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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2416

Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (17:59): I rise today to speak on the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Bill 2018. The bill establishes the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, which is designed to operate a housing bond aggregator and administer the National Housing Infrastructure Facility. Once established, this corporation is intended to issue bonds to financial investors and then provide financial assistance to meet the lending requirements of multiple community housing providers. The financial assistance in this will be provided through concessional loans, grants and other financial instruments.

Last year in April, which is almost 12 months ago, Labor announced that we would establish a bond aggregator to increase investment in affordable housing. That was a year ago. We in Labor are focused on helping community housing providers to access cheaper finance to invest in new affordable rental housing. This was back in April last year.

The National Housing Infrastructure Facility is intended to provide financial assistance of up to $1 billion. The facility comprises $600 million for concessional loans, $25 million in equity investment and $175 million in grants. Last year we were worried that the announcement of the $1 billion infrastructure facility was simply a Liberal slush fund, because there were no details about the allocation of funds. In fact Treasury, at Senate estimates, had said that nothing had yet been set in stone.

This bill sets out the corporation's function to make loans, investments and grants to improve, directly or indirectly, housing outcomes; determine terms and conditions of these loans, investments and grants; and provide, to registered community housing providers, business advisory services and other assistance in capacity building. The bill also establishes the corporation's board, whose members must have appropriate qualifications and skills or experience in one of the following fields: banking, finance, law, housing, infrastructure planning, financing, local government or public policy. There is no diversity, though, in that board—not one person who is an end user of these houses, not one person who is an ordinary, average member of the community, not a single person on this board who represents someone who will benefit from this kind of housing.

The bill states that the Treasurer may give the board of the corporation directions about the performance of the corporation's functions, which constitute the investment mandate. The investment mandate may include, and is not limited to, the strategies and policies to be followed for the corporation to function effectively; decision-making criteria for making loans, investments and grants, granting financial assistance to the states and territories and providing services and assistance to community housing providers; and risk and return relating to the corporation's investments. We need to ensure transparency on this board. The fact is that the Treasurer or the minister directly responsible for this is in charge of everything to do with it and there is no transparency whatsoever. They have already said that they will not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Labor has been leading the policy arguments and the policy debates in the areas of housing and housing affordability. If we left it up to the guy from Point Piper also known as the Prime Minister, I don't think we'd have any action at all, because you'd need to be from the real world to understand the real-life problems that people in everyday communities are facing. The Turnbull government is lacking commitment on affordable housing, and it has failed millions of Australians when it comes to adequately dealing with housing affordability. It is not doing enough, quite frankly, to understand what the future needs for affordable or community housing will be.

What we've heard over the last couple of years in the debates from those in the government has been that you can get rich parents. You can simply own a house by just having a couple of wealthy parents. Just choose your birth family when you're in utero, somewhere along the way, and get a couple of rich parents. If that doesn't work, you could always follow the former Deputy Prime Minister's advice, and you could move into the country. Well, we all know why he moved to the country—because there was free rent. Or you could just stop eating avocado on toast. That was going to be the other solution. I've not been eating avocado on toast for quite a number of weeks now, and I still can't afford to buy my own home. The Prime Minister is the richest landlord in this country, which goes to the point about him being completely out of touch on this matter.

It's not a surprise that we have the lowest rates of homeownership in this country in about 40 years. The population out in Western Sydney, which I have the very great honour and privilege to represent, continues to rise—we'll have more people living out there on the west side of Parramatta than we will on the east—but so too do house prices, and housing affordability in my community is a massive, massive problem. Working men and women are being forced to work longer and harder to scrape together a deposit, yet the goalposts keep on shifting further and further away because of the price rises that are flooding that market so very quickly. They deserve to be able to afford their own home.

The only plan that the Liberals have on this is to allow young people to draw down on their superannuation, which will only give first home buyers more money, put more heat into the market and push up house prices even further. Only Labor has a real solution to tackling this problem. We've been working hard to put together policies that will be fair and ensure that hardworking men and women in communities like Lindsay can afford a home. The Prime Minister and this out of touch government simply don't understand the problem, so they'll never be able to find or fill a solution. I mean, it is pretty hard, looking out from Point Piper, to understand that the rest of the world doesn't stop at the Harbour Bridge! There's a whole community, there's a whole world beyond that Harbour Bridge view. They're more interested in giving a leg up to wealthy property investors than in making the system fairer for first home owners.

Labor know that it is an issue of fairness, so we're putting forward comprehensive policies that make it fairer for families to own their own home. More than two years ago, Bill Shorten launched federal Labor's housing affordability policies, reforms to negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount. I'm not going to lie, when that first came out I was a little bit scared. I thought, 'Well, this is going to be problematic for us.' But as we talked through this reform and why it was important to people in my community—as I had conversations with people at railway stations, on their front doorsteps, in shopping centres and at mobile offices—people understood it. People that owned second homes and were using them as their superannuation investment or as their nest egg started to understand, too, that this was a problem. There is an appetite, I will say, amongst some responsible property owners who have investment properties, to keep their investment properties affordable. They know that they are not served by rents being so extraordinarily high that no-one will ever be able to afford to rent there.

People are starting to get on board with Labor's plans because they understand that there needs to be some change in the space. Unfortunately, though, we don't see the Prime Minister concerning himself at all with the need to reform negative gearing or capital gains tax. He's more concerned about the $65 billion he wants to give away to his big mates at the big end of town, let alone understanding that people in my electorate care about the cost of living, stagnant wages and how much the weekly budget is to put a roof over their family's heads. The roof over their heads is simply that, a roof over their heads. You cannot make a home in a property where you're determined by a landlord or where you are stuck in a rental cycle. That's a temporary solution; that does not make a home.

We heard the Liberals promise to make power bills $550 cheaper per year, but what happened? Households in Sydney have had an annual bill increase of close to $1,000 since 2013, adding massive pressure to the already stretched budgets of these families. Our reforms to negative gearing and the capital gains discounts return $39 billion to the budget bottom line, but more importantly they put first home buyers on a level playing field with property investors.

Just last week we had the International Monetary Fund release its latest article for consultation with Australia. I always come into this place and I say that I'm not an expert on all of these things. It is our responsibility, it is our duty, to defer to the experts. When it comes to the International Monetary Fund providing advice, they're expressly stating:

On the investment side, the combination of high capital gains discount rates and unlimited negative gearing can encourage leveraged real estate investment in market upswings. While similar tax incentives are also present in other countries, they tend to be more limited.

We have the most generous concessions for investment homeowners in the entire world. The International Monetary Fund goes even further, saying:

The capital gains discounts on housing should be reduced and other tax incentives limited.

Now, that's the International Monetary Fund's advice to us. It is pertinent that we listen to experts when it comes to making decisions about things that affect the rest of the country, not opinions and things that we think will make us friends. The IMF endorsed changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax. The IMF surmises that the Commonwealth's housing tax settings favour leveraged housing investments in upswings that might encourage excess demand for housing—a point that federal Labor has been making year on year while we've been in opposition. Only federal Labor has a plan to tackle the housing affordability issue for all Australians, establishing a bond aggregator, boosting homeless support and re-establishing the National Housing Supply Council and a federal minister for housing.

We need long-term commitment to a long-term problem that is not going to go away. We know that the fastest-growing group of homeless people in this country is our older women. They get into that situation for a number of reasons, but it is not acceptable that women in their 50s and 60s are becoming homeless because of this absolute travesty that is allowed to unfold because the government are so stagnant on taking any action. Where are the coalition's real plans for affordable community and public housing for our most vulnerable people, like these women, who need access to housing? They come at it with a piecemeal approach. Where is the community infrastructure in these developments? Communities don't just need a roof over their heads; they also need transport, medical service, education options and, most of all, jobs located nearby. We see the government lacking in answers, lost for real solutions to the growing issues of inequality in the housing markets and the impact on struggling families. You don't need to go any further than to listen to their comments about 'getting rich parents'. I'm surprised they've stopped short of saying, 'Get a rich husband or get a rich spouse.' I'm sure that we're not too far from hearing that from one of them, though.

When the National Housing Infrastructure Facility was first announced last year, we had concerns that it was going to be a $1 billion slush fund. While the exposure draft of the investment mandate direction suggest this is less likely to be the case, concerns remain over the extent to which the facility will actually contribute to increasing the stock of affordable housing. We do want more than greenfields portfolio developments and investments for new private market owner-occupied housing or new private market investment rental housing that line the pockets of already wealthy investors. We want real solutions to the crisis facing the affordable housing market and those people who are directly affected.

As I said before, we're not going to oppose the passage of this bill through the House, and it will go through a Senate inquiry to ensure those issues are properly dealt with. We need to do more to tackle housing affordability and meet the pressures and demands on the Australian housing market—and we need to stop stalling. We need to stop with the excuses and the inaction and actually get on with it. I come into this place, day in, day out, to listen to those in government constantly blame us for everything that goes wrong. I don't know if they've realised that they're in government or that they've been in government for the last five, going on six, years now. They've suffered through a couple of Prime Ministers and a couple of Deputy Prime Ministers. I get it—it's a thing—but they need to actually take that position of privilege and power and do something with it for people who most need it.