Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017 Second Reading Speech

01 March 2018

I think I'm moving house next week. I'm not 100 per cent certain, because it's a new build so I have to wait till I get the appropriate council approvals. But it's been 4½ years sinceI lost my house in the bushfires in Winmalee in 2013. I had lived in that home for 22 years. I built it, and I'dnever left it. I raised my family there until I had no choice but to temporarily relocate, very unexpectedly.

When I reflect back on that home, we originally moved to our part of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney because it was affordable. It was affordable for us as a couple about to start a family, and we were able to be there and survive on one main wage for a few years. It's what a lot of people were able to do in the nineties. They were able to move to the Blue Mountains and establish their families. We were lucky. We look back now and go, 'We were
lucky to be able to do that.' We could have an affordable, secure and appropriate home for our family. Yes, we had a long commute, but that was a choice that we were able to make. We had reasonable access to services. All the research tells us that those basic things—those conditions to have housing that is affordable, secure, appropriate and within reach of services—are actually essential conditions for financial, social and emotional wellbeing.

It isn't that easy these days for people to have those things, even in the Blue Mountains, a long way outside Sydney—even when you go higher up in mountains, so that your commute is a couple of hours, not just 1½ hours. But all Australians, no matter where they are, have the right to secure and affordable housing throughout their lives. That's something that this government doesn't seem to be taking seriously. For too many people, the pressure now
is worse than it has ever been. In my entire electorate of Macquarie—the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury—prices are high. For young people on a regular income—if they're lucky enough to have permanent, full-time work and not be in casual and casualised work—the costs are extraordinary.

We're seeing a huge increase in homelessness. It's a really visible increase in homelessness. I don't have any problem with using the word 'crisis', because I do think that there is a crisis. There's a crisis of supply, there's a crisis of affordability and there's a crisis of suitability and sustainability, and these are things that this government had a chance to address. They had a chance to address them in this bill. But, sadly, what we have here and what we find ourselves having to support—because we don't want to make things worse—is something that is barely going to make anything better. This is much less than the comprehensive package of measures that this country needs
—that its citizens need and that every person in Australia who doesn't have somewhere to live right now needs. I want to talk about some of the problems with the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2017. I want to talk about the process of this bill, because that, in itself, highlights one of the deep flaws that this government has. This area of homelessness and housing is one that we know needs to involve every state and territory. It's not just a federal government issue; it goes across the tiers of government.
Yet this bill was introduced into the parliament before the Commonwealth and state treasurers had even met to agree to the detail. That was already in the legislation. Is it any wonder that there is difficulty getting agreement when you have the arrogance, the high-handed arrogance, of the Treasurer presenting something to the state treasurers and saying, 'Here you are; take it or leave it'? That's the sort of thing that is not going to solve the crisis
that we face. It isn't the way to do it. It's certainly not the way we operated when we were in government, when we did start to see so many small hopes and gains around housing—which have been undone by this government. I have to say it was total hypocrisy from the Treasurer to take this approach, given that, only a day before, while he was championing a Productivity Commission report, he'd said:

The Commission is principally saying that as a Federation we need to work together better, to play nice …

I'd say to the Treasurer, if he were in this chamber, that his actions speak louder than his words, and we won't get a good result until some respect is shown to the states.

What else is wrong with this bill? There are a couple of things that I think I can probably turn my attention to! In terms of the numbers that are involved, the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will provide $375 million over three years, so it just maintains the current $115 million of annual homelessness funding provided.But in our budget, Labor's budget, in 2013-14 annual homelessness funding under the NPAH was $159 million,
so this is taking us backwards. Maybe inflation hasn't done what inflation normally does? I don't think so. What is happening is that, in hard, cold numbers, we are going backwards. Of course, it was in the Abbott government's disastrous 2014-15 budget that $44 million a year was slashed from the NPAH. So the numbers are a problem, but that's not the only problem with this bill.

I'm going to run through a few of the key themes in the very good work that the committee senators were able to do. Some of the comments go to the need for there to be a holistic national policy on this, and I did like the
comment by Adrian Pisarski of National Shelter, because he summed up exactly what the issue is. He was talking in fact about the 2017-18 budget, when we had great expectations that there would be this really solid housing and homelessness package. We were led to believe that by various members of the government. Mr Pisarski described it very appropriately as 'a centrepiece without a centrepiece.' That's how satisfying this legislation is that we're seeing as a result of the great big plan that failed to eventuate from this government. As Homelessness
Australia described it:

This Budget is not fair, because it fails to fix a broken housing system that encourages investors to own more than one house while 105,000 haven't a home at all.
What we have is not something that is going to reduce inequality; it's going to blow out inequality. That's the danger that we face. Mission Australia, well known for its work on homelessness across Sydney and certainly in my electorate, said:

Disappointingly, the Budget contained inadequate assistance for the many people in rental stress who remain just one step away from homelessness. Rents are becoming increasingly unaffordable for older and younger Australians alike, with those on Newstart and the age pension struggling to find a home within their means.

That really goes to the core of the issue that we are failing to address.
I've been lucky to have a very steady rental property for the last 4½ years. Within a couple of weeks of my house burning down, I was offered a rental property. It's small, it's compact, and I'm very lucky it is very affordable, especially for someone on my salary—and I recognise that. We are very privileged. But we've also had the gift of being able to stay in one place for 4½ years.

I look at my children, who get churned through their rental properties in Sydney. Two days before Christmas my 23-year-old son, who'd been sharing a place in the inner city for a couple of months, got a call from an agent to say, 'Sorry, you're not going to be able to renew your lease in January, because the owners have decided that they
want the property back.' That was two days before Christmas. That is pulling the rug from under a young person who might be just about to stop their casual work to spend a little bit of time with family. They had a few weeks to find somewhere to live. I'm fortunate that my children are resilient, resourceful and well connected. Thank goodness for Facebook and social media to help our young kids find things fast. But I saw what that did to my son. Just when he thought he was getting settled and steady, suddenly the world was turned upside down. That's
someone who's young, single and resourceful. When that happens to a mum who's struggling with her part-time jobs and is possibly juggling work, study and getting her children to school—having to find a house in the way that it happens—I can't imagine how that dislocates your life.
We've failed to even look at these issues, and on our side we certainly know that it's something that matters. The problem with this whole package is that it is just tinkering. There is the salary-sacrificing measure that is there. Ms Bree Marr was quoted on ABC 7.30 as saying, 'It wouldn't even cover your stamp duty.' It certainly doesn't cover your deposit, even to live in an outer Sydney area like mine. The problem with the superannuation initiative
is that you're undermining something that, at a different stage of life, provides you with the hope of some financial security. You really can't slice and dice this in a way that is going to work out better for women. Women, in particular, are going to be impacted by anything that encourages them to take from their superannuation.

There are a couple of areas that this package doesn't even come close to touching. Some of the most recent data about youth and children from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, which brought its report card out this week, highlight concerns about housing. The percentage of households spending more than 30 per cent of their gross income on housing is now 17.3 per cent. That's up from five years ago. Things are not getting better; they're actually going in the wrong direction. The most recent data that they have produced show that the homelessness rate for nought- to 24-year-olds is 59.5 people per 10,000. So that's a high percentage of young people being impacted. Of those accessing specialist homeless services in the past year, 43.8 per cent were under 25.

They also note that the percentage of families with dependent children living in overcrowded housing is seven per cent. These statistics matter because living in adequate and stable housing, along with having adequate clothing, healthy food, clean water and the things you need to participate in education and training, is what's vital for young people to transition effectively to adulthood. This package does nothing to address those issues.

I also want to talk about another group of young people who are at huge risk of homelessness: those who are in out-of-home care. A 2015 study by Swinburne University of Technology found that 63 per cent of homeless youth had been in state care. So 63 per cent of the young people who were homeless have had an experience of state care. That tells us which group we should be focusing on.

One of the key issues those young people face is that their support gets switched off at 18. A whole lot of countries have realised that this is not the way to support people in out-of-home care. In the United Kingdom, in New Zealand, in Canada and even in the United States, that support continues to 21, and I think this is an issue we really need to look at. I'm not the only one who thinks this, I have to say. Eighty-seven per cent of people who
were recently polled about this believe that young people deserve a safe place to call home until they are at least 21. I would hazard a guess that everyone in this chamber would be very reluctant to throw an 18-year-old out of their home. I'm sure that most 18-year-olds who are children of the people in this chamber are probably still very dependent on their parents—and, I certainly know, well into their 20s. I wouldn't dream of taking away support that young people need to help them transition to a successful adulth

eople need to help them transition to a successful adulth