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Speech: National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 14 Oct 2019

I rise to speak on the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Amendment Bill 2019. I'll say from the outset that we all know that our housing system is broken. In fact it is monumentally messed up; there are no ifs or buts about it. For many years we've gone from one news headline to another about the housing crisis only to be met with a very lukewarm policy response from the government. Here we are today with another one that will not work. Let's be clear: this government does not have an agenda to reduce homelessness, to pull struggling people out of housing stress or to make housing fairer for everyone. We are reminded of this again as we are here today debating this absolutely flawed piece of legislation.

We know that, for decades, governments of both stripes have treated housing like a commodity and created a system that works best for big developers, for the rich and for the big corporate donors. The federal government has shrugged off its responsibility to make sure that everyone who lives here has a roof over their head, has a place to call home. It's a national shame that over 100,000 people are homeless. We have a lot of catching up to do in this area of public housing. But, unfortunately, that's not what we are here debating today, because it's the last thing on the government's mind and agenda. They are too busy promoting housing as a portfolio. Responsibility for housing affordability has bounced between different departments. The cynical view this government has of our social services means that the housing crisis never gets the attention it deserves at the national level.

The entire housing debate is an exercise in political expediency. They're interested only in hollow promises they made on the campaign trail, and this is what this bill is all about. It is bad policy and bad economic management to encourage risky borrowing. If people can't afford to put a deposit down for a home, that means prices are just too damn high. The system is rigged, but we are not in here talking about that, and we should be. Why are we not here talking about that? It's because that's something this government really doesn't want to touch, doesn't want to debate. You may have the luxury of pretending that we don't have a housing crisis in this country, but many are struggling to find a place to sleep in, a roof over their head. They are struggling to pay rent, struggling to save for an ever-expanding deposit. Tax breaks that favour investors have dominated policy under one neoliberal government after another. We know that decades of Labor and Liberal tax policies have rigged the housing market in favour of their big donors: property investors, who can afford to play the so-called housing market; and big banks, who profit from mountains of mortgage debt. This bill is yet another attempt to appease the developer industry and big banks, further inflating house prices.

The reality is that the only way to support first home buyers is by dismantling this rigged tax system. The capital gains tax discount has encouraged wealthy investors to gamble on future price rises. Negative gearing has encouraged speculation, causing house prices to soar. By backing these policies for decades, it has been made easier for investors to buy their fifth property than for a young person to buy their first. We need to abolish these unfair tax breaks, like negative gearing, and phase out the deeply unfair capital gains tax discount. It's only by reforming our tax system that we can build a fairer housing system where an affordable home is a reality for every one of us.

The bill establishes a first home loan deposit scheme to be operated by the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. But that's about the extent of detail on the scheme that you get from reading this bill. Core elements of the proposed scheme are totally missing from the bill. There is no detail on funding appropriation, the number of guarantees to be issued or eligibility; no legislated annual caps; and no price cap on homes or loans that will be guaranteed. What's more, the government wants to leave this crucial detail of the scheme to non-disallowable regulation, which means that parliament will never be able to scrutinise the details of this proposed scheme. This bill is really an affront to those who do not have a roof over their heads. It is disgraceful that we are in here discussing this flawed and terribly drafted bill when thousands of Australians do not have a place to call home, and this bill will do nothing for them. What an outrage.

Housing is a human right. Everyone has the right to a safe, secure and permanent home. That is a basic need that everyone has. The federal government must show leadership in tackling the housing crisis. They must intervene to reverse the decline in social and public housing, and they can do this by making an unprecedented investment as is needed in public housing. We know that we need at least 500,000 new public homes in this country—actually, we needed them yesterday. Let's also not forget that this is the start of Anti-Poverty Week, and this government has refused to increase Newstart, despite calls from within its own ranks. We know that this government is intent on stigmatising people who have landed on hard times, who need support. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Senator Ruston, Minister for Social Services, attacked people on Newstart—so callous, so shameful. And what about rent assistance? Let's talk about rent assistance, which even the Productivity Commission has said has not kept up with rising rents. They have shown that two-thirds of lower-income renters spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent—the commonly used benchmark for identifying rental stress—and half of those remain stuck in stress four years on. Why aren't we talking about increasing Commonwealth rent assistance today?

The 2016 census found that there was a 14 per cent increase in homelessness on the previous five years, with a staggeringly high jump of 37 per cent in my home state of New South Wales. We know that social housing has not kept pace with demand. It really is a big national problem that tens of thousands of people are still on public housing waiting lists. Public housing is a crucial part of our social safety net, but it has been eroded over time—not much investment, states and territories selling off existing public housing. We need to reverse this. We, at the federal level, need to take responsibility for this. But here we are: we have this bill that does nothing to address one of the most urgent problems facing the people who live in Australia today. The government itself admits, in the explanatory memorandum to the bill, that housing affordability has dropped in recent years. But, rather than addressing the actual cause of this problem, they are encouraging risky borrowing that could actually drive house prices further up. There is no doubt that this is a bill for their mates, the big developers and the big banks.

Everyone in Australia is paying the price of the housing mess we are in, but low-income households are being squeezed the hardest. A growing number of Australians are becoming homeless every year, and more and more are finding themselves in temporary accommodation. And this is all because successive governments in Australia haven't had the guts to make the bold policy decisions that are needed to fix the root causes and the real problems. We all know that policy is a really powerful tool and Commonwealth funding is a really powerful tool; but there is no help in sight for those struggling unless the government decides to use these tools properly and effectively. This bill is not the right policy for housing. The Greens will not be supporting this bill.

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