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Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Page: 6227

Ms LEY (5:17 PM) —I am delighted to speak on today’s matter of public importance about the collapse of confidence in the Australian economy and the fact that Australians are now worse off. I shall reflect on the housing market and the housing situation in my comments. I was at a debutante ball in Boree Creek on Friday night. Boree Creek is a small town in the Riverina. There having been several years of drought, one of the farmers said to me: ‘Confidence is a very fragile thing; it’s highly desirable. Once it’s lost, it’s very hard to regain.’ He was talking about confidence in the face of drought. He said: ‘We look to our leaders to give us that confidence, to give us hope and to give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning when all else seems impossible.’ I agree entirely with the shadow Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition. What the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have done is to take away that feeling of hope and confidence from a lot of Australians by continually reinforcing just how bad things are.

I want to raise this interesting point about the surplus and ask the question: at what point do the government increase a surplus to the stage where they are taking too much from the Australian people so that they might in fact exacerbate an economic downturn? I have just had a look at the forward estimates. Over the next five years, the total budget surplus is projected to be $96 billion. That is a figure that resonates with a lot of people because it was the size of the debt that the Howard government inherited when it came to office in 1996.

There are pensioners who are struggling in my electorate and in everyone else’s electorate—yours too, Madam Deputy Speaker. If we are projecting these extremely healthy and fast-growing budget surpluses over the next five years, I reckon those pensioners would want to know at what point the government is going to stop taking their money and squirrelling it away in various funds, deciding that it knows best about what to do with it. This is a classic Labor government ploy: tax, spend and interfere. So, on behalf of the pensioners in my electorate, many of whom are cashing in the equity in their homes, the capital in their homes, in order to meet daily living expenses—it is called a reverse mortgage—I ask the Treasurer: when is enough enough? If he thinks that increasing the price of gas, private health insurance and alcohol is actually going to make a difference, he is wrong. It is going to make things worse, as we have clearly demonstrated. You could ask anybody who has got basic economics knowledge and they could tell you that increasing prices will fuel inflation.

Leading on to inflation, one of the main components of the CPI is rents. As the shadow minister for housing, I am interested in rents. I have seen an unbelievable increase and tightening in the rental housing market. Since the election of the Rudd government, median rents have gone up all over Australia. In Melbourne and Perth they have gone up 17 per cent. One of the reasons for this is a shortage of rentals—but why? People are not confident to enter the housing market. People are losing confidence, so they are staying in their rental accommodation and they are not taking the step to buy their first home. The vacancy rates that we are seeing in our major cities are unbelievable—0.9 per cent in Melbourne.

I have just finished visiting some of our major cities to look at the whole problem of rent and housing. I was horrified to hear of rental auctions, to hear of racketeering and profiteering by people who are renting out rooms in their houses. People are coming to these auctions—they are not official, of course—with six months cash in advance and are saying, ‘Please secure me the house.’ It is okay for those who have got the money, and it is okay for those who might be considering their next investment or their next step, but it is not okay for social housing tenants. This is flowing all the way down the housing market until you get to the people who are most deserving of public housing or social housing—people who cannot get a roof over their heads, who are being exploited, who have been racketeered and who are paying astronomical dollars for one room in one house. It is simply not good enough. It is a function of the housing market, the lack of confidence in the economy and the tightening of the rental market, which relates to interest rate rises. Housing affordability is worse—if I can use that expression—than it has been for a long time. It has decreased for the third straight quarter in a row, with the proportion of family income required to meet monthly loan repayments increasing to 37 per cent in the March quarter. (Time expired)