SPEECH: Grievance debate - Housing

01 August 2023


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (19:19): Access to safe and affordable housing has always been a priority for federal Labor governments, and the Albanese Labor government were elected with an ambitious housing agenda, with a mandate for change and an expectation from the public that we would take action on housing, and indeed we have.

One of the first things we did when we came into government was to widen the remit of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, unlocking $575 million to invest immediately in social and affordable rental homes. In our first budget we created the National Housing Accord, with the shared ambition of building one million new, well-located homes by the end of the decade. In our second budget we provided new incentives to support build-to-rent accommodation and significant additional resources for community housing.

We've increased the maximum rates of Commonwealth rent assistance by 15 per cent, helping around 1.1 million Australians with the rising cost of rent, including 6,300 renters in Newcastle. This is the largest increase in rent assistance in 30 years. And we're providing an extra $67.5 million to the states and territories through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to tackle homelessness.

We're working through the National Cabinet and with the housing ministers across this vast nation to improve renters' rights, and this was put front and centre of the agenda at the most recent National Cabinet meeting. In New South Wales, my home state, the Minns Labor government will establish a New South Wales rental commissioner, who will be an advocate and voice for renters, working closely with government, stakeholders and industry.

We've announced $2 billion for a social housing accelerator program that will deliver thousands of new social homes across Australia. Of that, $610 million will go to the New South Wales government, with a degree of flexibility on how they're able to use that funding to boost social housing stock. But there are some guardrails, as there should be with Commonwealth funding, and we've said that this means that the states can engage in new builds, they can expand existing programs or they can turn to renovating and refurbishing existing stock that is currently uninhabitable. I know that there are homes like that in everybody's electorate—public housing that has been rendered uninhabitable and is in desperate need of renovation and modification work. The funds from that accelerator program can go directly towards making current stock habitable again. All funding from that program has to be committed within two years, ending on 30 June 2025, so we're going to start seeing those results on the ground soon. That's exactly what we want.

All of this brings the Albanese Labor government's investment in housing and homelessness to more than $9.5 billion in the first 12 months of office. I think by anyone's measure that is a plan of action. And that's before you even factor in the Housing Australia Future Fund.

This week, of course, we will be reintroducing the legislation to establish the Housing Australia Future Fund, and its related housing bills. We'll be introducing that again in the lower house. We're going to give everybody an opportunity to have a little rethink about the opposition that was cast on that bill before the winter recess. We are going to make use of every process available to us to get this important legislation passed so that we can build tens of thousands of much-needed new homes for Australians. Returns from the fund will deliver the government's commitment to 30,000 new social and affordable homes in the first five years of the fund's existence. That includes 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence. There are another 1,000 homes there for veterans who are at risk of homelessness. And we know the needs of older women, who are amongst the fastest-growing cohorts of people at risk of homelessness. We have a serious plan on the table, and it's a plan that we took to the Australian people at the last election. It's a plan that has funding. It's been fully costed, and it's ready to go. We just need this bill to get through the parliament.

Federal Labor understands that housing is a national challenge, and we understand that every level of government has a role to play. Traditionally, the Commonwealth government doesn't play a role in housing. Indeed, it is only federal Labor governments that have ever shown the national leadership required to invest in social housing, and that was very evident in the last 10 years in this parliament. The former Liberal coalition government wiped their hands of this responsibility entirely. Every time we raised it, they said: 'Nope, housing's not a Commonwealth responsibility. This is a matter for the states and territories.' This is why we now face a situation where demand for social housing has increased almost three times as fast as the growth in population. This is an unsustainable trajectory.

Sadly, not all the states have played their part either. In New South Wales, the previous Liberal government left a projected housing construction shortfall of 134,000 dwellings over five years, and processing times have blown out to 69 days on average. To help combat this terrible situation, the newly elected Minns Labor government will incentivise residential housing developers to include at least 15 per cent affordable housing in their plans, and it will introduce a mandatory requirement for 30 per cent of all homes built on surplus government land to be set aside for social, affordable and universal housing. The Minns Labor government will put an end to no-grounds evictions and instead work closely with stakeholders, advocacy groups and industry to develop a list of reasonable grounds for an owner to end a tenancy. It will ban the practice of secret rent bidding, and it is streamlining the rental bond process to allow renters to directly transfer bonds from one property to another, while ensuring owners still have access to the funds they may need. This is great leadership from the New South Wales Labor government, and I want to pay tribute to the New South Wales housing minister, Rose Jackson.

Let's make no bones about it: Australia is facing a housing crisis. Affordable housing is critical for the wellbeing of Australians and the productivity of the Australian economy. The crisis requires an injection of investment from the Commonwealth, and our government is committed to making sure that more Australians have a safe, affordable house to call home. Yet the Greens are standing in the way of affordable housing. The idea that you could argue that you are for affordable housing and then turn around to vote against this bill is complete nonsense. It is time to stop the game and the faux protest. Get on board, stop being a party of protest and do something that is truly progressive for the nation. Now is the opportunity for the Australian parliament to rise to the occasion and play an important role in helping solve the housing crisis.

The reality is that there is a human cost to delaying the Housing Australia Future Fund, and that cost is borne by people on the front line of our country's housing challenges. They are the people who are sitting on public housing wait lists and the organisations who are working hard to help those people. They are the women and children fleeing domestic violence, the veterans on the brink of homelessness and the workers who are facing barriers to employment because they can no longer afford to live anywhere near their workplace.

As National Shelter CEO Emma Greenhalgh has said:Holding up the legislation further just holds up the ability for community housing providers and state governments to really get on with the job of delivering housing

As Ivan Simon, the interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association, said: some people will have to 'sleep through another three or four months before they'll even know they might get some housing support'.

This is a time to stand up and be counted in the Australian parliament—to be involved in being part of the solution to a housing crisis. I implore all members opposite to get on board.


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