Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE COMMUNITY HOUSING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION - MELBOURNE - TUESDAY, 20 NOVEMBER 2018

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Good morning everybody, and thank you for that welcome…I think.

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present.
 
I'd also like to acknowledge my colleague, Senator Doug Cameron. He'll be here for the Q&A session. I have to attend the funeral of the man who was killed in Bourke Street after this, but Doug will be here to answer all the questions that I raise in my speech. 
 
I want to thank the Community Housing Industry Association for bringing together such a distinguished group of experts and advocates – people interested in the future of this country. 
 
I want to acknowledge the contribution that all of you make, that you make to helping Australians find safe and affordable housing – I congratulate you on the national plan that you are launching today.  
 
Today, actually, is the first of two speeches that I will give on behalf of the federal Labor Party about housing policy before the end of the year. 
 
This morning, therefore, will not be about me  presenting all of the answers, but rather explaining why I and Labor see getting housing policy right as vital to the nation's future.
 
We are declaring today that we regard the field of endeavour that you work in, the people that you care about as being a national political priority. 
 
It was actually back in 2016, February, that I and Chris Bowen outlined Labor’s plan to reform negative gearing so that, from now on, or in the event that we are elected, that is, it will only apply to new housing – and we will halve the capital gains discount for investors.
 
We argued back then – as we do now – that first home buyers, indeed every Australian looking to buy a home, has the right to compete on a level playing field.
 
I simply don’t believe it’s fair that young Australians trying to buy their first home and build a future and to bring up their family have to bid against affluent property investors subsidised by the taxes that we all play. 
 
I know it is not sustainable to spend billions on this subsidy every year.
 
Now, Labor’s made some big policy calls as an alternative government – but our desire to make the system fairer remains one of our biggest calls.

And despite the predictable, overblown, sometimes downright dishonest attacks from our opponents and the vested interests whom they represent, we believe in our policy, we’ll be standing by it, and we continue to argue for it every day until we deliver it.
 
We will not be frightened-off or deterred by the tantrums of the multi-millionaire property developer brigade, investors who are reaping millions in taxpayer subsidies.
 
Our plan is fair, no retrospectivity. If you’re currently negatively gearing, the rules won’t change.

And our plan is fiscally responsible for the taxpayers of Australia.
 
But having discussed negative gearing, I also want to say to you today that I recognise that reforming negative gearing isn’t the beginning nor the end, and the full extent of  a fair and sustainable effective national housing strategy is much more than just changes to negative gearing.

The challenge is so much bigger, broader and more complex.
 
So today, through you I want to speak to millions of Australians for whom home ownership isn’t even a dream.
 
The people for whom having the security of a roof over their head is a night-to-night, week-to-week, month-to-month proposition. 

We estimate that there were at least 116,000 of our fellow Australians who were homeless last night.
 
47,000 children under the age of 10, who accessed some form of homeless services last year.
 
There'll be women last night who were fleeing violent partners.
 
In one in every two cases, family violence or a relationship breakdown is a reason for seeking assistance.
 
In one in three cases, it is the reason.
 
Older women who’ve experienced a sudden change in their circumstances and – because of the inequities in the superannuation system and the broken periods of service in the workforce – do not have the retirement savings to fall back upon.

You would be aware in this room, although I'm not sure most Australians are, that the fastest-growing category of people experiencing homelessness in Australia are women over the age of 55.
 
And you will all appreciate that it’s not just those who are officially classified as homeless, night to night, who are denied the opportunity of secure housing.
 
There are 189,000 of our fellow Australians on the waiting list for social housing.
 
There is the challenge of Remote Housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. 
 
There is a deficit of at least 3000 houses. And we have the conceit of a government who thinks that striking numbers out of the budget can simply magic away the problem.
 
Then there are people with disability for whom the biggest problem isn’t affordability, but accessibility, who are denied the right to decent housing in their community by the short-sighted  failure of design and planning.
 
And on top of all of these groups, the homeless, the victims of family violence, people with disabilities, people living in Remote Housing, those on the waiting list for social housing – there are simply all those Australians who are just treading water.
 
Young people who can’t turn to the bank of Mum and Dad for their deposit.

People in insecure work on low pay – they pay the growing petrol prices, they are spending literally cumulative weeks every year away, from their family, sitting in their car, because they can’t afford to live near where they work, because they’ve have to trade proximity for affordability.
 
Nearly a million of our fellow Australians who rent, who spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing costs, experience the obviously challenge of financial and rental stress.  
 
When you think about 30 percent of your income, that means every fortnight, before you get to do anything else, one in three dollars you get after tax is gone.
 
It travels through your account at the speed of light. 
 
That's before the shopping has been done for the food on the table, before you’ve even thought about trying to pay down some of the interest on your credit card, before you’ve filled in that prescription, put petrol in the car, or before a single energy bill is paid. 
 
It's one in three dollars gone, before you’ve even caught your breath.
 
On that kind of budget, you can’t afford to miss a shift, you certainly don't want to ding your car and then if you have to pay, heaven forbid, for a series of blood tests or an x-ray. 
 
You certainly cannot risk your washing machine giving up the ghost.
 
Yet, if these Australians, if they can find a moment or two in their day to switch on the radio, to flick through the paper, to even listen to the torture of Question Time, all they will see and hear is the Treasurer and the current Prime Minister raging in defence in white-hot fury of the tax subsidies of wealthy property investors.
 
What we actually need in this nation is a debate about how we're going to help the Australians who are just hanging on.
 
People living life on that thin, unforgiving margin.
 
They may not be part of anybody's ‘base’, they don’t have a regular slot on Sky News or a weekly column in conservative newspapers to shout at the manifest unfairness of Labor challenging tax subsidies for the lucky few.
 
Most of the Australians I speak of are simply too busy, they're too tired for that.
They don’t have tax loopholes to defend, in fact they don't even see politics as part of the solution. They don’t consider politics to be relevant or useful to the challenges that they’re facing.
 
They truly don’t believe that their individual vote matters at all, they doubt that anyone’s listening to them – much less gets it.
 
So for me, that has to be the starting point of change in this country.

I'm here today with Senator Cameron because we want to put community housing, affordable housing on the agenda for the next election.
 
We will create a debate about community housing and affordable housing because we believe that that is why governments should govern. 
 
We think that the best way to achieve putting this on the national agenda, what you spend everyday working on, is to do so with a clear and comprehensive set of well researched, evidence-based policies.

It has to begin with a National Housing Strategy, doesn't it?
 
One that acknowledges the fundamental role of the Commonwealth, that the national government plays in this - of course it has to be in conjunction with the states and the territories, local government and the private sector, and the not-for-profit sector.
We need to ensure that the finance sector, the banks and the industry super funds get some skin in this important debate.
 
If I’m elected Prime Minister, I want secure and affordable housing for Australians to be front and centre for the next decade and beyond.
 
Now I’m going to need your help, I'm going to need your expertise, I'm going to need your ideas, your advocacy and your organising capacity.
 
There is a base who cares about this issue. It's up to us to formulate it and turn it into a movement. 

I think back to the time when I became Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, about a decade ago. On the first day I started as that, I knew very little about the area.

Now, I thought I’d seen unfairness when I represented workers. I thought I’d seen hardship, and I had.
 
But nothing prepared me, when I became the junior Minister in Disabilities, for the eye opening towards the second-class life, the veritable exile in their own country, that hundreds of thousands of Australians with profound and severe disability and their carers experienced every day.
 
And right from the start, I accepted that I would never know more than the people who had the lived experience, never know more than the hundreds of thousands of Australians who lived with a disability.

I accepted I'd never know more than the experts and the front line people and the people who work in the field. 

So what I realised is rather than that, the most constructive thing I could do for disability is to make it a political issue.
 
Politics in this country, and change, isn't as hard as we make it out to be. The greatest problems in our country generally fall back to two key causes – a lack of money and a lack of power. 
 
So I believe we can remedy this by putting it on the national radar. 
 
To work with the advocacy groups and the not-for-profits, with the community organisations, so many of whom are here today. 

We need to ensure that political parties no longer have the luxury of brushing aside the issue – and that is exactly what we did with disability.
 
We made it other people’s issues because in fact, when you scratch the surface, it actually affected so many people.
 
This is now my ambition for homelessness, for community and affordable housing. It's my ambition for everybody who lives in public housing, to the millions of renters, to people working full-time to save for a deposit.
 
I want these people and these issues to be threshold issues in the national political debate.

This nation’s democracy determines the issues. Either we determine it or the vested interests do. And I believe it is possible at the next election to make what you care about an important national issue. 
 
I want the homeless, the people in public housing, the renters, those who go to work and work very hard but can never get a deposit together, to be front and centre to the way we judge a party’s agenda for the future of Australia.
 
So it means changing the way that we look at housing policy.
 
Because building and funding affordable, community housing isn’t a welfare measure.
 
It’s an economic lever.
 
It’s a massive job creator.
  
It’s a crucial productivity driver.
 
And we need to re-imagine housing policy as an irreplaceable and central part of our infrastructure policy, of cities policy, of population policy.
 
Some politicians today talk about slowing down the population whilst the cities catch up. 
 
Building social housing is exactly what needs to happen to catch up. 
 
Someone put it like this to me the other day: we build and upgrade roads and public transport, primarily so people can get to and from work more easily.
We value the jobs created in the process, we recognise the productivity gains.
 
So surely building more affordable housing, enabling people to live closer to where the jobs are, is just as good and just as important as a road.
 
We have to make that shift in attitude, we have to start thinking about housing as economic infrastructure as well as a social good. 
 
We need this National Housing Strategy, where the Commonwealth works in partnership with state and local governments.
After all, it’s often the state governments that control the land supply, and can be equity partners in community housing projects.
 
And we need to give local governments a seat at the table, a voice in the decision-making.
 
Because I want them co-operating with us – we want integrated city planning, not isolated council planning.
 
Council planning, it is all too often a hostage to developers who use their deep pockets, their inexhaustible lists of contacts, and the best lawyers money can buy to build low-quality, high-density housing, disconnected from services and transport – purchased and then left unoccupied. So while that adds to the theoretical supply, it doesn't make a scrap of difference to anyone’s life.
 
In fact, quality needs to be a bigger focus for all three levels of government, including design standards:

  • greater energy efficiency
  • better thermal quality in materials
  • universal accessibility for people with disability.

 
Now I mentioned earlier some of the lessons I took from my time in the disability portfolio.
 
One of them came from the work that we got the Productivity Commission to do. They costed the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Their analysis proved that whilst it was expensive, the cost of properly funding disability was not a bottomless pit, a well where you would lean over the side and throw the coin in and never hear it hit the bottom.
 
In fact, it proved that you can.
 
They quantified the economic benefits, the lift in the participation rate, the boost to GDP over the decades.
 
From speaking with a number of you, I know that this kind of hard data hasn’t been collected for housing.
 
I acknowledge that a lot of experts have done bits and pieces of important analysis – but we need to do more to consolidate the information. There isn’t a consensus figure, for example, for the scope of the shortfall, or the looming problems ahead.
 
When I ask experts, what is our shortage in housing in this country? I get the estimates with some degree of variance – sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dwellings.
 
From 538,000 by 2036 in Judy Yates’ most recent work, to 727,000 in the latest AHURI report.
 
Now, I understand that you can have reasonable disagreements, but what I think everyone is crying out for is consistent data to make the best policy.
 
It is why Labor has already committed to reinstating the National Housing Supply Council, to establish a baseline of facts that we can all agree upon.
 
What’s more, if we’re going to advance the political argument, we need analysis of the economic benefits: the boost in jobs and apprenticeships, participation and productivity that better housing policy will drive.
 
Now the benefits of housing for all mean, in my opinion: an improvement in health and education outcomes, lower crime rates, healthier communitie, improved social engagement.
 
So friends,
 
As I have said, before the end of the year, which is looming, we will have a lot more to say about our plans for housing and homelessness – and we will explain how we will pay for what we will say.
 
But you do know Labor’s record, a record of investment in social and affordable housing.

  • There was the National Partnership on Homelessness
  • A National Rental Affordability Scheme
  • 20,000 new homes, repairs for 80,000 more, and 90,000 jobs created – during the Global Financial Crisis.

 
Our record and our values, I submit to you, are why we will deal with the funding gap to ensure investment in housing for key workers and the working poor.
 
At the beginning of this speech, I opened with saying that we’ve made big calls on economic reform, in particular I pointed out changing and making fairer the negative gearing policies – we seek to end unsustainable tax subsidies.
 
We haven’t done that for the sake of it, we’re not trying to win a particular tax reform prize.  
 
We’ve made these hard economic decisions and trusted the Australian people by putting our policies forward, so we can dividend of investment in the future of the country, not from the Monday after the election but for the next decade – for the 2030s.
 
You understand – better than most – that there are no quick fixes or easy outs to the challenge of properly building and having a housing policy. 
 
We are talking about problems that can only be solved over the passage of years, even decades. 
 
But I actually think this is exactly the kind of politics which Australians are hungry to rediscover.
 
The reason I talk to you about housing is not just because it is important, not just because it is a social good or an economic infrastructure which will see dividends spread across the community.
 
I have chosen to talk about this today – and will again at our second speech – because I think that Australian politics isn't broken even though many Australians think it is.
 
I actually think what there is, is a hunger for the long-term not the short-term.
 
What there is, is a hunger for things which are not immediately popular but are simply hard work.
 
I think that Australians want to believe that their vote counts, I think they want to believe that the decisions and the fixes are not all in, and just to the multi-millionaire real estate spruikers – but that all of us and all of our views matter.
 
It’s time for a government to say: that even if we are not the ones to finish the job, we are prepared to start it.
 
It's time for a government to create a consensus across the political divide which says that housing is important, and community and social housing is important.
 
The dream that Australians can own their own home is important, but the dream and the reality that Australians can have a secure and affordable roof over their head is also incredibly important. 
 
My goal for the Labor party at the next election is that people will understand that we have a vision which reaches beyond the end of the campaign, that looks further than the polls and the headlines.
 
It is why we’re putting together every day a platform for the Australia of the 2030s, not just the Monday after an election.
 
We want to hand on a better deal to the next generation than the one we inherited.
 
A fair go all round is one of Australia's oldest promises – a plan to hand on a better deal, I think, will provide some satisfaction to the great dissatisfaction Australians currently feel when they survey the political landscape in Canberra. 
 
We will have a plan which explains why I and my team want to serve as the next government of Australia.
 
And nothing is more fundamental to a government's obligations to the people than the right of every Australian to a roof over their head.
 
I’m keen to work with you, we are keen to learn from you, we are keen to work in co-operation and collaboration with you. 
 
I’m confident that with new determination and new co-operation, that we can put community and social housing on the national political agenda for those Australians who mightn't have a voice in the matters of politics, but who need us most.
 
I am confident that we can be successful in this enterprise.
 
Thank you very much and good luck with today.


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