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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 3085

Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (18:44): I commend the motion moved by the member for Newcastle even though I think it is exceptionally mean of the member to advance the proposition that this government have a minister for housing and homelessness. Clearly that would involve someone in the Turnbull government taking a lead on housing policy and presumably responsibility for it—something that has been anathema to them so far. Does the honourable member for Newcastle not realise that, in the words of Yes Minister, this is an area in which the government would rather hope to have a policy of not having a policy. Instead, I understand, they prefer to cast themselves as independent commentators making sage remarks at industry conferences on the problems of the housing market, the causes of the budget deficit and the distorting effects of capital gains tax and negative gearing—as if it was all so very, very sad but really nothing to do with them.

Having a minister would have the entirely undesirable effect, from the standpoint of this government, of making someone accountable for what was going on. Who knows—that might even lead to the whole government finding itself collectively held to account. As recorded by Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington in The Turnbull Gamble—an excellent read—the last time the Prime Minister and the Treasurer had some modest thoughts about tackling the excesses of negative gearing and capital gains tax, they took them to cabinet and got told by the 'internal government in exile' to get a grip and stop messing about so they can keep their hands clean for attacking Labor's ideas.

I am reminded also that the member for Bennelong—by all accounts, a decent, hardworking and intelligent young man—had spoken previously in this debate, suggesting that he would like to see incremental change and not anything radical. This government, of course, to date, has not even been up to that. In fact, even the idea of incremental change has seemed so radical to this government that it eased the honourable member from the chair of the economics committee's housing inquiry in 2015 when it became all too apparent that he had the unnerving habit of telling the truth about housing affordability. Of course, now economic commentators and many of us here are wondering just why the Alexander inquiry on housing has not been reactivated to complete its work in the 45th Parliament. In any event, he may well have left it too late for the sort of exclusively incremental approach that the member for Bennelong and the temperate types on all sides would prefer.

Tinkering with a few state planning laws, like the members opposite want, will not be enough. Assuming we all live long enough to see that happen, the $11 billion hole punched in the Commonwealth budget by the combined effects of negative gearing, capital gains tax and other depreciation concessions does not allow the luxury of these short-term solutions. Nor should we continue to tolerate a housing market which excludes about half of those under 45 from homeownership, leaves one in 200 Australians homeless and parks 200,000 households on the waiting list for social housing.

The percentage of Australians owning or on the way to owning their own dwelling is continuing to slip—now down to 67 per cent of all Australians, compared to 75 per cent a few years ago. The proportion of Australians aged 34 and below who own a home is down by a quarter in the last decade and there are similar statistics for those 35 to 44. Older women have now become the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia. Mortgage arrears are at record level, despite record-low interest rates.

We now, too, have the perverse situation, in parts of Australia, where tens of thousands of people are homeless or on waiting lists, while the tax laws encourage overinvestment in lots of flats and units which are then left vacant—and policy settings make it profitable for them to be so. The so-called ghost house phenomenon—well recognised in other countries such as Singapore and Canada—is becoming a major problem in our major cities, in spite of what our opponents are saying about the building industry. We still, too, have inefficient state stamp duty regimes that stop many people making appropriate housing choices.

Governments on both sides, for the most part, saw housing in the same way that Labor sees education: as an investment and a resource that would allow all Australians to build a better life and therefore a fair society. Labor's election platform in 2016 gave the government the political cover to make the changes the country needs. It should take advantage of the opportunity and make a start. Leaving a giant hole in the Commonwealth budget necessarily depletes the Commonwealth's capacity to help those struggling to get a toehold in the housing market.

Average national income per head is four times higher now than it was in the time when Menzies left office, but, in 50 years, there are fewer and fewer people able to afford their own home.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hastie ): The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.