Emma's Speeches in Parliament

Housing Affordability

November 27, 2018

I rise today to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill and to support the amendment moved by the member for Barton. The cost of housing is making life hard for so many Australians—young people, low-income families and older women. According to a recent Grattan Institute report, house prices took off in the mid-1990s. Average house prices have increased from around two to three times the average disposable incomes in the eighties and early nineties to about five times the average disposable income more recently. This means median home prices have increased from four to five times the median incomes in the early 1990s to more than seven times the median income today. In Sydney, not far from my electorate on the New South Wales Central Coast, it's more than eight times the median income.

In a wealthy country like Australia, why are one-in-three single women over 60 living in poverty, many at risk of homelessness? Why is a young mother I met at her first appointment with a financial counsellor after leaving a violent relationship struggling to find $460 a week to keep her rental so her three children have a roof over their heads? Why is the grandmother I met in Bateau Bay, while on a surgery waiting list, housing her adult son in her garage because his partner died and he is no longer on the priority housing list? Why are some high-school students in my electorate living in refuges or struggling to get by in the private-rental market while trying to finish high school?

If the government was serious about housing affordability and homelessness, it would take action to address some of the causes of homelessness, particularly to improve the provision of services for mental health in the regions to provide more support for women leaving family violence and to make sure that vulnerable Australians at risk of homelessness have safe, affordable housing. Why is it that a single-pensioner household faces spending up to 94 per cent of income on rent? This extreme level of housing stress is exacerbated by other pressures, such as increased healthcare costs, and must be urgently addressed.

I'll turn to the actual substance of the bill. What does this bill actually do to address homelessness? This bill imposes an automatic rent deduction scheme on social housing tenants and makes some changes to the administration of the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Labor referred this bill to a Senate inquiry to ensure it was given proper scrutiny. Labor has listened to the concerns raised by the housing and community sector. We know that the majority of social housing tenants manage their budgets and pay their rent on time. Evidence presented to the inquiry showed that 90 per cent of tenants meet their obligations. However, a form of automatic rent deduction may be appropriate to protect some social housing tenants who are genuinely facing a significant risk of homelessness in particular situations.

Labor will move amendments in the Senate to put safeguards in place to protect tenants and ensure that the scheme does not place them under financial hardship. At the moment, some social housing tenants who are also income support recipients can choose to have the Department of Human Services withhold a portion of their fortnightly payment and pay it directly to their housing provider to cover rent and some bills, like power bills. In this rent deduction scheme, participation is voluntary, and participants can leave the scheme whenever they choose. Around 86 per cent of the approximately 400,000 public and social housing tenants currently use the voluntary rent reduction scheme.

This bill would introduce an automatic rent deduction scheme. Under an automatic rent deduction scheme, everyone who receives an income support payment and/or family tax benefit and lives in either public housing or community housing could have part of their payment withheld by Centrelink and paid directly to the housing provider.