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Speech: National Rental Affordability Scheme

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 22 Jul 2019

I rise to speak to the National Rental Affordability Scheme Amendment Bill 2019 on behalf of the Greens. While the Greens will be supporting this bill, I want to make it very clear that this bill does not address the real issues of rental affordability and housing stress that the community is facing more and more every single day. We know that our housing system is completely broken. There are no ifs and buts about that whatsoever. For many years now we have gone from one news headline to another about the housing crisis, only to be met with lukewarm policy responses by this government. They do not have an agenda to reduce homelessness, to pull struggling people out of housing stress and to make housing fairer for all. The government's response to the very serious and very real housing crisis in Australia has come to resemble busy work, to give the illusion of doing something. This bill that we are debating right here is an example of that busy work.

The National Rental Affordability Scheme Amendment Bill 2019 makes certain amendments to clarify and flesh out the legal authority for the scheme contained in the NRAS regulations, but only until the scheme ceases operation in 2026-27. What happens to the rental affordability scheme after that? That's what we should be debating here today. Through this bill the government is trying to take away the ability of the secretary to allocate new housing to this scheme. I understand that Labor plan to move an amendment to change that, and the Greens will be supporting that amendment. Properties that came to the scheme when NRAS was first introduced in 2008 are starting to fall off now, with people and families, especially those on low incomes, facing eviction and potentially homelessness. The government has not put a replacement scheme on the table. Where's that plan? There is no plan, because this government sees homelessness as a public relations problem rather than the crisis that it is. It was only this month that the new Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services, Mr Luke Howarth, said that he wanted to put a positive spin on homelessness and housing stress. This is a government that would rather homeless people disappear at the snap of their fingers.

The community does have a message for the assistant minister and this government: homelessness is not a PR problem, and housing stress may not look good on their glossy pamphlets but no spin doctor can help them hide the growing waiting lists for public housing in every single state and territory and the increasing number of people sleeping on footpaths and in alleyways. If the housing problem in this country makes them feel so uneasy then do something about it!

The fact that the minister thinks that the housing crisis needs a so-called positive spin and that it only affects a small number of people is extremely concerning. What about the more than 118,000 people who are homeless? The 140,000 people on public housing waiting lists? Or the more than one million Australians in housing stress? The 2016 census found that there was a 14 per cent increase in homelessness in the previous five years, with a staggeringly high jump of 30 per cent in my home state of New South Wales.

Instead of trying to spin their way out of the homelessness problem, the federal government must show leadership in tackling the housing crisis. And they can do this by making an unprecedented investment in public and community housing, and by getting rid of the unfair tax breaks that have gone to investors buying their fifth property over people looking for their first home. The commodification of housing is a huge problem. First homebuyers compete with wealthy investors who benefit from these unfair tax breaks, resulting in over a million households paying more than they can afford on housing. So let's end negative gearing and phase out capital gains tax so we can have a fairer system for all, because everyone has the right to a safe, secure and permanent home.

The lack of affordable housing and rental stress are not happening in a vacuum. Private markets are dictating housing outcomes for Australians as our publicly owned housing stock has dwindled over time, with much of it being sold off by state governments. Public housing stock has been replaced by bandaid measures, with successive governments fiddling at the edges. With more and more people renting, and many people on low incomes living with rental stress, real rental assistance is absolutely crucial. With almost a third of Australians now renting, it is long overdue that their rights are considered a national issue by political parties.

Many countries, like Germany, have strong rental laws that ensure that people who rent can be guaranteed an affordable place to call home over the long term. Public housing lists have blown out in every single state and territory, yet the federal government sits on its hands. Governments of both stripes, actually, have failed to offer any long-term solutions. We need a national housing strategy that includes massive investment in public housing. We desperately need leadership from the federal government. Right now, 45,800 people are classified as being in greatest need of housing because they are homeless, or their safety is at risk or they have very high and unsustainable rental costs which mean that they are constantly faced with imminent homelessness. These are the most vulnerable people, and more and more Australians are being added to this most vulnerable list every single year.

People are living in poverty; people don't have a place to call home or a roof over their heads. The government won't increase Newstart and won't take action to fix the broken housing system. So why are they here in government? Waiting times for people classified as being in greatest need are increasing. The most vulnerable in our society shouldn't be forced to wait over a year for the basic right to have a roof over their heads; a place to call home, a bed to sleep in at night and a permanent address—all those things that most of us have the privilege to take for granted. If this is happening to those in the greatest need we can only imagine the distress of the hundreds of thousands of people living in housing stress.

Does the government have a plan for these people? Does it have a plan for people experiencing homelessness? Does it have a plan for those who can barely pay their rent each month or put food on the table? No, it does not. Clearly, that's the answer. This is a national shame. The government and its ministers should hang their heads in shame.

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