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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 15321

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6:56 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report is made under the Housing Assistance Act on the operation of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement that was in force between 1999 and June 2003. This is the third annual report. It covers the year 2001-02. It has been tabled today—well over a year since the end of the financial year this report applies to. Indeed, the report that applied to the previous financial year was only tabled on 26 March this year. There is a fair lag in these statistics and reports being provided.

It is appropriate to make some comments on this report at a time when the issue of housing affordability is finally on the national agenda. The Democrats have repeatedly called for the federal government to take responsibility for a national approach to housing affordability. We have been calling for that for well over a year, as have many other people throughout the community. It is pleasing to see at least some initial moves on this by the federal government via establishing a Productivity Commission inquiry, albeit only into first home ownership. It is unfortunate that the inquiry is into just first home ownership because housing affordability goes much wider than just first home owners. It goes to all other buyers, it goes to private renters and it goes to the issue of the availability of public and community housing.

The Commonwealth-State Housing Agree-ment is—obviously, as the name suggests—an agreement reached between the Commonwealth and the states. This year Commonwealth funds totalled just over $1 billion. The different states and territories partially matched that with an extra $364 million. I very much urge state governments to consider putting extra money into public and community housing, particularly at a time when there is a massive investment driven housing boom in the community. Much has been said about the increase in stamp duty revenues for state governments. I do not believe that is in any way the major driver of the problems with housing affordability. Nonetheless, there is a fair point to be made that, at a time when state governments are getting massive windfalls from stamp duty on property sales, they should put at least a percentage of that money back into community housing, public housing and other affordable housing throughout the community. That is not happening, and that is contributing to the lack of availability of affordable housing and to incredible stresses at the lower end of the housing market.

I point to the Commonwealth's contribution. That figure of around $1 billion goes to a range of specific programs such as crisis accommodation and Aboriginal rental housing and to some GST compensation. The base funding is actually only three-quarters of a billion dollars. That sounds like a significant amount of money but, if you look at some of the other areas where this government spends money by way of forgone revenue, it is not as significant as it should be.

The Democrats have pointed out, and got information through the Senate estimates committee process about, the lack of targeting and the inefficiency of the first home owners grant program. The federal government points to that program as a suggestion of how it is dealing with affordable housing. There is ample evidence that some of those grants are going to help people buy properties worth more than $1 million. There was evidence just last week of over 70 houses in Victoria being subsidised by the first home owners grant even though they cost over $1 million, so it is obviously not targeted particularly well in terms of need. It is also not necessarily efficient in terms of delivering affordable housing because that subsidy or grant can get absorbed into the overall market price and it effectively goes into the pocket of the seller or the real estate agent.

This government has spent as much on untargeted first home owner grants as it has on community and public housing. That is unacceptable. The predecessor to the Productivity Commission, the Industry Commission, highlighted that public housing is the most efficient way of spending public money to deliver housing outcomes. This government should not back away from the prospect of dealing with affordable housing, in part, through better resourcing of public and community housing through mechanisms such as the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.