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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8285


Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (12:49): I seek leave to incorporate my remarks rather than work through them, verbatim, in the chamber.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise to speak on the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment Bill 2018 and I am pleased to indicate that Labor will be supporting the Bill.

The legislation which first established the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) was passed by the Parliament at the end of the Winter Parliamentary Sittings on 28 June 2018, also with Labor's support.

However, at that time there was no opportunity for the House of Representatives to consider any amendments to the Bill that might be forward by the Senate prior to the NHFIC's proposed establishment date of 1 July 2018.

In order to prevent any undue delay in the NHFIC's establishment, and to facilitate its board being put in place in a timely fashion, Labor reached an agreement with the Government to withdraw our amendments and allow for that Bill's unamended passage.

This support was contingent on the Government providing an undertaking to introduce, and support, new legislation containing Labor's amendments in these Spring parliamentary sittings.

We received that written undertaking from then Treasurer Scott Morrison, and this Bill honours that commitment from Government.

Labor are very pleased to have seen the NHFIC set-up, as the establishment of a bond aggregator to assist the community housing sector was a key part of Labor's Plan for Housing Affordability & Jobs released in April 2017.

The Bill itself contains 3 amendments to the original legislation - including Labor's sensible and measured amendments.

These include a requirement that at least one director on the Board of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation has relevant skills and experience in social and affordable housing gained in the community.

This proposal was put forward by a number of community housing providers during the Senate Inquiry into the NHFIC, including St George Community Housing Limited who stated - and I quote:

"We would suggest that it benefits the objective of the NHFIC to have a Director or Directors with experience and expertise related directly to social and affordable housing and the economics and social benefits of related projects housing provider sector."

A further amendment will bring forward the review of operation of this Act to as soon as possible after the period of 2 years beginning when this Act commences.

This review is to allow for key issues surrounding the loan cap, funding for capacity building, and the use of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility (NHIF) to be canvassed.

The remaining amendment proposed by the Government contained in Schedule 1 establishes a $1 billion special account for the purpose of the Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator (AHBA).

This amendment will allow the NHFIC to draw down on a $1 billion line of credit to support the AHBA. The existing $150 million appropriated for the AHBA is to be credited to the special account.

Funding gap

Labor sees considerable benefit in a bond aggregator ­however, it is regrettable that the Coalition Government in its more than 5 years in office has ignored the other key issues holding back the Australian community housing sector from delivering affordable rental housing at the scale.

And that scale of need is significant. Research released just today by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has identified that the current unmet need for social housing across the country is more than 430,000 dwellings.

Yet the Government, contrary to all expert advice, have failed to address the so-called 'yield' or 'funding' gap.

We know that policies to address the yield gap are necessary to complement the work of a bond aggregator, and such policies are key features of successful aggregators operating overseas.

When last in Government, Labor took decisive steps to address the funding gap via the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS).

The NRAS scheme has delivered more than 36,000 new dwellings, with more than 2/3rds owned or managed by community housing providers.

That scheme has delivered real relief to its tenants that were experiencing rental and housing stress. The Department of Social Services annual report indicates that NRAS has increased the availability of affordable rental housing to low and moderate income households and has reduced the rent for dwellings in the scheme.

Importantly, NRAS reduced the proportion of NRAS households in rental stress by more than 20 percentage points and 60,000 people have benefited from the Scheme, including more than half of tenants with household incomes of less than $40,000.

Regrettably, the Coalition axed the expansion of the NRAS scheme to 50,000 dwellings.

Since that time Labor has been consistent in its calls for the Government to develop, as a matter of urgency, a policy and funding framework that bridges the yield gap.

Yet it has become abundantly clear that the Coalition Government has no intention of addressing this issue, or having any meaningful policy to address the broader issues of housing affordability and supply.

Only a Labor Government will tackle the housing affordability crisis. We have announced a comprehensive series of policies to this end, and will have more to say in the lead up to the next election.

I commend the Bill to the House.