Social Housing - 24/08/2020

24 August 2020



Thank you to the member for Newcastle for bringing forward this motion. She has been advocating for an expansion of public housing in Australia throughout her time in parliament, and that continues today. I had the opportunity to speak about social and public housing in June, on a matter of public importance. Two months later, Labor is still calling for this government to get its act together with a proper plan to put roofs over people's heads and create jobs. Put simply, given the massive need for government stimulus in our ailing economy, the Morrison government must build and upgrade the public housing, social housing and affordable housing stock across Australia.

When I spoke on this issue in June, the government had just announced its HomeBuilder program. The lack of ambition in this plan is staggering: $688 million for the wealthiest fifth of Australians to renovate their houses in ways that they were already doing. Compare that to Labor's $5.6 billion investment in social housing when the global financial crisis hit. The Morrison government has provided one-tenth of the housing construction stimulus that Labor delivered during the GFC, despite the fact that the impact of the COVID-19 downturn will dwarf the impact of the GFC. I can't think of a better summation of the difference in ideology between a coalition government and a Labor government. In crisis, Labor stands up for all Australians and ensures that our most vulnerable and least well off—those who need it most—are supported. In crisis, this government does what it can to pass the buck, and that is what it is doing now.

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. But, of course, you can't quarantine or isolate if you don't have a home. You can't quarantine or isolate if your home isn't safe. For the 140,000 Australians on social housing waiting lists across Australia, their ability to quarantine or isolate is not guaranteed. For those living in dilapidated social housing, their ability to quarantine or isolate in safe and secure housing is not guaranteed. We saw this in the bushfires as well—that the most vulnerable are less able to cope—with the health impacts of the smoke crisis we had here in Canberra, where people living in public housing couldn't afford to air-condition their homes and were staying in homes that, frankly, were not safe.

In the face of the first Australian recession in 30 years, Labor has called on the coalition government to stimulate the COVID affected economy by building social housing. Our shadow minister for housing and homelessness, Jason Clare, the member for Blaxland, called on the Morrison government to do several things, but the top two were (1) construct more social housing and (2) repair and maintain existing social housing. This is exactly what needs to be done. The OECD has urged the government to do this. The Grattan Institute has urged the government to do this. ACOSS have called for it. Homelessness Australia, National Shelter, Community Housing Industry of Australia—the list goes on. The people who know about social housing know that it is underfunded and that responding to the social housing shortfall will massively stimulate the economy.

Now the Master Builders Association have released forecasts that show that, instead of building 175,000 homes this financial year, only 125,000 homes will be built. This is a significant drop. Further, the Master Builders Association have shown that the HomeBuilder scheme has increased this shortfall by only 10,000 properties. Where is the government's ambition, where is their plan, to save the thousands of jobs that will go from the building and construction industry without adequate stimulus? Building and renovating social and public housing should be the Morrison government's plan. Subsidising renovations and builds that are already happening does not stimulate the economy. Instead, the government could be delivering on two critical objectives: stimulating jobs growth and creating more social housing.

Another way the government could do this is by waiving the public housing debts for states and territories, like here in the ACT. Our ACT government is making the largest investment per capita in social housing in the country, and that was before COVID-19. They have also now committed to building 260 new public housing dwellings if they form government at the October election, but they have said they could do even better if the federal government waived those debts. Unlike this federal government, their priorities are in the right place. The priorities of this government should be housing for our most vulnerable and creating jobs, as we try for recovery of the economy.