Consideration in Detail – Regional Housing

Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (10:36): I thank the Acting Prime Minister for being here as part of this process today. This is a process which is not always taken seriously, so your attendance here today is much appreciated. I want to talk about the big shift that we’ve seen in last 12 months of people from cities to regions. I know the Acting Prime Minister shares this view. People on both sides of the parliament have been working hard for years, for decades, to encourage more Australians to move from cities to regions. We’ve had some limited success in that regard over the years, but last year that happened big time. I think the statistics show that, in net terms, the number of people who moved from cities to regions last year was more than double what it was the year before. We understand the reason for that. COVID plays a big part—people wanting to move away from the cities to be safer—but also people being able to move to the regions because of the ability to work online.

It’s great news to have more people moving to the regions, but one of the side effects of that we’ve seen is a massive increase in house prices in the regions. We’ve seen that right across the country. Comparatively, the jump in house prices in regional Australia has been double what it is in our major capital cities. Here are a couple of figures to demonstrate that point. In the last 12 months, house prices in Sydney have jumped by about 11 per cent; in regional New South Wales it’s about 18.6, so almost double. In Victoria it’s an even bigger jump. House prices have jumped in Melbourne by five per cent, but in regional Victoria by 13 per cent. It has almost tripled in that circumstance. In Brisbane, house prices have jumped by 10 per cent, but in regional Queensland they have jumped by 14.6 per cent.

If you own a home in regional Australia, that’s great news, but if you’re trying to get into that market it’s hard, particularly for young families living in regional Australia. They often think it’s easier to live there, that it’s easier to own a home there than in the big cities, but it’s now getting comparatively harder. It’s also getting harder to rent. I’m sure the Acting Prime Minister will know this, but in some parts of regional Australia it’s now even hard to find a place to rent. The rental vacancy rates in some parts of regional Australia are almost zero. On the Fraser Coast in Queensland it’s 0.2 per cent; Southern Downs is 2.3; Bundaberg is 0.5, Gympie is 0.4; South Coast of New South Wales is 0.7; Northern Rivers is 0.5; and Burnie in Tasmania is now 0.2. The list goes on and on. It’s a trend. We understand why it’s happening. The real question is what can we do about it.

I was in Coffs Harbour recently talking to the mayor there, Denise Knight. She told me the story of a place that was up for rent and there were 80 people lined up to go and look at the place. The person who won the lease had to pay the rent 12 months in advance, and took out a personal loan to do it. That’s the circumstance that we’re in at the moment. When you’ve got a circumstance where there’s not much to rent and rents are going up, it increases the amount of homelessness. Mayors are now starting to tell me they’re starting to see street homelessness in parts of the country they have never seen it in before.

Here’s another story. In Byron Bay, a place where property is very expensive—the average price of a home in Byron Bay is higher than the average price in Sydney—there is no domestic violence refuge. The local police commander reckons that there are 400 women living in Byron Bay at the moment who are sleeping in cars. Here’s another one. Today’s Cairns Post has a story about a young family—a dad, a mum, a young daughter and a dog—who were standing on the side of the road and were photographed with a sign that said, ‘Wanted—two-bed rental, small family and a dog’ and their mobile number. Acting Prime Minister, it’s a story in the Cairns Postabout a family you think might be hitchhikers looking for a lift, but they’re just trying to get a place to live in, to rent. There’s a genuine housing crisis in regional Australia, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to fix it. I think we should all agree it’s going to involve the cooperation and effort of federal government, state government and local government all working together. In today’s Sydney Morning Herald there’s a story about the New South Wales government setting up a regional housing task force. In the same story Linda Scott, the head of the Australian Local Government Association, calls for investment in the construction of more affordable and social housing in regional Australia. There was a lot of money in the budget for a lot of things, but there was no additional funding for social and accordable housing.

We committed, in the budget reply, to a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which over five years would build 30,000 affordable and social homes across the country, where they’re needed, and in particular in regional Australia. We know this is a problem. It’s not good enough to say it’s the states’ job. They’re doing something, but we need the federal government to do more. Will you invest more in social and affordable housing for regional Australia?