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Speech: Housing Affordability

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 24 Mar 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (17:22): Flo Seckold has lived in Millers Point for 83 years. She was born there, she went to school there and she met her husband, Teddy, there. Millers Point is part of the famous Rocks, at the southern end of the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Three years ago, Teddy died. The day after Teddy's funeral, Flo received a letter telling her she was to be evicted, evicted from her home, from her community, along with all the other public housing tenants in Millers Point. In a recent interview, she said:

I have been crying for three years now and you couldn't get me to cry before that. There is nothing that I haven't loved about living here.

These are the actions of the New South Wales Liberal-National government. Their justification for removing all public housing from Millers Point speaks to a broader problem: how we treat housing. The justification that the government used was that they could sell the land to luxury buyers and use that money to build public housing elsewhere in Sydney. There was no thought, however, given to the fact that houses are more than bricks and mortar. They are people's homes. It is where they may have raised their kids, supported loved ones and formed deep friendships with neighbours, and where they are part of a community.

Successive conservative governments deliberately ignore what makes houses homes for people. The Liberal-National government take this uncaring approach because their constituency are property developers and property investors, and their policies are designed to help protect and boost the profits of their backers—the developers and investors. That is why this government has been so unwilling to take on capital gains tax discounts and negative gearing.

This ideology explains why the government continues to distract people from the reforms to housing in Australia that we so urgently need. We know that reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts will put people seeking a home on more of an even footing when competing at an auction with investors seeking profit. We know that most of the benefits of those tax breaks go to the top income earners and have contributed to the speculation bubble that we are now in. We also know that the billions of dollars spent on these tax breaks could be spent on much-needed public and social housing.

Yet what do we get from the Abbott-Turnbull government? We get a whole lot of deception and a whole lot of rubbish. There has been the rubbish that young people should save their money, not spend it on smashed avocado on toast; the rubbish that young people should raid their superannuation accounts, and the rubbish that young people should get a higher paying job—meanwhile, we know that what the government wants to do is cut penalty rates, and therefore many of those young people would get less money. Then there is the rubbish about the states not releasing enough land on city fringes.

Today the Turnbull government went over the top in terms of their own actions. They came up with the ugliest, most insulting idea on the housing crisis—an idea that not only distracts from the real problems of tax breaks and underinvestment in public housing but also scapegoats communities already under attack from the far right and, increasingly, all sections of the Liberal-National party. The headline in the Murdoch papers said it all: 'Send migrants bush to ease house prices'.

The Greens are not against stimulating regional cities. Indeed, our regions are crying out for more investment, more jobs and better transport links. We wholeheartedly support that. But our cities should also be welcoming of migrants and our newest Australians. I am sure regional Australia would welcome everyone if it was provided with the proper investment and infrastructure.

As I said, this government delivers for its own constituency, and that is why it does not have any policies to solve the housing crisis. One piece of the puzzle is political donations. The Greens' Democracy for Sale project has revealed that the Liberal and National parties, over the past five years, have received more than $10 million from the property sector. This is clearly cash for housing policies that keep housing a commodity. Another piece of the puzzle is political self-interest. Coalition MPs own over 330 properties between them. And, when it comes to the electorates where voters most benefit from investor tax breaks, as with capital gains tax discounts and negative gearing, they are all Liberal-held seats. So self-interest, political interest and financial interest are what are driving this Liberal-National party to allow the real hardship that is developing right across Australia with the growing housing crisis.

The Greens have no such conflicts of interest. We will stand up to the speculators and the profit gougers with our plans for secure, affordable housing for all. We are campaigning for sensible and fair tax reform to put people seeking a home on a more even footing with investors. We also want a big boost to the public and community housing sectors, and emergency shelter funding. We need to learn from the progressive European countries that have large, affordable housing sectors serving a wide range of people. The schemes provide high-quality buildings, mixed into the inner city, and guarantee homes for all. In many parts of Europe, people rent for their whole lives. They do not feel compelled to buy a house, because they have security of tenure—something that must come in in Australia to ensure that people can rent their home, can have dignity, can be secure in their future and that their kids can continue to go the local school, and can build links in that community.

Right now, the situation in Australia is not good. But let us remember that, after the Second World War, things were different. The federal government then funded one in six new homes. Half of those homes went to returning veterans. It was not a perfect program, but it remains an outstanding achievement, as housing was not regarded as a commodity nor treated in that way but as a deep commitment from the government of the day for homes for all.

Let us remember that about 300,000 people were homeless at some stage last year. What would we say if 300,000 students were turned away from school because their parents could not afford to pay? There would be a front-page outcry about that, even in the Murdoch papers, and we would demand a new, transformative, approach. That is what we need for housing now: a transformative approach so that we do have governments committed to homes for all.


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