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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9837

Housing Affordability


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:49): My question is to the Minister for Communications, representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. Will the minister inform the Senate of the impact of the National Rental Affordability Scheme on housing affordability?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (14:49): I thank my good friend Senator Seselja for his question. He has been neglecting me for a while!

I think that everyone here knows that NRAS was one of those flagship Labor programs—in this case designed to improve rental affordability. From the beginning of the RGR government's scheme, it was poorly designed. It had multiple flaws, ambiguous legal requirements and red tape. The scheme has been slow in delivery, which is not good. It has failed to meet its delivery targets despite ongoing funding. The Audit Office released a report on the NRAS on 18 November, and it found that from the commencement of NRAS, in 2008, the delivery of eligible dwellings has been slower than anticipated—not good.

Senator Lines: What have you done on affordable housing?

Senator FIFIELD: It also found that no processes had been put in place to monitor or evaluate whether the scheme had encouraged large-scale investment in affordable housing. There was no way of monitoring whether there was innovative design of affordable housing or whether NRAS had any flow-on effect into the housing market—again, not good.

Senator Lines: You've ripped money out! You've done absolutely zero on housing affordability.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Lines!

Senator FIFIELD: It also found that administration of the application and assessment process, and management of reserved allocations for NRAS had not been effective—again, not good. Like many other programs of our colleagues across the way, such as the NBN—I just randomly cite an instance—

Government senators interjecting

Senator FIFIELD: Do not tempt me! The ground work for NRAS had not been put in. The basic planning to ensure competent delivery had not been put in. Ms Plibersek cites NRAS as one of the greatest achievements of the former government. Those opposite have some odd benchmarks.








Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:52): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate why the NRAS failed to achieve its original aims in its original form?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (14:52): The audit office report identifies that the scheme was launched by then minister Plibersek and then Treasurer Swan before the legislation and regulations supporting the operation of the scheme had been put in place—just a fact. The audit office report identified a range of adverse findings against the administration of the scheme: slow delivery of dwellings, as I have mentioned; no evaluation of the scheme's objectives; administration that did not fully accord with NRAS regulations—again, not good; and poor record-keeping to substantiate past decision making. On this side we at times get a little used to examples of poor Labor policy design. Regrettably, this is another such example.


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What is the government doing to fix those problems with the National Rental Affordability Scheme?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (14:53): The government did take a decision in the context of the 2014-15 budget not to proceed with the final round of the NRAS, and also to cap the scheme at 38,000 dwellings. The government does remain committed to improving the administration of the scheme for the incentives already allocated. Amendments to the legislation have been introduced to improve the rate of dwelling delivery, as well as to simplify and streamline a number of aspects of the scheme. Despite the scheme, the proportion of low-income households in rental stress increased from 35.4 per cent in 2007-08 to 42.5 per cent in 2013-14. They are ABS figures. So the scheme did not achieve the desired outcome. It was poorly designed and poorly administered. This government is setting about trying to make that right.