Thursday, 11 May 2023
Consideration of Legislation
President, I appreciate you giving me the call straight up. I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 and related bills.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:
That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the consideration of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 and related bills may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
We know what's been happening in this chamber this week. We know that what has been happening in this chamber this week is that the partnership between the Greens and the Liberal Party of Australia has ensured that the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill is not debated. It has been, frankly, undignified to see the so-called progressive party teaming up with the National Party and the Liberal Party to filibuster and deny or delay debate because they don't want to debate legislation that is the most significant investment in housing by the Commonwealth government in a decade. And why do they not want to debate it? They don't want to debate it because they don't want to have to vote.
Let's be clear about what this bill represents. This bill represents an election commitment that was clear, unambiguous and transparent to the Australian people. The Labor Party have a mandate for this legislation. We absolutely do. We went to the Australian people with this policy and we said, 'This is what we will deliver.' The legislation went through the House some months ago. It's been in the Senate, but have the Greens and the coalition wanted it debated? No, they don't want it debated. They want to filibuster and delay and ensure that they don't get to a vote, I suspect because—you hear some whispers—the Greens don't actually want to be seen to be on the wrong side of it; they just want to keep playing this out. How cynical! At least have some courage. Either vote for or vote against. But do you know what you're doing? You're filibustering with the coalition on legislation that will deliver 30,000 new social and affordable homes in the first five years and 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence—perhaps listen to that: 4,000 homes for women and kids fleeing domestic violence—and for older women at risk of homelessness.
The joint crossbench, including the Greens, came to the government with concerns, and Minister Collins negotiated in good faith to address every single concern. But you know what? The Greens' spokesperson on housing—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Let me talk to you about the Greens spokesperson on housing. He's had a taste of the media spotlight. Your spokesperson on housing is now prioritising media attention, from stunts and obstruction, over housing for women and kids fleeing domestic violence. How shameful. This man's ego matters more than women fleeing domestic violence and older women at risk of homelessness. This man's ego matters more than women fleeing domestic violence. What sort of party are you?
This rant from the Leader of the Government in the Senate is well out of order. She is reflecting personally on the motives and impugning the motives of a member of the other place. She is not only wrong; she is very clearly showing that Mr Chandler-Mather is right under the skin of the government. I ask you to require her to withdraw.
I withdraw for the benefit of the chamber. What I would say to you is this. The question for the Greens is whether a person's ego matters more than the security of having a roof over your head, because that is what we are seeing. You've got an opportunity today, in the next few hours—
Honourable senators interjectin g—
Let's see what you do.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Senator Lambie has given notice that she wishes—
Thank you. Senator Lambie is deferring her private senator's motion, so you've got a couple of hours to do the right thing. And we'll give you the opportunity to do that because I know—I suspect, I should say—that there are those in your party and in your party room who are concerned about the way in which your spokesperson is handling this, because he is prioritising a bit of media attention and his personal ego over the interests of women and children fleeing violence and of people in this country who are in need of government investment in the housing sector. You may sit there, saying: 'We want more. We want more.' This is the election commitment. You are standing in the way of the biggest investment in housing in a decade—
Honourable senators interjecting—
And you may yell as much as you like, but you are blocking funding for social and affordable housing in this country.
It's always unfortunate to see lovers having a fight, isn't it, particularly when it plays out publicly—a lovers' tiff between the parties of the current government, between the Labor Party and the Greens; this little stoush that's turning into quite a personal stoush.
The parties of the current government, the Labor Party and the Greens—here they are now having this stoush playing out publicly, a lovers' tiff that's turned into quite a public brawl. You know the government is feeling the pressure on these things, you know government ministers are feeling the pressure, when they start to personalise the debate too. We saw there in Senator Wong's contribution a personalisation of the debate, targeting the Greens' housing spokesman and turning it into a personal debate against a member of the Greens, trying of course to play into whatever divisions might exist within the Australian Greens.
Well, it didn't sound like a policy debate; it sounded like a personal attack. It sounded like a big sledge against the Greens. It sounded like the two of you falling out of love with one another. But, of course, we know it will only be temporary and that, no doubt, at some stage there will be some sort of secret deal, bargain et cetera.
The government is seeking to come in here and say this bill should be expedited. The chamber has apparently had enough time to debate something that it's barely debated at all. It has barely had the chance to debate this at all. What is this government doing with the management of its legislative program? Mishandling it terribly would be the answer to that because, before trying to mount the argument that it's time to push this through—that it's time to guillotine this—there should have been some debate of it before you actually got to that point.
This is a new $10 billion fund that the government has struggled to define or defend when it has come under scrutiny. It's meant to be an off-budget fund. That's the way they took it to the election campaign so they could, of course, go through that campaign and say: 'This isn't really money that we're spending. We don't have to account for this money; we're running it off budget.' But when challenged about investment mandates for the fund, in terms of how it will actually be accounted for, do the government make any of that public before this Senate is asked to vote on it? Of course they don't—none of that sort of detail or information is provided in advance. Then, in their desperation to try to negotiate this fund with the Greens or the rest of the crossbench, we learn they start to offer deals that say, 'Regardless of how much this fund earns, we might build this many houses,' or, 'Regardless of how much this fund earns, we might start to spend this much money as a guarantee year on year.' Well, guess what happens if you give those guarantees? It takes the measure on budget. It blows out of the water the entire premise of the policy that the government took to the last election. In their desperation, with an ill-conceived policy, they are now starting to unpick it and demonstrate just how bad Labor is when it comes to managing money. That's what all of this comes back to.
This off-budget fund, about which the government has said, 'We don't have to account for it as spending; we can claim a budget bottom line position without having to account for this,' will end up costing Australians. It will end up hitting the budget bottom line. It will end up deteriorating the government's budget position. It will end up operating completely contrary to what was promised at the election and the approach that they've taken. This is a bill that deserves scrutiny. This is a bill that deserves fair debate.
Senator Wong, you knew coming in here today that Senator Lambie is going to withdraw her private senator's time, providing an extra hour of debate time—but guess what? By pursuing this tactic, you're eating up that time. Rather than having an hour of debating Senator Lambie's bill, we'll instead spend about 45 or 50 minutes debating the motion that you've insisted on moving. Senator Wong, you've created this—
This is a mess of the government's own making. This policy is a mess of its own making; this poor chamber management is a mess of its own making. This lack of time to debate this bill is a mess of its own making, and this lovers' tiff between the Labor Party and the Greens is a mess of their own making which is only going to get worse thanks to the personal tactics Senator Wong has now deployed against the Greens.
You'd expect better of the government if they really wanted to be constructive and work with this chamber to get legislation passed. They've done that before, but, for whatever reason, they've got out on the wrong side of bed this morning and they are tetchy. We just saw that from Senator Wong—personalising things, running the personal arguments, running the politics and not at all talking about the issue. Minister Wong, who moved this motion and says that the government want to get on with debating their bill, spent the entire time talking about the Greens housing spokesperson.
I would like to point out that the bill has been through the House. It is now before this Senate, and it is up to the Senate to decide how we deal with this piece of legislation and how much time we are going to give to scrutinising this bill. No matter what side of government it is, it is always the case that, when they want their way, they think they have ultimate control. It doesn't matter whether it's the Labor Party or the Liberal Party in government: wake up! There is a Senate crossbench, and you have to be prepared to negotiate, talk and work together.
What we've seen today and, in fact, all week is a lack of respect for this place, a lack of respect for this chamber and a lack of respect for the individual senators who have been elected to this place to stand up for our constituents and the issues that the community wants. No-one in this debate should be wanting to ram through a piece of legislation which has already been proven to be a fake. There is no guaranteed spend on housing in this bill, and that is a problem. Minister Wong has stood here and said that this government has a mandate. Well, you don't have a mandate in the Senate. And you don't have a mandate on a bill that you promised people would build houses, because the bill doesn't do that.
We would like to fix the bill so that it does build houses and that money is spent creating homes for the most desperate people in this country. It is a sick joke that this government continues to pretend that it is dealing with the housing crisis while gambling everything on the stock market. It's a sick joke, and people are seeing it for what it is. If you really care about building houses to help women fleeing domestic violence, build them. Fund them and build them. That is what the Greens would like to see.
The fact that there is no guaranteed spend in this bill means that your promise is hollow. And what about the one-third of Australian households who are renters? There is nothing in this bill for them. What does the Prime Minister say about that? 'Not my problem. Leave that up to the states. We can't do anything. Not my problem.' It is not good enough. We want to work constructively with you, but, if you keep playing these silly games with a winner-takes-all approach, you're not going to get very far.
I'd remind members in this place that this Senate works best when we stick to the issues and stay away from the personal jibes. This place works better when we give decent time for debate and we work together to maximise that, not when we have stunts brought in at nine o'clock, the beginning of the morning, to up-end things. To the government of the day: you have to start to understand that you do not control the Senate. You do not. You have to talk to people. You have to cooperate. That is what the Australian people voted for. They voted for a Senate to scrutinise and work collectively, not to rubberstamp fake and hollow promises from the government of the day.
First of all, I just want to make it quite clear that this bill that I was doing this morning is very important to me and many veterans out there. I did not tell the Labor Party until about eight or 8:30 last night that I could not put this bill up. The reason I cannot put this bill up is that it will fail. It will fail the veterans and what they need for a royal commission, because I haven't got it right. I haven't got that right. I am close and I know you guys know I've been working on it. Senator Scarr is working on it with me. I just haven't been able to get it done in the time. I'm making phone calls and I'm doing everything I can because I know those royal commissioners need every document they can possibly order or want on the table to make those veterans' lives better. I would be standing up this morning and just grandstanding because I still do not have the answer. I will continue and I hope to God I have that by the next sitting and that we can make an agreement so that royal commissioners have every bit of evidence that they need to continue on with this royal commission and to make those recommendations for the future—that they have that in the next three or four weeks. But I apologise. I apologise to those veterans out there. I just don't have that answer this morning. I'm not going to sit here and waste an hour's time when I know I can find that bloody answer; it's there and I will find it. That's my first point.
My second point is this. We got houses built because I got a deal done with your party last time. Those houses have made a significant difference in Tasmania. I will give credit to Peter Gutwein and the Liberal Party in the state down there. They were a little bit slow to get started, but I understand that. That process takes about two years because you've got to get greenfield sites, you've got to get the materials and you've got to have the tradies. I know that and I understand. But we're doing a bloody good job taking the politics out of it. We are doing a good job in Tasmania and we're trying to build them as fast as we can; I know that. But I have to say to my colleagues from Tasmania: we are falling behind because, for every one we've built, we've got nearly bloody 50 more on that waiting list. We can't hold this back. I know this is not perfect, but people out there need roofs over their heads. So, for goodness sake, please, can we just get a starter on this? I really don't want to hold this back any further.
Nothing's ever perfect up here. It's never perfect. But as somebody who knows what it's like to move out of normal housing and know that we didn't have to live in a tent with my mum, which would have absolutely paralysed her—knowing that she couldn't keep a roof over her kids' heads is heartbreaking. We cannot hold this up. We need this to get through. We cannot hold this up another day. So, please, to you people over here who think you have a social conscience: do you really want to keep playing with people's lives? Do you really? Because all I hear about is all these women out there in domestic violence houses.
You have an opportunity to get it started. You have the biggest balance of power in this parliament this time around. You have that. You can keep chipping away. It's no different to what you do with your gas and coal and what you're doing there. You keep getting better at it. You keep reducing on having more gas and coal here and you're doing a great job. But we need a starter. This is something we can keep chipping away at and we can keep doing deals and adding to it. So, please, can we just use a base here and get started today. No more of the politics, no more of the rubbish—I just want roofs over people's heads. That's all I want.
I want to thank the Labor Party for being very constructive. I know that Senator Tyrrell's worked very hard with you guys. I know there have been a lot of hours put into this. We may not get this perfect, but we've got to start. What we do know is that every state has been promised 1,200 houses to get started. Let's get it started because it is going to take quite a few years to get them to start it and get them built. In the meantime we can chip away. We also know there'll be an election by the time they get started on building them. I can tell you now, if people are crying out for houses, they're going to be offered a lot more. But at least get the program started so we can get moving and so I don't have as many people out there, especially our children, without houses. For that next generation, I don't want to see them starting their lives living in a tent, because that's really unfair. We're not acting like adults by doing that to our children of the future. It is as simple as that today.
We're opposing this suspension of standing orders and, if the suspension is successful, we'll be opposing the motion, by leave. Let's have a look at some of the considerations. The first part of Senator Wong's motion, 1(a), is wrong. But, if it is 'the most significant government investment in social and affordable homes', then it needs proper debate and scrutiny. We haven't had that. The second part, 1(b), is spurious. Again, we need a full debate. Part 1(c), again, is spurious. We need a full debate. Part 1(e) says:
at a time when Australians are facing significant housing pressures, the progress on the bills should be expedited by the Senate.
The Labor budget is inflationary and will hurt housing in this country. Housing prices will escalate because they're bringing in 400,000 new immigrants. Who the hell is going to house them? Plus these bills are littered with wastage and huge increases in bureaucracy. Bureaucrats do not build houses; they frustrate the building of houses. They increase the cost of building houses. We need to let the free market get on with the job, let tradies get on with the job of building houses. Then, at (1)(f), is:
recognising the significance of this legislation, there is a need that these bills be considered today
We need thorough debate on these bills. They're significant. We need to get back to basics.
The $10 billion fund is not Monopoly money; it's taxpayers' money. We need to debate how to spend that wisely and properly, so we will be opposing this. I make the point, in this debate in the Senate, as it happens so often, labels are the refuge of the ignorant, the dishonest and the fearful. People using labels in this parliament, decide for yourselves which of those apply to you. Is it ignorance, dishonesty or fear?
I want to particularly single out the contribution we just heard from Senator Lambie, who dropped a few truth bombs on this chamber that really needed to be heard by a few people.
Senator Lambie's contribution brought home the stark reality that too many Australians are experiencing at the moment—that is, a lack of housing; rising rates of homelessness—which we are trying to work with this chamber to fix. It is time for the nonsense around this issue to end. We've had weeks of the performative social media from the Greens. We've had months of the self-indulgent press conferences. The Greens, at some point, have got to realise that we are not in a school debating society here. We are talking about real people's lives and real solutions, to create the housing that so many Australians so desperately need, and today we have an opportunity to fix that. People are hurting.
It is time to debate legislation that will build 30,000 social and affordable homes across Australia. That's what this motion does. It seeks to bring on the debate on a bill that will help build tens of thousands of homes. I've listened to the Greens try to categorise this as being not enough, that it's the only thing being done about housing. That is just more nonsense and misrepresentation from the Greens. Not only will this fund build 30,000 new social and affordable homes in the first five years, the Greens want to vote against 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence and older women at risk of homelessness. The Greens want to partner with the coalition to, as Senator Lambie is talking about, build homes for veterans.
That is what is at stake here. There's a lot more at stake here than a social media tile or a graphic or a video or whatever other self-fulfilling, self-indulgent social media thing. These are people's real lives. That is in addition to the $2 billion, that Labor is financing, being made available to support social and affordable rental homes. There is up to $575 million available for social and affordable rental homes and $350 million to build a further 10,000 affordable homes. We are pulling every possible lever open to government to build social and affordable homes that the Greens want to jump on Instagram and tell people they care about. We're doing every single one of these things.
It's still not enough for the Greens, because what they're interested in is milking public attention to build up their votes at the expense of people who desperately deserve housing. The Greens should be ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed of leaving people living in tents so that they, the Greens, can have a social media feed. That is all that matters to the Greens—not the content, not the substance. That is all that actually matters.
Who is coming together today to oppose the biggest investment in public housing that we have seen in this country, in a decade, in addition to everything else? Who's coming together? We have a new coalition emerging between the Greens; Peter Dutton and the Liberal and National parties; and, it would appear, Pauline Hanson and One Nation. Well, give yourselves a pat on the back! What great company you're keeping in order to stop the development of public housing in this country. Oh, you don't want to be with the Greens?
Comments should be directed through the chair. I know it's a highly emotional argument for the Labor Party at the moment, but to be shouting at the Greens in the manner that they are is highly disrespectful.
It would seem now that the coalition between the Greens and the opposition is even going to procedural points as well. The Greens want public housing so badly that they will sell their souls and wrap their arms around Peter Dutton, Pauline Hanson and every single member of the opposition. That's how badly they want public housing to happen in this country—to stop the biggest investment in public housing in this country in a decade.
It's not the first time we've seen the Greens say they want housing and then do everything possible to stop it. They've got a long record of doing that at council level in a number of states. Who could forget the Yarra City Council, controlled by the Greens, which knocked back a plan to build 100 new social housing units on council land? They wanted social housing in Melbourne so much that they blocked it! They wanted social housing so much in various Sydney councils that they blocked it! Now they want social housing so badly at the federal level that they're teaming up with Peter Dutton and Pauline Hanson to block it as well.
We know that this hypocrisy disease that surrounds the Greens has, unfortunately, spread to Queensland as a result of the Greens winning federal seats. We have the Greens housing spokesperson, the member for Griffith, out there saying: 'We need more housing! We need more housing! But, you know what? There's a housing development with 1,300 homes, and I'm going to block it.' He is out there leading protests in Griffith to stop housing developments in his electorate, while saying that he wants more public housing. The member for Brisbane is teaming up with him to do it as well. The Greens are hypocrites on this issue. It is time to call it out, and it is time to build more homes.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senator Watt! Senator Whish-Wilson, I have just called for order across the chamber and that is what I expect.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Stop the count. Senators, I have called order three times and I've called on particular senators to stop the interjections. I'm asking you to respect this chamber. There is a count underway and it is normally done in silence, without interjections. Please continue the count.