Senate debates

Monday, 4 December 2017


Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 1) Bill 2017, First Home Super Saver Tax Bill 2017; Second Reading

7:47 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 1) Bill 2017 and the First Home Super Savers Tax Bill 2017. These bills seek to introduce two measures that the government unveiled in the 2016-17 budget—the First Home Super Savers Scheme, and contributing the proceeds of downsizing to superannuation. Let me be clear from the outset: the Labor Party opposes this legislation.

Those opposite claim that the measures in this bill will reduce pressure on housing affordability, but nothing could be further from the truth. What we have before us is the latest brain snap from a desperate government that is incapable of coming up with a housing affordability policy. The only solution it can come up with to address the housing affordability crisis is to create a crisis in superannuation. That is the best that the government has got. This is the type of government we currently have leading the nation. The Australian people are sick and tired of listening to those opposite bickering, and they're sick and tired of thought bubbles that we see the Prime Minister grasp for every single day.

All of these government policies that they've put before us, these pieces of legislation, will leave Australians worse off. It's time for the Liberals to get real about housing affordability. When the two measures in this bill were introduced in the budget earlier this year, they were so small that the Grattan Institute said, 'You would need a scanning electron microscope to see the difference it would make.' That's how insignificant and minuscule the Turnbull government's policy on housing affordability is—that's if you could even call it 'policy'.

Getting back to the bills before us, the first measure I want to talk about is the First Home Super Saver Scheme, which will do absolutely nothing to address the Australian housing affordability crisis. The government's plan is to allow people to make voluntary contributions to their superannuation and then withdraw those contributions to help them purchase their first home. The idea is that individuals would benefit from the concessional taxation arrangements that apply to the superannuation scheme. That is not what superannuation should be used for. Superannuation accounts are meant to be locked boxes to generate retirement income. This is dangerous, thoughtless policy.

I'd also like to put on record that this measure completely contradicts the government's objectives of the superannuation bill, which has been sitting undebated since last November. The government's superannuation bill says that the government's primary objective for superannuation is to 'provide income in retirement to subsidise or supplement the age pension'. That's not what the bill before us today will do. Instead, it will undermine the retirement incomes of Australians and lock the next generation of people out of securing housing when they get older. We already know that the government doesn't care about homelessness amongst the elderly, but the measures in this bill will only seek to exacerbate the issue. That's how hopeless the government are. This is the best that they've come up with. They're a government at sea without a paddle and they're completely out of touch.

I'd like to briefly talk about the terms of reference for the government's 'necessary but regrettable' royal commission into banks. Labor has serious concerns about the government's narrow focus on the industry superannuation funds. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection even said that industry super funds will face more scrutiny given that they have 'union members on the board'. Given that this out-of-touch government has spent the last 18 months letting rorts and rip-offs continue and ignoring the ongoing pleas of families and small businesses, it is incredibly disappointing to see them hijack this royal commission to continue their attack on the union movement.

If the Turnbull government does not get this right from the start, we will only see a continuation of financial scandals, a lack of justice for victims of financial wrongdoing and the systematic risks that are contributing to the uncertainty for the financial services sector. Those opposite have spent over 600 days doing anything they could to avoid a royal commission. Pull your socks up and do it properly! That's what the Australian people want. That's what the Australian people deserve.

The second measure in this bill is contributing proceeds of the downsizing measure. The government proposes to allow people aged 65 or over to make a non-concessional contribution of up to $300,000 from the proceeds of selling their home. These contributions would be exempt from the age test, work test and the $1.6 million balance test for non-concessional superannuation contributions. Again, we see that this government is only looking after the top end of town. I can assure you there won't be very many Tasmanians—you could count on one hand—who would benefit from such legislation. Labor doesn't have any objections to the principle of helping people downsize, but this is not the best way to do it. It's not the best way to deal with the issue of looking at the barriers to downsizing or housing affordability. I also note that this bill neglects to address important factors such as the age pension, income or assets tests and stamp duty issues. So I'll repeat what my colleagues have said. If the government were to go back to the drawing board and separate the two measures in this bill, we would be open to considering the downsizing measure.

The Prime Minister might have taken Mr Joyce's by-election win as a new lease of life for his chaotic government, but I don't think that Mr Turnbull is going to finish up this year on a high, even if he thinks he will. The Liberals' policies have gotten progressively worse. The only thing this bill does, as it stands, is highlight their inability to do anything about inequality and housing affordability in this country. Under Mr Turnbull's watch, levels of home ownership continue to fall, and affordable housing for vulnerable people, including older Australians, is becoming more and more unattainable. Those are only a couple of points that highlight just how inefficient and ineffective this Turnbull government has been in addressing housing affordability. There has been no national housing plan, no housing minister, no idea and no real policy.

Earlier in the year when the household income and labour dynamics figures were released, we had those opposite get up in this place and deny that housing inequality is an issue in Australia. Wake up, Australia! Wake up, the Turnbull government! They cannot understand that there is a housing affordability crisis happening in this country. It doesn't matter what state you go to, or whether it's somebody trying to buy their first home or get a rental property, you have young person after young person competing and outbidding to get into some sort of housing. We know how difficult purchasing your first home has become. This is how offensive, delusional and out of touch this government is when they don't recognise the crisis that's on their doorstep. It doesn't matter if we're talking about federal or state governments, the Liberals are botching housing affordability full stop.

The housing affordability crisis is not just about first home buyers; new rental affordability index figures released last week show that rents for low-income households across all metropolitan areas in the nation remain unaffordable. This research highlights the devastating impact Australia's housing affordability crisis is having on low- and moderate-income households in the private rental market, as I have just said.

Housing costs are biting everyday families. Analysis of the 2016 census shows that around 30 per cent of all households, including renters and mortgagees, are in a housing crisis. In my home state of Tasmania, Hobart was the second-worst area due to the number of people living on low incomes. These are real issues—issues that are affecting families' household budgets. It is a real issue for older Australians to have secure housing in their older years. We know that a growing number of older Australian women are finding themselves homeless. These are real issues. You have families living in cars, couch surfing, or moving from one relative to the other because they can't afford even a basic rent.

We know that there hasn't been enough money invested by this government, or by any of the state governments for that matter, in housing. But the sad thing is that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer refuse to accept any responsibility at all for this crisis—because the Liberals have, effectively, given up on housing policy. Christmas is just around the corner, and my office is inundated with calls from very desperate people trying to get accommodation. Crisis accommodation is in short supply. Crisis accommodation for families is all but non-existent. The real impact of this affects all our communities. It affects everyone. It's not just those people who are finding it hard to afford to rent a house or who are trying to come up with a deposit to buy their first home; it has an impact on the entire community. It has an impact on those children who are going to school—if they are fortunate enough that they can go to school—after having to sleep in a car. That's a real impact of the housing crisis in this country. It's unacceptable. We're a rich nation. We should be able to find accommodation for all Australians. All this does is reinforce how out of touch the Turnbull government really is.

The Turnbull government own the housing crisis in Australia. They actually own it; it's their responsibility. We are four years in and nothing has been done. It's a disgrace that there isn't a housing minister. It's a disgrace that those opposite won't even acknowledge that there is a housing affordability crisis. I don't know who these people talk to. I don't know if they actually talk to the charitable organisations that help the people who are most desperate and most vulnerable. Those opposite don't understand that this crisis is real. There is nothing sadder than seeing a family going from one shelter to another trying to find accommodation and lining up to get food because they are that short of money in their household budget.

I have to say that the Turnbull government have absolutely no credibility on housing. The government have no credibility when it comes to homelessness. They have to accept that these are real issues affecting real people. There is no point turning your head and saying, 'It's not my problem. They should go and get a job,' because, as we heard from the previous speaker, Senator Whish-Wilson, there is no longer such a thing as secure employment. We have people who are underemployed and people who have a number of part-time jobs. They can't go to a bank and take a loan to buy their first home. That's unrealistic.

Nothing is happening. There is no leadership from this government. There is no leadership when it comes to policy. They just keep claiming that reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions will raise rents. But this has been discredited. It is a null-and-void argument. Those people opposite should move on. We have already announced our policies that will have a real impact in terms of the housing affordability crisis. Any housing policy that doesn't deal with negative gearing and capital gains tax is a sham, and that's what this government is best known for.

We have a Prime Minister who sees a thought bubble and grabs it. That's what he does on every major issue. If he's not grabbing thought bubbles, he's doing backflips. That's what this Prime Minister is renowned for in the Australian community. We know he's desperate to save his own job. Why not come up with a decent housing affordability policy? That would be a step in the right direction.

The Liberals claimed that the 2017 budget would deliver an extraordinarily large housing package and that 'it would be an impressive and well-received package'. Let me tell you that there is nothing impressive about the package before us today. It's a do-nothing package from a do-nothing Prime Minister. Labor governments at all levels are leading the way on housing affordability, but there's not much use having terrific, progressive Labor governments if you have a federal government that is doing everything it can to undermine housing affordability.

It really is time for those opposite to take action on housing affordability. It really is, because we can't afford to wait until the next election and the incoming federal government—which will be under the leadership of Bill Shorten—to take the tough decisions to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to either rent a home or aspire to buy their own home. It's a very sad day in this country when our young people don't even dream of owning their own home. When I grew up, even though I came from a poor family, we had our own home. We were all taught to aspire to achieving that. When you are an Australian, you work hard, take on a second job and do what you have to do so you can afford your first home. You make some sacrifices along the way. That's what we should all be working towards so that young Australians have that same dream. It is possible, but you need to have the right levers, you need to have the right policies and, dare I say, you need to have the right Prime Minister who has the right policies and who will lead this nation.

The reason we're in this crisis now is that we have a do-nothing Prime Minister. We have a Prime Minister who is bereft of any policies. He's doing nothing to drive the Australian economy. He's doing nothing to ensure that we turn the tide of people who can no longer ensure they have full-time jobs. We have now in this country—which, I'm ashamed to say, is devastating—the working poor. We've seen the government attacking penalty rates. That's what they do, because they just don't get it. Not getting it is one thing, but it's even worse than that—I think they just don't care.

If you look at the measures in these two bills, all the government are interested in doing—as they do all the time, whether it's taxation, housing affordability or tax concessions—is looking after the top end of town and looking after their mates. That's what they do. It surprises me that some of those people on the government benches whom I respect aren't more vocal. No, that's right—we have a member from the other place, Mr George Christensen. He has other ideas—oh, but that's right, he lied about them. The government are entangled in their dysfunction. They are in chaos. They have a Prime Minister and a leader who is so desperate to keep his own job that he's taken his eye off the ball. He's not putting Australians first; he's putting his own survival and his own job as the most important things. We're coming to the end of 2017 and we've seen this Prime Minister is a do-nothing Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who has let down all those people who voted for him in the hope that he would show some leadership and change the direction of this country. He has let them down. I know that not just from a Labor perspective, but I know that from my Liberal friends who voted for him because they thought he was going to do something different. He's doing something different, all right. He's ignoring the Australian people, and he does that at his own peril.


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