Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (13:26): I rise to support the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 3) Bill 2021. I specifically want to talk about the Family Home Guarantee, which is part of schedule 2 of this bill. The Labor Party support this, but we support it like you would support a bucket of water in a drought: we’ll take it, but it’s not enough to fix the problem. It’s not enough to make a really big difference. It’s not enough to fix the housing affordability problem that we all know exists in this country.
There are one million single-parent families right across Australia, and a lot of them could do with this sort of help to buy a home. According to this legislation, this help will be provided to 10,000 single-parent families over four years—in other words, roughly 2,500 a year over four years. That’s what the government’s press release says. That’s what Budget Paper No. 2 says. It’s also what the explanatory memorandum to this bill says. It says, ‘Up to 10,000 guarantees expected to be issued.’ My question to the government, to the minister who’s introduced the legislation, is: Is that it? Is 10,000 a hard cap? What if more than 10,000 people want to access this scheme? Will they be able to or not? It’s not clear from this legislation whether they would be turned away.
The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme Guarantee has a hard cap. This is modelled on that scheme. Will this be a hard cap as well? If it is and if there are more single-parent families who want to access this scheme to buy a home, then they’ll miss out, or at least their chances of buying a home will be delayed for another year or another year after that—and there are a million of them. Single-parent families do need a leg-up, a bit of extra help, to buy a home. I think we all get that. It’s universally supported by members of this House. If there are a million of them in Australia, if this scheme is only going to help 2,500 a year over the next four years, a lot are going to miss out.
There’s another group of Aussies who need help and who don’t get help out of this scheme as well. Think about single-parent families where there are no dependent kids. I’m talking about single-parent families where the kids have left home. They might have gone to university, Mum and Dad might have got divorced or the family may have broken up for whatever reason. The fastest-growing group of homeless Aussies at the moment are older women, aged 65-74—people my mum’s age or my aunty’s age. I think we all know people in that sort of situation. When they get divorced and they split the assets, often it is the case that a lot of women don’t have enough money to buy a house again and end up renting for the rest of their life and living on the pension. If you’re renting and living off the pension, that’s a recipe for poverty. This scheme doesn’t do anything to help them.
If this scheme is going to help single parents, then it’s also really important that they get the price cap right that this scheme will operate under. The legislation allows people to get access to this guarantee as long as they buy a home under a certain price. To get access to the scheme, you have to buy a house that’s less than a certain level—and that’s fair enough. You want to make sure that you’re helping people on modest incomes. You want to make sure that you’re helping people who are buying the sort of home that they can afford. But you also want to make sure that there are homes for them to buy. That’s the critical thing. And the problem is, at least from what we’ve seen in Launceston recently, that there aren’t.
Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (16:15): Before question time I rose to say that I support this legislation and that the opposition supports the bill that’s been introduced into the House, in particular schedule 2, which deals with the Family Home Guarantee. During question time, the Minister for Housing, who joins us here at the table in parliament, made the important point—one that I welcome—that he has been inundated with requests and interest from single-parent families looking to take up this offer. That makes the question I asked in the earlier part of my contribution all the more important.
Before question time, I asked this question of the minister, and perhaps he might be able to answer the question across the dispatch box or tell us in reply: Is the 10,000 a cap? Is it a cap like the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, or if more people want to access scheme than 10,000, can they? It’s a genuine question. I think a lot of people would like to know what will happen if this scheme is as popular as it potentially could be, if more than 10,000 people want to access the scheme. Remember, it’s only 10,000 over four years, not 10,000 a year like the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. What will happen if more than 10,000 people want to access the scheme? As I mentioned before question time, there are something like a million single-parent families right across the country. Some of them own a home today, but many of them might want to access the scheme. If there is a cap, then there is a chance, a risk, that some people might miss out. So I ask minister to address that question in his reply.
The other issue I raised briefly before question time was the issue of price caps. Under the scheme, you only get access to the benefit if you buy a home under a certain price. That’s fair enough. That is the way the scheme should work. But what happens if the price cap is so low that there is nothing to buy in certain parts of Australia? This is a problem which seems to have been identified in Launceston The headline on the front page of the Examiner in Launceston yesterday is: ‘Great divide: Housing inequality and unaffordability highlighted by scheme’. The story was written by the journalist Ebony Abblitt. It looks at the scheme that we are debating here today and looks at how many properties single-parent families might be able to buy if they were to go online or open the newspaper and try to buy some property today. The article reads:
The Family Home Guarantee aims to support eligible single parents with dependents to purchase a home, by guaranteeing a participating lender up to 18 per cent of a purchase price – giving the ability to purchase a property for a deposit as small as two per cent.
But, under the scheme capital cities and regional areas (places with a population of 250,000 or more) have a higher price threshold.
Parents in Hobart can access the scheme for a home up to $400,000 – but Launceston is classed as “rest of state”, with a threshold of just $300,000. A property search on Monday—
that’s Monday of this week—
showed just 25 homes in the greater Launceston region that met that criteria – with the majority not meeting basic bedroom requirements for families.
The story goes on:
“Whilst the announcement looks great, once you delve into the nitty gritty of it all, it certainly needs some work—
That’s a quote from Launceston-based financial advisor Toby Mahoney. He’s quoted again:
“That’s the problem with it – it comes out and it’s presented like it’s a fantastic opportunity … but in reality … anything under $300,000 you’re not going to get anything that’s suitable for a small family”.
The story goes on:
A property search undertaken by Mr Mahoney showed 25 properties available in the Launceston region with a listing under $300,000.
Twelve of those properties were asking for offers $275,000 or above – which Mr Mahoney said were “more likely” to go for over $300,000 due to the current market.
Two of the properties only had one bedroom, which he said would not realistically work for a single parent family.
That leaves 11 properties available, nine of which are two-bedroom properties.
“There’s potentially two options for any single parent within Launceston that has more than one child under the $300,000 mark and that place, you’re still going to need to do some work to it,” Mr Mahoney said.
The article ends:
With Tasmania’s smaller population, Mr Mahoney said … the scheme would be able to reach more people if the price threshold was increased across to the same amount as Hobart.
It’s a more realistic figure to be able to buy a property for a small family to live in.
He’s quoted again:
“It would get them into a property sooner, which is really what this scheme is all about.”
So this front-page story in the Launceston Examiner is making the point that, under this scheme, there would be only two properties available right now for a single parent with more than one child to buy and to be able to benefit from this scheme. And this is in no ordinary place. This is in Launceston. This is in the most marginal seat of Bass.
Surely the government has got to fix this. Surely, Minister, you’ve got to have a look at this. This is the most marginal seat, or one of the most marginal seats, in the country, and you’ve got the local paper saying that the scheme isn’t going to work there as well as it could because the price cap’s too low. This isn’t hard to fix. It’s an easy thing to fix. They just need to change the price cap.
I’ll give the minister a week. Mark my words: once he reads this article and sees what the newspaper is saying is true, I suspect that, by this time next week, the minister will be back and increasing that price cap for Launceston, because it’s the right thing to do, because it makes sense, because it means that more people will be able to benefit from the scheme.
But don’t just do that for Launceston. Have a look at the price caps that you’ve set for the whole scheme and make sure that they work in all parts of the country, so that single parents, wherever they live, can get equal access to the scheme.
This government has been in power now for eight years—eight long years—and, over that time, housing affordability has just got worse. It’s harder to buy a home now than ever before. It’s harder to rent than ever before. There are more homeless Australians today, sadly, than ever before. This is a genuine housing crisis.
We support this legislation for what it is and for what it does, but it doesn’t do enough. It doesn’t do enough to turn all of this around. If 10,000 is the total number of single-parent families who could benefit from this, over four years—2½ thousand families a year benefiting from this—then that’s not enough when there are a million single-parent families that might or could benefit from this if that cap didn’t exist. More could be done.
And it’s not just single-parent families. There are lots of Australians out there who could do with an extra helping hand, whether it’s to buy a home, to rent or just to put a roof over their head. I mentioned earlier, before question time, older women. The fastest-growing group of homeless Aussies are older women aged 65 to 74. I’ll give you two other examples. The first is veterans. One in 10 people who will sleep in a park or on the street in Sydney tonight will be a veteran. How did we let that happen? We train them, we send them off to war, and then, despite everything that we say on Anzac Day, we do forget them—otherwise, we’d be doing something about it.
The other one is women and kids fleeing domestic violence. This legislation, with good intent, is trying to help single-parent families to buy a home, but there are a lot of other single-parent families who are trying to flee their home. Last year, 10,000 mums and kids fled their home in the middle of the night, sought refuge in a crisis centre and got turned away because there wasn’t a bed. Just think about that for a second. In the middle of a pandemic, 10,000 mums, fleeing their home—the place where they were raising a family—ran out, sought refuge and got turned away because there wasn’t a bed. People I speak to in refuges tell me it has never been this bad, not in 30 years. People are staying in refuges not for days but for weeks and sometimes months. Why? It’s because there isn’t enough transitional accommodation and long-term accommodation for women and their kids to move into.
We’ve got a Women’s Safety Summit coming in July. I ask the government, if they are serious about women’s safety, to have a look at the policy we announced in the budget reply—if not the whole policy to establish the Housing Australia Future Fund, then at least the part that helps women fleeing domestic violence. We need more crisis accommodation, yes, but we also need more transitional and long-term accommodation, otherwise more and more women and kids are going to get pushed away, knocked back from refuges, and forced to sleep in a car or at a friend’s house or go back to the house where violence is happening. In the budget reply, we promised that, if we were to win the next election, we would build 20,000 social housing homes, 4,000 of which would be for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence. I ask the government to, at the very least, have a think about that.
We support this legislation helps. It helps, but it doesn’t help enough. As I said at the start of my remarks, it’s like a bucket of water in a drought. We’ll take it, but so much more is needed to help Aussies buy a home.