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Monday, 15 September 2008
Page: 7345

Ms SAFFIN (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Housing. Will the minister update the House on the government’s progress in delivering on its commitment to establish a housing affordability fund?

Ms PLIBERSEK (Minister for Housing and Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the member for Page for her question. She has a long and abiding interest in housing affordability issues, particularly in the area of homelessness. She has been a very strong advocate in her own community on issues around homelessness. Today the Prime Minister and I launched the second stage of our Housing Affordability Fund. This $512 million fund tackles two major impediments to housing affordability: the holding costs associated with planning delays and the impact of infrastructure charges on new housing development. The Housing Affordability Fund will give local councils the chance to improve housing affordability in their communities. It is all about local solutions for local communities.

I note that the Australian Local Government Association has welcomed the government’s announcement already. Its president, Councillor Paul Bell, said:

We are pleased that funding can be made available to help councils facilitate affordable housing projects. We are particularly grateful that the Australian government are prepared to fund community infrastructure related Housing Affordability Fund projects.

It is very important to emphasise that the Housing Affordability Fund is not a one-way street. Councils will be expected to implement more efficient planning processes and work in collaboration with builders and developers to cut the red tape that adds so much to the cost of building. For example, the first initiative of the Housing Affordability Fund is the $30 million electronic development assessment project, which invests in changing our 18th century, paper based planning system and dragging it into the 21st century and making it an electronic system. That project is already well underway.

The government’s most important criterion when assessing projects will be value for money. It is about how much new home buyers will save at the end of the day on their new homes. We are expecting a wide range of projects. Some of them will involve planning right across a local government area, which will deliver modest savings on every new home in a local government area going into the future. Other projects will fund specific pieces of local infrastructure that will deliver larger savings for a more limited number of homes.

Just as no two communities are the same, we do not expect any two projects to be exactly the same. Some areas might apply for funding for libraries, childcare centres, roads, sewerage systems or stormwater collection and recycling—costs that would otherwise be passed on as levies to new home buyers. Other areas might apply for help to fast-track rezoning to deliver more affordable land or perhaps to do site remediation which will bring land to market more quickly. Other councils might apply for extra funding for master planning which will bring on higher density developments closer to shops and railway stations.

Following the launch today, the Housing Affordability Fund has received strong endorsement from the housing industry. For example, Caryn Kakas, the Executive Director of the Residential Development Council, said today:

The HAF is strongly focused on achieving systemic cost reductions, and the guidelines encourage best practice in local government in respect of residential development assessments and planning processes.

She further went on to say:

HAF funding has the potential to improve development processes and should have long-lasting, long-term benefits which can achieve cost reductions not only across one development but across entire LGAs, regions or whole states if taken on in a cooperative manner.

Wilhelm Harnisch, the Chief Executive Officer of the Master Builders Association, also said today:

The HAF is a welcome return of the Commonwealth into this vital part of the Australian social fabric and the economy. There has been a decade of policy neglect in addressing the supply-side barriers, and the HAF is supported by industry as a first and vital step in redressing this area of policy neglect.

The government recognises there is a need for action on housing affordability. As the Prime Minister said, the government’s housing initiatives go well beyond the Housing Affordability Fund and include $2.2 billion worth of new initiatives in this area. Next month our first home saver accounts will be open for business, with banks and credit unions providing those accounts particularly for young Australians. We have also got the $623 million National Rental Affordability Scheme, a scheme that will provide industry with the incentives to build 50,000 new affordable rental properties. I am very pleased that industry and the not-for-profit sector have been enthusiastic in taking up the challenge through the National Rental Affordability Scheme and have applied for more than 12,000 of the National Rental Affordability Scheme incentives in this first funding round. We have applications with start dates spread over the first three years and will have two further funding application rounds in October and early next year. This is a vote of confidence in the government’s housing affordability projects and shows that the government is getting on with the job of addressing the housing affordability issues that are so important to Australian families, pensioners and carers.