Second reading speech

12 September 2023

It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on the government’s Housing Australia Future Fund, which is set to deliver the single biggest investment in both social and affordable housing in more than a decade. This is a key policy that we—the Labor Party, that is—took to the last election to get endorsement from the Australian people. We know that the housing system in Australia over the last decade has not been working for the people. Too many Aussies find the housing market almost impossible to enter, particularly those who are trying to find their first home. Too many Aussies are experiencing or facing homelessness. The Housing Australia Future Fund is an important step towards improving the housing situation that is currently faced here in Australia.

What we know is that the No. 1 issue driving up house prices is the lack of supply. Demand for housing far outstrips supply. This is putting home ownership out of reach for many, many Australians. This supply issue is what the fund will address. The $10 billion fund will help to address the social and affordable housing crisis that we are currently faced with. We are creating a secure, ongoing pipeline of funding for social and affordable homes. Returns from the fund will help deliver on our commitment to providing 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes in the first five years. The fund returns will also deliver the government’s commitments to help address acute housing needs, including $200 million for the repair, maintenance and improvement of housing in remote Indigenous communities, $100 million for crisis and transitional housing options for both women and children impacted by family and domestic violence and for older women at risk of homelessness, as well as $30 million to build housing for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of being homeless.

Our policy is backed by many housing experts in the sector, community housing providers and every state and territory housing minister. We have not been sitting still while negotiating for passage of the bills that are before this chamber today. We are determined to tackle the housing affordability issue with every lever available to the federal government. Our $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator is being delivered to states and territories to boost the amount of social housing across the country. Furthermore, the National Housing Accord, funded in our first budget last year, is delivering 10,000 new social and affordable homes and is being matched by every state and territory government. We have also expanded the Home Guarantee Scheme and created the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee, which has already helped more than 6,000 people achieve homeownership in regional communities right across our great country. The $1.7 billion National Housing and Homelessness Agreement continues to deliver funding for new builds and important programs to assist the most vulnerable. Further, the government is also funding a 15 per cent increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance, the largest increase in more than 30 years. By bringing together first ministers from across the country through the National Cabinet, we saw an important commitment recently from the states and territories to reform planning laws. I think there is broad acknowledgement across most of the political spectrum, across industry and among the experts that planning laws are not fit for purpose, and I do believe that we need to do a lot more in that space. But, sadly, we have deal with the states and territories, ensuring that they come to the table on those reforms.

When it comes to addressing serious supply issues in the housing market, it’s also important to acknowledge that we have to tackle this supply issue head-on, and this is what the government is determined to do. Our commitment to reform laws is being aided through incentive programs for the states and territories to assist in exceeding targets of 1.2 million new homes over five years. I’ve heard many contributions this evening in this place, and it’s sad to say that the coalition were in government for the last 10 years and they stood by on this; for almost a decade we saw the housing market go from bad to worse. That’s why, since coming to government last year, the government has wasted no time in addressing the housing affordability issue front-on. It’s attacking the problem with multiple policies in collaboration with the various jurisdictions around the country, as well as working with industry.

The passage of the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill will be an incredibly important step forward and a moment for this place to really fight to turn the tide on housing affordability in this country. I particularly want to thank those on the crossbench who have been working with the government on this policy. I’m glad they’ve taken the approach of working with the government rather than the approach of the opposition, who have up until today still said no and who are not willing to engage in conversations with our minister. The coalition have refused to engage with the government on this fund, and they don’t seem to have any interest in taking steps forward to improve housing affordability or cleaning up the mess. In fact, I don’t even know what their policy is today.

This does seem to be a pattern by those opposite, but the government proposes solutions to address the housing affordability crisis that’s currently before this country. It’s great to see opportunities here to actually fix the problem head-on. The housing fund, as has been reported, and from the contributions of many senators in this place, has the support to see it through the chamber tomorrow. This is good news for the most vulnerable in our community, and good news for the many Australians who have aspirations to own their own homes. That’s what we’re about: supporting people who have the aspiration to have a roof over their head. This will mean more homes for many workers, particularly low- and middle-income workers. There will be more affordable homes for Australian renters and more homes for those who are most in need. The fund is backed by numerous stakeholders and I’m really glad to see the support of the chamber that will follow through tomorrow morning when this comes to a vote.