Thursday, 28 June 2018
National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Bill 2018, National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Bill 2018 and the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018. The first bill before us will give effect to the Turnbull government's announcement, first made in the 2017-18 budget, establishing the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. The corporation as envisaged in the bill would have two core functions: the establishment and operation of an affordable housing bond aggregator and the establishment and operation of the $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility.
It's important to note that, while the government flagged its intention to establish the NHFIC in the 2017-18 budget, this came after the release of Labor's plan for housing affordability and jobs, released in April 2017. As part of this plan, and building on our existing policies to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax, Labor committed to establishing a bond aggregator in order to drive increased investment in affordable housing.
Given that we've all had a long week—and I could speak for 20 minutes on this, but I don't propose to do that—I just want to indicate the scale of the problem that the bond aggregator is trying to deal with, and that is that, across many major cities and regional areas, the affordability of housing is really bad. And it's not just in the cities; it's in regional areas as well. AHURI, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, found that more than 806,000 households were in affordability stress, and a further 527,000 households had not formed due to affordability constraints. Homelessness is increasing, and the issue of homelessness meant that 116,427 of our fellow Australians were counted as homeless on census night. Many, many Australians are in rental stress, and, according to the ABS, just over half, 51 per cent, of all low-income-renter households in Australia are in rental stress. Homeownership rates are falling, and this means that many young families are having to dedicate larger and larger proportions of their household income to servicing mortgages—if they can actually get into a mortgage.
Labor, in government, produced the The road home white paper. We committed to the Housing Help for Seniors pilot. We invested $5.6 billion in a social housing initiative. We provided $6 billion to the states and territories for affordable housing. We also established the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which had provided over 30,000 new affordable rental housing units; we were on track to deliver 50,000, and we believe it could've been extended, for a further 35,000 dwellings. We established the National Housing Supply Council, because having an analysis of housing supply is absolutely essential to deal with this issue. And we appointed a dedicated Minister for Housing and Homelessness.
We believe the government's approach currently is flawed, and it's in stark juxtaposition to what we did in government. Since 2013, the Abbott and Turnbull governments have refused to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. They closed the National Rental Affordability Scheme, they scrapped the first home saver accounts scheme, they abolished the National Housing Supply Council and the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness, and they cut $44 million a year in capital funding.
Even though we support this bill, the bond aggregator on its own will not deal with the issues of getting low-income people into housing. The Australian homelessness monitor indicated:
… it will not provide a sufficient subsidy to increase the level of social housing.
The Community Housing Industry Association said it will not be sufficient to address the funding gap between the operating costs and rental income. AHURI itself said inadequate government co-funding was the primary capacity constraint that providers currently face in their efforts to expand affordable housing.
We have got a housing plan out there. We have indicated we will say more on housing prior to the next election because we just think that, unless you've got a roof over your head, unless you've got the capacity to have housing as a base to build your ongoing capacity to engage in society, you fall behind in education, you fall behind in health and you fall behind in all the key indicators that make these issues so important.
I just want to indicate, while I'm on my feet, that I will not be proceeding with the amendments that I have proposed for the committee stage, because I have had correspondence with the minister's office. I'd like to table that correspondence and put it on the record. The correspondence from the Hon. Scott Morrison MP says:
Dear Senator Cameron
I am writing regarding amendments proposed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in relation to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Bill 2018 (the Bill) in the committee of the whole (committee of the whole amendment number 8422).
The Government agrees to the proposed amendments (see attached). However, in order to facilitate the passage of the Bill today, I seek the support of the ALP to the passage of the Bill and the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018 without amendment, the Government will then bring your proposed amendments forward in amending legislation in the Spring Parliamentary sittings.
The Hon Scott Morrison MP
I seek leave to table that correspondence.
In tabling the correspondence, can I indicate that the Labor Party, the opposition, have responded to the minister indicating we agree with that proposition and we will deal with those amendments in the spring sitting period—that's if we're here. We may be back in government for that period, so we won't need any agreement from Minister Morrison.
I have indicated briefly the scale of the problem. I move:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate calls on the Government to adopt Labor's policy and establish a National Housing Supply Council to:
(a) provide advice on whether state and national policies are delivering housing policy objectives, including access to cheaper and longer term finance for community housing providers through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation and the National Housing Infrastructure Facility;
(b) improve tracking and accountability of funds spent through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement; and
(c) provide advice on the use of Commonwealth landholdings including opportunities for development and release of land to boost housing supply.".
There is so much more I could say about this, but I won't delay the Senate any more. I thank the Treasurer for the correspondence. I think it provides a way for passing these bills tonight, without any undue delay. I would certainly hope that the crossbench will support my second reading amendment, because it sends a big message that the aggregator on its own doesn't do the work. We need to do more to get low-income people, social security recipients, into housing. We want to get rid of having 116,000 people homeless each night in this country. The bond aggregator is a good step. We support it, but it is not enough.
The Greens support the swift passage of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Bill 2018 and the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018. As the previous speaker, Senator Doug Cameron, said, it is a step but it is a very small step. We do welcome the bond aggregator. In fact, the Greens suggested it first in 2013. Five years later, the government's moving on it, and that's an excellent thing. We know that social housing organisations are desperate to unlock investment to get on with the job of building high-quality social housing that guarantees affordability and security for tenants. That should be the basis of any fair, decent government, because housing, let's remember, is a human right. I repeat: yes, this bill is necessary and, yes, we need to get it through quickly, but it's a very small step.
We have a lot of catching up to do in the area of social housing. In this country I think the whole conglomeration of what's delivered in that area at the moment is about 4.59 per cent. It's just disgraceful. There are so many inspiring examples from across Europe, where 20 to 30 per cent of their housing mix is social housing—and it's not relegated, it's not regarded as being for losers and all the insulting terms that you hear here in this country; it's got a fine tradition behind it. That's what we need to restore, and it's again why we need to go so much further than what we have before us here. Let's remember that shocking decision of the former Abbott government to abolish the National Housing Supply Council. Certainly one of the Greens positions is supporting the re-establishment of that council. It's something that is certainly overdue.
The Greens note the second reading amendment from Labor. We're ready to support it. We'll continue to do our work in the housing sector, because bringing in more social and public housing is a way we can help ensure that everybody has a home. In any country, that should be a fundamental right; and in a rich country like Australia that's achievable.