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Monday, 4 December 2017
Page: 9583


Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (21:13): If everybody here in the chamber takes a second to listen very carefully, I think you will join me in hearing a scraping, scratching and wailing noise—which is, of course, this government being dragged kicking and screaming to the admission that Australia is experiencing a housing crisis, because that is what these bills, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No.1) Bill 2017 and First Home Super Saver Tax Bill 2017, amount to.

There are roughly 200,000 people on the social housing waiting list in Australia, and 69,000 of those are classed as being in greatest need—meaning that they are close to ending up in homelessness or poverty because of their housing situation. Less than 0.2 per cent of all available rental housing is affordable to people living on Newstart. Home ownership among young people is at its lowest rate in 60 years. Income expended on mortgages now equals 134 per cent. So the system is in crisis and the government has been forced to admit it. We know that every single night—I've quoted this figure before and I will quote it again until there is some substantive action from this chamber on this issue—10,000 people go to sleep either on the streets or without a permanent roof over their heads. Every single night, 200 people in the suburbs of Mandurah and of Rockingham, near where I live, go to sleep on the streets—every single night. As I go to bed tonight, they will sleep under a rag, in a car, out in the open. So the system is in crisis. It is ruining people's lives. There does need to be action.

But, most unfortunately, when we pull up the hood on what can generously be described as a bit of an old clunker of a policy package, what we find is utterly inadequate. We've got a tax break, basically, for the richest 35,000 Australians, who will now be able to click their heels with joy at the fact that they can deposit an extra $300,000 in their superannuation scheme. We've got another policy mechanism which says to my generation, the generation which will retire with the least amount of super and with the least amount of savings because of an employment environment which is increasingly casualised: put an extra $30,000 aside to invest in the housing market—yet another demand-side initiative in a housing market which, as has been rightly noted by my colleagues Senator Bartlett and Senator Di Natale, is already being overheated by demand-side initiatives put forward by the LNP and, unfortunately, left alone by the Labor Party.

If you want to know what modern distortion of politics based on the influence of vested interest looks like, you need look no further than the housing market and our policy systems in Australia. Negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions amount to nothing more than a rort, pushed for and advocated for by the richest, most wealthy and most powerful Australians—on their behalf, no-one else's. Seventy per cent of the benefit of these policies go to the top 30 per cent of our society. They have been proven over and over again to do nothing except exacerbate the problems which cause homelessness and financial instability, and which cause people to lose their homes and their dignity. Yet there is not a member on the LNP side of the benches who would really lift a finger to do a damn thing about it. They know the minute that they do, their offices will be deluged by a veritable army of besuited lobbyists who will go in to bat for these vested interests.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the chamber, you have very many sympathetic words towards the problem. There are very many solemn pledges that action must be taken and very many remonstrations that when they were in government they did this and when they get back in government they will do that. Well, it isn't good enough. Nowhere in this chamber is there a commitment to the fundamental reforms of housing policy in Australia which are so urgently needed if we are to address these problems. Find me the senator who does not sit on the Greens benches who will support comprehensive, value-based land tax reform. It is not easy, not simple and not shiny but utterly necessary if we are to address this problem. Find me the senator in this chamber who is willing to confront the vested interests which sustain negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions in their current form. You won't find them, or, if you do find them, you will find them then subsequently bound to a different policy position because it's too hard to do otherwise.

It is not good enough. My generation stands on the abyss, on the precipice, of being the first in Australian history to have a lower quality of life than those that came before. Inequality, driven by an economic model which is destructive at its very core, is robbing us of our future, and nowhere is that more clear than in the housing market. We have subscribed to a myth in this country. It's a myth that you can treat housing as a market, a casino, another delicate and pretty addition to a bejewelled portfolio of investments, that we can treat it that way, that we can incentivise its treatment in that way, and that nobody will get hurt. It is a delusion subscribed to by so many, and it does not work. It destroys lives. It is destroying lives as we sit here. Yet the challenges presented by the housing market are not insurmountable. There exists a wealth of excellently undertaken research, put forward by some of the most committed experts and advocates in the nation, detailing the steps we would be able to take to alleviate this problem: reforming and removing negative gearing, reforming and removing capital gains tax exemptions, transitioning to a values based land tax, and utilising some of our reserves in the superannuation space to incentivise the building of and facilitate the construction of affordable housing. These are policy solutions which sit on the table before this Senate, waiting to be picked up by those brave enough to cop the flak that comes with grasping them, waiting for a party to come forward and say: 'This is not right. This cannot be. This must not be. We must act.'

I am proud to sit here this evening with the only party, so far, that has been willing to do that—not just to act as though it will do it but to actually do it. I would not suggest for a moment that there are many on either side of this chamber who would answer in the affirmative when asked the question: do you like the fact that people sleep homeless on the streets every night in Australia? I don't think there's a member of this chamber who would answer in the affirmative if asked the question: do you think that it is right that a generation is being locked out of the housing market, that kids of the people who send you here are competing with property investors for their first home and that the Australian dream of a home somewhere to call your own is moving further into the distance? Nobody here would genuinely answer in the affirmative to that question. But it is not enough to bemoan the seemingly inevitable passing of a golden age in which education was affordable—near free for many of those in here—housing was affordable and employment was reliable.

It is not enough to simply cry a sentimental tear for the passing of these things. These are the privileges which allow you to be here. These are the privileges, the rights, which are being denied to my generation. They have been sacrificed on the altars of big business and vested interests and the politics of the possible. These things are lost when the courage leaves this place, when the determination leaves this place and when the conviction leaves this place. That is what goes.

I vote against this series of bills tonight with a great feeling of disappointment. There are those within this chamber on both sides who recognise this problem. There are those within this chamber who feel as I do and who, in an ideal world, would act as we Greens will tonight against these bills, in the name of what actually needs to be done to alleviate this problem. The great tragedy of instances such as this is that so many more of those who feel this way do not act in accordance with these values. They do not feel the sentiments strongly enough to put them before the vested interests which are so good at getting in their ears and so willing to fund their campaigns. But these are the key issues of our time. If we do not act on them, a generation will be lost. I, as the youngest person to be elected to this chamber, will not sit by and watch these opportunities go unacted upon. Nor will I sit by and allow inaction to take place without calling it out for the political cowardice that it is. I thank the chamber for its time.