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Monday, 26 September 2022
Page: 70

Senator WALSH (Victoria) (16:43): I rise to speak on the motion moved by Senator McKim. The Albanese government recognises the challenges that Australians are facing because we talk to them every day, so we know families are struggling with a decade of low wages growth, cost-of-living pressures and rental affordability. The private rental market has been put under significant pressure as a result of strong numbers of people moving within states between towns and cities and people moving across state lines, putting pressure on particular rental markets. Also putting pressure on rental markets have been shrinking household sizes which, in turn, put pressure on the supply of private rentals. Major cities and regional towns are experiencing low vacancy rates and really fast-growing rental prices. This is forcing Australians into insecure housing arrangements like caravan parks and other temporary solutions. In a wealthy country like Australia, this is just not acceptable. We do understand how tough it is for Australian households. We know that long waiting lists for social housing are forcing vulnerable Australians into the private rental market. And we know that more Australians are being forced to rent because they've been unable to buy their own home, which is why our ambitious housing reform agenda is working to address the underlying causes of housing unaffordability, using the levers that we have available to us as a federal government to get more Australians into affordable homes.

But these challenges that we face today have of course not come on overnight. They've been very real challenges for the past 10 years—challenges that the former government took absolutely no interest in addressing. Those opposite oversaw shamefully low numbers of new social housing builds when they were in government. By 2020, seven years into their term, they had built only 7,500 new dwellings. Compare that with the more than 30,000 new dwellings from the previous Labor government over a similar period of time. But in their dying days the coalition finally had a lightbulb moment on housing policy and finally came up with one that they said would address housing affordability and help people own their home. And what was that solution? We of course will all remember that it was to force Australians to raid their own superannuation to be able to afford a house deposit—a policy that would have driven property prices up even further and left Australians with higher debt and depleted workers retirement savings. Why does the coalition hate superannuation? Why do they hate it so much? It was a policy that would have left even more Australians without financial security.

On the other hand, the Albanese government have a comprehensive plan to address prices and we are wasting no time getting on with it. We're establishing the Housing Australia Future Fund, investing $10 billion to build 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties. That of course is going to get more people who need them into those homes and it's also going to put downward pressure on rental prices and help really vulnerable families to access housing when they're fleeing family and domestic violence. In addition to that massive investment—an unprecedented $10 billion of federal investment in social and affordable housing—we're unlocking up to half a billion dollars through the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in even more social and affordable housing. That is a move that will encourage investors, such as super funds, to invest in projects that drive down housing prices, rather than gutting workers' retirement savings and driving house prices up.

That's where we think the super funds can come into the housing equation, in partnering with government to invest in projects that create more homes and drive down prices. Again, we think that's a better option than forcing people to raid their own super in a desperate attempt to afford their own home while of course gutting their retirement savings and putting themselves in an even more vulnerable position in the future.

Our government is also helping Australians to enter the housing market and own their own home. We've brought forward the start of the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee to 1 October. That will help up to 10,000 Australians to purchase their first home. This joins the up to 50,000 Australians who are being assisted to buy their first home under the Home Guarantee Scheme. Our government is also introducing the Help to Buy program. That is going to help cut the cost of buying a home by up to 40 per cent, making it easier and cheaper for Australians to own their own home.

When it comes to rental affordability, our government is stepping up and bringing the states and the territories together, because that's what we do. We work with the state governments and the territory governments. We bring them together with us to solve the big challenges that Australians face. So, we're working with the state and territory housing ministers to explore innovative solutions to address these housing challenges. We're developing a new national housing and homeless plan that will form a key part of our agenda and we're introducing a national housing supply and affordability council to ensure the Commonwealth is playing its role in increasing supply and improving affordability. Our government is stepping up to bring new national leadership on housing—national leadership that was sorely missing under the previous government—because, while we recognise that some of the levers to fix these problems sit with state and territory governments, we also recognise that the previous government simply was missing in action on this question.

Now, we know the security that housing can bring to Australian workers and we also know that one of the key barriers to accessing housing is insecure work. The crisis of insecure work is a legacy of those opposite—one that they absolutely refused to admit to in their 10 years in government; one that they refuse to admit even exists. Coalition senators have said that insecure work is a Labor lie—it's a Labor lie. One of their ministers earlier this year called job insecurity 'made up issues'. So it was Labor lies and made up issues, despite the evidence right in front of them, including evidence about the links between insecure work and housing insecurity.

This was despite what they themselves were hearing from workers. These were workers who came and told their stories to, for example, the job security inquiry, led by my colleague, Tony Sheldon—stories of low pay; stories of low, irregular hours; stories of having no ability to provide stable income on a rental application. These were people who were working and having to live in caravan parks because they couldn't get enough secure hours to actually fill out a successful rental application. So fixing the very real crisis of insecure work is part of our government's plan to give people security at work and also in housing. The legacy that those opposite left behind is a crisis of insecure work, a decade of low wages growth and nothing—nothing at all—to help Australians afford a home.

We know the importance of good, secure jobs. We know they're a gateway to good, secure lives. We know that they're a gateway to good, secure housing as well. And we know what insecure work is doing to households and families. That's why we have a secure jobs plan, which is about giving workers the permanency and security that they need to plan for their future. We'll make secure work an objective of the Fair Work Act, making sure that the Fair Work Commission puts job security at the heart of its decision-making, and we're introducing a secure jobs code to ensure that taxpayer money spent through government contracts is being used to support secure employment too, because we know people need secure jobs and secure houses.

Our government takes these housing challenges very seriously. We're getting on with delivering answers to them. We know that having a good job is critical to good housing. We know we can't require the state and territory governments to freeze rents, as the Greens want us to. We know we can't force Australians to raid their retirement savings, as those opposite want us to as well. (Time expired)