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Labor makes final push for Housing Australia Future Fund

The federal government’s housing affordability package is yet to pass, with arguments for and against mounting in the last few sitting days before the budget.

The Labor government’s Housing Australia Future Fund, a package aimed to deliver on Anthony Albanese’s promise to create a $10 billion fund to bring about a million private homes and 40,000 social and affordable homes in the next five years, was debated in Parliament on Tuesday (28 March), as the federal government works to gain enough votes in Senate to pass the relevant bills.

The Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 (and related bills) has been stuck in Parliament since being introduced in February, as the opposition looks to block the bill and the Greens ask for further strengthening of the bills.

Last Wednesday (22 March), the Senate economics legislation committee released its inquiry report into the package of bills surrounding the affordable housing package, outlining that a range of concerns had been raised in relation to the packages.

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These concerns largely centre around the fact that the package could be strengthened or improved to address the scale of housing inaffordability (for example, the Greens have suggested the expected returns of up to $500 million per year don’t go far enough); questions surrounding the bill’s inclusion of a ‘broad discretionary power to make an arrangement for granting financial assistance, including to the states and territories’; and questions over how the funding model would function and what kind of entities would receive funding.

Indeed, the Australian Greens’ dissenting report suggests the fund is akin to “gambling money on the stock market” and “could result in years where not a single cent is spent on housing”. Moreover, the party has argued that the 30,000 homes earmarked for construction would still see the shortage of social and affordable housing end up bigger than it is now and doesn’t do enough to tackle the rental issues that are pushing up the cost of housing.

As such, the Greens have suggested that the fund should be used to invest directly in social and affordable housing, rather than invested via the Future Fund and, the party argues, the funding should be significantly increased to a minimum of $5 billion per year in real terms.

Greens Leader Adam Bandt said on Tuesday (28 March) that he is “pushing the government” to incorporate renters in their Housing Australia Future Fund Bill.

“This plan from the government does not touch the sides of the housing crisis, there’s nothing in it for renters and that’s what we’re pushing the government to do,” Mr Bandt said.

The Coalition senators, meanwhile, have been opposed to the bill because they believe that instead of subsidising superannuation fund investment in housing, the government should allow members to use their super to buy a home. These senators also think that measures should be taken to reduce the regulatory costs of planning and housing construction and the Commonwealth should incentivise state and local governments to undertake such reforms.

On Tuesday (28 March), an affordable housing rally was being held outside of Parliament House in Canberra, as both those opposing the bill and those supporting it made a final push for their case in the final days of sitting before the budget.

During Question Time on Tuesday (28 March), Prime Minister Albanese responded to a question from Angus Taylor MP, member for Hume, regarding what the government would do to tackle the rising cost of mortgages: “I’m asked about housing. And the cost of housing. And I say to the member who asked the question that he does have an opportunity to do something on housing; which is to support the Housing Australia Future Fund that is before this Parliament now. Because what the Housing Australia Future Fund along with the housing accord, and along with other measures is aimed at doing, of course, is increasing supply of housing that has an impact on price. Economics 101. It has an impact.

“There is massive support out there,” Mr Albanese said, flagging support from several housing players, including the Property Council of Australia, National Shelter, Homelessness Australia, and the Housing Industry Association of Australia (HIA) that have backed moves to increase supply.

“The fact is, we have a comprehensive plan on housing, those opposite — like in everything else — just have a plan to say no.”

The deputy managing director — policy and industry for the HIA, Jocelyn Martin, has said that the government should not “abandon” its pledge to build 1 million private homes and 40,000 social and affordable homes in the next five years.

“Passage of the ‘Housing Australia’s Future Fund Bill 2023’ is an important step toward addressing the ongoing decline of housing affordability across Australia,” Ms Martin said.

“An inadequate supply of additional housing over many years has led to a situation where there is intense competition to secure housing, among limited options. The intense competition is evident across the spectrum of the housing market.

“Tackling housing affordability starts with making the supply of housing a national priority and improving affordability can enable more households to own their own homes.

“‘Housing Australia’s Future Fund Bill 2023’ is an important step toward achieving this goal.

“To abandon the plan to build the 1 million private and 40,000 social houses, will mean Australians will undoubtedly face higher rents and pay more when buying a house in the future, as supply falls well short of the dedicated target.

“Building 200,000 new homes per year will not be sufficient to satisfy the enormous, and growing, demand for homes across Australia.”

“All sides of politics should view the passing of the Housing Australia Future Fund bill as the first step in a long journey to bring affordability and housing supply under control.

“Private and social housing work hand in hand, the more homes on the private market mean cheaper rents for those that can’t afford to buy a house but want to save for one.

The Federal government’s housing bill is a good solid start to ensuring access to a home even though it may not be the answer to all the problems that are facing the housing industry now. 

“The bill will not only enable more homes to be built in Australia, but it also seeks to create important advisory bodies such as the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council, that will advise the government on how and where to create more housing supply.

“It is important that the role of the Australian Government in addressing the affordability challenge continues to grow with the passage of this legislation.

“It should be supported by all the political players, housing affordability cannot be treated like a political football.”

[Related: New housing fund spearheads "ambitious" affordable housing drive]

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