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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10359


Mrs MOYLAN (8:51 PM) —I move:

That the House:

(1)   recognises the serious state of housing availability and affordability in the public, not for profit and private sector in many cities and towns in Australia and the hardship it causes those on low and fixed incomes;

(2)   notes that:

(a)   it is having a serious impact on many in the community including those on low and fixed incomes, pensioners, disability pensioners, veterans, young families and students;

(b)   the situation has been exacerbated by the dereliction of duty of State governments in failing to maintain adequate stocks of public rental properties, with unacceptably long waiting lists for public housing;

(c)   in Western Australia (WA), for example, it has been reported that there are 16,000 families on the Homeswest waiting list in May 2008, with similar trends in other states;

(d)   there has been a contraction of approximately 30,000 public dwellings, which, factoring in population growth over the last decade, amounts to a loss of 100,000 dwellings in the public sector;

(e)   this dereliction of duty is increasing the reliance on the private rental market, where housing is in short supply, new building approvals are plummeting and rental vacancy rates are at the lowest levels in 20 years;

(f)   Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) is not adequately addressing the gap between the high level of rent being paid and what is affordable and that in many areas there are few, if any, housing choices available;

(g)   despite the twice yearly adjustment of CRA to the Consumer Price Index of 4.3 per cent, the average rental increase has been 7.1 per cent;

(h)   the median weekly rent of three bedroom houses has increased on a nationally weighted average by 46.75 per cent and, in fact, from June 1998 to June 2007 rents increased by 93.55 per cent in WA and by 105.88 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT);

(i)   rent assistance as a percentage of median weekly rent in WA has dropped from 31.8 per cent in June 2001 to 20.4 per cent in June 2007 and in the ACT from 25.6 per cent in June 1998 to 17.4 per cent in June 2007;

(j)   overall, renting has become less affordable nationally even for those in receipt of CRA;

(k)   according to national figures from the Australian Government Housing data set in June 2006, over one-third of CRA recipients pay more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, after CRA is factored in; and

(l)   public housing approvals plummeted to 131 new council approvals in March 2008, well short of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ decade average of 350 new public housing approvals monthly; and

(3)   calls on the Federal Government to:

(a)   work with State governments through COAG to urgently address the national shortage of public, not for profit and private housing including delays in local government development approvals;

(b)   urgently review the adequacy of CRA paid to those on low and fixed incomes;

(c)   investigate making CRA or similar payment available to eligible recipients who are purchasing their own homes and who are experiencing severe mortgage stress, with the aim of keeping people in their own homes and taking some of the pressures off the public and private sector rental market;

(d)   consider changing the CRA formula to reflect the lack of choice and the increasing cost of rent beyond inflation, by linking CRA to actual rent using the highest median rent in each area;

(e)   target a proportion of assistance for development of housing in high employment growth areas, in recognition that for those looking for work in areas of high labour demand, high rents are acting as a disincentive for some people to escape the poverty cycle; and

(f)   pay particular attention to development options for multi-dwelling supported accommodation models to provide for those with disabilities who may formerly have been housed in institutions.

I am very pleased to put forward this motion and I have great hopes that members on both sides of the House will join me in acknowledging the serious state of housing availability and affordability in not only the not-for-profit sector but also in the private sector. I thank the member for Forrest for seconding this motion.

This is a problem of enormous dimension. Some may even call it a crisis, as people in the cities and towns of Australia face great hardship, particularly those on low and fixed incomes. It is probably a good idea to reiterate the words of University of New South Wales professor Julian Disney—and I have quoted him in the other chamber—who said recently:

Lack of affordable housing strikes at the heart of our lives, our communities, and Australia’s future prosperity. It impoverishes people, erodes families, destroys jobs, weakens the economy, and damages the environment.

Many of us here have heard the anecdotal evidence from our own electorates about housing availability and affordability. Statistics alone prove that problems of unaffordable housing have worsened alarmingly over the last 10 to 15 years. For example, average house prices relative to household income have almost doubled and average monthly payments on new loans have risen by more than 50 per cent. Mercifully, we have seen this fall slightly in the last couple of weeks. The proportion of first home buyers has fallen by about 20 per cent, the proportion of low-rent homes has fallen by at least 15 per cent and opportunities to rent public housing have fallen by at least 30 per cent. These are very disturbing figures.

It has been reported that there is a shortfall of some 30,000 houses in the public sector alone. In a majority of areas, it has been difficult to rent housing in the private sector even if you can afford rents of $500 to $600 a week. This has forced people in big cities recently to agree to pay six months rent upfront plus a bond to agents just to get to the front of a long, long list of applicants for rentals. This has left many families and individuals living in temporary accommodation—hiring caravans, living in cars or on the streets or, as I said, moving from one household to another. I have to ask: what sort of situation is this for families with children to be in? The situation is particularly dire for those on low and fixed incomes, as I said, such as people on pensions—whether they are age pensions or disability pensions—veterans and those who have little opportunity to increase their income stream. Those who rely on private rentals, which are scarce, expensive and continuing to increase in price, are under real stress.

There are many reasons for the housing shortage and the high prices, which are out of the reach of many people. They can be resolved with proper management and with political will. One of the big failings, as I have also talked about before, is the dereliction of duty of state governments in providing public housing now for several years. In Western Australia, I think there are about 16,000 people on the waiting list for public housing. That is why I am calling on the government today to work with the state governments through the COAG process to address the national shortage of public, not-for-profit and private housing. This includes addressing the long delays in local government development approvals.

Commonwealth rent assistance must also be urgently reviewed as to what benefit it can offer low- and fixed-income families as well as how it can be utilised. The fact is that Commonwealth rent assistance is indexed to CPI twice a year, which is just a touch over four per cent, but the rentals have gone up in the corresponding period by about seven per cent per annum. The CRA formula needs to reflect the lack of choice and the increasing cost of rent beyond inflation by linking CRA to actual rent using the highest median rent in each area.

In areas of high labour demand, high rents are acting as a disincentive for some people to escape the poverty cycle. In recognition of this, those looking for work should be a target of a proportion of assistance for the development of housing in high employment growth areas. We should pay particular attention to development options for multidwelling supported accommodation models to provide for those with a disability who may formerly have been housed in institutions. Many groups have made their voices heard on these issues over the last few years. Now is the time to show them that we in this place are taking responsibility and are listening to their pleas.