Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (4.57 p.m.)-I agree with Senator Marshall that this debate should look at how to improve housing affordability, but I also think it is possible to make this issue more complex than it need be. What this debate requires is a look at the factors that influence a person’s ability to afford a home, and I will start with those areas for which the Commonwealth government is responsible. The first issue to look at is: does someone have a job? It is hard to afford a house if you do not have an income, and the best way to ensure an income is to have a job. Under this government, more Australians are in work than ever before. Unemployment has fallen from its peak of 10.9 per cent under Labor to 4.6 per cent today, and two million jobs have been created since the coalition came to office. The coalition are a friend of the worker because we have created an environment in which more Australians than ever before can have a job-they have the chance to earn an income to be used to purchase a house and to pay off a loan.
The second factor to look at is: are people earning enough to put towards a house? Under this government, real wages have grown by 19.8 per cent. Under Labor, they actually fell by 1.8 per cent. The coalition government has also introduced the first home buyers grant to assist young home buyers.
The third factor to examine when looking at the ability of Australians to afford housing is: can they afford to borrow? The price of borrowing, as we know, is the interest rate. Under Labor, interest rates peaked at 17 per cent and they averaged 12.5 per cent. Our government has run surplus budgets, we have paid off Labor’s $96 billion debt and we have established the Future Fund. All else being equal, if the government is saving, as opposed to borrowing, it puts downward pressure on interest rates; and that is what has happened. The current rate for the standard variable loan is 8.05 per cent. It is still a historically low rate.
Australians are enjoying better employment prospects, higher wages and lower interest rates because this government has taken hard decisions in the national interest. We have reformed industrial relations, cut income tax, balanced the budget and repaid every cent of Labor’s debt. At every step, Labor opposed every single measure we put in place to help create the prosperity we enjoy today. Despite Labor’s opportunistic obstructionism, the Commonwealth has done what is within its capacity to put Australians in a good position to afford a home. But there are also factors which are clearly within the control of state governments that impact directly on housing affordability.
Firstly, there is property taxation, particularly stamp duty. State governments around Australia, as we all know, are enjoying massive GST windfalls. This financial year alone, state governments will receive almost $2 billion more than they would have received under the old system. If federal Labor is serious about addressing housing affordability, they could approach their state colleagues to cut stamp duty. It is not as though state and territory Labor governments cannot afford it. Mr Rudd is very fond of impersonating a prime minister. He calls his own summits and meets state premiers on all sorts of issues, getting them around the table all the time. He should call his state colleagues together to do something about stamp duty.
Secondly, clearly within the realm of state government control is the issue of development and infrastructure charges levied on developers of new housing estates. State governments should cut these charges or fund them themselves. These charges inflate the price of housing in new developments, the very developments that are most likely to produce affordable housing. Again, state governments have the capacity, with the GST, to do something about that.
Thirdly, again clearly within the area of responsibility for state governments is the shortage of land for new housing. Housing would be more affordable if supply were increased. It is a pretty simple equation. New housing estates require land but state governments are failing to release the required land. State Labor governments are failing homebuyers. It is not the blame game to hold a tier of government accountable for something that is within their responsibility; that is called holding a government to account.
If the Labor opposition are concerned about housing affordability, there is something they can do about it. Mr Rudd can step up to the plate and demand that his state Labor colleagues release more land for housing, cut stamp duty and cut infrastructure levies. But there is one federal colleague in particular whom I think Mr Rudd needs to bring into line. An article in the Australian a while back under the heading ‘Energy guzzling McMansions in Labor’s sights’ said:
Australia’s energy guzzling McMansions are in Labor’s sights under a new housing policy designed to tackle the nation’s supersized houses.
Who was the author of this policy? Senator Kim Carr. The article went on:
The new housing agenda calls for a redesign of the popular first home owners grant scheme.
I think we all know what ‘redesign’ means. First homebuyers can kiss the scheme, in its current form, goodbye if Labor gets into government. Senator Carr went further. He wants to educate families that big houses in the suburbs are bad for the environment. Yes, Senator Carr has declared a jihad on McMansions. The article says that Senator Carr:
… who lives in a large, sprawling two-storey house in Melbourne-
and there is a very lovely picture of it in the article-
wants to generate a debate on housing,
Senator Carr told the Australian:
I am saying we cannot continue to build energy-guzzling houses without explaining to the people the cost of building a house where you need two air conditioners to make it habitable.
What an outrage for Australians to want to live in a large house; what an outrage for them to want two air conditioners! This is an incredibly patronising approach. The coalition have not pursued an approach which is patronising; we want to do something quite practical about the factors over which the Commonwealth government have control-low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates and higher wages. We have done our bit in exactly the areas in which Labor have an appalling record. It is time for state governments to do something in the areas they are responsible for-stamp duties, infrastructure levies and supply of land for new housing estates. Young Australians wanting to buy a home will get no assistance from Labor, state or federal. Assistance will come only from the coalition government. (Time expired)