Bandt MP, Freezing rent increases and doubling Commonwealth rent assistance

Adam Bandt MP
Photo screenshot Parliament of Australia

Mr Band
t (Australian Greens) I rise to speak on the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 and the associated bills. I'm lucky enough, in Melbourne, to have the electorate that has the highest number of public housing residents, from the last time we looked at the statistics. In that electorate, one of the things we deal with day after day, in our office, is people who can't get into public housing, who have been on the waiting list for years and who are told, even though they're homeless, even though they're couch surfing, even though they might be women just about to give birth, there is no place for them in public housing. When you look at the rental market, you find there is zero chance of renting near your family or your friends or where you work or study because rents in the private market have grown seven times faster than wages. People are in crisis.

When you're faced with this housing crisis, where you can't get into public housing because governments haven't built public housing and where you can't get into the private market because rents are going through the roof, it takes a particular kind of genius to come up with a policy that will see the waiting list longer at the end than it is now. We've got a shortage at the moment of 640,000 social and affordable homes in this country—a shortage that is set to grow by 75,000 in five years—and a proposal that says we're supposedly going to finance the construction of 30,000 over five years, which means the shortage of affordable and social housing will continue to grow under this policy. This policy is one that bakes in the problem getting worse.

It's not even a promise to spend money on housing. This is a gamble of $10 billion of public money being put into the stock market in the hope that some of that might find its way back into building housing. It's not a $10 billion investment in housing; it's a $10 billion gamble on the stock market with a spending cap on housing. We've heard from the government that somehow this is going to result in $500 million a year. What people need to know is what the government is doing is taking public money, putting it over for a gamble on the stock market and hoping that that generates some money to be spent on public housing. Last year, if this proposal had gone ahead, it would have actually lost money; the investment in the future fund would have actually lost money. There is no requirement in this legislation that a dollar be spent per year on social and affordable housing. If money is made after gambling on the stock market, then it may come in. Last year there were zero dollars. It was negative; it made a loss. Separately, in a time of crisis they've put a cap on how much they're going to spend. Even if the fund makes a greater return, they've limited how much they're going to spend. And it's not even indexed. In other words, even if more money is made available, they've locked in a steady decline, a steady cut, on how much will be spent on social and affordable housing.

Spending on social and affordable housing and building new public housing in this country shouldn't be dependent on the whims of the stock market. Imagine if we did that with schools and hospitals. Imagine if the government said: 'I'm sorry. We can't find funds to build new public schools this year because the stock market made a loss.' There would be an outcry, and rightly so. Spending on public, social and affordable housing should be treated the same way as spending on public schools and on public health. We need a mind shift in this country where the government says, 'Whether you find a roof over your head isn't dependent on whether the stock market has made money this year; it is a basic right.' The government shouldn't come to the parliament in a time of crisis and say, 'We want a cap on how much we're going to spend on social and affordable housing.'

There is a massive problem here, including for renters, but there's nothing in here for renters in the private market, who are seeing rents grow by seven times as much as wages. There's nothing in here. The government has failed to understand that a shift has gone on in Australian society. Now more people are renting and they are finding it impossible to get a place to rent near where they work or study. There's nothing in here to address out-of-control spiralling rents. We need to start taking seriously the position that renters find themselves in. Renters need to stop being treated like second-class citizens and ignored by governments. It is time for more rights for renters, but there's nothing in this package for renters.

Freezing rent increases and doubling Commonwealth rent assistance would go a huge way to relieving the stress that renters find themselves in. The government has brought forward a bill that says that at the end of the bill, if the bill is implemented, the problem will be worse and the gap will be bigger than it is now. It ignores renters. The government has nothing for renters who find themselves in crisis right now. What does the government have for renters who are watching spiralling rents and can't find a secure roof over their head? Zero; there is zero in these bills for renters right now.

The opposition have said no to these bills, but we're saying to the government, 'Do better.' We're saying to the government, 'Put some real money into housing and guarantee that it is going to flow so that we start to make the problem better, not worse, as these bills are proposing to do.' We're saying to the government: 'Do better for renters. Double Commonwealth rent assistance. Work to freeze rents across the country for the next two years, like happened in some places during the pandemic.' During the pandemic, governments, including in Victoria, understood that we were in a crisis. There is now a rental crisis that people are facing. The government needs to step in and stop rents spiralling out of control.

With over 20 per cent of First Nations people living in overcrowded homes, a $1 billion capital investment will help address the shocking inequality in housing outcomes in this country. That could be part of what the government is putting forward. Ultimately, the Greens are fighting on behalf of the millions of people that this bill leaves behind. Whether they're homeless, whether they're stuck on public or social housing waiting lists or whether they're struggling to pay the rent, we will fight to make sure that Labor does not forget them, because at the moment they are not helped by this bill.

So the opposition will say no and the Greens will say: 'Do better. Have something in this bill that addresses the real crisis that renters find themselves in. Let's look at First Nations housing. Let's make sure we spend some real money, not just have a gamble on the stock market and then cap how much is going to be spent and, in some years, spend nothing at all.' These are real proposals that will help fix the problem, not see the problem get worse. That is the fundamental problem with the approach the government is taking: if this bill is passed as it is, the problem will get worse than it is now. The problem will be worse than it is now at the end of the next few years.

People are looking to members of this parliament to work together to fix the massive rental crisis that people are in, not to pass a policy that bakes in the problem getting worse. We'll continue to work with the government over the coming weeks to make this better, because people need it to be better. Renters need it to be better, First Nations communities need it to be better—everyone who is struggling to afford to put a roof over their head needs this government to do better.

Chamber: House of Representatives

Item: BILLS - Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023, National Housing Supply and Affordability Council Bill 2023, Treasury Laws Amendment (Housing Measures No. 1) Bill 2023 - 
Speaker: Bandt, Adam Paul MP

Attribution Parliament of Australia Website

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