Monday, 19 June 2023
Consideration of Legislation
I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 and related bills.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of the Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, I move:
That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving a motion relating to conduct of business—namely, a motion to provide for the consideration of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 and related bills.
I have circulated a motion in the chamber this morning which would allow for the housing bill to be considered after the government and the Prime Minister report back as to what agreement, if any, the Prime Minister can get out of National Cabinet in relation to the extraordinary amount of pressure renters are facing around the country today. We know, of course, that the housing bill, which this government has stubbornly been opposed to negotiating over, is before the Senate today, and the Greens would like for us to postpone that bill until the Prime Minister can show what he is going to do to relieve real pressure on one-third of Australian households.
We have been fighting long and hard to ensure that real money is put on the table to deal with the housing crisis, and—after months of being told that there was nothing that the government could do and they handed down a budget with no real money to deal with the housing crisis—over the weekend, we've seen, finally, a bit of cash, stashed at the back of the couch, put on the table. Finally, the government has found an extra $2 billion to relieve some of the pressure, to start getting on with building affordable, social housing. Well, good. Get on with it. Spend the money. And, in the meantime, give us your plans as to what you're going to do in relation to that one-third of Australians who live every day with the fear that next week, or next month, or next year, their rent is going to be put up. We know that the pressure that Australians in rental accommodation are feeling is extraordinary. We hear the stories every day. Our offices are inundated every day. They want us to act.
This motion says that we can deal with the housing bill on 16 October, after the Prime Minister comes back from National Cabinet having secured a deal. It is disappointing that, so far, the Prime Minister has done nothing for renters in this country. In fact, worse than that, he has said it is out of his hands. I mean, come on, mate. You're the Prime Minister of the country. You're the most powerful man in the land. You can, of course, use your influence, your abilities and the infrastructure of government to get something done. Put some money on the table at National Cabinet and get your colleagues, who we know are wall-to-wall Labor states on the mainland, to deliver for real people right now—renters and those needing social housing. Don't be so stubborn about it; just get the job done. Come to the party and be prepared to negotiate. If Labor acts on soaring rents at National Cabinet, this bill can pass, but, until then, what we are seeing is stubbornness and a refusal to act.
One-third of Australians have been left in the cold because the Prime Minister is playing games. Rents are rising, living costs are soaring and a third of Australians are being told: 'Bad luck. Not my problem.' We need our Prime Minister to take more leadership than that. We need a Prime Minister who is prepared to act for all Australians, whether you own a home, whether you're in social housing or whether you rent. We know that the people in rental accommodation are among the most vulnerable. They're in the most casualised work. They're students. They're single parents. They're young people. They desperately need to hear that this government cares about them, but all they've had so far is refusal, stubbornness and being put in the too-hard basket. It ain't good enough, which is why the Greens are standing here today. We will put this bill off until the Prime Minister comes back from National Cabinet with a plan to help renters.
Senator Hanson-Young, you don't need to wait until 16 October to start addressing the problems that you're talking about. You can start fixing this problem today. You can vote with the Labor Party to start addressing this problem this very day—not on 16 October but this very day. I can see you already—there you go!—lining up with your allies on this. Senator Ruston and Senator Hanson-Young are working out how they can delay $10 billion worth of legislation that will start improving the position of renters and of homeless people in trouble. How can they start helping? They can start by voting for this today.
Senator Hanson-Young, part of this program that we would vote on today is $100 million for crisis accommodation for women and children. Why are the Greens opposing that? Why wouldn't you vote today to start getting that $100 million out into crisis accommodation for women and children? Why are you lining up with the coalition to block $100 million for crisis accommodation for women and children? There is also $30 million to build housing and provide services for veterans. Again, Senator Hanson-Young, why would the Greens be lining up—we know why the coalition doesn't want to spend money on veterans to give them better accommodation, but why aren't the Greens backing this legislation? Why are they sitting there and lining up with the coalition to block this legislation?
Part of this program is $200 million for the repair, maintenance and improvement of housing in remote Indigenous communities. On a day when we've just voted to pass legislation to recognise Indigenous Australians through a Voice—a referendum—why on this day, of all days, would the Greens be lining up with the coalition to block $200 million worth of investment for the repair, maintenance and improvement of remote Indigenous housing?
Senator Hanson-Young, here's a proposal: $10 billion to start addressing one of the most serious problems currently in our community. There could be $10 billion of investment, and what are the Greens doing? Are they saying: 'Yes, we'll join with the Labor Party. We understand these problems. We understand the problems that women and children face in finding crisis accommodation. We understand the problems of veterans finding accommodation. We understand the problems of Indigenous Australians and how they might be needing accommodation. We're going to do something sensible here. We're going to put our ideological'—I know you've got lots of divisions. We can see that on a daily basis. We know that you're no longer in control of your own destiny, but there is a way, Senator Hanson-Young, to progress this issue. We don't need to wait until 16 October. We can do this today. We can make progress today. You can leave your coalition colleagues behind. You can leave them to vote against this. You can vote with the Labor Party to get $10 billion worth of investment into housing and into rental accommodation to start solving some of the serious problems.
In time, Senator Hanson-Young, you'll come to realise what a mistake it is to be sitting there, as you were a few minutes ago with Senator Ruston, working out what the strategy is to delay crisis accommodation for women and children, to delay investment in homes for veterans and, worst of all on this particular day, to vote down legislation for remote Indigenous Australian communities.
The opposition will be supporting this suspension, because it is our view that the government has had every opportunity to negotiate with the Greens or anybody else in this place so that your bill will actually reflect the will of this chamber, but you haven't. You haven't even tried. Senator Farrell, in your contribution, you said that, if this bill went through, you could start providing this crisis accommodation, veterans accommodation and Indigenous accommodation tomorrow. Well, you could too if you actually negotiated your bill so that it could get through this place.
Instead, you are absolutely hell-bent on coming in here and continuing to put up a $10 billion future fund with not one guarantee of a cent of this money ever ending up in the housing market. Basically, what you're doing is putting forward a bill that is saying that $10 billion is going to be gambled on the stock market—or to that effect. If you were really deadly serious, you could spend this money today. You don't need to put this legislation through in order to put money into the social housing, affordable housing and support housing that you come in here and talk about. You could have just put it into your budget. That would have been a pretty simple way to do it.
But what we are seeing is a government that is losing control. You may have said, Senator Farrell, that the Greens are losing control. I would actually contend that it is you who are losing control, which will be demonstrated by the fact that you can't even control your legislative agenda today because you haven't done your homework.
Of course. What we're seeing today is another demonstration of a government that hasn't done its homework on its legislation but is coming in here. This is a pattern of behaviour that we are continuing to see. We have seen it through many other pieces of legislation. It's all a great big headline. 'We're going to spend $10 billion on social and affordable housing.' It sounds great, but you are not spending $10 billion on social and affordable housing. You are investing $10 billion on the stock market, in the hope that it will provide you with a sufficient return to enable you to put some investment into this area. It was the same as your legislation; you were going to come here and put—
care back into aged care, Madam Chair. But no: it was a great headline, but there was no reality in terms of how you were going to deliver it. Another one was pharmacy and 60-day dispensing. It sounds like a great idea—cheaper and easier access to medicines—but you forgot to actually do your homework and consult.
What we have here is a classic example of the implications and the result of legislation that has not been consulted on and legislation which has had no consideration of secondary effects. It's legislation, in this instance, that has completely disregarded normal, reasonable budget practices. And guess what has happened? You've lost control of it, because there are those in this place—and I thank the Greens for their sensible consideration of this—that actually take those three things very, very seriously. You must consult, you must understand secondary consequences and you should follow normal budget processes. Stuffing something off the balance sheet just to give yourself a budget surplus is completely irresponsible, and that's why we will be supporting this suspension motion today.
We saw on the weekend that instead of coming and actually negotiating so that you could come up with something that was palatable to this place to enable it to go through and to enable that money to flow in whatever mechanism you were able to negotiate, we saw the Prime Minister just throwing a couple of billion dollars out there. Once again, this is a classic example of where you haven't done your homework and don't have a process in place. It hasn't been a considered reform and it hasn't been a consulted reform. Maybe you'd find that things go through this place a little bit better if you actually do your homework, do your preparation and make sure that everything is in place before you come in here and demand that the representatives of the Australian Senate vote for something. If you're only going to throw headlines out with your legislation; if you aren't going to put the detail in there or provide advice in terms of subordinate legislation; if you aren't going to follow appropriate and proper processes; and if you aren't going to bring the Senate along with you then you'll continue to see that the sensible people in this place will actually hold you to account and make you go through the necessary processes so that we can end up with a situation where the will of this Senate, which reflects the will of the Australian people, is delivered in your legislation. Stop being lazy and actually do your job.
We can see the anti-housing coalition in full effect! We know that those opposite have been opposed to affordable housing for more than a decade, because they were in government and did nothing about it. But they've partnered up with the Greens—and that's the disappointing thing in this chamber here today, but we've seen it consistently from the Greens now four months. They have used every trick in the book to delay having a vote on this. This is a new low today, where they're actually going to partner up with those opposite, who did nothing for a decade on affordable housing, and delay this bill further. And that's not delay it for days, it's delay it for four months. It's four more months before we can have a discussion about this! We've been trying to debate this bill in this chamber for months now, and they've used every trick in the book to oppose it. They say that they're happy to vote against it, and yet it doesn't seem like it because they constantly come in here and try to come up with new ways to delay having the vote on this. But today is a new low for them.
When you think about it, those opposite have been opposed to affordable housing—it's basically in their DNA. But if you think about the Greens and the role that they've played in their local communities, they're always finding ways to oppose new developments in those communities. They've done that consistently since they've gained a foothold in communities. We know that the member for Griffith has been doing it locally and we know that Greens councillors have been doing it in communities all across the country. I've seen it in Brisbane as well; I've seen what they've done in South Brisbane since they gained a foothold and elected people to parliament. But it's a new thing for them to oppose it in the parliament. We know they've been doing it in the community—the NIMBY, not in my backyard. They do what they can to oppose housing being developed, but it's a new low for them to come into the chamber and delay action on this bill.
So they do now have to be accountable for their actions, and that's what the government are doing. We're very proud about our housing bill and we're proud about what the Prime Minister announced on Saturday, because we do see it as an urgent and as important. But it's disappointing that the Greens continue to play games and tricks rather than actually having a proper debate on this, bringing it to a conclusion and supporting more affordable and social housing in the community. We know that the Greens' housing spokesperson has used his voice locally to oppose new developments in the Griffith electorate. We know that they've been doing that consistently in other parts of the country as well.
We are being held back by the Greens' opposition to new housing developments in communities but also by what they are doing now in this chamber. It is only the Labor government that wants to take action to address affordable housing challenges. This is a policy we took to the election. It's one that we're absolutely passionate about delivering on because we know there is an urgent need across so many communities, not only in capital cities but in regional communities across the country. That is what is at stake in this debate. We have been keen to have this conversation and debate in this chamber for months. We have been frustrated about it. We've been trying to deal in good faith with those concerned about the bill. We have been doing that as best as we can, but they still can't bring themselves to do the right thing to start tackling this issue.
With regard to some of the myths they've been running, it's disappointing to hear the opposition and the Greens consulting on and using the same lines. If they really believe that this is a gamble on the stock market, why do they support superannuation? That is the basic principle of how this works. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard Senator Whish-Wilson mention the sovereign wealth fund. It works on the same basis and principle. That is how these things can be funded, on a long-term basis, that will actually make a difference for the country. So these lines are rubbish. They don't belong in what is an important debate that will start solving some of those challenges that we inherited when it comes to social and affordable housing. This line about a gamble on the stock market is nonsense. That is something that has been used. People use the Future Fund for their superannuation. They know the power it can have by investing in it the right way and using that money to invest in more affordable housing. We know that that is a way that it will start to provide more social and affordable housing in more parts of the country where it's so urgently needed at the moment.
I would urge the Greens to drop off their support with the opposition and support the government's proposition. We know that this will start to deliver more social and affordable housing in more parts of the country, where there is such a desperate need for it.
It's pretty rich for Labor to stand up here and say that they have been negotiating in good faith. That is absolutely inaccurate. For months the Greens have been trying to get Labor on the table to actually negotiate in good faith so that we wouldn't be in this situation that we're in, so that millions of people out there wouldn't be in the situation that they are in—just one rent increase away from being evicted, sleeping in cars, sleeping in tents, sleeping on the street.
Do you know what Labor is really upset and angry about here today? It's that, once again, they have been shown that when the community and the Greens get together and fight tooth and nail, when we stand up for people who live in this country and are struggling and when we actually campaign for what is right, things change. That is exactly what happened a couple of days ago. After months and months of pressure from the community and from the Greens, Labor did give in. It's good that you did give in because we need that $2 billion right now to build new social and affordable homes.
But we also need to do something to support the millions of renters in this country, and your bill on the table at the moment does nothing. You can go on and try and spin it as much as you want, but it does nothing for renters. A couple of days ago, you showed that the federal government could incentivise the states to make a change. You have wall-to-wall Labor governments across the country, so incentivise them. Give them money so that we can cap rents so that millions of people get the relief they need. It is in your power. It is in the power of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to do that. He just showed a couple of days ago that this government could do that. Somehow $2 billion appeared out of the back of the couch. I'm sure that there's a bit more at the back of the couch somewhere, so dig in and find that money.
The National Cabinet meeting in a few months can make that decision, but you can make that decision now. We don't have to wait for National Cabinet. You can make the decision today to provide relief to renters—the millions of people who are struggling to keep a roof over their head while they're struggling to put food on the table, while they're struggling to pay their student debts and while they're struggling to pay for medication. You can provide some relief to those people right now. You must have heard those stories as well. You could negotiate a two-year rent freeze and caps on rent increases in the same way as you have negotiated this new reform and put the money on the table for the states and territories to build the social and affordable homes that are needed.
Here's the other thing. If you can spend $2 billion in one year, you can spend that $2 billion every year as well, because $2 billion as a one-off is not enough. It is entirely in your hands to make this change. You are the government and you have the numbers in here to be able to do something to cap rents, as many countries in the world have done. So do that. Don't stand here and be angry because our community campaign is working. Don't stand here and blame the Greens for not doing anything, because the opposite is true. We have stuck to our guns, stood with the community and have forced you to make that change, and we will force you to make a change and do something to provide relief to the millions of renters who are facing real hardship at the moment. That's what's at stake here, and that is why we are fighting hard for it.
The net result of today's vote—a conspiracy between Mr Bandt and Mr Dutton and a conspiracy between Mr Chandler-Mather and Mr Taylor—will be 30,000 fewer homes. That will be the consequence of this vote—30,000 fewer homes. The Greens are out there in communities pretending that they care about low-income people and pretending they care about people who need housing. They are going to wear around their neck for year after year after year is the consequence of what they have done today—30,000 fewer homes for low-income Australians.
We saw the government's determination on Saturday. The Prime Minister said, 'We're not going to wait for the coalition logjam'—the ideologically convenient alliance between the Trotskyites and student politicians over here and the hard right of the Liberal Party. What did the Prime Minister do? He announced $2 billion of additional social housing expenditure because we on this side are about social housing. What they over there are about is social media.
That is the difference between the two propositions that have been advanced. There will be 30,000 fewer homes as a consequence of this. And Senator Chisholm is right: Mr Chandler-Mather in his self-indulgent student politician display of—
Thank you for that. It's a timely reminder that the interjections from that corner throughout Senator Ayres speech are disorderly. I ask people to show respect. Senator Ayres, you could show courtesy to the chamber and withdraw your comments. I remind people too that, when you refer to Anthony Albanese, his title is Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Senator Ayres.
Thank you. I'm very happy to withdraw.
Th e ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please continue.
The Greens political party's campaign has been utterly self-indulgent from beginning to finish. I saw posters in my neighbourhood that said the housing crisis was Labor's fault. We've been in government for 12 months, big structural issues there, and what is the nature of the campaign? It is a carping, negative, utterly self-indulgent campaign. And the consequence of this cynical manoeuvre today will be 30,000 fewer homes. We are for social housing; they are for social media, and social media has never built a house yet. No matter what advances there are in artificial intelligence, I can tell you that social media will not ever build a home.
What is the government setting about doing? Two billion dollars to build, maintain and repair social housing was announced on Saturday, along with working with the states and territories in a cooperative way to unlock the supply challenges and deal with the challenges of housing. No doubt this will be opposed in every suburb where there are Greens councillors. Not in not in backyard is now not in Max's backyard. There will never be Greens support for development.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT : Senator Ayres, please resume your seat. Senator Waters, on a point of order?
On Saturday it was announced there would be $2 billion in addition to the government's current package working to build, maintain and repair social housing; working with the states and territories in a cooperative and credible way to unlock the supply of housing and land; dealing in a constructive and effective way with all of the supply chain challenges that exist in the housing industry at the moment; and working with the industry on those questions, not locking the industry out of the discussion. We'll be working carefully through the labour supply and skills challenges issues. Beyond that is the National Housing accord, with 10,000 additional homes from the Commonwealth matched by 10,000 additional homes from the states. We're widening the remit of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility and dealing with the challenges through the National Housing and Homelessness Plan. We're fleshing out and providing more certainty for the regional first home buyers guarantee. We're putting our shoulder behind the wheel with the Help to Buy Scheme.
It is okay, in my view—it is a good thing—to argue for more. The problem is that the consequence of voting for this proposition is that there will be less. We are for more; there will be 30,000 fewer homes as a consequence of this proposition.
That, to allow time for National Cabinet to progress reforms to strengthen renters' rights as advised in the Prime Minister's press release of 28 April 2023, including reforms to limit rent increases, further consideration of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 and two related bills be made an order of the day for 16 October 2023.
Plenty of excitement. We saw that axis of evil where the Greens and the coalition are lining up to vote against $10 billion worth of housing, including crisis accommodation for groups like women and children and extra housing for veterans and, of course—so sadly, on the day when we've passed the legislation to allow a referendum on recognition and on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament—$200 million for repair and maintenance of remote and Indigenous communities.
Can I say that it is the view of the government that if the Senate proceeds with this application—and please listen to this, Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Ruston—and defers bills to October, the government will regard this as the Senate failing to pass the bills, and I'm sure you understand the consequences of that. So, if the Senate defers the bills to October, the government will regard this as the Senate failing to pass the bills. I urge you to support, therefore, my amendment.