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FOR – Matters of Urgency — Housing

Andrew Bragg

Senator McKim has submitted a proposal under standing order 75 today:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today the Australian Greens propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to call on the government to end the tax handouts for wealthy property investors that deny renters the chance to buy their first home."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

Nick McKim

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to call on the government to end the tax handouts for wealthy property investors that deny renters the chance to buy their first home.

The housing system in this country is completely and utterly broken, and there's a range of reasons for that, but the simple political reason for the housing system being in such crisis in this country is that our political landscape has been dominated by establishment political parties for many, many decades, and that status quo, the political establishment in Australia, has abjectly failed to build enough homes and has consistently incentivised property investors and property speculators and their interests over and above the interests of homeowners and of renters in Australia. The approach of this government, that we can fix one of the biggest problems facing this country without taking on entrenched power structures and without changing the direction of the political establishment, is a barefaced lie. Suggesting that small reforms and faffing around at the margins can actually solve these deep seated issues is a deceit, and it's a deceit perpetrated to ensure that the political establishment stays in power in this country.

Now, let's take a closer look at the housing crisis. This government oversees budget decisions that result in a staggering $165 billion over the next 10 years going in as direct subsidies through negative gearing and through the capital gains tax discount to property investors and speculators. These tax breaks overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest people in this country. They let them buy—encourage them to buy—multiple properties, in some cases hundreds of investment properties, while everyday Australians struggle to buy their first home or struggle to pay their fortnightly rent bills.

The tax system in Australia rewards speculative investment over real homeownership, and it rewards speculative property investment over the interests of renters. The capital gains tax discount means that investors pay half the tax that they should on property profits, which pushes home prices even higher and makes it harder for first-home buyers to compete. Ultimately, if we want to solve the housing crisis in Australia, we need to be prepared to take on the causes of that crisis. We need to build more homes and make sure they are affordable homes. We don't support the position articulated by Labor housing minister Ms Collins that property should be an asset class in Australia. Property—a home—is a human right. Everyone has a right to a safe, affordable, warm, dry home. That is a human right. We should not be treating homes as an asset class.

The Greens want to see an end to these obscene discounts, these obscene tax conditions, these direct public subsidies to wealthy property speculators. We want a fairer tax system whereby the big corporations and the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share of tax and those taxes are used to help people who need support—by doing things like putting dental and mental health into Medicare, by doing things like raising income support, by doing things like wiping student debt. We need to stop the tens of billions of dollars every decade in handouts to wealthy property investors, and we need to use that money to build affordable housing, put a cap on rents and support first-home buyers.

Marielle Smith

I too rise to speak on this matter of urgency submitted by the Greens. To some extent I agree that it is urgent we have a discussion on housing policy in this country, because the alliance we have seen form between the Greens political party and the opposition in this chamber has had what I believe to be a disastrous impact on the ambition of this government to advance housing policy in Australia. We've seen the Greens and the opposition team up to stand in the way of the Housing Australia Future Fund, the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing in more than a decade, which the Greens party delayed for six months so they could keep campaigning on housing affordability rather than trying to fix it. We've seen this alliance team up to stand in the way of Help to Buy, a national shared equity scheme designed to help more Australians into homeownership, which the Greens have voted against in the other place and which has been delayed for four months so far. And now we're seeing this alliance of the opposition and the Greens standing in the way of more help for renters by holding up Build to Rent.

Time after time, as our government is determined to do meaningful policy reform to address housing supply in Australia, our efforts have been hampered by this alliance between the opposition and the Greens in this chamber. Time after time, as we've brought measures to increase supply to this chamber, the Greens have stood in the way, joined by the opposition. Let's be clear: the motion we have before us does not deliver another home in Australia. It does absolutely nothing to ease the cost of housing for Australians. It does absolutely nothing to assist Australians with the cost of their rent. This is just another political stunt on the floor of this place. It delivers nothing in the real world. It delivers nothing for the people in Australia who are desperately seeking action on housing supply, who are desperately seeking help with rent and who are desperately seeking to be able to afford to buy their own home.

Time and time again, the only party in this place actually bringing anything to this chamber that would make any difference to housing supply is the Australian Labor Party, and, time and time again, the major roadblock to that has been the alliance between the Greens and the Liberals and the Greens and the opposition party in this place. The fact is that, when it comes to housing, we have a supply issue in this country. That is what our government is solely determined to address.

We know this is having an impact on young Australians, in particular. It is millennials—my generation—and the younger generations that feel most let down and locked out by the issues in housing supply in Australia. It is our generation that feels like this dream, this aspiration, is beyond them. It is this generation that needs us to do something in this place to have a meaningful impact and take meaningful action on addressing supply so that they, too, can own a home, so that's not only an aspiration or a dream of their parent's generation but something they can hold.

We have the Greens political party constantly come into this place and prevent meaningful action, meaningful reform, or delay that reform, because it suits their political agenda and their political purpose of the day. But you don't get more houses in Australia through memes; you don't get more houses in Australia through motions on the floor of this place that don't deliver legislative change, that don't increase funding and that don't do anything to enact agreements made by National Cabinet that would actually deliver houses.

From the opposition's perspective, I fundamentally reject the idea that young Australians, millennial Australians and the generations that come after have to make a choice between a dignified retirement through superannuation and owning a home. I reject that containment of aspiration for millennial Australians and for gen Y Australians. It is not what their parents were told, and it's not what they should be told either. Every young Australian deserves to have the aspiration to have a safe and secure home. The Australian Labor Party is the only party in this place doing anything that will deliver that for them. The Liberals want to contain the aspirations of young Australians. The Greens think they can meet that aspiration through memes. Frankly, I believe those two positions are absurd. What is urgent is getting the Labor government's reforms on housing through this chamber. That will make a difference in housing supply.

David Pocock

I thank Senator McKim for bringing forward this motion and for the opportunity to speak on it. When we talk about housing, we often jump straight into the details of the HAFF and Help to Buy and all these other things. We need to sit back and ask: what is housing for? Is this something that is fundamental to human wellbeing, to human flourishing and to communities doing well? Or is this something that we want to set up as an investment vehicle and have a tax structure that rewards people to invest in property? I'm hearing from the people I represent that they want this as a fundamental human right. If we can agree on that as a parliament, we will take very different policy solutions forward. One of them that can no longer be taboo is to talk about our tax system and the very generous capital gains tax discounts and negative gearing on investment properties. There are sensible ways to turn this around.

Senator Jacqui Lambie and I got PBO costings to look at a range of options, from grandfathering to different rates of incentivising to new supply with a reduced capital gains tax discount. There are options going forward, if the major parties will be a part of this conversation. To date, I haven't heard anything that indicates that they are willing to take this on and act in line with what I am hearing that the vast majority of Australians want, and that is for them to take the housing crisis seriously as a crisis. When you are in a crisis, all options are on the table.

Currently we hear a lot about the HAFF. Just to address some of the accusations which were levelled at the Greens—probably levelled at the whole crossbench—let's go and look at what was delivered as part of the HAFF negotiations. The Jacqui Lambie Network secured a minimum of 1,200 homes per jurisdiction to ensure that, regardless of how small your state or territory is, you get a cut of the HAFF, given it's only 30,000. The Greens managed to get $2 billion extra in the Housing Australia Future Fund. That's a not insignificant amount of money. I managed to get an agreement to have it indexed, which is $6.5 billion over the life of the availability payments, which is in line with what the sector was asking for. On top of that, there was the equal remuneration order for the sector of $70 million. So let's tell the whole story to Australians—that, when you have a crossbench that is standing up for the communities they represent, you get better outcomes.

I welcome more debate going into this next election so that we can actually put some action to the rhetoric of saying that we want young people to be able to afford to buy a home or to be able to rent and have renters' rights and not see their rent jacked up.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 5:02 PM on 2024-07-02
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 12
Total number of "no" votes: 26
Total number of abstentions: 38

Adapted from information made available by