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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2556


Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (10:59): This may sound odd to members who represent the sprawling and expensive cities like Sydney and Melbourne, but Tasmania also is smack bang in the middle of a housing crisis. There is so little affordable housing in Hobart that families are pitching tents on the showground.

Nat Joseph and Kodie Connors, and their four kids who range in age from 10 months to seven years, found themselves homeless when the home they were renting was put up for sale. They'd been renting in Primrose Sands, a lovely but isolated township in the south of my electorate. They simply cannot find anything for less than $380 a week, which is the most they can afford and which is well over half their combined weekly income. Nat is a carer for one of their children who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is non-verbal, and Kodie can't find work. Private landlords who used to advertise on Gumtree have dried up. Nat and Kodie have had to try their luck with real estate agents, who have scores of equally desperate people on their books.

The housing crisis is front-page news in Tasmania, even pushing the state election off the front page. Last week, Royal Agricultural Society CEO Scott Gadd was photographed at the showground with the cars, vans, tents and trailers in the background. But it wasn't a country show. It was like a scene out of the great depression. But it's 2018, in a country and a state that we are told are enjoying economic sunshine. How can we call ourselves a country of wealth and fairness when families have nowhere to live? The Mercury newspaper reported on some of the people they came across: a couple living in a tent and car with their four children. Just stop to think about that. How have we allowed this to come about? What failures of public policy have we allowed to manifest that a family with four children in 21st century Australia must shelter in a car? We are a better country than this.

Another man says he lives alone at the grounds, separated from his partner and daughter who'd found a bed in a women's shelter. In Gagebrook, a working-class suburb of my electorate, a modest, even decrepit, Tasmanian housing department home was sold for around $130,000 recently. A rough, back-of-napkin calculation tells me that a $120,000 loan, assuming the buyer had at least $10,000 for a deposit, would cost about $140 a week in repayments. So the investor has snapped this up, and the new owner is renting this home out to a young single mum with kids for $350 a week. Why can't there be a clause that former housing department premises must be reserved for either owner-occupiers or for affordable housing? It wouldn't be a difficult clause I think, and it would help address our housing crisis. The young woman paying $350 a week for that tiny dogbox told a Labor doorknocker recently that she was too afraid to ask for repairs to be made to the property in case she lost the lease—knowing that, despite the relative expense, there would be a line of people willing to take it. And that happens. In Westbury, in the north of my electorate, a woman asked for repairs to be done and, some weeks later when it was time for the lease to be renewed, she was told she'd have to go. The repairs are being made, but she now has nowhere to live. This really is the stuff of Steinbeck and Hugo—tenants at the mercy of avaricious landlords; a take-it-or-leave-it environment, with consumer protections so weak they are laughable.

It's now common to see 30 or 40 people at a rental viewing in Tasmania. People are applying for more than 80 homes and missing out. Rent for a three-bedroom Hobart home increased on average 14 per cent in the past 12 months, putting 8,000 tenants under rental stress. And some now hand over more than 60 per cent of their income to landlords, says Shelter Tasmania. In yesterday's Mercury, the newspaper's editorial noted that six southern Tasmanian suburbs had recorded median price growth of more than 30 per cent over the past year. That's great if you're an investor or looking to use the equity in your home to buy an investment property somewhere else, but it's disastrous if you're trying to buy a home or find somewhere to rent. Having wealth builds wealth, but, for those without, they get further behind. The gap gets bigger, when surely the job of government should be to close the gaps of inequality.

The trend for investment properties to be used for lucrative short-term accommodation such as Airbnb is also contributing to the rental squeeze. The University of Tasmania's Institute for the Study of Social Change found that one in 27 residential properties in Hobart is now listed on Airbnb, up from one in 100 just 18 months ago. When it started, Airbnb was a cute way to list a spare room on the net to rent out to tourists for a bit of cash, but now homes that could and should be used for long-term rentals are being used exclusively as suburban hotels. That's something that I think local and state governments really need to come to grips with, on the grounds of both easing the rental squeeze and ensuring fairness, equity and equality of treatment for hoteliers.

The legislation before us today is part of a federal response to the housing affordability crisis sweeping the country. This bill seeks to pull in the reins on the purchasing power and tax breaks for foreign residents—namely, those individuals who are not Australian residents for taxation purposes. I do welcome these changes, as I welcome the capital gains tax incentive for investment in affordable housing, where, from 1 January, an investor will be able to claim a 60 per cent CGT discount if they invest in affordable housing. I don't think these measures will do much more than scratch the surface, but they're a step in the right direction. Labor are not opposing the bills; rather, we'd like the House to note that, once again, the government is proposing a measure to supposedly address the housing crisis while not addressing the elephant in the room: negative gearing—a major economic distortion, as my colleague the member for Oxley just mentioned.

This government is hamstrung on policy because it doesn't want to upset people who regard property ownership in Australia as, first and foremost, an investment opportunity instead of, first and foremost, a human right to shelter—a place to live. Too often now, we see cashed-up investors who already own multiple properties swamping auctions and pushing out hopeful first home buyers and owner-occupiers. It's the market at work at its most brutal. Those with the most money win, and it demonstrates why we need a government committed to acting in the best interests of all Australians, not just the best interests of wealthy Australians. Labor is recommending the bills go to the Senate for a full review to see whether these moves will actually improve the crisis in regional areas like much of my electorate. Affordable housing and, indeed, even available housing is increasingly an issue across regional communities. I could go into a long debate about the links between the housing crisis and the growing insecurity of work, but we'll leave that for another time.

Labor always leads the debate on housing affordability. Only Labor has a comprehensive policy to tackle the crisis that has been building across our country and which the government has been too mud-footed to deal with. Labor's plan is good for housing affordability, good for jobs, good for the budget and good for productivity. Labor's package will see the construction of more than 55,000 new homes over three years and boost employment by 25,000 new jobs a year. Labor will further help level the playing field between first home buyers and property speculators by doubling the screening fees on foreign investment and financial penalties that apply to foreign investment in residential real estate.

On the Prime Minister's watch, the great Australian dream of homeownership has turned into a nightmare. For years, this government has ignored the warnings to act on unfair and discretionary housing tax concessions and on the risks associated with increased borrowing in superannuation funds. It has simply failed to act. The Liberals' cuts to the National Rental Affordability Scheme and abolition of the Housing Help for Seniors pilot, the National Housing Supply Council and the First Home Saver Account Scheme have just made matters worse.

Closer to home, in my home state of Tasmania, the Rebecca White Tasmanian Labor team, if elected on Saturday, also has a strong plan ready to go. Tasmanian Labor has announced a $106 million housing affordability package which will assist people who are struggling to break into the rental and home ownership markets. This policy will assist 12,800 people over six years through the building of new properties and upgrading of existing public housing. Tasmanian Labor knows that for people to fully participate in our society, having secure accommodation that is affordable is absolutely necessary. This is not just about building new houses. This is about addressing the housing crisis, which requires more than bricks and mortar. There will be a particular focus on lower socioeconomic areas and people aged between 18 and 25 and aged over 55. This will help the constituents I talked about earlier. Under this plan, 900 new homes are to be built, with 433 to be completed within two years; 75 new homes are to be built in regional areas; three multiresidential developments are to be built around the state, totalling 90 units; and two youth emergency accommodation facilities are to be built in the north and north-west. The HomeShare program, which reduces home deposits, is to be expanded, and more public housing stock is to be sold. Tasmanian Council of Social Services chief executive Kym Goodes said having a safe, secure place to live is 'the most basic human right' and the state needs substantial long-term investment in affordable housing. She says Labor's policy will establish Tasmania as a national leader in targeting youth crisis accommodation, noting an increased demand for teenagers aged 13 to 16 needing a place to stay and support.

What we've seen from this government is absolutely nothing, really, on housing affordability. What we've seen from this government is a view that housing is really all about the private market, about private investment, about making money and about being cashed up. What we haven't seen from this government is action to make sure that housing is available for people who need it most: people who are poor, people who are elderly, and women and families escaping domestic violence. Where's the housing for them? They are just left bereft, and this government has no answers. It's tinkering around the edges, I fear, with the measures before the House today. Labor won't stand in the way of them, but we really don't think they'll do all that much. We've got a solid plan to go forward, if we win the next election, to deal with negative gearing, to deal with the distortions in the market, to push the investors out of the way, to let first home buyers and owner-occupiers back into the game and to give them a fair crack at the great Australian dream of owning your own home.