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Speech: Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2018: Second Reading

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Apr 2018

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (13:23): The Greens support the swift passage of this bill because it is better than nothing. Decent amendments have been secured in the House—we know that—but it is a massive missed opportunity to make a meaningful difference to the lives of millions of people by ensuring we have homes for all. Real levels of funding have not been raised despite homelessness increasing by 13.7 per cent since 2011. That's just on 14 per cent. More than 116,000 people were experiencing homelessness on the census night in 2016. How disgraceful that is. It is something that should be a massive wake-up call. That was during the census of 2016. We have an idea of how bad it is, but we still have these bills before us that are so inadequate. We need a lot more social housing to balance out the marketplace. Developers in the marketplace are not a solution to the housing crisis this country is facing.

On Tuesday, there was a really important campaign launched, 'Everybody's Home'. They are calling for 500,000 new social homes. I very much congratulate all the organisations that have come together on a program that is going forward with a very solid campaign and real action to achieve more homes. The Greens have costed a plan to meet that target, yet this bill before us now barely deals with the resources that social housing needs—again, a real reminder of where this government is at. It still is committed to looking after the developers, the property speculators and the big banks to ensure that they're making more profits. It is not doing the job that any government should do: getting behind a decent policy that recognises housing as a human right and delivers the houses that are needed.

We had an interesting inquiry on this bill, and I wish to thank the secretariat for the committee and all the groups and individuals who gave evidence. It was very informative. As I've said, the Greens believe housing is a human right, and we approach this bill with that perspective. Indeed, the explanatory memorandum states that the bill engages with article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, stating that everyone has the right 'to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family', including housing, and that appropriate steps will be taken to ensure the realisation of this right. It is interesting that the explanatory memorandum actually goes to that very important international covenant that gets to the heart of how and why housing is a human right.

But, regrettably, several witnesses expressed concern that the bill as it stood was not an appropriate step towards the realisation of housing as a human right. That should have sent the government back to the drawing board to get it right. The concerns are detailed in our additional comments on that bill. I want to share with you the comments from Jenny Smith, chair of Homelessness Australia, when she gave some very useful evidence to the inquiry on the bill. These are Ms Smith's words:

We spoke earlier about how housing is a very sensible way to turn off the tap to our prisons, to assist people dealing with health problems and to lower psychiatric conditions in our community. It's not possible to participate economically and it is usually disastrous for our social participation as well. We're not going to see any progress on that until we have a joined approach in this country. As it is currently drafted, the bill does not contribute to that.

The injustice caused by the Turnbull government's approach to housing is extreme. Whenever we talk about housing in this place while the government sticks with its present position, we have to just come to the essence of the problem. We know that decent housing is essential to people's wellbeing, dignity and sense of community. Yet for decades we've seen homelessness, insecurity and affordability get worse.

Meanwhile, what's happening? Some people are getting very, very rich. These figures that I'm about to share with you are shocking. They reflect how and why inequality is on the rise. Property developers on the BRW Rich List have increased their wealth by 56 per cent in just three years. And then how gross is this: 20,000 people own six or more investment properties. That is shocking. The profit margin of property operators and real estate services rose 57.6 per cent in the financial year 2015-16, and meanwhile the homelessness figures have increased by 14 per cent in the past five years or so. It is just unacceptable. In a rich country like Australia, the fact that we can't ensure that there are homes for all is a real indictment of governments that allow that to continue year after year.

What do we hear? 'Oh, the housing market is broken.' It's not actually broken; it's rigged. It's rigged in favour of the property developers, the speculators, the bankers and the developers who are out to make money. There would be people lining up when they hear that you can make a 56 per cent increase in your profits in just three years. People would be wanting to get into that. Sadly, there are some people who do want to make profit at that level and who are, sadly, very greedy. The way housing is managed in this country lends itself to that. It's really deeply shocking. These people want houses for profits, not people.

This bill is better than nothing. I've said that and that's certainly our position. It will at least give some certainty to housing providers and crisis services, but it does little to take on the vested interests who are happy to rake in profits while people suffer. We know that the property speculators, investors and developers won't give up without a fight. With the amount of money that they're making and with their riches—

Senator Williams: Terrible—making a profit! Shouldn't have anyone making a profit!

Senator RHIANNON: I'll take that interjection, Senator Williams, because I've said in here many times: we're not against profits, but the fact that you're coming in, as a Nationals MP, and trying to make out that you're concerned about people in the bush, and you come in with an interjection—

Senator Williams interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Sullivan ): Order!

Senator RHIANNON: and happy to acknowledge what you're saying is that you're happy—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT : Order! Senator Rhiannon, you will direct your comments through the chair. And order on my right, at the same time.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The comments that were just delivered in the Senate as an interjection are informative, because I have said in here many times that I and the Greens are not against profits that don't exploit people and leave them in misery.

What is happening in this housing market at the present time is shocking. Those figures that I've just shared with the chamber are disgraceful, because we can see how they're driving inequality in this country—inequality that results in so many people not having a home. Let's remember: we're all about to go home and see our loved ones, and we've got a bed and a home to go to. But tonight there'll be about 200 people who do not have a home, and—I said it earlier and I'll say it again—as we are a rich country, that is simply unacceptable.

We know those property speculators, investors and developers, as I said, won't give up without a fight. The Greens are ready to take them on. We must reclaim housing as a human right. We need governments committed to homes for all, and that's what we should all be behind.


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