Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


4:07 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Treasurer (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Dean Smith today relating to immigration and rental costs.

This question goes specifically to the issue that the government has been saying that it intends to focus on in relation to the budget—that is, ensuring it drives down inflation. It also goes to what the government has continuously been doing: saying one thing and doing another. It's a very common theme in my contributions to taking note of answers, I'm sad to say. We've just spent the last hour and 10 minutes debating the fact that this government has spent the last year talking about being open and transparent. They're more opaque than a brick. The contradictions—the speaking out of both sides of their mouths—are really quite outrageous. They come into the chamber and make every excuse under the sun. They deflect the problem to here, blaming the previous government.

But in this context, on this particular issue, the government are actually in full control because they control the immigration rates. Senator Wong, in her answer, quite reasonably mentioned the fact that the economy and the immigration system are recovering from COVID-19—quite a reasonable point for Senator Wong to make. But it's this government that is controlling the immigration rate. She can't blame the previous government or anyone else. Has COVID made a contribution to the issues around immigration? Absolutely it did. Is there a process for recovery off the back of that? Of course there is. But there is also another part to what's occurring in the economy, and that's the shortage of housing that exists. Clearly, COVID has contributed to the way people live, to the way that they share accommodation or do not share accommodation—a whole range of those things. But the government is the entity that's controlling immigration into this country and will do so over the next couple of years. A record number of people will be coming into this country—400,000 immigrants this year and 315,000 next year, for a record 715,000 people over the next two years—but it is a number they control. It's got nothing to do with anybody else. It's something that the government controls.

Are there tensions in the economy around labour and things of that nature? Of course there are. One of the themes of the previous motion to take note was housing, housing affordability and the capacity for people to get a home, and it is a big deal. But the government controls the immigration rate, and that was the point of Senator Smith's question in relation to where we are right now. The government will want to deflect and talk about the housing bill. It hasn't built a house yet. Mr Albanese said in 2021 that houses would start to come online in the first five years. He gave a guarantee of the number of houses that would come online in the first five years. We are almost a year into government, and they haven't built a house yet. Not one single foundation has been laid at this point in time. It is not a good start in that sense. If it is so urgent, why have we waited a year for the legislation?

It comes back to the point of the budget and what the budget's supposed to be saying for the future and the issue facing Australians, which is inflation. The Reserve Bank this month said rent inflation is expected to continue to pick up over the next year or so and to add materially to inflation over the forecast period. What's the Reserve Bank going to do if inflation keeps on going up? We just had a surprise 0.25 per cent—perhaps a shot across the government's bows. Now the government is going to continue to contribute to rising inflation through immigration levels that are going to cause housing inflation, which will feed directly into the numbers. So why is the Reserve Bank saying that? That's the point of Senator Smith's question, and the government controls the answers. They can't try to blame other people in relation to this, because they are the government and they are in charge. (Time expired)

4:12 pm

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's quite shameful, really. It's a pretty old playbook to be blaming immigrants and migrants for our housing crisis when you were in government for almost a decade. It's almost like you're reading One Nation's notes. But sure, let's talk about—

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Colbeck on a point of order?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a reflection on me and what I've said, and it is against standing orders to suggest that what I have said is racist. It is a reflection on me and should be withdrawn.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think that was a reflection on you, and I do recognise that we have quite a wide-ranging debate during take note, but I will suggest to Senator Stewart that she be cognisant of the question and response that we are taking note of and ensure that her comments are relevant to that.

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are talking about the impact of immigration on housing. I feel I have been directly relevant.

We have inherited an absolute mess of a situation in our nation. Those opposite had almost a decade to do something about it, and all of a sudden they care about putting roofs over people's heads. How shameful and embarrassing to be over there asking these questions of us. Not only are we responding to the housing and rental crisis we've got in this country; we're getting things done. We're making child care cheaper, we're making medicines cheaper, we're delivering 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, we're funding a pay rise for aged-care workers, we're delivering 20,000 new university places and we're providing up to $10,000 for each person who takes up a new energy apprenticeship. We've passed legislation for paid parental leave. We've established 10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave specifically for small-business workers to access from 1 August this year. We're advancing the Voice to Parliament. We got to work to repair our international relations. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, has visited 32 countries since her appointment, five of them more than once. We're getting on with the job of governing this country as well as making a real and practical difference to the life of every Australian.

Almost every one of the measures we've brought to this place has been voted against by those opposite. It's almost like they actually don't want a better future for all Australians. They want to take us back to the time when they were in power and did nothing. Right now we have a bill before this chamber, the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023, which will see a $10 billion investment. The fund will support the government's commitment to delivering 30,000 new social and affordable homes in the next five years. Going directly to the supply issue in response to demand—that's what we're doing. You did nothing. Not only, shamefully, are those opposite going to vote against it; the Greens, who cry about rental affordability and the housing crisis that we've got in this country, are going to team up with the Libs to vote it down. That's because the Greens and the opposition think that they know better than housing experts from across academia, industry and community who have given their views on this housing package. They've described it as 'transformative reform' that will enable the housing needs of more Australians to be met.

When asked if the Senate should move quickly to support the package, the Community Housing Industry Association declared it was 'absolutely urgent'. They also said, 'We have to put something in place right now.' The Urban Development Institute said, 'With every day that passes, it is costing them more and more.' The Property Council said, 'The quicker all of these mechanisms are up and running, the better.' National Shelter described it as 'the most critical housing legislation to be brought forward for the past 10 years'. But the Greens and those opposite are teaming up to vote it down because they don't think that this is a better future for Australians. It's an absolute shame and an indictment of them. I hope that at the end of today, or tomorrow—whenever we go to a vote on this bill—those opposite and the Greens will front up to the Australian people and tell them why they don't care about easing the cost-of-living pressures on the Australian people, why they don't care about helping to ease the housing and rental crisis that we've got and why they don't care about the $200 million that is going to the repair and maintenance of remote housing for Indigenous Australians. I hope that you front up to the Australian people when you, the Greens and the opposition, team up to vote this down. Shame on you!

4:18 pm

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of the answer to the question from Senator Smith regarding immigration and the rental crisis. Despite what we've heard this afternoon, Australians are welcoming people. Despite what we hear from Labor and the Greens and their mates in the socialist media industrial complex, they're not racist people. We're nothing of the sort; we're welcoming people.

Immigration has served this country well. I'm proof of that, of course, being the son of an immigrant family. We all know that. But, let's be clear, Australians are not stupid. They're not going to be sold a pup on this one. They understand that there's a time and a place for policy levers to include modest—we love the word 'modest' in this place—increases in immigration. But for the Labor government to be suggesting, at this stage, that something in the order 715,000 new immigrants over the next two years is even remotely reasonable is a nonsense, and there are myriad reasons as to why that is. They include, but are not limited to, the extraordinary pressure it's going to place on our infrastructure and on our housing system, which just can't sustain this sort of target. We heard that there are going to be I think 30,000 new homes built. My maths is pretty poor, but 30,000 into 715,000 doesn't seem to add up. Where are these people going to go? Are we just going to build tents and have those in the middle of cities? This just does not stack up.

I know the government likes to sell these decisions in a very simplistic sort of way: 'Don't worry about it. We've got it all under control. It's modest. Don't ask questions. We've got this under control.' But the truth here is that this migration pitch is going to cause problems that I don't think this government are even aware of and are ignoring at their own peril. As I said, the Australian people are not silly, and they don't want this. They particularly don't want it in places like Sydney and Melbourne, where the infrastructure is already heaving under the weight of large population numbers. They don't want this intake, at least until improvements are made in investment in infrastructure, in schooling, and in the road system, education, hospitals and houses.

Australians actually want cutting of red tape, lowering of taxes, the bringing back of business, and cutting of power prices, which is one we heard all the way through the last election—$275, was it, that power bills were going to drop by? And what have we seen since then? They've gone straight up. I guess we'd be looking at a different proposition if we were looking at the old Labor Party. Remember the old Labor Party that used to stand for the battlers, used to stand for working people, used to take those sorts of things into account? Now not only have we got a Labor Party that's bursting energy prices all over the country and shattering that $275 promise, which was mentioned 96 times, but we're also seeing a government that's giving us huge inflationary pressures—which this is only going to contribute to, by the way—and higher rents, all at the same time that we're seeing an enormous increase in migration.

This shows that the government, the Australian Labor Party, is no longer the party of the battlers and the workers; it's the party of the inner-city elites. We can see that every single day, every time we look at these pictures. And it's all getting very comfortable. They are now turbocharging those cost-of-living pressures that we just talked about. That's what this will do; make no mistake. This isn't going to be some magic wand they can wave. Look at South Australia, at the SQM research, which details the changes in rental costs. The South Australian housing market is relatively stable. We've seen some increases recently, but as at 4 May the increase in house rental prices alone is 11.4 per cent. The increase in rental prices for units is 11.4 per cent. And that's almost the good news, because let's turn to New South Wales and Victoria, where we can see something in the order of a 20 per cent— (Time expired)

4:23 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we've heard some really interesting contributions by senators, and particularly some interesting interjections, on the topic of housing and rental affordability. You'd think that this government had been in power for the last decade. Yet those opposite, who were here on the treasury bench for a full decade, wasted an opportunity to really address not just the rental crisis that we're currently facing but the housing market and are now somehow trying to blame Labor for their failures over the last nine years.

The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation's State of the nation's housing 2022-23 report, which was released last month, shows and confirms the need for all government, industry and housing stakeholders to work together in order to improve the housing outcomes for Australians, particularly the most vulnerable Australians. It confirms that the proposed Housing Australia Future Fund that the Labor government is putting forward here in the parliament will in actual fact double the number of new social housing dwellings, adding to the stock each year for at least the five years from the year 2024, when compared to the period between 2006 and 2021. The minister has confirmed that the fund is an absolutely important policy that this government is determined to ensure will pass this parliament. This government will work with those in this parliament to address the housing challenges that we are currently facing. The report is another reminder that too many Australians, particularly those who are vulnerable, are struggling to secure safe and affordable housing. No matter the part of the country, this is a crisis that we're all trying to address. The findings highlight the need to pass legislation that is currently before this parliament and before this Senate to establish the $10 billion fund that we have discussed time and time again.

I would just remind senators that this fund will deliver 30,000 new social and affordable dwellings in the first five years. Thirty thousand is nothing to sneeze at. It will create a secure and ongoing pipeline of funding for social and affordable housing over the long term. The last time we saw a significant investment was during the term of the previous Labor government. The Rudd government did see a massive investment in housing. Again, it has taken a Labor government to put real money, real dollars, on the table to address the housing crisis, particularly for those in social housing. It's not those opposite, who claim to pretend to look after those who are most vulnerable in our society, as we've heard from some of the contributions today; it has taken the Albanese Labor government to finally say: 'Enough is enough. We need to address the housing crisis.'

We are trying to unlock that $575 million through the National Housing Infrastructure Facility and invest it in social and affordable housing. So far, through the National Housing Accord, we've brought together state and territory governments, the Australian Local Government Association, investors and the construction sector. That sets a shared ambition to build one million new homes over five years from 2024 to help increase supply. We've also recently committed $67 million to boost funding to states and territories over the next year to help tackle homelessness and $91 million over the next three years to combat youth homelessness through the Reconnect program. In addition, we are developing a 10-year national housing and homelessness plan. It's important to put some of these facts on the table in terms of what this government is trying to do in the first 12 months of being elected to government.

It was really heartening to see reports that the government had welcomed the support of the Jacqui Lambie Network, and I want to congratulate Senators Lambie and Tyrrell for their support of this very important policy that the government is trying to navigate through the Senate. The changes that were announced will obviously see many people benefit from the fund. These are important steps to making available a minimum of 1,200 dwellings in each state or territory over the first five years from the establishment of this fund, which will also ensure that no state or territory misses out on dwellings under the Albanese government. That is something that should be repeated: 1,200 dwellings. (Time expired)

4:28 pm

Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Again we rise and we talk on this question of housing, rents and inflation and how that affects people, and the effects of immigration on that and on the cost of living. I note and am quite worried that, in one of the responses from the government side, it was said to be 'shameful' for us to ask these questions. That's a quote from today. It is 'shameful' for the opposition to ask questions about housing supply and immigration. That is the contempt with which they deal with the Australian people and the opposition—that it is shameful to ask these questions. But here we are: we are hearing that this housing fund, this nebulous $10 billion future fund, will present 30,000 homes over five years. By my maths—not real great at maths; think I got a B—that's about 6,000 a year. That's where I'm going. If we look at the maths of that, they would've lost $365 million last year investing in housing. It's only the investment that would build the housing, so how you build 6,000 homes for minus $365 million is a miracle to me. This answer, this all-wonderful fund, doesn't do that. But, with this government, best in show is not a policymaker. Best in show is not a minister. Best in show is a spin doctor. When we get here and we're talking about the growth of all these policies, what do you get when you have housing going through the roof, the cost of rentals going through the roof, the cost of living going through the roof? The answer under this government is: just add 715,000 more people. I don't know where they come from. Where are we going to build these 30,000 homes? Are they made out of Lego? We probably couldn't even afford that. But this policy comes from cloud-cuckoo-land. We have housing and rents going through the roof, so we'll just add 715,000 more people to rental housing and accommodation. It doesn't make sense, but we're told this is what will happen.

This is what we get told time and time again with this government: it's the absolute truth that what they're doing will fix everything. But will it? So many times they sit in here and say, 'This side voted against our energy relief package.' But it went through. If energy prices aren't going down, it's not because of how we voted, they voted or whoever voted; it's because you haven't put the policies in to bring them down. You got your package through. It hasn't worked. Prices are still going up. When looking out there in the world, that's not what the people of Australia want to hear. We're here to make Australia better, not to fight with each other constantly. When I'm talking to Steven at Newcastle go-karting club on the weekend, running up there.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

Poor Steven.

Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Poor Steven. His son Logan, a great driver, a real good talent, has got a hell of an engine, which does 107 on the straight. But Steven has to say that his son's racing career might have to go on hold because of housing costs going up. That's his entire future potential of life going away because housing is going up. Adding 715,000 people to the housing market does not bring that down. When we're building the infrastructure to service more housing at that number, putting in a freeze and review of all the infrastructure pipeline doesn't help that matter. That's where the rubber is not meeting the road. There are some very good things being said by this government about what it wants to do, but the legislation does not meet the aspiration.

When we're talking about the cost of living, the cost-of-living pressures aren't being put on by the Kremlin; they're coming from Kirribilli. They're not coming from Luhansk; they're coming from the Lodge, and to blame others is wrong. If only there were some mechanism government could have to work out where they were going to spend money for the next 12 months and four years, get some policies and come together one night, maybe a Tuesday in May, and say, 'This is what we'll do to make things better.' Maybe call it a budget night. If that were some time soon, they could have answers. But they don't. They have spin. Even this week, of all institutions, the ABC said numbers about debt and inflation are spin. The people of Australia don't want to know what happened five years ago; they want to know about this week, this month, this year. Can they pay their rents? Can they pay their electricity bills? Can they pay their grocery bills? There might be cost-of-living benefits in this budget, but we're putting up their taxes as well. It is tax and spend, all putting inflationary pressures on this. There are no answers; there is just spin, and people deserve better.

Question agreed to.