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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1196


Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:14): We have seen leaks in the past couple of days in the Financial Review—reports that the Turnbull government is planning capital gains tax reforms that they intend to roll out for the main budget. Actually, I would welcome it. I would really welcome it if the government was actually undertaking some work on housing policy. I have not been in this place as long as other senators—coming up to two years, in fact—but in the entire time I have been here, I have been attending the hearings of economics estimates. I and other senators have asked Treasury officials what is happening in terms of a policy for housing affordability and how this is being dealt with within the economics portfolio, and I have watched as Treasury officials, when asked who is responsible for housing affordability in this government, look at one another, literally scratch their chins and have to confer quietly before coming back with an answer that they suppose that it is in one of the other line agencies, because until very recently this government's view was that housing affordability was a soft social issue off there in the never-never and something they did not have to worry about as an economic policy concern. That is not my view, it is not the view of the Labor Party and I would venture that it is not the view of the very many Australians who, as Senator Back notes, have aspirations to enter the housing market.

I come from and represent the great state of New South Wales. The city I live in, Sydney, is the second-least affordable city to buy a house in the world. When I speak to young men and young women—and I did speak to a young woman about this in recent days—they tell me about what happens when they go looking for a house. These are young professionals, and they are quite flexible about where in metropolitan Sydney they might live, so long as it would actually be practical for them to continue to work in the professions that they have worked so hard to acquire and have been educated for. They are in despair because every single time they go to an auction, they are faced with somebody seeking to make a property investment, and the person that they are bidding against has a whole range of tax advantages that are not available to a young first homebuyer hoping to enter the market. That is the great unfairness of the current tax arrangements around housing that Labor has sought to address.

After all this time, the coalition seems to have finally received the message that they too ought to be worried about housing affordability. I think the reason it took them so long to come to this rather obvious realisation or conclusion is that they have a tin ear for the challenges that face normal people in the economy. There is no better example than seeing senior members of the government suggest that the way out of this is to have mum and dad stump up for a house, or to move away from your job and into a regional community. They have absolutely no idea of the challenges that are facing young Australians seeking to enter the housing market.

Of course, in their response to this we do not see any of the processes of grown-up government that we were promised. We do not hear about these things in an orderly way; we read about it as a leak in the newspaper. It is the way we learn quite a lot about the inner workings of the Turnbull government, because, as others in this chamber have observed, it is characterised by extraordinary disunity, riven by division and unable to determine an ideological or policy direction. The truth is that the Prime Minister does not lead his party, and whenever he seeks to set a direction, it is followed by confusion. In the last couple of days we have had the Prime Minister say, in a guarded way, that the government has no plans to adopt Labor's policy. That is a very cautious kind of response. We have had Senator Cormann say, more definitively:

The government has absolutely no intention of reducing the capital gains tax discount or making changes to negative gearing.

Who knows what to think? Last week the government lost a senator, but today, in denying these reports, it seems that they have lost an entire tax reform agenda—again. This is a government completely unable to establish an economic direction for the country.