Comments on Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No 1) Bill 2017


October 18, 2017

I rise to also speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No 1) Bill 2017. As other speakers have outlined and as many of the speakers on this side of the House have mentioned, Labor will be opposing this bill. We know that the dream of owning your own home is pretty much completely out of reach for too many Australians. Working- and middle-class families are being priced out of the housing market. The evidence shows this very clearly. Ownership rates for young people aged between 25 and 34 have tumbled in recent years from 60 per cent to 48 per cent. Just as disturbing is the fact that young people are being forced to take on levels of debt unimaginable just a few decades ago.

You’d be forgiven for finding our opposition to this bill surprising, given the name of the bill—the so-called measures to reduce pressure on housing affordability. That name would lead you to believe that the government had recognised the problem and was taking the appropriate action. Why shouldn’t we support that? But the devil is in the detail. While this bill purports to address the issue of housing affordability, it does nothing more than pay lip service to one of the greatest issues and challenges facing the Australian economy. We had to wait several months to see this legislation and get across the detail. What we got was nothing more than a collection of half-baked ideas and thought bubbles. Make no mistake: the measures contained in this bill are ineffective and will solve nothing. We were told that the government was going to rescue first home buyers—they were going to come in and be rescuing superheroes. The member for Deakin, Super Sukkar, was going to fly in—he’s here today—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Irons ): Order! The member will refer to members by their correct titles.

The member for Deakin was going to fly in and rescue first home buyers. But what did we get? We got thought bubbles and half-baked ideas.

The first schedule of this bill, particularly, is one of the most egregious parts of the proposal. It would allow first home savers who make voluntary contributions in the superannuation system to withdraw them up to a certain limit, and an amount of associated earnings, for the purpose of purchasing their first home. The concessional tax treatment would apply to amounts that are withdrawn under the scheme. I understand why this would be tempting to many. But the proposition to undermine the retirement future of Australians not only has the potential to make housing less affordable; it will also compromise the financial security and the dignity in retirement which superannuation has been designed to provide and has been such an effective part of our nation’s policies.

Let me be clear about this: the Treasurer’s superannuation scheme will do nothing to address housing affordability. Superannuation is supposed to be sealed—deposited to generate retirement income—not the plaything of the government of the day to give access to super savings, undermining the very important concept of mandatory accumulation and the promotion of compound earnings. This shouldn’t be touched or tampered with for whatever priority they have on that particular day or to get themselves out of trouble. It was Labor who built that world-class superannuation system all those years so, against opposition from the other side. We won’t stand idly by while this government tries to tear it apart. You can’t trust the Liberal government to protect superannuation. They carped and criticised at its introduction under the Hawke-Keating government and they have been attacking it ever since. It’s in that Liberal-National coalition DNA to attack the great initiatives that Labor has put in place over this nation’s history. Indeed, those opposite loathe Medicare as much as they resent universal superannuation.

So I echo the calls of previous speakers and ask the Senate to reject this measure and send a clear message to the Turnbull government that it’s time to get real on housing affordability. The failure of this government on housing affordability is being felt by so many people across my electorate, where property prices are skyrocketing. According to the CoreLogic report commissioned by the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, the median house price in the suburb of Brunswick in my electorate is $1.1 million—$1,110,000. Until last weekend I lived in that very suburb, in Brunswick.

I have to confess that I have a personal interest in this issue, as so many other millions of Australians have. My family and I were renting our home in Brunswick. Our landlord decided to put the property on the market and we were told we had 60 days to find a new place to live. Life as an MP, as we all know on all sides here, is very difficult with a young family. I thought, rather than going house hunting I will see what they want for this property. It doesn’t really leave us a lot of time for house hunting when we have to fly to Canberra all the time. We tried to buy the house, or rather asked them what they wanted for it. When I was told the asking price, my jaw literally hit the floor. We make a good salary in this place; but they were asking for somewhere around $2 million for a small three-bedroom house in the suburb of Brunswick. There is no way we could afford that. We loved that home and we loved Brunswick as a suburb, but I can assure you that was far from a palatial home that we were living in, that we were renting. We are fortunate enough to earn a good salary, yet we found the prospect of buying an ordinary home in our area obscenely unaffordable. This is the experience of millions of Australians around the country in the struggle that they go through. So I understand better than most on the other side the struggle that many Australians have who are trying to achieve the dream of homeownership. Labor has led on this with its policies to reform negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount. Those policies were immensely well received by the electorate, and for good reason. They are likely to work and are likely to deliver real outcomes for people trying to enter the housing market. They say that no party has a monopoly on good ideas but, make no mistake, this policy lever is available to the government. They can do this; they can adopt the reforms.