Thursday, 9 February 2017
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answers provided by Senator Brandis to the questions without notice asked today by myself and Senator Singh.
I noticed in one of the weekend papers that they had a scorecard for senators opposite. I think it might have been in the South Australian press. Senator Brandis was holding the rest of them up. I think he got a four out of 10. I have got to tell you, if the press had seen this performance today, it would have been even less than four out of 10. They might have even hit the minus button on his performance today.
Here we are, with the Attorney-General having absolutely no idea about the issues facing families on housing. He is dismissing negative gearing and capital gains tax reforms simply because it benefits those who vote Liberal more than anyone else. Liberal electorates are the ones that are doing most of the negative gearing and the capital gains tax assessments; they get more money out of it than anyone else. Yet ordinary Australians are out there, trying to buy a house. First homebuyers are absolutely struggling and this government—this mob, this rabble of a government, this divided government and this government that cannot even hold its own members in the government itself—has not got a clue about the issues on capital gains tax and negative gearing.
Senator Brandis says Labor's policies will push up prices. The Treasurer says there will be higher home prices under Labor's policies. The Assistant Treasurer says it would increase the cost of housing for all Australians, and yet the Prime Minister says:
Bill Shorten's policy is calculated to reduce the value of your home.
This mob does not have a clue. Go out to Parramatta, where many young families have gone out to establish a home. But unless you have got about $1.6 million, do not try to buy a house in Parramatta because you will never be able to get it. Go to Penrith, go to the lower Blue Mountains: homes there are now worth over a million dollars.
Yet the answer of former Senator Joyce, now the Deputy Prime Minister, is for young people in the Sydney metropolitan area to go bush. His answer is, 'Go bush, and everything will be okay! You can buy a cheap house out there. Abandon your family, abandon your community and abandon your job. Go to Toowoomba. Everything will be okay!' That is the answer this rabble of a government have for people. Yet Mr John Alexander is clear about the issue. Mr Alexander—Liberal member in the lower House and chair of the committee on housing costs until he was sacked by the government—has said:
We have been told time and time again that supply is the answer.
That is what Senator Brandis said today. Mr Alexander said:
But it's no good creating cities in the southern highlands and outside of Goulburn and outside of Shepparton if the same game is played ... where the investor will have an enormous advantage over the homebuyer and then dominate that market.
How many young homebuyers lob up to have a look at a house in Sydney and are asked, 'Are you here to invest or are you actually buying?' The investors have got all the cards in their back pocket. The investors are the ones who are going to make the gains. The investors are the ones who are going to buy that house. Young people are getting pushed out. Yet this government will not accept what economists are telling people all over the country, which is, 'You must get rid of negative gearing and capital gains tax to try to level the playing field for young Australians who are trying to get into the housing market.'
Yes, Wayne Swan, the former Treasurer, might have said something a few years ago. But I know Wayne Swan, and I know what Keynes said:
When the facts change, I change my mind.
That is what Wayne Swan has done. He has looked at the facts, something that this mob will not do. It is not right for Senator Brandis to laugh. Senator Brandis is going to be in London shortly, so it will not matter about the house prices! He is gone! (Time expired)
I am very pleased to get an opportunity to speak on the particular issue of housing affordability, because it is an issue that I have a personal interest in. Actually quite recently, I have been trying to buy my own house. Now, for those of you who are not aware, I am a single mother and I have three children. I am trying to find a house that is affordable and that is in a reasonable position—
As you said, I am on a parliamentarian's salary. But it is a tough gig, trying to find somewhere that is appropriate for your children—schools—and trying to find somewhere that is near elderly parents. This is tough for me, so I can only imagine how tough it is for those who are not as well off as we are.
Housing affordability is not a problem that can be solved with a blunt instrument. It is not a problem that can be solved with a simple solution of changing negative gearing or changing capital gains tax. There is so much more to this problem. It is highly nuanced. We have already discussed the issue of supply. We have discussed that over and over again today, and surely, logically, this is one of the answers. Opening up supply, not just in our cities but on the outskirts of our cities, is vitally important. Demand and supply are so interconnected in this particular issue. And this is something that the federal government is looking at right now. But it is not just a federal government issue; we need state government to buy in, and we need Labor state governments to buy into this issue. It cannot be directed solely at the federal government. We need a bipartisan approach to housing supply issues.
But beyond that, we need to take the next step, into regional development. This is something that the coalition government has been committed to for a long time now. We have been trying to decentralise Australia's urban population with things like the Building Better Regions fund, which is $297 million over four years, and with things like the Roads to Recovery program—$3.2 billion. These are the programs that will encourage people to look beyond our major cities, to look beyond the east coast to establish their lives elsewhere, places where there is housing affordability, because it is not an Australia-wide problem; this is definitely east coast, and it is definitely centred on major cities.
That said, there are other things that we can do. It is not just a matter of moving to Toowoomba or moving to Townsville. There are microreforms that state governments can take part in, and the federal government will also be considering those issues—things like stamp duty, if you look at some of the changes that the ACT government has recently implemented. It will be interesting to see how they play out. But certainly stamp duty is one of the great inhibitors of housing affordability. And that really is a state government issue. Beyond that—and this is something that I am particularly excited about—is not just the issue of housing affordability but affordable housing. And I know that Treasurer Scott Morrison has taken this particular issue and made it his own—and the appointment of the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, a fantastic fellow and very, very well qualified to be dealing with this particular issue and working in this space. He has been canvassing a number of coalition MPs and also undergoing a lot of research into this particular issue. I know that the Treasurer has recently come back from the UK, where he spoke to the UK's Housing Finance Corporation about social investment in housing. That is an absolutely fascinating thing that the UK has been doing, because the THFC is a finance aggregator and an intermediary that co-funds affordable housing for rent-ownership. This shared ownership model is something that I think the coalition should be considering—that I know that the coalition is considering. But, again, it is one of those things that requires longevity. Housing affordability is a long-term project. To implement this appropriately needs bipartisan support. So, I would urge those opposite to look beyond the blunt instruments of negative gearing, beyond the blunt instruments of capital gains tax, and think outside of the square. It is not just about those two solutions. (Time expired)
I also rise to speak on this motion to take note of answers on housing affordability and to express some incredulity at the absolute lack of preparedness in terms of any policy position from the Leader of the Government in the Senate this afternoon. When asked a question by Senator Singh about the government report that has been 20 months in the making, his response was absolutely missing any policy response at all. Senator Brandis in fact said, in his response to that question, that he was not going to embark on any policy, and that is clearly what this government has decided to do—not to do anything at all about the shame of inequitable access to housing for Australians.
The Turnbull government has indeed sat on its hands as this housing affordability crisis has gotten worse and worse. And we can see why it is getting worse—the failure of policy response that we saw in the answers given today. This government has not appointed a federal minister for housing and homelessness. There is no national housing affordability plan being implemented anywhere. The government continues to ignore the advice of independent economists, international economic agencies and think tanks who argue that Australia's housing affordability crisis needs more than blaming the states for a lack of housing supply. And that is all we heard today: the reiteration of that—it is the states' fault, it is the states' responsibility; they are the ones who should release the land; it is simple supply and demand. And we heard it reiterated in the comments by Senator Hume. It is no plan for no Australian and it has nothing to do with a future that we need to see, no vision for Australians to actually get housing.
This week the government's complete lack of leadership and lack of vision were evident when it came to housing affordability. The House of Representatives Economics Committee, after spending 20 months and being given 65 submissions and hearing 68 witnesses, handed down its housing affordability report. The government members have recommended not one change—zero recommendations—to their housing affordability inquiry. That is a waste of an entire committee, a complete waste of taxpayers' money, and it is symptomatic of this government's absolute lack of leadership, lack of policy and lack of any ideas about solving this crisis that is part of the world in which we Labor senators, at least, live.
Mr Harbourside Mansion: his policy is that your mum and dad should kick in and buy you your first home. A complete lack of leadership that is obvious from this lack of policy from the government when it comes to housing affordability mirrors their approach to economic policy. It is a failure.
Senator Brandis interjecting—
I can see that this whole debate is absolutely getting under the skin of the Attorney-General—
I agree with Senator Bilyk's interjection there. I think it would be very instructive to review any comments that have been noted by Hansard, because I believe that I heard a very insulting remark. I was about to make the comment that clearly Senator Brandis is very unhappy about having to debate this important policy position. We know that the Liberal Party are vastly out of touch with what is going on for ordinary Australians who cannot get into the housing market and cannot secure a home by the way in which they simply dismiss the problem. What we have heard is the confusion: 'If we do anything, prices will go up. If we do anything, prices will go down.' They do not know how to react to the problem.
In addition to that, they say to young people who are looking to get a home or people who are trying to get into the market at any age: 'Just move. Go and find a life somewhere else. Leave your job, leave your family, leave your supports, leave your doctor, leave your health care, leave it all behind. Just go and find somewhere you can afford. Go to where you belong, away from the cities, away from the entire east coast where this problem is absolutely abundant.' A Productivity Commission report has revealed the full extent of the Turnbull government's cuts to funding for affordable housing. The Productivity Commission confirms that there is $400 million less being invested in the National Affordable Housing Agreement than in 2011-12. So in addition to ignoring the problems, spending 20 months coming up with a report with no recommendations and failing to answer a single question today, they have taken $400 million away from what needs to happen for investment in affordable housing. This is a government that is failing every Australian with regard to housing policy in every state and in every possible way. (Time expired)
It would seem from listening to today's take note debate that the Labor Party, in our first week back in this place after the break over summer, is still on the beach. They have not come with a new policy. They may have taken their break in the regions. They may have gone up to the Gold Coast, maybe Mr Shorten was down at Lorne—
No, he would not have been at Lorne or Anglesea; he was definitely at Sorrento and Portsea—absolutely, Senator Brandis, thank you. That is right. That is exactly where Labor spent their summer. What they have not done is spend it on good ideas about what can build and grow our nation. It is incredibly expensive to live in capital cities on the east coast and to purchase a home, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney and increasingly so in Brisbane, but the solution is not the tired, worn-out housing policy the Labor Party took to, and failed to convince the Australian public about at, the last election. In fact, what the Labor Party fails to realise is that the issues around housing affordability are complex but directly go to demand and supply, and so it is state governments who should be releasing more and more land around capital cities. It is state governments and local councils who should be considering density requirements around their suburbs to ensure that housing stocks, the supply side of that equation, actually increase. That indeed is not within the purview of the federal government.
What we have been doing over summer, rather than lying on a beach with a tattered copy of our election policies, is talking to constituents out there in communities, talking to our local people to understand what their issues are. We understand what they want. You know what it is pretty hard to do? It is pretty hard to get a mortgage without a job. It is very hard to purchase a house—whether it is in Bunbury, whether it is in Benalla or whether it is in Brisbane—without a job. What our government has been focused on is increasing jobs supply and absolutely ensuring that the policies we bring to this place are wholly and solely focused on improving the economic growth within this country and therefore the job prospects of Australians across our economy, not just in capital cities.
I know Senator Hume went through some of the regional policies that we have been developing and talking about, but just this week, for instance, we have seen support for our dairy industry come through the parliament in the House. You want to talk about jobs? I know people on the other side deride living in the country as if it is a bad place, as if it is a negative thing to not live in a capital city. I can tell you, having grown up in a rural area, that it is fantastic. I think there are a lot of CEOs of ASX companies who come from the country. There are a lot of scientists—contrary to those critiquing the APVMA situation—that come from regional areas. A lot of science is done in the regions. When we talk about not having jobs, I think about the measures passed through the House about the dairy industry, which supports 40,000 jobs across this country directly and 100,000 indirectly. Those measures we passed in the other place to support them and their sustainability were fantastic, the sign of a government focused on job creation across our economy—food manufacturing, tourism jobs, trade agreements and mobile infrastructure. It is an incredible challenge. We all want Australians to be able to realise the great Australian dream of owning their own home, but we have to ensure that they have a job and that they earn enough money to save for it.
I think Bernard Salt is quite a witty commentator. He wrote a fabulous article about young people and how they choose to spend their disposable income these days. I think it is quite a useful reference point. I know that my government will be doing absolutely everything it can do, but we are not state governments. We cannot increase land supply. We cannot override local councils' planning decisions. What we can do is focus on building a strong economy so that each and every Australian can have a secure job where their wage increases so they can save and increase their prospects of owning their own home over the course of their lifetime. What we have been focused on over summer has been improving the outcome for all Australians; you have been at the beach. (Time expired)
Once again today we heard Senator Brandis not even attempt to answer the questions that were asked of him. We had the diatribe about everything in the world being the fault of the Labor Party and what terrible people we are, but it just goes to show exactly how out of touch with ordinary Australians both he and the Prime Minister, for the moment—I think he has a limited tenure there, I might add—are. It goes to show that they do not have an answer and they have no desire, really, to find an answer or to fix the issue of housing affordability. Senator Brandis was asked, 'Who was correct—was it the Treasurer or the PM—regarding housing price changes under the Labor Party policy?' which is a fantastic policy for housing, and he could not give an answer.
So, once again, there is lots of dysfunction, chaos and division within the government. Their attempt at a scare campaign on Labor Party policy on housing is just that. It is a pretty weak attempt and it is pretty hopeless. But we all remember the former Treasurer's response to housing affordability—that was for people to get a better job. Mr Hockey probably managed to get a better job. After all, he has gone to America and he has a lovely house there at taxpayers expense. Someone might say I am envious, because that seems to be the latest line from the government: we are all envious on this side.
Senator Brandis interjecting—
Senator Brandis, while Mr Hockey has left the parliament what we have been left with is Mr Barnaby Joyce. He recently suggested that you just need to get out of Sydney and Melbourne. What a hoot! Move away from your family, move away from your support and move away from your friends and your life and everyone you know. Move away and don't worry about your job. Move away from your GP. In other parts of Australia it is even a matter of moving away from public transport. His suggestion is to move to somewhere where unemployment is higher and jobs are more difficult to secure, just so you can buy a house. Well, no, I do not think that is right. I think that shows the absolute cold and callous indifference of Senator Brandis's government. I am not sure if he is popping over to London to get a new house soon, but I am sure we will find out sooner rather than later. Certainly, I know people on his side are trying to get rid of him and would like him to go. But that is not the point. The point is that unless we address prices in capital cities, high costs will continue to push people out into regional centres, jacking up the house prices and perpetuating the affordability crisis regional residents already face.
Labor has a great policy, no matter what those living in Narnia land over on that side say. We have a great policy in regard to—
Narnia land. I am sure you would have read that book, Senator Brandis. With all your books I would be most surprised if you had not read Narnia, because you have those huge book shelves chock-a-block full of things—
I should not let Senator Brandis and his very large bookshelves and large acquisition of books distract me! We do have and have had some great proposed changes to negative gearing tax concessions that would limit it to newly built homes, and changes to the capital gains tax concession, reducing it from 50 per cent to 25 per cent. That would save the budget $565 million over four years. But, instead, we get from the other side: 'Well, get your parents to buy you a house.' Thanks very much: I am a parent and my son lives in Sydney and now I have two adult children saying to me, 'Help me buy a house.' I will do what I can for my kids, but not every parent is earning the income I am earning. If you think people on $80,000 a year are able to buy their kids a house then you are living in Narnia—you are living in some completely different realm, not Narnia, where reality is non-existent.
Young people deserve a chance to own a home. The Australian dream of owning your own home is still strong and ongoing with most Australians— (Time expired)