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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2454


Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (11:16): Every human has the basic right to a roof over their head. Access to affordable, secure housing and reasonable services is essential to the financial, social and emotional wellbeing of human beings. But unfortunately in Australia over, in particular, the past three or four years housing has become more and more unaffordable to the extent now that we have a full-blown housing crisis, particularly in the capital cities of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. As a result of that housing crisis and the unaffordability of housing we're seeing a dramatic increase in homelessness.

It's unfortunate that the Turnbull and Abbott governments have chosen to sit on their hands about housing affordability and homelessness in the period since they were elected in 2013. Basically, the view of the Abbott government was that this was a matter for the states and that the Commonwealth shouldn't be involved in providing funding for it or the development of services associated with homelessness. Thankfully, the Turnbull government has sought to act, albeit too late for many who have been waiting for housing for many, many years. But it hasn't acted on the principal problem that exists in Australia around housing affordability, and that is the generous tax concessions that exist around negative gearing and capital gains tax. The government are refusing to act on that because they've got so many mates in the development lobby throughout the country who've been lobbying them for many, many years now, saying: 'No, don't touch negative gearing and capital gains tax. We want those generous tax concessions to continue.' Because they haven't acted on that, we have this full-blown housing crisis. Australians know that they're not fair dinkum about tackling housing affordability. Nonetheless, these measures are welcomed and they are an improvement on the Abbott government's refusal to act on this issue.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 amends the Federal Financial Relations Act to repeal the current national specific purpose payments for housing services. These will be replaced by new funding arrangements under which payments to the states and territories will be contingent on their being party to primary, supplementary and designated housing agreements.

Of course, having an affordable and secure home, as I mentioned earlier, is essential to financial, social and emotional wellbeing. Housing is a basic human right that every Australian citizen is entitled to. They are entitled to a roof over their head. Unfortunately in Australia homeownership is at a 60-year low, and it's not hard to understand why. Homeownership rates for ages 25 to 34 have collapsed from around 60 per cent to less than 40 per cent in the last 30 years. These are the formative years in people's lives when they are trying to start families, get on their feet and establish themselves. What we've seen over the last 30 years is the rate of homeownership in that age bracket fall from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

Rental stress is on the rise, with the proportion of low-income households in rental stress now at more than 40 per cent. If you add to that the cost-of-living pressures associated with rising electricity prices, private health insurance contributions going up year after year, the cost of education services—particularly childcare services, which are ever on the rise—households are under a lot of cost-of-living stress. When you factor in the fact that wages haven't increased in line with inflation for many years now and that real wages have been falling behind, with the wage price index data still stuck stubbornly at around two per cent, it's no wonder that many Australians are feeling the pressure and aren't feeling the so-called joy that this government says exists with the economy at the moment.

For Sydneysiders, particularly those in the electorate that I represent, the housing affordability issue is causing a hell of a lot of distress. Many young people fear that they will never be able to afford a home in the eastern suburbs, the area they grew up in, around family, friends and social networks. They just won't be able to afford to live there anymore, and many more of them are staying at home with their parents for longer periods or are being forced to move out of the area or to rent. In the three years from 2014 to 2017, the price of homes in the suburb of Malabar, around the corner from where I live, grew by a whopping 46 per cent. In that short period of time, up to $2 million was added. The value of a home increased by about $630,000 over that period. That equates to an increase of $580 every single day. In that suburb, the cost of housing is going up by $580 every single day. Up the road in Coogee, average prices have increased by $592 every single day, to an average price of just under $2.4 million. In the suburb where I live, Matraville, house prices increased by 16 per cent in one year. That was over the course of the last year.

With such high prices, the availability of subsidised affordable housing is leaving many Australians with nowhere to go and no secure accommodation, and that's why we're seeing an increase in the number of people couch surfing, living in their cars and living on the streets. Currently there are over 100,000 Australians without proper accommodation. It's estimated that 1.3 million households are in a state of housing need, whether unable to access the market for housing or in a position of rental stress. This figure is predicted to increase to 1.7 million by 2025. The waiting list for social housing in New South Wales has ballooned in recent years, reaching 60,000 people early last year, and less than one per cent of private rentals in Sydney are affordable for people on low incomes.

Not a week goes by—Deputy Speaker, you'd know about this—where we don't get a call from a constituent who's homeless and on the list waiting for access to public housing in our respective electorates. Unfortunately—and I have to tell people this when they ring up about it—the waiting list in the area that I represent is eight years long. If you ring the department and say that you want to access public housing in Kingsford Smith, they'll tell you, 'We'll put your name on the list, but you're going to have to wait eight years.' If you're in a domestic violence situation and you've left home with nothing more than the kids and the clothes on your back and you've got nowhere to live, how do you think you'd feel if you were faced with that phone call and you were told that? Of course, we have crisis accommodation services, but unfortunately they've been under much greater stress in recent years because of the increase in homelessness and because of the incidence of and the increase in domestic violence, and the system simply isn't coping.

The notion that the Abbott government had that this is a matter for the states and that the Commonwealth shouldn't be involved in it is quite simply a disgrace, because homelessness and lack of access to housing isn't confined to a particular state and territory. It's a national issue. It's a national crisis that a national government should lead on and should be involved in.

The Abbott-Turnbull governments have had four budgets in which they've had the opportunity to tackle this issue—to tackle negative gearing and capital gains tax, to put funding in the budget to support the construction of additional public housing or provide incentives for affordable housing and new rental agreements. They've failed to do it. All they've offered is some new measures around superannuation for young people to save for a house deposit up to the value of $30,000. They've got this scheme by which you can get a tax concession through your superannuation fund if you put aside a total amount of no more than $30,000 to save for a first home deposit. In the area that I represent, $30,000 won't buy you a window pane, let alone a deposit on a house. So it's basically useless for many people seeking to enter the housing market in our area. Study after study has proven that the schemes that actually increase demand, whereby you're giving incentives for people to put more money into their pockets to buy homes, actually push up prices. They have the reverse effect of pushing prices up, because you're creating more demand in the market.

If you're not tackling the overly generous tax concessions around negative gearing and capital gains tax, you are not fair dinkum about housing affordability. That's why Labor is the only party that has a fair dinkum housing policy. If we are elected at the next election we will restrict negative gearing and capital gains tax. This element of this package demonstrates that this government is really not fair dinkum about this issue. They are using the budget to tinker around the edges. They've done nothing to put first home buyers back on a level playing field with investors and take the heat out of the housing market. They've got a grab bag of unrelated measures that won't address the key drivers of housing unaffordability. That's the Commonwealth's ability to wind back negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts.

In the context of budgets gone by and approaches of other political parties, when Labor were in government we had a national leadership plan to ensure that we were tackling this issue of housing affordability. There were a number of elements related to stimulus after the global financial crisis and encouraging the development and building of new public housing and affordability schemes. In the 2008-09 budget, in a broader package to address housing supply pressures as part of the stimulus package in response to the GFC, it was Labor that introduced the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Under this scheme the Australian government provided an annual incentive to investors for up to 10 years as a refundable tax offset for them to construct affordable housing. This was augmented by state or territory annual contributions, which took the form of cash grants, concessions on stamp duty and the provision of discounted land over the same period. Properties developed under the scheme were made available to low- to middle-income earners at a 20 per cent below market rate for each of the 10 years for which the NRAS incentive was received. Initially the NRAS was to provide $622 million over four years from 2008-09 for the development of up to 50,000 affordable rental properties across Australia by mid-2012, and the government was to deliver a further 50,000 properties from 2012 onwards. Of course when the Abbott-Turnbull governments came to office, they stopped the program. They stopped the good work that was being done to improve rental affordability throughout the country, taking the view, as I said earlier, that this was an issue for the states.

It was the Labor government, when we were in office, that also took the following incentives to address housing affordability. We produced The road home, a white paper on homelessness, and developed national strategies to target reducing homelessness. Labor committed to housing help for seniors, a pilot program that was working well very. We provided $6 billion to the states and territories for affordable housing. We negotiated the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which saw Australian state and territory governments provided with over $1 billion for reducing homelessness. We established the National Housing Supply Council. Finally, we had a dedicated person in cabinet whose responsibility it was to deal with this issue and advocate on behalf of Australians—a dedicated minister for housing and homelessness. It's something that's missing from the frontbench under this government. There is no minister for housing and homelessness under the Liberal government, and that says everything about this government's commitment to making housing more affordable and providing support for those who are homeless in Australia at a federal level.

In conclusion, whilst there are some positive elements in what the government is doing, it's simply not enough to arrest the increase in homelessness throughout the country and take a bit of heat out of the housing market. You need to be serious about tackling negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts, along with the other measures that Labor has announced like the uniform vacant properties tax and increased payments for foreigners seeking to invest in our housing market. Only with those measures in place will you turn down the heat in the housing market, and then provide incentives for people to increase supply and make housing more affordable in Australia.