HomeBuilder - 12/06/2020

12 June 2020



I join my colleagues today in speaking about the 'HomeBlunder' program, a $688 million scheme to help people who were already going to build a house, build that house. What a program! My colleagues have highlighted the lack of ambition that this government has when it comes to stimulating the economy and the construction industry: $688 million, versus Labor's investment of almost $7 billion in social housing when the global financial crisis hit. It is astounding that, even in a pandemic, this government has prioritised home renos for rich people over public housing for Australians who need a roof over their head. As my colleague the member for Fenner has pointed out, only the wealthiest fifth of Australians will be eligible for this scheme. It is astounding that, in a year when thousands of Australians have lost their homes in the bushfires, that is not a focus of this program. When the member for Macquarie asked a question about that today in question time, the Prime Minister failed to give an assurance that those people would be able to access any support through this scheme.

The pandemic has made it clearer than ever that safe and secure housing is fundamental to the health and safety of human beings. Our homes have become our sanctuaries as we have socially distanced over the last few months. In Canberra, as we were blanketed by hazardous smoke for most of January, our houses protected us from that toxic bushfire smoke that the bushfire royal commission has heard is linked to the deaths of 445 Australians—that is, for those of us that were lucky enough to have a home. Housing is essential to living a good life, and yet over 116,000 Australians don't have a home. In the five years to 2016, the latest ABS data on this issue, homelessness increased by around 14 per cent. This is a national disgrace. If the government truly wanted to support tradespeople in the housing construction industry, they would build homes for these 116,000 Australians. Not only would you be helping tradespeople; you'd be creating a demand for new workers in the building industry and you'd be saving governments over $25,000 per homeless person—according to research from the University of Melbourne—if you housed people rather than leaving them on the streets. It is this kind of multipronged public policy that has been missing from this government during the pandemic. We have a perfect storm here, where we have people without their homes and a need to stimulate the economy, and that's where we should be investing.

Australians are calling out for vision in these dark times, but the Prime Minister is not delivering. Even before the pandemic, the huge fall in the number of apprentice tradies in Australia demonstrates that the housing construction industry was under stress. As my colleague the member for Sydney pointed out just yesterday, under this government, Australia has lost 140,000 apprentices and trainees since the coalition came to power. According to new modelling from the National Australian Apprenticeships Association, we're set to lose another 100,000 by the end of the year. If the Prime Minister wanted to create jobs for these apprentices, a social housing construction boom would go a long way to saving this lost generation of tradies.

Of course, Labor were ahead of the government in our vision for reforming the economy in the face of economic downturn. No. 1 on our shadow minister's list of recommendations to the government was to construct more social housing; No. 2 was to repair and maintain existing social housing; No. 3 was to construct more affordable rental housing for frontline workers; and the final two recommendations focused on first home buyers and builders—the group of Australians most locked out of housing ownership. These are recommendations based on research. These are recommendations that respond to known issues faced by Australians. We get these ideas from experts and from our community. Where did the government get their plan from? Where is the research that shows that people who earn $125,000 a year and have $150,000 to spend on a renovation or building a house are in desperate need of $25,000? Can someone on that side of the chamber please table this research for us to consider.

Here in the ACT, the Barr government will deliver the highest investment in social housing per capita of any jurisdiction in Australia, spending $100 million to deliver 1,000 renovated public housing properties and 200 additional public housing homes. That is the sort of prioritisation of people in need that we need to see from this government. That is the kind of investment in housing that we need to see for people who are struggling to get into the market. This government is leaving too many people behind as it responds to this pandemic and more generally.