to tell Australians, 'This is who is eligible to apply for this scheme.'

Now, I assume that you've got to be a first home buyer. That's an assumption I'd make; it's an assumption I have to make. What happens if you make improvements to your home? Let's just go back to what a shared equity product is. The government owns a portion of your home. The Prime Minister's sitting at your kitchen table because he owns 40 per cent of your home. What happens if you've got a $5,000 repair to the roof? The roof's leaking. We've all been there. A big storm comes through and you think, 'Oh, damn, I've got a leak in the roof.' Who picks up the tab for that? Well, there's no answers in this bill.

If the government owns 40 per cent of your home, shouldn't they pick up 40 per cent of the bill? If you've got to go to Bunnings and spend $300 on paint and wood because you've got to repair something, do you send an invoice to the government and say, 'You own 40 per cent of my house therefore you've got to pick up 40 per cent of the Bunnings bill I've just paid.' We don't have any answers to those questions.

We were told, during the election, there would be income caps for eligibility. We were told that it would mirror some of the income caps in other legislative schemes. So we assume that this scheme will apply to people who earn up to $90,000 a year, for example, or for couples who earn up to $120,000 a year. A question that we have repeatedly put to the government is what happens if you've got two people—they earn $120,000 a year; $60,000 each—who enter into one of these shared equity products with the government and one or both of them get a pay rise? You come home, you're very happy: 'I've just been given a pay rise. I've gone from $60,000 to $65,000.' All of a sudden, they're over the $120,000 cap of the eligibility criteria. We keep asking the government will they then cease to be eligible for this scheme and will you pull the rug out from under them? Will you sell the home from under them, the 40 per cent that you own as a government?

You'd expect the government would say: 'Absolutely not. We've worked on the criteria. We're not going to do that to people.' Instead, the government says, 'We're going to look at that on a case-by-case basis.' So this should not be called the Help to Buy Scheme, it should be called the 'forced to sell scheme'. That's what it's going to be. This is going to end up in a position whereby if you get a pay rise—you're on a modest income but you get a pay rise and you're feeling happy about that, as you should—then the government can say, 'We want our 40 per cent, thank you very much.' Now you can understand why these schemes in each of the states has available places: people do not want to have the rug pulled from underneath them by a government, particularly one that says: 'Trust us. We'll deal with it on a case-by-case basis.'

I think Australians entering into something like this would say: 'No, we'd like that in black and white, thank you very much. We'd like an assurance that you're not going to sell it from underneath us, and an assurance that if I have to spend money on our home that we jointly own with you as the government, that you're going to pick up the tab.' Let's assume that everything goes really well. You end up buying a home with the government. You own 60 per cent; the government owns 40 per cent. You have wonderful news in your life: you're expecting a child, or you may be expecting your second or your third. You need to upgrade. You need to move home. The government, when you sell, will say: 'Thank you very much, we'll want our money back. We'll take our money back, thank you very much.' Good luck upgrading, because you've just had that 40 per cent ripped out of the proceeds of that home. There's no way you're upgrading to the next home if you enter into one of these agreements with the government. So you could be forced to sell, you could have the money taken off you and your opportunity to move into a next home will be next to nothing. You can understand why these things are not wanted by Australians at the moment.

There are available places in shared equity schemes around our country, so what did the geniuses opposite us think? 'Let's set up our own one of these at a cost to taxpayers of $5.5 billion.' The additional borrowing of the Commonwealth to fund this program is $5.5 billion. We say there are infinitely better ways of spending $5.5 billion than making people enter into these very dubious arrangements, that are very small and that many Australians don't want.

Further questions that aren't answered in this bill—a bill that's 18 months late, homework that's 18 months late—include will the ATO be auditing people's incomes? If you've got income thresholds, will the ATO be auditing you each year to determine whether they're going to pull the rug from underneath you and sell the house? 'Sorry, you earned a dollar more than the threshold, so call the real estate agent. You've got to sell.' We don't have answers for that. What are the reporting obligations?

What happens if you fall behind in your mortgage payments? We've seen, increasingly, families and people dealing with the crippling interest rate rises delivered to us by this Labor government. An average Australian family with a mortgage is paying $24,000 more, thanks to this Labor government. That's $24,000 after tax. You've got to earn a lot of money in order to be making those payments. Many people and families are struggling under those increased mortgage payments, so what happens if you fall behind in your payments? Is that when the government comes along and rips the rug from underneath you and says: 'Thank you very much. We've really enjoyed this. Now it's time for you to sell, and we'll take our 40 per cent back, thank you very much.' You'd think that the answers to that would be in this bill. You'd think the Minister for Housing would have done some work for 18 months and given people some answers. We don't have those answers in the bill.

What are the property price caps? Not only are there income caps but there are property price caps. What are they? How can the government not outline in this bill what the property price caps are? Let's just say you're one of those people—and there aren't many around this country—who wants to own a home with the government. What if you are and you're watching today and you think: 'I want to get a sense of whether I'm eligible. I don't know what the income caps are, so I'm a bit in limbo there. I don't even know what the property price caps are in this bill.'

What on earth are we voting on? What's the point of having this shell of a bill in front of us? The housing minister is sitting in a foetal position in her office with absolutely no idea of what to do with the housing crisis that is befalling this country. No answers, no idea. They want us to come in here and support the bill and to support this scheme—a blank cheque for $5½ billion—so the government can force people to sell homes.

What lenders are participating in the scheme? We've got no idea. Who are the lenders? Who do I go and borrow from? Are there going to be restrictions on who I can borrow from, in conjunction with owning a home with a government. None of these questions are answered.

If I was a prospective buyer, I would draw a couple of conclusions. These questions are not answered in the bill because (a) the government doesn't know what the answers are, which is very possible, or (b) they don't want you to know what the answers are because if you knew what the answers were you would never do this. 'We're not going to sell from underneath you,' the government says, 'but we'll look at it on a case-by-case basis. Trust us. If you get a pay rise next week and you're no longer eligible under the income caps, we promise you we're not going to sell your home from underneath you.' This is not help to buy; this is going to be forced to sell. That's the truth. This will be a forced-to-sell scheme.

The bigger concern here is this: this is the government waving the white flag on home ownership in this country. In 20 months of a Labor government, we have seen nothing on first home buyers. This is the first salvo. The only thing the government can do is talk about the highly successful coalition government programs that are still helping first home buyers such as the Home Guarantee Scheme, which enables people to buy a home with a five per cent deposit or single parents with a two per cent deposit, which I put in place as minister, which we took to the 2019 election.

To put it into some context—I don't want to just do a victory lap but I will—I delivered that Home Guarantee Scheme on 1 January 2020, just a little more than six months after the 2019 election. So I know what it takes to take an election commitment and to have a functioning scheme six months later. On 1 January 2020, our Home Guarantee Scheme started. It started off with Kristina Keneally from the Labor Party criticising the program when we first announced it to now it supporting one in three first home buyers. One in three first home buyers now utilise the coalition's Home Guarantee Scheme. Now, credit to the government, they have welcomed that life raft that we have given them because it's the only thing helping first home buyers now. So they didn't come in and repeal the scheme, which many people wondered if they would. But even they saw how wonderful that coalition policy was and how it's making a tang able difference in people's lives.

The first Home Super Saver Scheme enables people to increase their savings rate through super. The member for McMahon, when I first introduced it as Assistant Minister to the Treasurer in 2017, bucketed the first Home Super Saver Scheme and said, 'We'll repeal it in government.' Well, again, credit to the government, they haven't repealed it. They saw the light. They saw that another landmark coalition policy was tangibly helping people get into their first home.

They should also see the light on the policy we took to the last election to enable first home buyers access to their own superannuation to help them fund a deposit for their first home. Our policy which we took to the election said that if you're a first home buyer you can withdraw up to $50,000 of your own super, use that to contribute a deposit to own a home and then, when you sell the first home, which on average is seven years later in Australia—most people hold their first home in Australia on average for seven years—you're required to recontribute back into your super. So your money's worked for you for the time you needed it when you needed that deposit and then, when you sell the home and move into your next one, you recontribute it to the super, so you're retirement income is protected. You have your money working for you.

The Labor Party could never support that because the industry super funds tell the Labor Party what to do. I say to the members opposite: why be here if you can't exercise any of your own judgement, if you just have to do what the unions tell you? You're just a vessel for the unions. You might agree with them on a lot of things but surely there are times when they tell you to do something you don't agree with and, like a lemming, you walk off the cliff and go with them. That's clearly a policy where they've done that. How anyone could argue against first home buyers utilising their own super to help buy their own home and then requiring them to recontribute it at the end is a bad thing for first home buyers is beyond me. But this is all broader context in which this bill falls, because we have legacy coalition policies that are helping first home buyers, but in 20 months we have seen nothing from this government.

My message to the housing minister and to the government is: as good as the policies are that you've inherited, when you're a minister you have to deal with the issues of the day. You have to deal with the problems that come across your desk. I say with some jest but cloaked in seriousness that the minister is sitting in her office in the foetal position with absolutely no idea on what to do while the entire housing market is crumbling around her. Approvals are down. New home builds are down. First home buyers are at their lowest levels since the Gillard government. Rents are skyrocketing. As for vacancy rates, trying to find a rental is extraordinarily tough. Our ability to build homes is being weakened by the day because we have insolvency after insolvency in the sector. And what do we get from the government? We get this pitiful shell of a bill with no answers to the questions in front of us. It's not good enough.

As I began with, the minister is handsomely remunerated to do things, to actually do some work. I know schoolteachers around the place who, if homework were handed in 18 months late and looking like this, would be disgusted. What are the eligibility criteria? How much can the home I'm allowed to buy be worth? How do we deal with improvements to the property? Come on, government, you own 40 per cent of it; are you going to pick up the tab for some of it? I think we know, because of the silence in the bill, that the answer is: 'We'll own 40 per cent of it, but all the risk is yours. We'll own 40 per cent of it, and, if you get a pay rise or promotion at work, we could come in the next day, on a case-by-case basis, and force you to sell.'

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Empty scare campaigns.

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

I'll take the interjection. Apparently it's a 'scare campaign'. Having basic information in the bill is not a scare campaign. Am I eligible to apply for this scheme? How on earth can that be a scare campaign? How much am I allowed to earn in order to apply for this scheme? How much can the home I'm allowed to buy be worth? Who's going to pay for the improvements? When are you going to force me to sell? At what point will you send me a letter in the mail saying, 'We are selling our 40 per cent whether you like it or not'? The truth is that there aren't particularly adequate answers to any of those questions.

That's why—to go back to where I commenced—there are shared equity schemes around this country that have available places. If you are someone who wants to own a home with a government—and I suspect most people are pretty agnostic as to whether it's a state government or the federal government that they own it with—you have access to a shared equity scheme right now. What did the geniuses do? They thought, 'We'll make some more places in a shared equity product that people already don't want, because there are available places all around the country.'

I'll finish with this, because it highlights the chaotic, dysfunctional nature of the housing agenda of this government. They went to the election saying: 'We're going to bring in a shared equity product. We're going to call it Help to Buy'. It's now going to be known as 'Forced to Sell'. That's what people out there will know this scheme as. But what they didn't tell the Australian people was: 'We've got no constitutional power to implement a shared equity scheme.' This thing, even if it passes this parliament, is not effective until the state parliaments pass legislation themselves. They didn't go to the election saying, 'We're going to implement a scheme that requires state approval'; they said, 'We're going to do this scheme.' Again, I imagine that the minister and the government had absolutely no idea about the constitutional limitations on this. I don't think, quite frankly, any state government is going to deny this scheme, because the state governments will be looking at it and thinking, 'If the feds are going to stump up $5½ billion for their own shared equity scheme, that's a little less that we've got to spend for ours.' They'll say, 'So, by all means, you guys do it.' I suspect that's right, but what an embarrassment that nowhere in the detail, or the fine print, of their election commitment did we hear 'terms and conditions subject to approval from state parliaments'. As a former housing minister, I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would be embarrassed if you were in that position. You would feel shy about walking into this chamber with an election commitment that you'd promised—18 months late—and saying to the parliament, 'By the way, even if this thing passes, even if we all sing "Kumbaya" and pass this bill, it won't be effective until other parliaments around this country approve it. We, the Commonwealth parliament, are waiting on and relying on the approval of state parliaments before this federal government election policy can be implemented.'

To some extent, it's getting into the legal weeds of it, but it just highlights the inability of this minister to manage a really difficult portfolio. I again encourage the Prime Minister to move her on and put somebody in there that has some ideas—just some ideas. You can't just sit in your office, twiddling your thumbs thinking this is all a bit too hard, and bring in a bill 18 months late with no answers and no clarity or certainty for Australians. You can't do that in good conscience.

For all of those reasons I reiterate that, as we said before the election, we do not support this bill. We do not support this half-hearted attempt at being seen to have any concern for Australia's housing market. It shouldn't be called the Help to Buy Bill; it should be called the 'Forced to Sell Bill'—that's what this will end up being. We in good conscious will not support it.

We also invite the minister to come into the chamber and give us some clarity on the series of questions that I've asked. Before you ask anyone to vote on it, provide some clarity. What are the eligibility criteria? I know that's crazy! I know I'm asking a lot! Who's eligible to apply for this thing? What happens if you make improvements to your home? What happens if you co-own the home with the government and you go out and make a whole lot of improvements? Do you send the government an invoice for their share or not? What are the income thresholds? That is the first question. Once you tell us the answer to that, tell us: What happens if I get a pay rise and start earning more? Do you pull the rug out from underneath me at that time? It won't be good enough to say, 'We'll deal with it on a case-by-case basis.' In black and white: What happens? What's the contract? What's the certainty that I have?

Will the ATO be auditing these individuals on a yearly basis to make sure they continue to be eligible? What are your reporting obligations? What if I fall behind on my mortgage? What if I want to refinance my mortgage? If I am with a bank that jacks up my rates, can I remortgage? Am I allowed to remortgage if I've entered into one of these with you? What are the property price caps? How much is the house that I'm entitled to buy? What are the available places in each state and territory? Is it first in, best dressed or are there some other criteria? This is stuff that should be in the bill, particularly for a bill that's not been rushed to this House—a bill that has come in at a very leisurely pace, 18 months late.

I reiterate that we won't be supporting this half-hearted attempt, and we will listen very carefully and wait intently for the minister to come into this House and make clear to the parliament the answers to each and every one of those questions. No person in this House, including those opposite, can in good conscience vote for a bill without answers to each and every one of those questions. So we invite the minister and will provide the opportunity for her to do that, assuming she knows the answers—and I doubt that quite a lot. We won't be supporting this forced to sell scheme.

11:34 am

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think that, if we were to do a word search on the previous speech, probably the most common phrase would be 'I reiterate'. It really was a brief scare campaign on autoloop and didn't go to the heart of this issue and the complexity of the homeownership challenge that this nation faces.

I want to spend a couple of minutes touching on homeownership, because that is of course one of the great macroeconomic challenges that this nation faces and that has been evolving over decades. It's not just a macroeconomic changes, though; it's a social challenge. It affects the electorates of every member of this place, including my own, including the previous speaker's and including the electorate of every other speaker who will contribute to the discussion on this bill.

But in addition to being a great macroeconomic and all-of-society challenge it is also the most personal of issues, because our home is the place where we live with our partner, where we live our own life, where we raise a family. It's a place where we want, under that roof, to have great security and certainty. So homeownership is, at the same time, an incredibly personal issue for so many people in all our electorates. And it's at the same time an incredibly multidimensional macroeconomic and social challenge.

I'll just touch on a couple of dimensions of the macroeconomic side of it. One is that homeownership has been trending down over the past couple of decades. One can look at homeownership tracking down from 70 per cent to 67 per cent, roughly, between the 2006 census and the 2021 census. What's even more startling than that aggregate decline is what we see when we look at generational cohorts. ABS data that was released in 2022 shows that 55 per cent of millennials—25- to 39-year-olds—had achieved homeownership, 62 per cent of gen-Xers and 66 per cent of baby boomers, at the same age. So, that wasn't at a given point in time; it was the same age. We're seeing in the ABS data that homeownership rates are falling markedly across generations over time. That is one of the things I wanted to point out, because that is something this bill directly addresses.

The second point I want to make is that in addition to that falling rate of homeownership across generations we have some structural changes that are occurring over decades—30 or 40 years or more—in our housing market. One of those is the rising ratio of house prices to disposable income. Over the past 30 years or so we've seen that ratio rise from around 2.5 to 5.5. Of course, there all sorts of reasons for that. Changes in our financial markets have meant increasing access to granular information and increasing willingness on the part of financial institutions to lend at higher ratios. And lower structural global interest rates over decades have meant that banks are willing to lend at higher household-to-income ratios. But of course that means households are having to come up with much higher deposits as a rate of their income. So, that's a second dimension of the longer-term change in this housing market that I think is important to note. Thirdly, I think it is important to note that Australia has some of the highest absolute values of housing prices as well as the highest ratios of house price to disposable income in the world.

Those are a few characteristics of the long-term nature of this challenge that I think are important to put out there right from the start, because they go to the specific nature of this program and how it fits in with the government's overall approach to housing affordability.

Another thing I want to talk about is that this is, from an economic perspective, a challenge with both a supply side and a demand side. On the supply side there are a number of aspects to the housing affordability issue. One is issues relating to land release. Another relates to materials availability, which of course became an issue after COVID when supply chains had issues. Another relates to skills, and the government is dealing with that obviously through a whole range of measures, including fee-free TAFE. And another relates to funding and finance mechanisms, which tend to be very specific to particular areas of the housing market—for example, rent to buy or build to rent to buy. Those kinds of schemes have particular funding and financing needs, and those are things the government is looking at.

There's also a whole series of demand-side issues. One of those is that demand tends to be very uneven geographically. For example, demand might surge in particular areas where there are changes in employment opportunities or demand might decline in some areas where there's a decline in employment opportunities. Demand might surge in particular areas where migration demand increases. Sydney and Melbourne, for example, go through periods where that has an impact on their housing markets. There might just be lifestyle changes—for example, a sea change or a tree change. All of these things feed in on the demand side, but they're uneven, and that's something which the housing industry, but also policy settings, need to reflect.

Then there's security of work, and this is something this place has dealt with through a tranche of bills. This is a serious issue because insecure work is not just an issue for how people feel at their work and all of the consequences that can flow from not knowing whether you have secure hours from week to week or that your tenure at work is secure. The more people that have insecure work, the fewer people are going to be able to negotiate mortgages—long-term borrowing arrangements. That's something this House has dealt with through a range of IR bills, every single one of which those opposite have opposed.

Finally, on the demand side, is the deposit. The deposit becomes a huge barrier for some cohorts in particular, but it becomes a particular challenge for younger cohorts because they need time to save. The challenge with the deposit is that, if you're in a race to save the deposit against house prices that are increasing, it becomes a particular challenge. In some housing markets it can take up to a decade or more for the median household to save a deposit. This has become a particular issue. That dovetails with the issue that I talked about before of the ABS data showing that, from generation to generation, homeownership is declining for people of the same age.

This is a serious, complicated and multidimensional issue. Some aspects of this that are particularly noteworthy are that it's impacting younger cohorts and that on the demand side the deposit has become a particular barrier in some housing markets. Those factors warrant a particular response.

If you look at the government's overarching approach to housing affordability, we've put in place many programs which reflect that this is a multidimensional issue. The National Housing Accord sits over many of them. The National Housing Accord brings together the Commonwealth government, state and territory government and local government but also the building industry and the superannuation industry. It's a sensible and appropriate and much-needed way of bringing together all the strands of this policy and making sure that we are moving forward on all of those supply-side and demand-side challenges simultaneously.

There's also a series of very important programs: the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, the $3 billion new homes bonus, the $2 billion social housing accelerator—and I could go on. There are all these different important programs which are dealing with different segments of the market. Rental assistance has also been a very significant priority. This is an important part of the housing market because there are many people renting and they have needed additional assistance throughout the broader cost-of-living challenge that the community has faced.

What we see with this bill is that we are putting another important component in place of our overarching response to the housing affordability challenge. As I said earlier, this is an important piece because it deals with that cohort of people who are finding it a struggle to pull together the deposit, and that is a material issue for many households. So this is an important additional component to what's already a very comprehensive set of packages that this government has put in place—many of which have come through this place and, as I alluded to, many of which have been opposed by those opposite.

This is an important scheme that will support up to 40,000 Australian households to purchase a home of their own. The Commonwealth will provide an equity contribution to eligible participants for up to 40 per cent of the purchase price for new homes and up to 30 per cent for existing homes. Skewing it towards 40 per cent for new homes, again, provides an incentive for additional supply. Four times 10,000 new participants is a material contribution for a particular cohort that's in need. Those participating in this scheme will need as little as a two per cent deposit. This goes to the point that I was talking about before. This is a multidimensional challenge with supply and demand, but one of the key intergenerational challenges that we're facing is that there are many young households who have the capacity to service loans but are struggling in the race against increasing house prices to save the deposit. So as little as a two per cent deposit will enable households to participate.

The package has very sensible income limits. This is being targeted to those that need it the most. The limits are $90,000 for singles and $120,000 for couples. And there are price caps for each city and region, which, again, are tailored so that those people who need it most will get assistance, and they'll get assistance at the right level.

Public policy experts are lauding this scheme. The Grattan Institute has been very supportive of this shared equity scheme and said that it will level the playing field for homebuyers, particularly by giving those who are struggling to save a deposit that extra leg-up that they need. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has said that a shared equity scheme can transform people's lives. Public policy expert after public policy expert will say that this is an important component of the overarching response. This is not the only thing that we should be doing, and this government has been bringing to this place measure after measure throughout the last 18 months, but this is an important component that will help a cohort that is struggling.

Looking at my own electorate and looking at this in a very tangible and concrete way, my electorate is younger than the average, with a median age of 36, compared to the median age across Australia of 38. I talk to young people constantly. Many parts of my electorate are low socioeconomic or low or medium income, and they would be precisely the kinds of households that this bill is addressed at—households that are struggling to save a deposit. And, as I alluded to earlier, my electorate has a lower-than-average median family income. It's just under $1,900, compared to over $2,100 for Victoria and Australia. So it has precisely the cohorts that this measure is aimed at. Then again, if you look at median house prices across a number of the suburbs in Fraser, right around my electorate office, in St Albans it is $640,000, in Sunshine West it is $683,000, in Sunshine it is $802,000, and in Braybrook it is $730,000. So, for the median house in all of these suburbs around my electorate office where young families are looking to buy, they'll get a huge assistance in pulling together that deposit through this scheme.

The opposition has made some frankly highly irresponsible claims in that most recent contribution. The kinds of things that were alluded to will simply not be a part of this scheme. Of course there's some flexibility in the scheme for the ways in which people might pay off their loan over the course of their life. That's entirely appropriate. But people will be secure in their homes, and, importantly, people will be given the assistance to buy a home in situations where it would have been a real struggle if they were left to just having to save. We all know the difficulty. We all know people in our lives, young people in particular, who are struggling to pull together that deposit—people who could service a loan but can't get on the first rung of the homeownership ladder. This is an important component of the government's overarching response. It will help 40,000 households—40,000 families—and I very strongly commend it to the House.

11:49 am

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak to the Help to Buy Bill 2023. It's called 'help to buy', but this bill won't help many. It'll help only about 0.2 per cent of renters while leaving behind the other 99.8 per cent. This just does not address the enormity of the housing crisis.

Labor and the LNP have made it easier to buy your second home or your fifth home than your first. Investors do well. Everyday people get done over. Basically, how it works is this: Labor and the LNP have given huge tax breaks, incentives and concessions to investment property buyers, ensuring more people want to buy houses, massively driving up the price of housing for everyone and driving homeownership and affordable rentals further and further out of reach for all but the wealthy. Everyday people trying to buy their first home have to compete with increasingly wealthy investors, but they don't have the existing capital or the tax concessions to compete with them.

What are these tax cuts that Labor and the LNP are handing out like candy to investors? The first is negative gearing. That means an investor can claim all of the expenses associated with an investment property—and that includes interest payments, maintenance, insurance, body corporate fees and council rates—as tax deductions from their income. Particularly for those in the top tax bracket, paying 45 per cent tax on income over $180,000, this is a huge saving. Of course, first-home buyers have to cop all of those expenses themselves. They don't get to claim them off their tax. This dramatically affects how much they can actually afford to borrow.

But the rort doesn't stop there. There's a thing called capital gains tax, CGT. It's what you pay when you make a profit from buying and then selling an asset. Normally, you'd have to pay tax on this profit, just like any other income. But most investors can claim the capital gains tax discount, which reduces CGT by a whopping 50 per cent. That means that you pay less tax on asset inflation than you do on wages. That's absurd. First-home buyers, of course, don't benefit from this. They haven't sold a home before. As house prices rise because of these government tax breaks, buying houses just to sell to other investors with substantially discounted tax becomes a reason to buy in the first place. It directly incentivises overheating the property market, so, instead of a particular property becoming someone's family home, it becomes a speculative commodity for a wealthy investor. Here's an idea: instead of subsidising property investors and making it easy for them to outcompete first-home buyers, put that money into affordable and public homes for people who actually need a place to live. It seems like a no brainer to me.

Even the Productivity Commission thinks the Help to Buy Scheme is a bad idea, and this makes sense when you think about it. Of course, if you make it easy for some through, essentially, a lottery, it makes it harder for everyone else. If you're standing at an auction and the person next to you has access to this scheme and you don't, there is simply no way you're going to be able to outbid them—unless you're a property investor and have access to a whole range of tax concessions, of course, as I've already mentioned.

Here's a radical idea: what if we took the money we put into tax concessions for property investors and actually built some public housing? Actually, clearly, that's not radical. It's just common sense. Building public housing is something that even Australian governments used to do on a mass scale. Even under conservatives like Menzies, the federal government was building tens of thousands of dwellings a year. That's been whittled away over decades. Now the government barely builds any new public housing at all, and in many states numbers are going backwards as older housing units are privatised or demolished.

Of course, there's a reason for all of this. The money is there. Just with savings from scrapping tax concessions for property investors, we could build half a million homes over the next decade, for instance. But Labor and LNP governments just don't want to build public housing. They prefer to leave that job to the private market. Could this be because they are completely beholden to their donors the big banks and the property developers, who, of course, support endless exponential growth in house prices? It keeps earning them enormous profits.

I'll take that interjection. The Greens are actually supporting legislation that might be against their own personal interests and in the interests of real Australian people. The big banks and property developers support endless exponential growth in house prices. It keeps earning them enormous profits. Building public housing to actually house the Australians who desperately need it would eat into bank profits. Apparently, we can't have that, can we! Let's talk about those big banks and property developers.

All of Australia's big banks donate to both political parties—over $5 million to Labor and $6 million to LNP in the last decade. Labor and the LNP seem to be on a unity ticket to protect the interests of bankers—which, as I said, actually ensures house prices keep going up and up—by refusing to tax their enormous profits. They even protect some bankers who rip off customers from the appropriate legal consequences, like fines and prison times. Particularly for Labor, there are some familiar faces. I would use the word 'culprits'. Former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh is the head of the banking lobby. I'm not sure if there's a more stark illustration of the way power actually works in this country.

What do the banks get for their donations and connections? Absolutely mind-blowingly enormous profits earnt off the backs of ordinary Australians. We've just heard this morning Matt Comyn, Managing Director of the Commonwealth Bank, boasting about their half-yearly profit of $5 billion. That's a half year, not even a full year. Nobody disputes that these massive profits are, in large part, due to rising interest rates. Mortgage holders and renters are struggling with their bills, struggling to put food on the table and struggling to afford the dentist because of high interest rates. Those ridiculous bank profits are directly proportional to the suffering caused by rising interest rates and the cost-of-living crisis, and they go completely unchallenged by this government and the political establishment.

The government is essentially pulling a bait and switch on everyday people. They're giving peanuts to potential first home buyers, who've been shut out of the housing market due to skyrocketing interest rates, the soaring cost of living and wealthy investors artificially driving up property prices. But this government congratulates itself and pats itself on the back for this unconscionably bad policy that will ultimately make an already desperate housing crisis actually worse. Wealthy property investors flourish under this protection racket of negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks, while regular people bear the brunt of rising interest rates. In Queensland, nearly 40 per cent of property lending goes to investors, while first home buyers struggle to secure a measly 16 per cent. It's a similar story in New South Wales and Victoria. Investors get the lion's share of loans, larger amounts and tax breaks to offset their costs. And what do first home buyers get? They're left grappling with 13 consecutive interest rate hikes, soaring rates and no relief from the escalating cost of living.

We are witnessing the lowest rates of homeownership in 70 years, and, instead of looking after people trying to purchase a home for their family, the government is doling out favours to wealthy investors, fuelling the housing crisis.

11:58 am

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

It's really good to hear from the Greens political party that they're suddenly in favour of public housing since they delayed the HAFF, which delayed building social housing. Now they're threatening to do the same with the Help to Buy Bill 2023. They run petitions against social housing in their own electorates. I'd encourage them to actually back housing strategies, instead of just talking about it and campaigning about it. Labor, on the other hand, actually has a range of strategies, because the housing and homelessness market is a very complex thing. No one strategy is going to fix it. We have a raft of strategies, and that's what's important.

Labor took the Help to Buy policy to the 2022 election as one of our election commitments. As someone who has actually worked in the housing and homelessness sectors, I talked about it extensively. The Help to Buy Bill 2023 and the Help to Buy (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2023 give effect to this commitment and provide for Housing Australia to administer the Help to Buy scheme, supported by a referral power from the states. States will be required to pass legislation for the scheme to operate in their jurisdictions. The territories don't require this. All states agreed at the National Cabinet in August to progress legislation, so the scheme will run nationally.

The Help to Buy shared-equity scheme will support up to 40,000 Australian households to purchase a home of their own. Under the scheme, the Commonwealth will provide an equity contribution to eligible participants of up to 40 per cent of the purchase price for new homes and 30 per cent for existing homes. The scheme will be open to applications for four years, with 10,000 places available per year. The Help to Buy scheme will be delivered by Housing Australia and supported by a panel of lenders. This will fulfil the government's election commitment to establish a national shared-equity scheme. It's expected that states will pass legislation this year. Consistent with general practice for referrals of power, at least one state must pass the legislation before the Commonwealth passes Help to Buy legislation.

During the election campaign, the Liberal Party strongly attacked the Help to Buy commitment and attempted to stoke doubt about several elements of this policy. You can hear the scare campaign from the opposition here today. But governments have helped people buy homes in different ways for much of our nation's history, and the more we can do for low- and middle-income households to realise their housing aspirations, the better it will be for all of us as a society and as a community. Shared equity is not some scary, untested concept; it's been around in various forms for decades, overseas and in my home state of South Australia. In South Australia, a couple of versions of shared-equity models have been available for decades, initially through the South Australian Housing Trust and then through the SA government's statutory authority, HomeStart Finance.

In the 1970s, the South Australian Housing Trust offered progressive purchase plans, where a person could buy their home in 25 per cent chunks over time and pay rent on the unpurchased portion. This was essentially a shared-equity plan where people could take out a mortgage against portion of the property, pay it off and then purchase a further portion as they could afford it. HomeStart Finance is a statutory authority founded in 1989 by the SA government, and it started doing modern shared-equity loans back in 2007. That's 17 years of successful shared equity, and they've done 2½ thousand shared-equity loans in that time. They've been getting more popular in recent years. The community knows that this is an affordable and low-risk option to get into the property market, and the market knows that shared equity does not push prices up. That's unlike many other government homebuyer strategies, including some favoured by those opposite—such as raiding superannuation accounts, which is widely panned by the housing market. I'll get back to that disastrous policy later.

The Liberals' attack on shared equity is another way of Liberals attacking the aspirations of low- and middle-income earning Australians. They don't want them to get ahead, they didn't want them to get wage rises, they don't want them to get tax cuts, and they don't want them getting into homeownership. These nonsense attacks included suggestions that Prime Minister Albanese would be sitting at your kitchen table. I'm sure he'd love an invitation, but I understand he's pretty busy! He's got a wedding to organise, now! But seriously, shared equity is an established, legitimate and secure method of getting into homeownership. Some of the other scare campaigns those opposite have tried have been about participants having to sell their homes if they receive a pay rise over the income threshold. Again, I would encourage those opposite to inform themselves about how shared equity has already worked in South Australia and other jurisdictions around the world.

Those opposite are standing in the way of the aspirations of Australians who want to own their own home. Their efforts to try and prevent low- and middle-income Australians having this option to enter the housing market are quite disgusting but, of course, fit in line with their efforts to keep wages low and prevent workers having a tax cut. This Liberal Party and National Party opposition have lined themselves up well and truly against low- and middle-income Australian families, and their proposed housing strategy of raiding superannuation has already been widely panned by the sector. But let's take a look at it anyway.

The starting propositions that people on low and middle incomes, including of course young first home buyers have enough superannuation in their accounts to be able to raid it in the first place. Secondly, I don't believe that anyone of those opposite doesn't understand the power of compounding interest. So their proposal is deliberately targeted to make sure that first home buyers, those on low and middle incomes, do not have the benefit of compounding interest in their superannuation account. Every dollar taken out of superannuation accounts in early career will have to be replaced by multiple dollars in the future to achieve the same balance at retirement.

Thirdly, while we know those opposite are short term thinkers when they are focused on fixing one problem now—housing deposits, they ignore what they know would be causing future problems for individuals involved and for the country as a whole. Lower superannuation balances mean greater dependence on age pensions in the future and that means a greater budget cost for future governments. But they're only interested in the next election. How unusual that the Liberal and National parties would raid money from superannuation balances of Australians but set the country up for financial bills in the future—very typical.

And fourthly—this is the feedback from the housing sector locally and internationally—injecting more money into the housing market in this manner means the market automatically adjusts to account for it. Housing prices rise, making the problem worse. How does that help? They know this. They know the problems with their failed raiding-your-superannuation policy. They were pointed out to them by the sector in the last election and also by us. nonetheless they have taken up this failed policy, dusted it off, taken it out as a talking point, so it looks like they have something to offer. It is really just an extended play of saying no. It is just a way of saying no but pretending you have something to offer.

So how will the government's Help to Buy Scheme work? Help to Buy will support up to 40,000 eligible Australians to purchase a home by providing an equity contribution of up to 40 per cent of the purchase price for new homes and up to 30 per cent for existing homes. The scheme will be open to applications for four years with 10,000 places each year. The Help to Buy Bill 2023 gives Housing Australia the power to enter into shared equity arrangements. The scheme will give those on low and middle incomes an opportunity to buy a home with a minimum two per cent deposit, allowing them access to home ownership. Having worked in the homelessness sector, I know that homeownership is linked to short, medium and long-term economic security, so this scheme will help participants overcome the dual barriers of homeownership—saving for the deposit and affording the mortgage. The deposit can be as low as two per cent. With the Commonwealth providing an equity contribution, participants will have smaller home loans and, consequently, smaller ongoing repayments.

But the Help to Buy Scheme is just one element of the government's comprehensive housing plan. The supply shortage and affordability issues have been a long time coming and no one strategy is a solution to the entire problem. Some of the strategies already announced include the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which the Greens political party delayed to the distress of the entire social and community housing sector but is now being rolled out, and the $3 billion social housing accelerator payment, the largest increase to Commonwealth rent assistance in 30 years. The Labor expanded and improved Home Guarantee Scheme has helped 100,000 Australians into home ownership. That means almost one in three first home buyers in the last financial year was supported by the scheme. This is a significant increase from previous years of the former Liberal government and demonstrates that Labor's expansion and changes to the scheme are working and are meeting the needs of the community. The Home Guarantee Scheme sits alongside Help to Buy as part of the Albanese government's agenda to support home ownership.

This government understands that affordable housing is critical to economic wellbeing and is committed to supporting more Australians to be able to access housing. The Help to Buy Scheme is an important part of that raft of strategies to make housing more affordable and accessible for Australians. I commend the bill to the House.

12:09 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Boothby could've just tabled a note. She could've just stood there and said, 'We're good and you're not,' and left it at that. But I want to rebut many of the points that she made—for a start, the point that she made about the very name of the bill we are debating: the Help to Buy Bill 2023. It's 2024. If it were that important, if it were that vital, if it were that essential, why wasn't this bill legislated last year? It's a good question. Why wasn't it? If getting people into homes and building those houses is so critical, why didn't Labor do this last year, 2023, when they obviously put the bill together? It's now 2024. As everything is with Labor, it's too little too late.

The member for Boothby went on and on about what Labor was doing and what we didn't do as a government. Let me remind the member for Boothby and others opposite and anyone caring to listen what the coalition did do, what we did stand for, what we did represent. We supported almost 60,000 first home buyers and single-parent families into homeownership through the Home Guarantee Scheme, which consists of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and the New Home Guarantee and Family Home Guarantee, which require a deposit of as little as five per cent or two per cent respectively. The coalition's Home Guarantee Scheme supported one in three first home buyers.

We protected the residential construction industry, with more than 137,000 HomeBuilder applications generating—wait for this—$120 billion of economic activity. That's billion with a B, member for Jagajaga. We provided $2.9 billion—again, another B, not an M—of low-cost loans to community housing providers to support 15,000 social and affordable dwellings, saving $470 million in interest payments, which was to be reinvested in more affordable housing. We unlocked 6,900 social, affordable and market dwellings through the coalition's $1 billion dollar infrastructure facility, making housing supply more responsive to the demand. We established a First Home Super Saver Scheme, helping 27,600 first home buyers accelerate their deposit savings through super. That's what we did. There was more, but we'll just leave it at that to counter the Member for Boothby's arguments that the coalition did nothing. It was a big package that we brought to government and to the people of Australia.

We are facing a housing crisis. It is so difficult for young people in particular to get into their first home. It used to be the great Australian dream. Under Labor, that reality is fast disappearing. Sadly and all too tragically, under Labor's watch many small businesses are going under and many—I could argue most—of those companies that are going under and closing their doors are construction companies. They are the builders of houses, and they're not small companies either. Clough Group, Probuild, Dyldam Developments, Snowdon Developments, AGB Group and Condev have been some of the larger construction companies to fold. One of the more recent casualties is Porter Davis Homes Group, which was once rated the 13th-largest builder in Australia. It alone put 1,700 projects in jeopardy across multiple states. This is from information provided by Craig Donaldson of UNSW in an article on 29 June 2023.

There's that year ago, 2023, when the Help to Buy Bill was concocted by those opposite. They didn't do anything about it. They didn't bring it to parliament or legislate it in 2023. We're now midway through February 2024 and they've just realised: 'Gee, we'd better do something about this. The Greens are on our backs. They're not going to give us their preferences. They're going to take our votes in those inner city electorates.' I do wish Labor well, because the very worst Labor member is always going to be better than the best Greens candidate; I get that.

But construction companies have been collapsing so regularly. There are a number of reasons why residential construction companies have been going bankrupt: COVID shutdowns—I appreciate it's a very difficult time—extended periods of inclement weather and chronic supply chain issues to cashed-up infrastructure companies competing for construction labour; first-home builder stimulus packages being wound back under Labor's watch; and the end of a prolonged cheap credit fuelled surge. The industry has been at the centre of, unfortunately, a perfect storm.

There are some interesting comments about why construction companies are going under. There have been very pertinent points made by people such as Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. She said that inflation and the federal government's proposed industrial relations changes—she said this in September last year, and we know that those IR changes are now legislation—are placing pressure on small construction companies. If the fear of the IR changes was very real and tangible in September 2023, imagine what the fear and the reality will be in February 2024. Denita Wawn, of course, was right then to worry and should be even more concerned now. She went on to say:

While interest rate rises are starting to show fruits with consumer spending, the most sustainable solution to the inflationary problem lies on the supply side, by bringing down the cost of doing business.

This requires issues like labour shortages, materials costs, and the regulatory burdens to be dealt with in a focused and urgent manner.

Urgent! That was September 2023. We're now discussing the Help to Buy Bill 2023 in mid-February 2024. It should have been done last year. If it's that important, why wasn't it done last year? Ms Wawn said:

We hope all levels of government pull out all stops to tackling the very real housing market challenges and to do their bit to reduce costs because we all know that a strong building industry underpins a strong economy.

And, of course, it is so true. That's why during COVID, when we were in government, we provided so much support, help, encouragement and initiatives to the construction sector—sparkies, plumbers, chippies and tradies—making sure that they had the very best support available.

Between July 2022 and April 2023, 1,709 construction companies across the country entered administration, according to data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission—July 2022 to April 2023, with Labor in power. It's on Labor's watch. It's on Labor's terms. This includes the likes of Porter Davis, as I mentioned before; ProBuild; Pivotal Homes; and, in the member for Boothby's state of South Australia, Quattro. It's not good enough. It's just not good enough. And you feel for those people who have entered a contract with a builder to build their dream home when, all of a sudden, the construction company goes under, and then they're faced with the prospect of: 'What do I do? I've invested my money. How do I get it back?' They have to go through that complete rigmarole of trying to fix up the mess that is left when a construction firm goes under.

The only housing policies delivering support to first-home buyers are the housing policies that Labor inherited from the former coalition government. The Albanese government has absolutely dragged its heels in introducing this legislation. They announced it many months ago. The government have already failed to deliver their Help to Buy scheme, but this is not so unusual, because Labor has failed on so many fronts. It was Help to Buy, a key election policy by Labor, but that was 2022. The title name of this policy includes '2023'. It's now 2024, and we won't see, until well into this year at the earliest, the sort of start that Labor's promising with this policy. Nine Network's Today show co-host Karl Stefanovic hit the nail on the head on 12 September 2023 in an interview with the Minister for Housing, the member for Franklin. He asked, 'You better get cracking. Six hundred homes a day for the next five years to make 1.2 million homes. You've got Buckley's, haven't you?' That was the question that he put to the Minister for Housing. She said, 'Obviously, we're not building all of the 1.2 million homes over the next five years by ourselves.' But 1.2 million homes, I wonder how many of those homes have been built, are being built, will be built? It will be a long way short of 1.2 million, particularly with so many construction companies going under, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis that people are enduring under Labor's watch.

I get that Labor has put through the low- and middle-income tax relief—their words, not mine—this morning, a broken promise, another election promise that wasn't delivered. The stage 3 tax cuts, they said were legislated. They said, 'Trust us. We're going to be accountable. We're going to be transparent.' They just keep breaking the faith. They just keep breaching promises with the Australian public.

Karl Stefanovic was right when he quizzed the Minister for Housing about what Labor was going to do, the funding that was going to be required, the delivery model that Labor was going to use. Again, I say this is such a crisis that we're under. I get that Labor's now trying to scramble because the Greens are out there making all sorts of noises in inner city seats that Labor wants to retain or win back. But in the midst of Labor's housing crisis, this underwhelming policy is too little, too late. They went to the election promising to put in place a shared equity scheme but failed to explain that the scheme needs state government approval to operate. This means Labor has made yet another promise it will fail to deliver.

It's all easy. Words are so easy. Promises are so easy. It's delivery that counts. It's delivery that matters. It's constructing homes at the rate that Labor said they were going to do that matters but it's impossible. And then, of course, speaking of state governments, we have a state Labor government in Victoria and they've been the government there for so many years—nine years—yet they're trying to shut down the timber industry, shut down the very products by which houses are made or part made.

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Victorian industry is building houses!

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I cannot hear the member for Jagajaga but I know that she comes from Victoria. I know she'd be disappointed. I'm trying not to sledge her but I know she'd be disappointed in her state government for doing that to the timber workers, to the forestry industry. I walked through the state forest at Tumbarumba the other day and it is a perfectly good, working, productive, sustainable forest. Forestry is good for the country. It's good for storing carbon. Houses are good for doing all of that. And it's a perfectly sustainable industry that Labor at a state level and no doubt, this mob too, will shut down and are shutting down.

Labor has failed again to do what it should to keep its promises. The Help to Buy Bill 2023 is now being debated in 2024. It should have been done if Labor were serious many, many months ago—last year. Too little, too late—not good enough, Labor.

12:24 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, what an act to follow from the member for Riverina. I'm just trying to tease out the logic through that argument and a number of the arguments we've heard from those opposite over recent weeks. On one hand, apparently, if you listen to those opposite, this bill is no good. In fact, the plan is no good—nothing to see here, we shouldn't go ahead with it. On the other hand, they say it's too slow, that we've taken too long to bring it in. Well, if that's the case, if we've taken too long to bring it in, why don't we get on with it? Come with us, support it, let's get it through the parliament, let's get it going.

It's the same argument we've heard on tax cuts this week: no good, these tax cuts won't help Australians, these are not delivering what Australians need when they're doing it tough. People are doing it tough—but hold on: they don't need a tax cut now. That's the argument from the other side. Yet they voted for it. In the end they voted for it. So, all I can say is that at the moment we certainly do not look for logic from those on the other side.

We don't look for policies, either, because when it comes to policies on how they are going to support Australians with the cost-of-living crisis, how they are going to support Australians into homeownership, there's nothing—nothing on the table. All we get from those opposite, and we've certainly seen this in the last fortnight—we have had these revelations in the last fortnight—is internal mechanisms dealing with fallout from nearly a decade in government, nearly a decade to do something about homeownership in this country and to make sure that younger Australians could get into the housing market. They had nearly a decade to do that. But we've seen on the ABC over the past few weeks that that was not a huge focus of the successive Liberal-Nationals governments that we had.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't recall. I did watch closely. I must say, I did enjoy Nemesis. I don't recall housing policy coming up during that extended documentary series. I don't remember the member for Riverina talking about housing policy in his moments in Nemesis.

So, I would ask those opposite to reflect on their nearly a decade in government, to reflect on what they now may well spend their time in opposition doing, about how they can best—

Sorry, I can't hear the member for Kennedy there. Did you want to say that again?

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They might reflect on your 10 years before that!

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay, so we're going back 20 years now. You can also reflect on 20 years before that as well, if you'd like to. Thank you, member for Kennedy. History is important and it is important to learn from history.

Alright: time for reflection, time to learn from history, but also time for those opposite to think about how they're going to support Australians in a cost-of-living crisis and how they're going to support Australians into homeownership, because buying a home is a big deal. It is such a huge step in anyone's life. In some ways, that homeownership represents more than just the roof over your head. It is that sense of stability and security that we know comes from owning your own home. We also know that that sense of stability and security is too far out of reach for many Australians at the moment.

That's why this government is working to help more Australians into homeownership, to change that.. This Help to Buy program will support thousands of Australians to make that homeownership dream a reality, supporting those thousands of Australians who are branching out on their own, moving on from their parents' place or a share house and going to their own place to call home. This is life changing. We know that housing affordability is front of mind for many Australians. Help to Buy will take what can currently seem impossible and put that homeownership dream within reach.

Owning your own home is a big step in your life. And I know that it's something that many young people think about at the moment. I know it's something that their parents think about at the moment. And I can see why, when we look at the numbers. Young people today are good savers, just like the generations before them. But unlike those previous generations they can face a much steeper climb to reach the point where they can afford to buy and own a home. On the latest data, a house in my community costs around $1.2 million, on average. That is a lot of money. And it is no wonder that young people who are looking to get into the market look at a figure like that and think, 'How could I ever buy a home?'

The data shows us how much this picture of trying to enter the market has changed over recent decades. If you were a young couple looking to buy in my community back in 1991, a house would have cost $152,000 on average. Today we have a figure of $1.2 million. On that figure, a young couple looking to buy their first home today is paying eight times what a couple of their parents' generation paid back in 1991. If the couple of today manages to save enough and purchase their first home with a mortgage, they're facing a situation where a household in Victoria earning an average income needs to spend 35 per cent of its earnings on mortgage repayments. That is at its highest level since 1990. When you look at data like that, it is no wonder that parents in my community tell me how concerned they are at the prospect of their kids and other younger people in the community struggling to afford to buy their first home or potentially having to buy their first home when they're much older than they would like. That, again, is why we need initiatives like this one on help to buy. For 40,000 Australian households, it'll be the difference between the status quo we have and owning one's own home.

I know that people in my electorate love the area they live in. They value being in Melbourne's north-east, with the trees, the rivers, the parks, the local shops, and the strong sense of volunteerism and community spirit that we see in so many different ways. It's natural, then, that young people who have grown up in my community want to buy in our community. They want to stay with family, friends and areas that they know. Our part of Melbourne is a great place to live, and I am excited at the prospect that Help to Buy will be able to help locals in Jagajaga to buy a home in our community—a place to call their own.

I know, as I said, that this is something that many people in my community care deeply about. I hear from plenty of residents who tell me how concerned they are about how difficult it can be for those young homebuyers to get into the market. Alison from Greensborough told me that she feels the young are disadvantaged in so many ways now, and she highlighted the impacts that housing affordability has had on them. Tim from Heidelberg Heights told me in a community survey that I conducted last year: 'Housing affordability is definitely on the top of my list. This is quite a lovely neighbourhood and community, and it's a shame that it's just so difficult to buy into.' Samantha from Eltham shared her concern: as a parent with young adults at home, she worried about their ability to afford their own home. Only recently, I've had a dad from Eltham North get in touch with me and my office, keen to find out about the progress of this very scheme that we are debating. His daughter is now at the age where she wants to move out, and he is keen to see this in place. So again I say to those opposite: get on board. Let's get it through the parliament. With Help to Buy, there will be another avenue for potential homebuyers to consider as they ready themselves for taking the huge step of buying a home. I know that will mean a great deal to families—to potential homebuyers but also to their parents and other people who want to see them have that sense of security.

Of course, the Help to Buy Bill is one part of the step forward our government is taking as we deliver the most significant housing reforms in a generation. This scheme will bring homeownership back into reach for 40,000 households, supporting eligible homebuyers with an equity contribution of up to 40 per cent for new homes and up to 30 per cent for existing homes. It will be open to applications for four years, with 10,000 places available each year. The support it will provide will give those on low or middle incomes an opportunity to buy a home with at least a two per cent deposit, assisting them to become homeowners, many for the first time. It will mean they gain the short- and long-term stability and economic security that owning a home provides. While they're participating in the scheme, they'll have lower ongoing repayments, so it's not just a short-term help; it provides the long-term relief that people need to get to a point of certainty and stability.

It is part of broader efforts, as I said. We've already supported 86,000 Australians right across the country to make that dream of homeownership a reality through the Home Guarantee Scheme. This work has significantly expanded the operation of the Home Guarantee Scheme, and there is more that we are doing as part of this ambitious slate of work in housing. There's the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, delivered by our government last year. The Housing Australia Future Fund is another thing that those opposite told us shouldn't happen. They spoke out against it. They spoke out against work to put more Australians into houses. In fact, our government got on with it, representing the single biggest investment to support social and affordable housing in this country in more than a decade. Only Labor does this work. Only Labor does the real reform that delivers things like the Housing Australia Future Fund, which supports Australians to get into social and affordable housing. Only Labor does work like the Help to Buy scheme, which supports Australians to reach the dream of first home ownership.

We are doing other work to support Australians to get into secure housing. There is the $2 billion social housing accelerator, which will deliver 4,000 new social homes across Australia. My state, Victoria, has received almost $500 million of this funding, and I know how important that is to my community and to many communities across Victoria. There is the National Housing Accord, which includes federal funding to deliver 10,000 affordable homes over five years, with that number to double thanks to the matched commitment of the states and territories. We have increased the maximum rate of Commonwealth rent assistance by 15 per cent, which is the largest increase in more than 30 years. This increase is helping around 6,590 households in the electorate of Jagajaga alone. We're unlocking the $575 million from the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, with homes under construction as a result, and an extra $1 billion to support even more housing. We've provided a $67.5 million boost to homelessness funding over this year, alongside our new National Housing and Homelessness Plan. We have a new national target to build 1.2 million well located homes, and we have A Better Deal for Renters to strengthen renters rights. Right across the board, we are doing the work that those opposite failed to do in nearly a decade in government. We are getting on with work that is urgently needed in my community and in communities right across this country, to give people that dream of first home ownership, to allow people to get into social and affordable housing and to allow renters to have the security and rights that they should. This is work that the Labor government is getting on with, without any help from those opposite.

We're trying to come back from a decade of missed opportunities. It was a decade where we had governments obviously very focused on internal matters. They were important internal matters, like who was going to be the next prime minister. I'm not saying that's not important, but it certainly didn't seem to result in extra housing for Australians. It certainly didn't seem to result in the federal government investing in social and affordable housing across this country. It certainly didn't seem to be a focus, as I said before, for any of the members opposite who did take part in that ABC series that we've all been enjoying so much over the past few fortnights. Maybe some of the others who we did not hear from in that series were very occupied with housing policy. Maybe there's a whole separate documentary to be made on debates about housing policy within the Liberal and National parties over their decade in government, and I shall look forward to that if it does come forward. But I don't think it's there, because I don't think those were the debates that were happening in that party room. I don't think the focus was on how to get Australians into housing. I don't think the focus was on how to make sure there is social and affordable housing in the communities that need it in our country. I think the focus was on themselves.

The Labor government came into office, and we have been very clear that we do want Australians to have access to good housing. We are doing work at a national level with the states and territories. We are investing in a way that national governments have never invested in these types of programs. It is hugely important work. There is a lot of work still to do. I urge those opposite to get on board. Help us do this important work to get Australians into homes and support communities like mine and yours that need affordable housing and that security that comes with having a roof over your head and homeownership. It is the great Australian dream. I'm proud that our government is helping more Australians to realise that dream.

12:39 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would invite the member for Jagajaga, who I happen to like a lot—we've done a lot together over various courses, and I think most of the time she says sensible things—to hang around for a little bit longer and hear what I've got to say.

I come to speak to this bill with a slightly different perspective than most people in this place. I'm a carpenter and joiner by trade. I'm still a registered builder in Queensland. I've been in the building industry for almost 40 years. I had a brain explosion and became a barrister and practised as a construction lawyer for 16 years.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

We all make mistakes.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely, we all make mistakes. Unfortunately, the member for Jagajaga has left. I've seen the building industry from a hands-on-tools perspective, from a property development perspective and from a lawyer's perspective when all things turn to custard, so I can probably add some unique insights about where we are in relation to housing policy in this country.

There's no doubt that housing is one of the essentials. We need food, we need water and we need shelter. There is absolutely no doubt that housing is in dire straits in this country today in 2024. Whether it's the concept of the great Australian dream or whether it's someone who needs social or affordable housing, the same answer applies: Australian housing policy is in dire straits. I was in this chamber yesterday talking about affordable and social housing. There would not be a day go by where a constituent does not contact my office. Yesterday I talked a little bit about a young man who we were trying to find a home for. He was going to be evicted in just five days—four days today. Every day my office gets contacted with some very sad stories. Hundreds of thousands of people in this country are at risk of homelessness, which is incredibly sad.

We have problems in relation to our social housing, but we also have great problems in relation to young people who want to aspire to the great Australian dream. Sadly, for many young people in this country, the concept of owning your own home is so far out of reach that many of them have given up. I've got four daughters. One is buying her own home. For the others, God knows when that might happen. It is unbelievably difficult for young people now, though not impossible—I reject the concept that it's impossible—to buy their own home.

Rents have gone through the roof, as a result of this government's financial mismanagement, as have mortgages. We know that for people with mortgages, the average mortgage has gone up by $24,000 a year under this government—and that's $24,000 a year after tax. So people are struggling, with rents having gone up, to pay rent and save for a deposit. That is the greatest impediment to young people getting off the rent race and getting into home ownership. If people can't afford to pay rent and save for a deposit at the same time then it is unbelievably difficult for them. The bank of mum and dad is now, I think, the ninth-largest lender in this country because young people, more and more, are relying upon mums and dads and grandparents to financially assist them in the purchase of their first home. But if mum and dad or grandparents aren't in that situation, then young people are finding it unbelievably difficult to get off the rent race and own their own home.

This bill is called the Help to Buy Bill, but the government, in introducing it today, are introducing it over 12 months later than they said that they would. The Minister for Housing, during the election campaign, said that this policy would be up and running by the beginning of 2023. There is a huge source of disappointment in relation to this bill, because, as the shadow minister so rightly pointed out in his speech, there are so many questions that are left unanswered about this bill. As a lawyer—taking my builder's hat off and putting my lawyer's hat on—I know people need certainty. If they are entering into an agreement with the government, they need to know the terms and conditions by which this agreement will operate. This bill provides no-one with any modicum of certainty which would enable them to make a decision to jump into a long-term arrangement with the government.

We know that there are a number of these help-to-buy arrangements that the states operate, where the state governments are providing assistance in equity share arrangements with the purchase of homes. We know that they are undersubscribed, and yet this government stand up and say: 'We've got an answer on how to resolve this. We'll give you more of the same.' It is window-dressing.

A lot has been said in this place and in the media, and the Greens talk about this, but property ownership is a source of wealth. That's not something that we should be ashamed of. We shouldn't be ashamed of that. I bought my first house when I was 19 years old, as an apprentice carpenter—five years ago. Not quite! Whilst I didn't travel overseas for many, many years, that gave me the ability to buy and sell homes. I was fortunate that I was a carpenter and I was able to improve upon houses when we bought and sold. I know that most people aren't in that situation because they don't have the skills to be able to do that. I was fortunate.

But the reality is: if young people can just get a start and get out of that rent race—I just moved my daughter out of a rental over the weekend. The concept of having to hire removalists every 12 months or six months and do the bond cleans and all that sort of stuff—you don't have to worry about that when you own your own home. And, when you own your own home, and the property increases in value, that gives you wealth. That gives you the ability to invest that money or go and buy, God forbid, an investment property to try and get ahead financially and protect yourself for the future. Not only that; you're actually providing somewhere to rent for someone who can't own their own home or who is on the path to owning their own home.

The concept of investment homes in this country has become like a dirty word. Mum-and-dad investors are treated like they're some kind of evil people, like pariahs. I haven't sat down and done the sums to see how many of those opposite own investment properties, but I reckon a lot would. I don't criticise them for that, but they should also be upfront and recognise that this is a good thing; it's not something that we should be ashamed of. We're helping others live in a home, when clearly governments have dropped the ball over decades. Governments, particularly state governments, have dropped the ball over decades in social housing, and mum-and-dad investors have picked it up. That's not something we should be ashamed of.

Coming back to this bill, this bill does not provide any details to give a young family the information that they need to make an informed decision as to whether they want to enter into a long-term financial arrangement with the government—because that's exactly what they are doing with this bill. I would have thought that this housing minister would have had all these ducks in a row after 13 months of delay in bringing this bill to the House. I would have thought that we would understand questions like, 'What are the eligibility requirements?' or, 'Who is eligible to take part in this Help to Buy Bill?' Another question: 'What will happen if I get a pay rise?' Also, increasingly, more and more Australians are having to take a second job to make ends meet because of this government's financial mismanagement. Unfortunately, a growing number of people are having to get a third. What will happen when an Australian's income increases over the threshold, if they have already entered into this arrangement? Will the government come knocking on the door and say, 'Sorry, old son; you've got to sell your house'? I don't know. The detail is not in the bill.

Australians, if you are considering entering into this arrangement, read the detail. Unfortunately, there is not this detail, but you should be aware of the terms and conditions of what you're entering into. If people exceed the income cap, will the government come knocking? How many of these arrangements will be made available across the country? Will it be done on a state-by-state basis? Will it just be a national cap? Will there be a cap on the amount of the purchase price? Will that be different for a house in Wagga Wagga as opposed to a house in Sydney—will there be different treatments done on a geographical arrangement? I don't know. These sorts of details are the details that Australians should have been made aware of by this government. Details matter. It's all in the detail. I can tell you, taking my builder's hat off and putting my barrister's hat on, that's where disputes happen. It's all in the detail.

We've gotten this lame response: 'Well, the government will consider all of these things on a case-by-case basis.' Wow. How does the government treat Australians on a case-by-case basis? That just leads to all sorts of inequity arising out of this program—different people, different bureaucrats making different decisions, subjective decisions. You can't run a policy on a help-to-buy scheme, on helping Australians into housing, with no detail and with this kind of subjectivity and with, 'Well, we'll assess each case on its own merits; trust us.'

'Trust us.' Well, I'm sorry: that horse has well and truly bolted for this government, because Australians know that they cannot trust this government. They cannot trust this Prime Minister. They can't trust a word this government says. This is a government led by a man who says, 'My word is my bond,' and who has gone back on the stage 3 tax cuts. He promised us no changes to franking credits. He promised us no change to superannuation. Well, going back to investors, those people who are investing in this country should mark my words—write this down—there will be changes in relation to negative gearing and CGT treatment under this government. (Time expired)

12:54 pm

Photo of Gordon ReidGordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Housing, owning one's home, living in one's own dwelling is a great dream and a great source of pride for many Australians, and in particular for those on the New South Wales Central Coast. However, homeownership throughout Australia and homeownership in my part of the world in Robertson, and even into Dobell and a bit of Shortland—the mighty Central Coast—has been in freefall. That's why I'm glad the Help to Buy Bill 2023 is being introduced to the parliament. We are acting on housing. The federal Labor government sees this as a major issue that's affecting our communities—not just in our cities, but within our regions, within our remote communities, within our rural communities—and that is why we're acting.

Housing isn't the only thing that we're acting on. Many of us on this side of the chamber—when we're talking to the public, when we're doorknocking, when we're phone banking—are frequently acting on many of the issues affecting Australian and also those on the Central Coast. We're helping with the cost of living through our multibillion cost-of-living packages. Through Labor's tax cuts, we are actively giving every Australian taxpayer a tax cut, from nurses to truckies to tradies. You name it, we're all getting a tax cut. We're acting on health through bulk-billing and the urgent care centre scheme. And we are acting on housing through the Help to Buy Scheme, which we're here to talk about today.

Whether it's through this bill, through the Housing Australia Future Fund, which has been repeatedly opposed by the Liberal and the National parties, through the Home Guarantee Scheme helping thousands of Australians into homes or through our record investments into housing, it is pretty clear to me and to members on this side of the chamber, and it's clear to members of the public, that the Albanese Labor government is acting on the housing challenges that we face. When Australians talk about who they can trust to deliver a visionary housing policy that will bring Australia into the future they know that it is the Australian Labor Party. Absolutely! Whether it's housing. Whether it's health. Whether it's education. Whether it's the economy. It is this party that will bring Australia forward.

What does housing do? Housing provides security, housing provides stability and housing provides dignity to people. Like the member for Fisher, I'm also continuing my previous profession. I'm still practising as a doctor in an emergency department. I see a lot of the stresses that are impacting people during often the worst day of their life. And in the ED that I practise in, patients will often speak about the stresses that are not directly linked to the pathology that they're presenting with. They might be coming in because they've injured their arm and got a fracture or they've got a sore throat—you name it; whatever it might be. But more often than not the other social stressor that they're referring to, that is either part of the reason that they have presented or is exacerbating the reason that they presented, is their ability to locate and/or access accommodation or housing. So whether it's patients who don't have the ability to access emergency accommodation or short-term housing options, whether it's a patient's problems with renting or whether housing is one of their biggest stressors outside of their pathology, it's having an impact on their finances, and that is a major thing that people continue to bring up with me.

The reason we're all here is to make sure we can give our regions a voice in this chamber. There are more than 100,000 people in the electorate of Robertson, where housing is a major issue. And because of that, I do want to focus on a few local examples of what's happening with housing and homelessness in my part of the world. But before I do go on to that, I will just reiterate to the chamber that we know from the debate on taxation today, we know from the debate on previous pieces of legislation—the Housing Australia Future Fund; you name it—that the Liberal-National coalition have zero vision for this country. Absolutely zero vision. We know that they have absolutely zero desire to leave a legacy that will benefit Australians and my constituents on the Central Coast. They have no desire to do that adequately and effectively and to meet the challenges of today. Housing is included in those.

Like I said, let's look at some of the local examples, because that's why we're here right now. We're here to give those communities a voice. Many Australians living in Robertson and across the Central Coast need help to get into homeownership. Our government is introducing this bill and providing this support so that thousands of Australians can benefit from homeownership. Recently, I was speaking with Patrick by doorknocking in Umina Beach on the mighty Peninsula on the Central Coast—a beautiful part of the world, where I grew up. Everyone in the chamber is definitely invited to come to the beach and have a beer!

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you shouting?

Photo of Gordon ReidGordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely, member for Riverina! After living with his parents for all of his life, Patrick would like to buy a property of his own. He wants to live independently. Patrick is struggling to afford to buy on the Central Coast, as property prices are rising and have increased substantially, not just in the last decade but in decades prior. He would like to buy in Gosford, an up-and-coming major metropolitan centre on the Central Coast, or in the adjacent suburbs. Patrick is saving. Patrick is working hard at multiple jobs in order to get a good deposit together. But he needs a little bit of help to get across the line. He needs a little bit of help to buy his home. This policy will assist Patrick in buying his first home.

On the northern end of my electorate—which borders that of the member for Dobell—in the beautiful suburb of Wamberal, Lily, another young member of my community, has spoken to me about her journey of realising her dream of homeownership. Like Patrick, Lily is looking to purchase somewhere on the Central Coast. She would like to be close to her family, her place of work, her friends and the things she that knows best, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Like Patrick, Lily has worked hard for all of her working life. She's studied, she's paid her taxes, and she can't wait to own her own home. She was even saying that she can't wait to style it, furnish it and make it her own, for herself and her family. She's saving a deposit, much like Patrick is, but, again, Lily just needs a bit of help to buy and to get across that line. Through our Help to Buy scheme, Lily will be provided with additional support so she can go on to purchase her home in the region.

It's absolutely crucial that Australians get their foot in the door and realise, as I said earlier, that great Australian dream of owning a home. Owning a home has many advantages, as I've said. It provides stability, peace of mind, security and dignity, and it's also essential so that people can live healthy, happy and productive lives. But—as I said—concerningly, the issue of housing affordability has reached new heights on the Central Coast. Our region has made the list of top 10 places in New South Wales with the greatest number of homeless people, and the analysis by Homelessness NSW of figures produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shines a light on the importance for all levels of government, whether local, state or federal, of really working towards and making a concerted effort at increasing assistance for people looking to access housing. That's what I was talking about before. We are investing billions of dollars into housing in this country to make sure that those people I was talking about, who are sitting in the emergency department or who come into our electorate offices, can get the emergency accommodation they need. It's to make sure that renters are getting a fair go through the state government. It's to make sure that the Housing Australia Future Fund is benefiting Australians—which it is and we know it is. There is also the first home buyer scheme, and now this, the Help to Buy Bill. This is a government that is serious about housing and serious about making sure people can get into the accommodation that they need, because it's the right thing to do.

We debate a lot of policy in this chamber and there's a lot of jest and a lot of heckling on occasion, but I believe that we—members on this side of the House—all know in our heart of hearts that housing is one of the most important areas of legislation that we will ever debate in this chamber. Making sure that people have a roof over their head is so paramount for people's physical health, mental health and beyond.

What I've been talking about has been the driving force behind why the federal Labor government passed the Housing Australia Future Fund legislation last year, to ensure that we can build 30,000 social and affordable homes through the Housing Australia Future Fund. We're also making sure that we are earmarking some of those properties for people that really need it in at-risk groups, whether it be women in low-income brackets—which is one of the fastest-growing groups of homeless people throughout our country, particularly on the Central Coast—people escaping domestic violence, our veterans community or those of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

It's critical that governments at all levels consider every instrument available to them to increase the supply of housing across the nation, and that is what we are doing today. That is why we are debating this bill, because it is the right thing to do, it was an election commitment and now we are making good on it. As Regional Development Australia Central Coast, the RDACC, said, 'All governments need to get serious about creating more affordable housing on the Central Coast.' That is exactly what we are doing here today. We are making it easy for people to buy their first home, we are making sure that we are building more social and affordable housing and we are working with the states and territories, including the new Minns New South Wales government, to reduce red tape and increase housing approvals right across the country.

In summary, the bill that is being debated today in the parliament is one of the signature pieces of legislation from the federal Labor government. This bill shows not only that we are a government who help those that need it but also that we are a government of vision, because that's what Labor governments are. We develop policy and programs that will help thousands, if not millions, of people into the future. Whether it's housing, with the Help to Buy Bill, whether it's the Medicare urgent care clinic, where you can see a bulk-bill doctor if you're too sick for the GP but not sick enough for the emergency department, whether it's the tripling of the bulk-billing incentive, whether it's the change of the DPA status for the Central Coast, whether it is acting on the cost of living through our cheaper early childhood education and care policies, or whether it's Labor's tax cuts giving every Australian taxpayer a tax cut, that is the job of Labor governments. We are visionary and we do what's right—and that's what this bill is all about.

1:08 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Help to Buy Bill 2023. I've been fortunate to be in this chamber to hear my friend the member for Robertson, who spoke eloquently about the benefits of home ownership. I completely agree with the benefits he articulated. However, the member for Robertson has swallowed a bit of the Minister for Housing's Kool Aid on this. This Help to Buy Bill is not going to assist first home buyers into new homes. There are too many questions that have remained open and unanswered by the minister, and that is why this bill should not be supported.

Homeownership in our country is deeply embedded into the Australian psyche. It's referred to overwhelmingly as the great Australian dream. Australia's founders clearly believed that we should be a property-owning democracy. They did not come to this view because they were real estate agents or because property developers sponsored their meetings. They came to this view because they wanted Australia to be better than the United Kingdom. They wanted a society not divided by class. They wanted quality of opportunity for every Australian. And they knew that the line upon which division is most etched is the ownership of property.

Therefore, everyone needed to be given the chance to own the home in which they lived. This ideal has lived with Australians to this day, including, for example, in such classical cultural icons as The Castle, where lead character Darryl Kerrigan denounces a large corporation that's trying to acquire his home. In that classic film, Darryl reminds the High Court—indeed, he reminds all of us—that a home is not just bricks and mortar but memories of a life built together and a place in which to imagine your future.

I spent my former career in and around the housing sector, in the private and public sectors, as well as in industry bodies. I am absolutely committed to trying to find better solutions, better policies as to how we in this place can make it easier for Australians to own their first home. We have never seen lower rates of homeownership, particularly among the under 40s, than we currently have in this country. Homeownership is in freefall.

The government's bill, which I think is probably well intended, it is called the Help to Buy Bill. I'm just going to outline some of the major flaws that I see with this bill. First, it's a shared-equity scheme, where new homebuyers will share ownership up to 40 per cent with the Commonwealth government. But, as always with Labor's policies and legislation, the devil is in the detail, and most of that detail has been omitted. This is a small niche program with up to only 10,000 households per year over four years—so, 40,000 in total—and it will cost the Commonwealth $5.5 billion. This is a scheme where the government will own almost half of your property. Is this something Australians want?

Looking at a history of shared equity schemes overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom, shared-equity schemes are completely problematic, and the issues that have been identified in those schemes have not been properly addressed by the minister and by the government in this bill. The recent House of Lords inquiry in the UK was called Meeting housing demand. It found, 'The government's Help to Buy Scheme cost around 29 billion pounds and inflated housing prices by more than its subsidy value.' The House of Lords inquiry then concluded, 'This funding would be better spent on increasing housing supply'—and I will come to housing supply shortly. So, that's one of the major concerns around shared-equity schemes identified overseas.

A further problem is that sometimes these shared-equity schemes may encourage homeownership for some for whom it may not be the best option. It may be pushing them into undue financial risk. What we have heard so far from the minister is that the eligibility criteria for this scheme is a $90,000 income for a single person and a $120,000 for a couple. But there are other questions that are unanswered in this legislation. What happens, for example, when somebody gets a pay rise? Does the owner—the part owner—then need to immediately repay the government contribution? There is no detail on this.

What happens with repairs and maintenance? What happens when the government owns almost half of your home? Are you allowed to simply carry out repairs and maintenance? Is the government responsible for the cost of those repairs to the extent of its ownership in the property? This is another unexplained detail, but it's an important detail. It hardly seems reasonable that, if you own a property jointly with the government, all the repairs and maintenance on the home are your responsibility. The legislation clearly sets out that, when you sell the home, the government comes and takes its percentage of the appreciated value.

But what happens in the maybe unlikely event that the property decreases in value over time? It may be unlikely, as I said, but this factor has also not been considered. This is a further example of where the policy work has not been fully completed before the bill has been prepared. This is the Minister for Housing grandstanding, making big announcements without having done the real policy work that was required behind the legislation, without understanding how the housing market actually works in our country. It is very clear from this threadbare legislation that the government has failed again to do the hard work on housing.

Other questions remain with this shared equity scheme in addition to what happens with improvements. What happens if you earn a cent above the $90,000? Does the government then force the sale of your home? Will the ATO be auditing incomes to ensure that there is no fraud within the system? If you enter into one of these shared equity arrangements, what are your reporting obligations? How many places will be available in each state and territory? Which lenders will be participating in the scheme?

The package as well is completely silent on property price caps. So, in order for me to try to understand what the price caps could be, I turned to the election promises that were made by federal Labor. They said that it would be capped at $950,000 in metropolitan New South Wales. This again shows a clear lack of understanding from the minister about house prices across our cities, in our metropolitan areas. In my electorate of Hughes in southern Sydney, for example, based on data from CoreLogic, as at July 2023, to buy an average house in the suburb of Moorebank costs $1.2 million. In Holsworthy it's $1 million, in Oyster Bay it's $1.7 million, in Jannali it's $1.5 million, in Illawong it's $1.6 million and in Sutherland it's $1.4 million. Therefore, based on the federal government's promise—and we've had a bit to say this week about election promises being broken—that it would be price capped at $950,000, that will not help anybody at all in my electorate in southern Sydney to buy their home. They will not be able to avail themselves of this scheme.

Further, Help to Buy relies on the involvement of the states and territories. States are required to pass their own legislation for this scheme to work throughout the country. New South Wales passed a similar scheme well over a year ago. It's called the Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper scheme. It's significantly undersubscribed, as are the Homebuyer Fund in Victoria, the HomeStart Shared Equity Option in South Australia and the MyHome shared equity program in Tasmania. Therefore, if we look at what is happening across those states where they have introduced a shared equity scheme, it shows that Australians overwhelmingly do not want to own their home with the government. They want to own their home themselves.

This begs the question: why on earth is the Albanese Labor government seeking to introduce yet another shared equity scheme, when we know similar schemes are not being taken up by Australians? The only answer to that question must be that Labor wants to be seen to be doing something on housing. It wants to be seen to be rolling out big numbers and saying, 'We've got this guys; we're going to do this,' but it's not actually doing anything meaningful to address the underlying factors that have led to the current crisis we have.

The coalition took a very sensible housing policy to the last election to enable Australians to utilise their superannuation, their own money, to assist to purchase their first home. This was well received in my electorate of Hughes when I was campaigning. Why would the government not consider this very sensible option? Instead, with some of its other housing legislation, it's quite clear that it will allow big institutional investors and superannuation companies to invest in housing. Why is it that superannuation companies can invest in housing but you can't utilise your own money within your own superannuation fund to purchase your own home?

To take a step back, the housing affordability crisis is the result of both supply and demand factors. This bill purportedly addresses the demand components; however, the biggest factor that's affected demand in the past 18 months has been the government's immigration policy. It has been the largest contributor to increased demand—over half a million people in the last financial year alone.

What about the other crucial part of housing policy, which is supply? This bill purportedly forms part of Labor's so-called signature policy on housing. Amongst other things, its aim is to deliver 1.2 million new homes over the next five years; however, that means Australia needs to build 240,000 new homes every year. In the most populous state of Australia, my home state of New South Wales, Labor Premier Chris Minns has at least been honest on this issue. He came out a couple of weeks ago and said that New South Wales cannot meet its housing target of 75,000 new homes each year over the next five years. These are targets that he and the other premiers agreed to late last year—targets that must be met for the federal government to deliver its 1.2 million homes.

There are other supply factors that Minister for Housing Collins has remained silent about, and these factors also demonstrate that the 1.2 million homes cannot be built over the next five years. We have a record-high number of liquidations in the building and construction industry. We have an acute shortage of construction materials. We have a massive increase in the cost of construction materials. We have a severe shortage of tradespeople across our country. We have red tape delays in releasing land at both state and local government levels. None of these factors have been addressed by the Labor government, by the housing minister, in any of their housing policies. This again leads to the inevitable conclusion that the government, the housing minister, have no idea how to effectively address our housing affordability crisis, no idea of the key drivers of both demand and supply within the housing sector.

This bill purportedly helps Australians to buy their first home. I have no doubt that it was well intentioned. However, from the number of consequences that flow from this bill, when you really pursue it in detail and give it some significant analysis, it is quite clear that it will not assist Australians into their first home. Australians desperate to buy their first home deserve far better than this legislation. They deserve far better than a government and a minister who are simply throwing out big numbers and making grandstanding promises without the underlying policy work and effective legislation to back them in.

1:23 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to rise to support the Help to Buy Bill 2023 and the related bill. I've been listening to the response from those opposite, who opposed the Housing Australia Future Fund, a $10 billion investment in housing this country which was to provide support for veterans, people in remote and regional Aboriginal communities, and women and children fleeing domestic and family violence—much-needed assistance. Those opposite say they support making sure we address housing needs, but they voted against the Housing Australia Future Fund. When we introduced that legislation last year, they teamed up with the Greens in the Senate to delay the reporting date. They now have the chutzpah and gall to criticise us on the legislation being debated today, when they voted with the Greens over there to delay similar legislation. Honestly, don't come in here and give us this criticism.

When it comes to legislation about government issues, how about a concept such as delegated legislation, which those opposite should know all about. Of course, in their home guarantee scheme, they didn't put all the criteria in the legislation. When you look at that legislation itself, the criteria are not there. That's done in delegated legislation. That's how government operates. Speaker after speaker has come into this place from the coalition and said that it's not located in the bill. Ministers have responsibility, and they do things like allowable and disallowable instruments. This delegated legislation—that's how those opposite governed. They were in power for nine years. They should have some concept of how government, legislation and delegated legislation operate in this country.

What we're doing here with the Help to Buy scheme is very similar to the home guarantee scheme that those opposite did. And we had to fix that, by the way, when we came to power. We had to fix that scheme, because it wasn't operating. It wasn't broad enough to make sure that Australians in their various guises, and their families and extended families, could get access to that particular scheme. As a result of us making the changes to broaden the jurisdiction, the opportunities and the eligibility of that particular scheme, we saw a massive increase in the take-up of the scheme. The Albanese Labor government is taking action on housing, but those opposite are teaming up with the Greens.

I just know those opposite are ideologically opposed to federal government doing anything in the area of social and public housing, so I sort of expected it from the Liberal Party and National Party, having grown up in Queensland. That's their philosophical view. They just oppose the federal government taking any steps whatsoever. But to the Greens opposite, can I just say I'd love the member for Ryan to do a mobile office on Moggill Road. She can argue that in Fig Tree Pocket or in areas like Pullenvale, Brookfield and et cetera. I grew up in a household like that, and I know that we represent people from working-class and middle-class communities in the cities, suburbs, regional towns and rural communities that want to get ahead in life.

We want to make sure that people in these areas get what they deserve, need and want. That is, their kids should get educated in the best possible schools. They should get appropriate health care, they should have financial security and they should have a house in which to live, whether it's social and community housing or whether they have the aspiration to buy a home and get ahead. If they want to save money in the bank, buy some shares or invest in superannuation—or if they feel that they can get ahead and buy an investment property for their families—they should be allowed to do so in a liberal democracy.

The Greens over there scorn the idea of people getting ahead. Working-class people deserve a better go, and a Labor government will give it to them. This legislation is the kind of legislation that the Greens should be supporting. Look at what they do. The Greens cannot find a social or public housing project in their electorates that they will not oppose. They'll come up here, and you'll see their housing spokesman in his actual office, talking about supporting public housing. But there's not a project in his electorate that he won't oppose for some reason or other. The Greens in my community say one thing and do another. It's the same here. I'd like the member for Ryan to actually talk about her own electorate, go into those suburbs I mentioned and argue the case that she did today. I guarantee you she'll get toppled at the next election. She's won one election; I've won a few. I reckon, if she runs in that area and puts that argument up yet again, the people in the working-class and middle-class suburbs in Brisbane that I referred to will vote her out.

This legislation is really, really important. It's important for the kinds of people that I talked about, because it's about getting people the housing security that they need. I don't expect those opposite to vote for it, but I do expect the Greens to show a bit of consistency on this issue and make sure that they support people who deserve a helping hand, whether they live in Bulimba, Chapel Hill, Fortitude Valley or those three Greens seats over there in Brisbane. The Greens should be supporting this legislation, because I know that people in their suburbs do support this type of legislation. Those people want to get ahead, and they want security for their families. This particular legislation is really important, and they should be supporting it.

I know it's really important for proper housing. I grew up in a working-class family in Ipswich. I know how important it was for my mum, who was a shop assistant, and my dad, who was a cleaner, to keep that house. When we nearly lost it on multiple occasions after the 1974 flood, I know they did their best to keep it for us and my two younger brothers. I know how important it was. I know how important it is for me and my family. I remember the great pride of my wife and I—she was working in a building society at the time, and I was an articled law clerk—when we bought a house for the first time. I know the pride and the satisfaction we had when we decided that we would engage ourselves and actually invest in an investment property because we wanted to get ahead. We were both from working-class families, and that's why this legislation is important.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is now interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member will be granted leave to continue his speech, if he wishes to do so, when the debate is resumed.