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Speech on housing crisis

On September 28, I spoke about the causes of Australia's housing crisis and the Greens proposed solutions

It's abundantly clear that Australia is facing one of the worst housing crises in our country's history. We have millions of renters facing some of the worst rental stress they've seen in their lives. In fact, we know that rents have increased seven times faster than wages since the pandemic began. We know that mortgage holders, who were encouraged to take on significant debt under the promise that interest rates wouldn't increase over this period, are now facing skyrocketing mortgage repayments. We know that right now there is a need for over half a million social homes. We know the social housing waiting list alone, which continues to be restricted by government criteria, is now 163,500 people. There are also over a hundred thousand homeless people in this country. We know that it will now take 11 years for the average person to save a deposit on a home, and that's only going to get worse. And that's before you take into account all the other debt, low wages and other significant financial stress people face in buying their homes.

Today in this place we've heard a lot of stories of MPs doorknocking—which I'm very glad about; it's good to hear that MPs are doorknocking—when, time and again, they encounter people who (a) realise that maybe their kids won't be able to buy a home in the area in which they grew up, (b) are themselves struggling to pay the rent, or (c) are stuck on a social housing waiting list. It's good to hear that the government have recognised this as a problem, but it's important that we break down just how deeply inadequate Labor's housing plan is.

The reality is that under Labor's housing plan the situation will get worse. It not a marginal improvement, not a tiny improvement in people's lives; the situation will literally get worse. The first thing to say is that 20,000 social homes over five years breaks down to about 4,000 social homes a year. Since 2018, the social housing waiting list in Australia has increased by 7,600 applications. That means that the increase in the social housing waiting list is greater than the number of homes Labor plans to build every year. That's before you get to the total need for social housing. We know that over the next 10 years there will be a total need of about 800,000 social homes in this country. Labor's plan addresses three per cent of that.

Government members interjecting

Once again we hear objections from the Labor government in this place, from people on the Labor side of this House. Why is it that, whenever we get up and talk about the inadequacies of your plan, instead of your contemplating it we hear rhetoric and defensiveness? Get angry about the fact that your plan will see more homeless, more people on the social housing waiting list, more people struggling to pay rent—more people in tougher lives because of the deep lack of ambition of this government.

It is beyond frustrating when we know that the solutions are staring us in the face. In the first instance, we keep hearing talk about rental stress but complete rejection of the notion that we could freeze rents right now for the next two years. Scotland has just done it; there's no reason that we can't do it here and finally give renters some relief. We could, finally, phase out capital gains exemptions and negative gearing—something that Labor now pretend they're never going to touch—because we know that they continue to drive up property prices and make it easier for someone to buy their fifth investment property than it is for someone to buy their first home.

Finally, we need actual ambition when we talk about constructing social housing. We should be planning how we build a million social homes over the next 20 years. Any expert will tell you that 50,000 social and affordable homes per year is the ambition we need right now. And there are places around the world where this has been achieved. I met some people from Vienna recently. Twenty per cent of Austrians live in some form of social housing; 60 per cent of those in Vienna live in some form of social or affordable or rent-subsidised housing. It means they have some of the lowest rates of homelessness and housing stress in the world. There is absolutely no reason why we can't build beautifully designed social homes not just for the people who are on the waiting list right now but for the teachers, nurses and other workers right now who need a good home to move into. There is absolutely no reason why we can't do that.

It remains deeply frustrating that, instead of looking at what works around the world, those opposite do a tiny bit on the side that allows them to get the media bite. We know what works around the world. It is significant investment in social housing. It is about removing tax breaks for property investors and about building a housing system that isn't designed to generate millions or billions of dollars in profit for property developers and banks, who happen also to be some of the major donors to the major parties. It is thinking about housing as, first and foremost, a way for someone to build a good life, raise a family and get on with living without having to worry about how they're going to pay the rent or make their mortgage repayments. That's what the Greens are fighting for.


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