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Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Page: 11690


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (19:10): Housing in Australia is cooked. It is seriously messed up. If you go back to the 1990s, the average house price was six times an average young person's income. Fast forward about 20 years and the average house price is 12 times the average young person's income. There are over a million households in Australia that are paying more for housing than they can afford. That is why our personal debt and household debt in Australia is going up and up. People just can't afford to buy a house; they are going into huge debt just to make ends meet.

Two hundred and sixty-one people are turned away from homelessness services every day. In my home state of Victoria, where we've got public housing that is in many instances poorly maintained and people are living in conditions that are really substandard, there are 82,000 people on the waiting list for public housing. Why? It's because, over time, governments have lost sight of one basic fact: housing is a human right. Everyone, especially in a wealthy country like Australia, should be able to have a roof over their head and a stable home at a price they can afford. But, instead, what we've done in this country is treat housing like a stock market. We've set up rules, including rules that this parliament has passed, that say that, if you've already got a house and you want to get some additional houses, the government will actually give you a tax break for it. So what that means is we've got people who have already got a house fronting up to auctions to buy another house as an investment property. They can bid and bid the price up and out of reach of a first home buyer because they know that, when they rent it out, if they make a loss they can write it off as a tax loss and then, when they sell the property in a few years time, they can claim a tax break on that. It costs the Australian government and the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars to do this. What is the effect of it? It just keeps putting up prices more and more.

Meanwhile, if you decide, 'I'm just going to give up on the idea of owning my own home; I am just going to rent,' you have the situation at the moment where 97 per cent of rental properties are too expensive for a minimum wage earner. So, if you are working full-time and doing the right thing but you are on the minimum wage, you can almost forget being able to rent a property that might suit you in Australia at the moment.

We are the third least affordable housing market in the world. That should shame us all. We've lost sight of the fact that housing is a human right. If we turned 261 people away from public schools every day because there weren't enough schools, there would be a national outcry. If there were a million households that couldn't afford to go and get health care because the public healthcare system was too expensive, there would be an outcry. It's time that we started thinking about housing the same way that we think about schools and education—namely, that it's a right that everyone has and it's what government is there for. If people, especially young people, can't find an affordable place to rent or buy then that is because we, as government, are failing in exactly the same way we'd be failing if we didn't build enough public schools or public hospitals for everyone. That's the situation we've got at the moment. A big part of the reason we're in that situation is that we just haven't built enough affordable houses for people to either rent or buy.

My electorate, last time I looked at the statistics, has got more public housing dwellings than any other electorate in the country. But most of those were built in the sixties. They're the big tower blocks that you see as you come into Melbourne on CityLink—you can see them when you hit the CityLink sticks. We haven't had a large-scale build of that equivalent size since then, and that is part of the reason that the public housing waiting list keeps blowing out. But it does another thing too. When you don't have a lot of affordable public housing rental at the bottom end of the market, that means more people are competing in the private market, and it helps push prices up.

One thing we could do is invest in a 1960s-scale build of new public housing, which would help drive rents down, put more roofs over people's heads and go some way towards making Australia a place where housing is treated as a human right. We could build rent-controlled homes. We could introduce a system of rent control and rent capping. We have a situation at the moment where you're in a rental property, and you think, 'This is good; at least I can afford this,' and then you come to the end of the lease and up goes the rent for pretty much no reason at all. We could pass laws to cap it so that landlords could only increase rent to, say, CPI. That's something we could do that would go a long way to making housing more affordable. We could enshrine the ability for renters to have long-term leases. But, especially if we get rid of those unfair tax breaks I was talking about before, we'll actually save money for the Commonwealth budget to spend on other services and we will help make housing more affordable.

We have got to do other things too, of course, like stop the pit of insecure work that so many young people are falling into, where a bank manager won't even consider writing you a mortgage because your work has been casual or short-term contracts, through no fault of your own—it's potentially been like that for several years. We can lift the minimum wage, because we have the appalling situation in Australia at the moment, where one in four people who are living in poverty are actually working full-time. Australia has become a place where doing the right thing is no longer enough. It should shame us that you can work full-time in Australia and still be in poverty. That is the case for one in four people who are in poverty.

If we embarked on a large-scale build of public housing, if we got rid of the unfair tax breaks that favour people who have already got a home to the detriment of people who don't and if we passed laws that capped rent and gave people more security, we might start making housing a human right again. We would also need to give more money back to those housing services that are looking after those people and that are, at the moment, turning 261 people away every day. They wouldn't have to any more if we took some of the money that's currently going to the very wealthy in negative gearing tax breaks and instead put it into those services. The money is there. If we had the courage to stand up and say, 'Let's get rid of those unfair tax breaks for the very wealthy that favour people who have got two, three or four houses and that lock out young people,' then we could fund all of these things. We don't have to go around looking for extra money; let's just take the money that we're currently throwing away on lining the pockets of the wealthy and use that to make sure that housing is a human right. Those things, sadly, aren't included in this bill. This government is taking a very narrow focus to what counts as housing affordability.

I want to place on the record here an indication of the position that we're going to take when this bill comes to the Senate, where Senator Rachel Siewert will tackle this issue more broadly. We do have concerns—opposition, in fact—with respect to schedules 1 and 2 of the bill. The government's proposed amendments go some way to ameliorating that, but, even then, we have concerns with the amendment that provides that a tenant's agreement with the lessor that authorises the lessor to make a request under the Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme is not required to be in written form, for example. There are a number of other detailed concerns that we have with the bill, as well as some principal concerns with schedules 1 and 2. That won't stop us seeing this bill progress through this place, but those certainly are amendments that we will be pressing when the matter comes to the Senate.

At the end of the day, we need a bit of a mind shift in this country. I hope, going into the next federal election, we can start to make housing a human rights issue. In our election campaigns, I hope we can start expecting our political parties to talk about housing the way we talk about public schools, the way that we talk about public hospitals. There's not a person in this country that either isn't locked out of the housing market themselves or has kids who are now only able to get into housing if they have significant help. And many parents just can't provide that, because they're not in a position to be able to do it. It is reaching crisis point. And the solution cannot be for Australians to keep getting further and further into debt, because our debt-to-income ratio is now getting to the two-to-one point, and it is at crisis point. People are just borrowing and borrowing and borrowing to try to stay alive because wages are flatlining, if not going backwards.

If we want to avoid the calamity in this country of locking young people out of ever having a stable and affordable home, we've got to start treating housing as a human right. We've got to stand up and wind in some of those tax breaks. We've got to invest in public housing at a scale that we haven't done since the 1960s. If we did all of that, Australia wouldn't just be a wealthy country; it would be a country where we looked after everyone, no matter how much money they earned. It would be a country where we say that having an affordable roof over your head is something that we take seriously. At the moment the government's not doing that.

We'll try to fix up this bill, but I fear that what we are really going to need is a change of government. We need a new government that will put affordable housing on a pedestal—not just tinker at the edges, but put it on a pedestal. If we can play some role in that, either here in the House or in the Senate, to make sure the next government treats housing as a human right, then we will go some way to making sure Australia remains an equal society and that egalitarianism in Australia is not put at risk.