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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2582

Mr HOWE (Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services) (4.54 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Housing Assistance Amendment Bill 1992 amends the Housing Assistance Act 1989 to extend the period of guaranteed funding under the 1989 Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, CSHA, by three years to 1995-96. The moneys appropriated include funding for a doubling of the provision of community housing through the introduction of a new community housing program within the CSHA. The Bill also provides for the bringing forward of out-year CSHA funding for employment creation in areas of housing need and high unemployment. As part of improved cash management arrangements being introduced under the CSHA in 1992-93, the Bill allows for funds that have been allocated to a State in respect of a grant year but not fully paid out in that year to be carried over between grant years.

  The housing reform initiatives announced by the Government in its 1992-93 Budget Statement `Housing—Choices for a Changing Nation' are necessitated by major changes in the structure of the population, the need to ensure that all Australians have access to secure, adequate, appropriate and affordable housing, the need for micro-economic reforms to increase the efficiency, flexibility and productivity of the housing industry, and the increasing urgency of environmental issues. The Budget measures build on the policy outcomes of the national housing strategy and include initiatives to keep home ownership affordable, to bridge the gap between renting and home ownership through shared home ownership, to increase the supply of low cost housing, to increase choice in management style, location and housing type, to provide more adequate and better targeted rent assistance, and to improve planning and development of our communities so as to safeguard the environment and ensure services are close to where people live.

  The programs provided through the CSHA are a vital element of the integrated package put forward in the Budget, which maintains an important balance between supply and demand side measures. Public and community housing provides security of tenure, reduces the incidence of discrimination and ensures the availability of affordable housing stock to address the range of needs which may not be adequately addressed in the private market.

  Since coming to office in 1983, the Labor Government has provided total Commonwealth funding of almost $7.1 billion under the CSHA to the end of 1991-92. An additional $2.4 billion was provided through nominated Loan Council arrangements which applied up to the end of 1988-89.

  The stock of public housing has risen to around 370,000 at 30 June 1992, an increase of more than 51 per cent since this Government came to office. The number of home purchase assistance loans increased by 141 per cent, with the total value of loans now at more than $2,400m. This stands in contrast to the Opposition's policies which would see housing assistance provided in the form of means tested rental subsidies, public housing dismantled and the stock of houses which has been built up as a result of the community's investment over many years sold off.

  The narrowness of this approach is evident overseas where it can be seen that reliance on rental subsidies or allowances has resulted in a growth in homelessness in the United Kingdom and the United States. It is telling that the Opposition has adopted its very narrow approach at a time when there is increasing pressure for it to be abandoned overseas and for there to be a return to a balance between supply and demand side measures.

  With the allocation over the next four years of a total of $4186.37m under the CSHA, the Government has confirmed its commitment to continued expansion of the supply of low cost housing under the CSHA and to provision of greater diversity in public and community housing to meet the changing needs of the population. This total includes additional funding of $123m which will more than double the Government's existing commitment to the provision of community housing and will bring the total stock of public and community housing to over 400,000 units Australia-wide.  In negotiating the proposed funding package with the States and Territories, the Government has sought specific reforms to planning and cash management arrangements to ensure that State housing authorities are more accountable and that their services are more responsive to the changing needs of the communities they serve.

Mr Prosser —That is what we are proposing.

Mr HOWE —The honourable member for Forrest will have every opportunity. Perhaps he could be a bit more specific. This will involve improvements to consultation, planning and reporting arrangements under the CSHA, including introduction of three-year rolling plans and the development of outcome based performance measures, which will ensure greater accountability against agreed national objectives and related targets. These improvements will provide a basis for evaluation of the agreement in 1995 and for the development of national housing policy.

  The national objectives and priorities proposed by the Commonwealth are consistent with the existing principles in Recital (d) of the CSHA, but are an attempt to clarify the outcomes sought and to make more explicit the relationship between housing and broader urban planning and provision. Under new cash management arrangements being introduced in 1992-93, future Commonwealth grants will generally not be paid more than one month in advance of need as demonstrated by expenditure.

  The Bill enables any Commonwealth grants allocated to a State in a particular grant year, but not paid in that year for cash management reasons, to be carried over to the following year at the discretion of the Commonwealth Minister. These improved cash management arrangements will eliminate a consistent pattern of underspend by the States and Territories, from which an estimated saving of $50m has been identified this financial year.

  The Government has also obtained agreement from State and Territory housing Ministers to establish the community housing program as a new tied program under the agreement. The new community housing program is part of a supply initiative to enhance choice, appropriateness and flexibility of housing for people on low incomes. Its introduction will enhance the access of disadvantaged people on low incomes to affordable, responsive and accountable housing models which provide security of tenure and increased control and participation by tenants and the wider community. It will also facilitate the provision of housing which is better linked to services for those with special needs, including the aged and people with disabilities.

  The community housing program will incorporate the current local government and community housing program—LGACHP—and will provide funding to local government and non-government agencies for the development and support of community housing in Australia. The aim would be to double the size of the community housing sector to 25,000 by the year 2000. A proportion of the funds allocated to the community housing program will be earmarked for national priorities in consultation with the States and funding will be paid through the States. The variations being made to the Commonwealth-State housing agreement will be formally tabled in the Parliament in the near future as soon as the necessary formal processes with the States and Territories are complete.

  The Bill introduces flexibility to the existing arrangements for the allocation of untied Commonwealth-State housing agreement funds between States and Territories, to allow the amounts of $75m in 1992-93 and $25m in 1993-94 to be allocated to projects put forward by States and Territories to bring forward housing activity in areas of housing need and high unemployment, rather than on a per capita basis. These amounts are offset by reductions of $50 million in the level of untied grants to be provided in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Each State and Territory will, however, receive a per capita allocation of all untied funds over the period 1992-93 to 1995-96.

  The Bill ensures that States and Territories are not disadvantaged under matching arrangements when Commonwealth untied grants are moved between years through the bring forward for employment creation or the operation of the new payment arrangements. I believe that the arrangements introduced in this Bill and the implementation of agreed reforms to the Commonwealth-State housing agreement will place the Commonwealth and the States in a stronger position to address housing needs of the many different types of households in the 1990s and beyond, will provide a better basis for the development of stronger national housing policies, will improve accountability, and above all will provide greater assurance that housing needs are being met more efficiently and with greater equity in a financially secure, long term climate of commitment and purpose. I commend the Bill to the House. I present the explanatory memorandum to this Bill.

  Debate (on motion by Mr Prosser) adjourned.