We all need to work together to solve this housing crisis

26 May, 2021

For those who are listening to this broadcast, this particular piece of legislation, the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 3) Bill 2021, has a number of parts to it. One is the Family Home Guarantee—to amend the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Act to implement the Family Home Guarantee, which should enable 10,000 guarantees over four years from July of this year to eligible single parents with dependents to build a new home or purchase an existing home with a deposit of as little as two per cent, regardless of whether the single parent is a first home buyer or previous home owner. Anything we can do for single-parent families should be supported, and we've got a lot to do and a lot to recognise with single-parent families. It's hard enough to raise children, as we found out, when there are two of you, let alone when you are on your own.

Schedule 3 is about the Australian government recognising the plight of victims of Thalidomide. We understand they have suffered from circumstances beyond their control, resulting in a lifetime of pain and hardship. This is another disability area which, of course, sparks my interest. This includes payments to Australia's Thalidomide survivors in recognition of their suffering and cost of living due to the disability. This bill exempts those payments from income tax from the social security and veterans entitlement income test.

The other part is, as the former member was speaking about, recovery grants for the floods and storms that had an enormous impact on many parts of the Australian community.

The last one is that new organisations will get deductible gift recipient status, and there's a list of all of those organisations—worthy organisations—that will receive tax deductibility. It also includes the Medicare levy and Medicare levy surcharge income thresholds. This ensures that low-income households that did not pay the Medicare levy in 2019-20 generally will not begin to pay it in 2021 if their income has increased in line with or by less than CPI.

I'd like to return to the housing issue. When I grew up—which is a long time ago now in many people's eyes but only a few minutes ago in mine—between the years of 1950 and 1970, on average 16 per cent of housing across the nation was public housing. That meant that in every small community like the one I grew up in, Koo Wee Rup, there was a group of what were called commission homes. They were put there by very good Liberal governments who saw the need right across Victoria for public housing in every small community everywhere. That figure was 16 per cent. Since that time, by 1990 that had been reduced down to six per cent of all housing being public housing. Since 1990, that has dropped by a third again, from six per cent to four per cent of all housing being public housing.

It's not that successive governments don't pour a lot of money into housing. They do. There's a lot of support that goes into housing. As much as $100 billion goes into housing from government each year, in different forms of support. For instance, low-income earners receive social housing subsidies, homeless support and rent assistance. It comes to about $8 billion of government outlays. The rest goes into areas where there are generous tax concessions allowed to home owners, especially on capital gains tax.

I heard the member for Dunkley speak, and she was very passionate about the need for youth crisis housing in her electorate and the problems her electorate is having with rentals and people trying to find a rental property. But what she actually described to me, as I listened, was the disgraceful response from the Labor government in Victoria to the need for housing, even though they now have a proposition to build public housing. That's come out of COVID and the response to COVID. The problem is that where they've been building that public housing has been in cities and outer city areas, not in the regions and the small towns. So, if you happen to live out there and your family is there and all your support services are there, but you cannot get a property, the current Labor government has not been able to deliver into rural areas the sort of public housing that's needed. In fact, it's gone into places like Hawthorn where it suited them to put it. There has been political bias in where they have chosen to place the public housing, and that's hugely disappointing because it means people in country areas miss out, and I'll explain why.

In my electorate, there was one particular family—a mum and four boys, victims of domestic violence—in a rental property. All was going well. The property got sold. They have to go and find another place to live. Hunt as they may, they haven't been able to find a home. I thought it was a one-off. It turns out after inquiries that five families are in exactly the same boat at the moment. What's happening right across coastal and rural Victoria is that people have gone and purchased properties to live in, and the people at the lower end of the scale, renting, are being put out of their homes. Where do they go? Do they go to a caravan park? No, the caravan parks are full.

So if you happen to live in a small country town and you haven't got a home, or the home you're in has been sold or the rental price has increased—I'll give you another example. I rang the estate agent on behalf of these people. I said, 'Have you got any houses to rent?' 'One, one in the town, and I've got 15 applicants.' Do you think a mum on public benefit who's had issues, with four kids but the kids are well supported in the township, is going to be the winner in that 15-lot gallery, in the lottery to get that home, when there would be people on double incomes et cetera? The landlord would say, 'I'll take that person, thanks, because that'll be of best benefit to me.'

This is where government has to step in—and I'm not saying the federal government, because the federal government, Labor governments and Liberal-National governments, year after year after year have poured money into the states specifically for this housing. We don't run the housing schemes. We don't build the houses. We give the states the money to deliver. Also, we provide the money for Indigenous housing, but we don't manage the Indigenous housing. It's all done by the states now. I haven't got a problem with states' rights or states' delivery. But there hasn't been a focus on delivering housing for single-parent families, and COVID has caused a greater crisis than we expected in this regard. Nobody knew that people were going to burst out of the cities and start buying properties at low prices in the country to get away from the cities.

The community that I live in is a rural community, but it's changed. I'm not saying I'm in lockdown yet, but I am in the greater Melbourne district. Sadly, so are Garfield and Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup. These are all country towns right out of Melbourne, but they are in the local government district named; therefore, you're in it. People have moved out of town and into these areas because, all of a sudden, 'I can work three days from home and I can travel into my job in the city one or two days a week if I have to, so I can live out here. I can have all of the fresh air that Gippsland provides and the lifestyle it provides and still do my work.' But then there's the pressure that that has put on all of the services, all of the housing and all of the opportunities, and the people who are at the lowest end of the scale are the ones that are missing out.

We in this House and other houses are responsible for those people. My analogy has always been the same: in a family where there are four children and one is disabled, 80 per cent of the focus on the children is on the disabled child, the one that needs the most help. It's exactly the same as we should be in the community. It's alright to have lifters and leaners and those sorts of things, but we don't know what problems people have faced in their lives that have brought them to the point that they have come to. We don't know why in individual cases. Women over 55 now have the greatest propensity for homelessness. The fastest-growing cohort of future homeless in our community is women over 55. Marriage break-ups, no superannuation, loss of opportunity, some illness, time to have children and all of those sorts of things can make a massive contribution. They can quickly fall through the cracks into homelessness. If you don't know somebody who's like that, you probably will. It takes us to a place of greater responsibility as representatives of the people to consider those who are on the edge.

I'm calling on the state governments and local governments and communities to join together and say, 'Righto, what can we do as a community when we are faced with this crisis that is real today?'

I only ask you to put yourself in the place of a single mum with four boys, four fine boys. At a certain point you're going to have nowhere to live. You might have to move to a place like the Latrobe Valley to get housing—not that I'm denigrating the Latrobe Valley—or back into the city. The four boys are going to be torn out of their community. All of their supports—their footy clubs, their cricket clubs, their schools, the sport in their schools—all the things that they do will be gone. Their life will be turned upside down. They'll be in a new place, which won't be as friendly as the small town that they were in.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm going to keep looking for an answer. I'm going to keep talking about the people that are on the edge. I'm going to think about whether there is a new idea, a new way, a new opportunity, where the federal government can direct how the states spend their money and where they spend it. Because it's federal money that's going into that housing, right across this nation, and we need to direct that some of those funds go into communities where, like every other community, we have people who are doing it hard, not by their own choice or doing; it's just life and what happens. When we have a bushfire, when we a flood, when we have terrible storms, when we have a tornado, what do we do? We go in and help.

Because of COVID, this nation is facing a housing crisis, and we're going to have to come up with some very innovative ideas as to how we help these people, otherwise we are going to have a national crisis on our hands, right across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. And how are we going to deal with that bushfire? I've got to tell you something: I haven't got an answer. But I can see the fire coming—those people being on the streets—and it's unacceptable. What options do that family have at the moment? Two caravans in a caravan park, perhaps, with a hood over. Is that what I want for my children or grandchildren? I don't think so. I have lived a life privilege.

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Russell Broadbent MP
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