Thursday, 11 May 2023
Consideration of Legislation
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of government bills.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of this Senate, namely a motion relating to the consideration of government bills.
I am surprised and quite disappointed the government did not grant leave for this motion. This motion, which has been circulated in the chamber, would give precedence to consideration of the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2023, the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023, and the Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Bill 2022.
The first two of these had previously been mooted to be listed in the normal non-contro business for the Senate. The government chose to not proceed with the non-contro listing, which would have ensured that these bills passed today quickly and seamlessly. The last of these has been subject to extensive debate in the Senate chamber already and, I understand, is close to being able to reach closure and pass the Senate. I don't intend to detain the Senate with a long debate about the merits of this. My intention is to enable us to get these bills done. This is simply what the government should have done as good housekeeping regarding the management of its legislative program. I'm pleased to co-operate with the support of the Greens in terms of bringing these on.
Yes, I know the government wishes it could get a vote on its housing bill today. It hasn't provided sufficient time for that to be debated. The Senate has determined that matter multiple times already, so you should have heard the message of the Senate by now. This is an invitation and an opportunity for the government to get done and get passed what can be passed today in an effective and timely manner.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Well, well, well! I think the Academy Award for best actor in a drama this week goes to Senator Birmingham for that performance of apparently trying to help the government, to assist the government with its program, and to do that with a straight face—although I notice there's a bit of a smile on your face now. The government did not grant leave for this because we had organised our program, our program has listed the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill as the priority bill, and this is government legislation time. There is a lot of time through the rest of the week when other senators get to list priorities for them. This is not part of that time.
The government's priority is the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. I understand that the antihousing alliance in the Senate will be working together to try to get this motion up, because that's the priority for them. The priority for the Greens political party and the opposition is to not support the investments that we want to make in increasing the supply of housing in this country, so they can only be referred to as the antihousing alliance. It is an unusual alliance. It's an alliance that's been created from different points of view. So we have the opposition saying that they don't want investment in housing because we are spending too much and we have criticism from the Greens, saying that it's not enough. But the end result of the antics that have been carried out in this place over the past week will be that this legislation fails to pass. It will delay the establishment of that fund. It will delay disbursements from that fund to allow the building of 30,000 social and affordable housing properties in this country over five years. That is the game they are playing. They are playing a game on housing supply. They might think it's funny and it might work in the Greens sub-branches in the inner-city where people are already comfortable in their homes, but this is about other people in this country, people who are struggling to find accommodation after a decade of dysfunction, delay and neglect from those opposite, who didn't care about social and affordable housing and who didn't care about housing supply in this country.
The failure of that policy has brought us to the point we are at today, where we have a significant shortfall in supply, and this Senate is saying, 'We don't want to increase the supply of housing in this country.' That is the direct result of the decision that they are taking in ganging up together, the antihousing alliance parties, to stop this bill from progressing. We have tried a number of times this week to extend hours to allow for debate, and the antihousing alliance have taken decisions to filibuster in a whole range of areas in the program to not allow that to happen. So don't come in here and say the government didn't allow enough time. We have tried to provide time so that people had the opportunity to debate the bill.
There are amendments to the bill. There have been discussions about the bill. We have been working on this for months. We have been in deep negotiations, not with the 'noalition' because they have disengaged and won't even come to the table. If you don't come to the table, you write yourself out. That's fine. That's a decision that Mr Dutton and his leadership team have made. We get that. They're just not going to be any part of the future of this country. Fine. But for the Greens political party to take this position and to gang up on us and to frustrate any attempt to have a long-term sustainable funding stream into social and affordable housing is something that they will have to live with. We will let everybody know that this is what they are up to. We will have to work out how to ensure that the Commonwealth is able to increase the supply of housing in this country, and we will, because we are focused on it and it is our priority. We have made that clear with other investments we are making in housing through NHFIC and through some of the tax changes the Treasurer announced on Tuesday.
Let's just speak very bluntly about what is happening here today. What is happening is that we have the Greens political party, the Liberal Party and the Nationals joining together to tell Australians who rely on social and affordable housing that political games are more important than them. That is what is happening here. No dressing it up with some apparently helpful motion to reorganise the program is going to give them cover on that. (Time expired)
The Greens stand ready to work collectively and collaboratively across the chamber to assist the government in actually getting something through the Senate this week. The three bills that are the subject of the motion that was attempted to be moved by Senator Birmingham are two non-controversial bills that would pass the Senate and, of course, the Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Bill, which we stand ready to facilitate passing the Senate in very short order. Our assessment is that that would take 10 or 15 minutes maximum and the government could have those bills through the Senate.
So, when the government is opposing attempts to have these bills put through the Senate, folks need to understand exactly why they are doing that. This is all about the government wanting to ram its housing agenda through the Senate. And I use the word 'agenda' in the loosest possible way, because the Labor Housing Affordability Future Fund is a steaming pile of neoliberal rubbish that does not guarantee the building of one single extra house in this country. Labor's bill, even under the best-case scenario put forward by Labor, that it will deliver 30,000 houses—and there is no guarantee that it will and no reasonable likelihood that it will; it is a fantasy best-case scenario—the demand for affordable housing in Australia will be bigger in five years time than it is today. That's right, folks: Labor's so-called solution will see the affordable housing crisis in this country worse in five years time than it is today. And how's Labor proposing to respond to this massive social crisis? How does this so-called party of the Left—which of course is a masquerade, because they are a centre-right political party and heading further to the right every day—propose to respond to it? By gambling $10 billion of public funds on the stock market.
The Future Fund, the vehicle that Labor wants to give $10 billion worth of public funds to to gamble on the stock market, lost 1.2 per cent of its value last year. Would Labor attempt to respond to a health crisis by gambling public funds on the stock market? Of course they wouldn't. So why are they proposing to take that approach to a housing crisis? And of course this so-called package put forward by Labor does nothing for renters—absolutely zero for renters. We are in a rental crisis in this country. Rents are skyrocketing, particularly in the major cities, but also in regional Australia. We have a Labor Party that in this budget has offered a pittance of $2.85 a day to people who are on income support—using, I might add, people who are in poverty as a tool to fight inflation while they are delivering the massively inflationary quarter of a trillion dollars in stage 3 tax cuts for the top end. That's what's happening here, and there is nothing for renters. There is nothing for renters in this housing affordability proposal from Labor.
In my home state of Tasmania, Tasmanians are being conned by the Jacqui Lambie Network, who are claiming that it is in the legislation that a minimum of 1,200 new homes will be built in Tasmania over the next five years, when it is not in the legislation; it's not in any of the amendments that have been circulated by the government. Yet Senator Lambie and Senator Tyrrell are colluding with the government to try to smash through a bill that doesn't guarantee that a single extra house will be built in Tasmania. Isn't it astonishing that the Labor Party would prefer to see its bill fail in this chamber today than to sit down and have a genuine negotiation with the Australian Greens?
The Labor Party needs to understand that it doesn't control this Senate, and I urge them to sit down and negotiate a decent outcome for people who are struggling with rental crisis, struggling with the housing crisis, so we can move forward and address those issues.
I move the motion standing in my name, as circulated:
That the following bills take precedence over all other government business today:
(a) Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2023
(b) National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023
(c) Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Bill 2022
President, on a point of order, I would invite you to rule that amendment out of order and encourage you to do so. The motion before the chamber seeks to rearrange business, and, under current orders of the Senate, the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill is the next item of business that is coming on in the Senate. So the amendment being proposed, I would argue, has fundamental change—
The amendment being proposed is a fundamental change that essentially is seeking to amend the motion, the result of which could be achieved by simply defeating the motion if the government wished to. The Senate has already twice expressed its will, in terms of government attempts to reorder business in relation to this bill, and the Senate has twice rejected the government's attempts. There is precedence in relation to a ruling that, where the Senate has clearly expressed its will on more than one occasion, a motion will not be taken again. This is a rather unique attempt at trying to do the same thing yet again, but it is nonetheless another attempt at doing so. I believe the amendment should be ruled out of order, such that the motion as put be considered, rather than us dealing with what appears to be an endless time-wasting exercise by the government to prevent consideration of its own bills.
On a point of order, I ask you to reflect, please, on page 241 in Odgers', which says:
An amendment may not be moved if it is a direct negative to the question. An amendment is not regarded as a direct negative unless it would have exactly the same effect as negativing the motion.
I think Senator Birmingham is right in his argument here—that the effect of the amendment that Senator Gallagher is putting actually has the same effect as voting against the motion. If that's not your ruling, President, could I ask you to explain why, in fact, you do not believe that that relevant passage of Odgers' is pertinent in this case.
I'm happy to do so. I am advised that, if we did nothing, we would go to the housing bill then the PID amendment bill. The motion moved by Senator Birmingham is seeking to rearrange that. The amendment by the government puts the housing bill next. So I am advised that, in this case, the piece of Odgers' that you used is not relevant. I call Minister Gallagher.
Thank you, President, for that advice to the chamber. I think we are reaching a pretty embarrassing point of the week, with the efforts being taken and procedural trickery and skulduggery going on. Over what? It's over the Senate supporting the investment of $10 billion into the Housing Australia Future Fund. That is what is happening here. There are efforts being put in place to not debate and not pass investment in social and affordable housing, and, even if you don't think it's perfect, it's a start to having a long-term funding stream going into social and affordable housing. Here we are with motions going this way and that way and the anti-housing alliance ganging up together to make sure that this bill cannot pass.
The government has listed the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill as its priority bill. We've got these three parties—the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Greens political party—working together to deny passage of the bill. Out of all the bills that go through this chamber I have to say I would have thought this would be the last bill that would face this kind of barrier. Honestly! The House of Representatives has dealt with it. Every housing minister in every state and territory has asked the Senate to deal with this bill. The housing organisations, the community organisations that will be beneficiaries—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Minister Gallagher, please resume your seat.
Senator Ayres! Order! Most of the senators on my left, who are calling out, are out of order. They're not even in their seats so they are all being incredibly disorderly. I'm asking the back of the chamber to stop being disorderly; there is plenty of opportunity for debate on this bill. I should not have had to sit the minister down. I'm asking for her contribution to be heard in silence, and I would do so for any senator in this chamber. Please continue, Minister.
The housing organisations, which have pleaded with us and have pleaded with all of you—
Honourable senators interjecting—
They have. We know they've been to see you to say, 'Pass this bill.' And the Greens slammed the door in their face. It's not good enough. It's not going to happen.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Minister Gallagher, please resume your seat. Once again, within a few seconds, I've had to call for order. If you wish to make a contribution, seek the call. Otherwise, I ask you to either leave the chamber, if you can't remain in here and be silent, or respect that the minister has the right and has the call. She has an absolute right to be heard in silence. Minister.
I shouldn't actually be in the position where we've had to move this amendment, because we would have naturally, some time ago, gone to this bill. The time-wasting and the procedural trickery that's going on to try and ensure we don't get to the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill is, frankly, a joke. I think the people of Australia expect better of us in the Senate. They expect we will deal with bills as they come. We wanted to provide extra time for people to have that debate. We wanted to sit last night—no, that wasn't good enough for the Senate. We wanted to bring it on first thing this morning—no, that wasn't good enough for the Senate. The filibuster started and now, at the time that we would normally and naturally get to this bill, this happens. So, yes, we are moving an amendment because we do want the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill dealt with. We do want to find that time. But it is absolute rubbish that what you're trying to do is arrange it so that we have time to deal with bills. It's just fraudulent; it's not true.
What you are doing—and what you should stand up and say you're doing, and what the Greens should stand up and say they're doing; it's everything you've done this week—is to make sure we don't deal with the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. Let's just say it as it is. I think people can hide behind motions and amendments and gags and all the rest of it. The agreement that's been struck between the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens has been to do whatever it takes—absolutely whatever it takes—to make sure that the Senate cannot pass a bill that would establish a $10 billion housing fund that would allow $500 million a year for more social and affordable housing for women escaping domestic violence, and their children, and for low-paid workers so that they can live close to where they work. That's what the Senate's doing now. And it's time for some honesty about that. Don't sit here and pretend that you're just trying to make things better or that you don't want to see the government spend so much. You three have ganged up to deliver this result and we won't let you forget it. We will not let you forget it. Until we get an outcome on housing we will be letting everybody know that it's the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens working together to make sure that we can't build more housing supply in this country. That's what the Senate's doing today. So we don't take a step back, our amendment seeks to reorder the priority and allow for the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill to come on first, because that is the priority.
Any member who has spoken to anyone in their electorate, in their community, realises that housing affordability and access to housing is a major issue, and here is one measure that we are taking. We have all these other things going on. We're working with the states and territories. We're pushing it through National Cabinet. We're increasing the liability cap for NHFIC so that it can ensure access to low-interest finance for community and social housing providers. We had a project here in Canberra just last week supporting the building of accommodation for women under the age of 45 who are on lower incomes who want to work towards owning their own house. That is what we are doing—practical steps to increase the supply of housing to take the pressure off people who want to buy and people who need to rent. That's what we're doing, and this Senate is standing in the way of it.
It is mind-bendingly crazy that that is where we're at today—that this Senate would choose that path as opposed to the path of 'okay, let's deal with this bill, let's set it up, let's make sure that we get the investment flowing'. Keep talking to us about more things you would like to see and keep talking to us about the way you want the fund to operate, but don't stand in the way of its being established in the first place. The irony of it is there are people calling for more investment when we can't get the investment that's before the Senate through the Senate—$10 billion, a $500 million funding stream. Anyone who has watched housing over the last 10 years realises that the Commonwealth hasn't been at the table. It completely vacated the field under the former government.
Here we are with a range of interventions that we are putting in place, including funding the extra support for workers in the sector; negotiating the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with the states and territories; increasing NHFIC's liability cap; and, with some of the tax measures that the Treasurer has brought in, trying to incentivise the National Housing Accord, working with investors around how putting that investment into housing in this country will work. And there's the Housing Australia Future Fund. It's part of a bigger suite of investments in housing, and this Senate won't even allow it to be dealt with. We have support from the Community Housing Industry Association, National Shelter, Homelessness Australia, the MBA, the Property Council, the Housing Industry Association, PowerHousing and the Urban Development Institute, who are all saying, 'Deal with this bill, please. Let us get started.' And this Senate wants to play games with procedure and to delay even debating it. Honestly!
We could leave this place today not having been able to even get through the second reading stage of this bill, because of the agreement reached between the opposition and the Greens political party. That is the result. What a week. You can leave here and give yourselves a big pat on the back because what you've done together is make sure that this bill doesn't get passed, that the fund doesn't get set up, that the money doesn't flow and that the houses don't get built. What a terrific outcome from the Senate! I say that with a very strong lacing of sarcasm. That is the result.
So I would urge senators to consider and support the amendment that we have moved and then, if that amendment is successful, to find time this afternoon to actually deal with the bill, as we have been trying to do. We will move whatever motion it takes to ensure that we can deal with this bill today, and, if people need to stay longer this afternoon, so be it. We want to deal with it. We have been trying all week to deal with it.
I urge those who are in the Senate to listen to the voices of the advocates; to listen to the voices of the state and territory housing ministers, who know a little bit about housing; to listen to the first ministers of the country, who at national cabinet signed up to work with us on Labor's housing plan. Everybody is in the cart except this antihousing alliance that's been formed in the dark of night in the corridors of the Senate to gang up and make sure that this bill cannot be dealt with.
That the question be now put.