Displayed at the entrance of my office in Parliament is a piece of artwork I received from the Katherine Accommodation Action Group just a few weeks after I became the Minister for Housing.
The artwork includes personal accounts of housing insecurity from across Katherine, highlighting the unacceptable consequences of Australia's housing challenges.
At the centre of the artwork is a simple but important message: "waiting too long".
These three words drive me every day to improve the housing situation for all Australians.
And, this is why our Government has identified housing as a key policy area that the Voice could focus on, so we can deliver real improvements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
And the shocking statistics on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing highlight why these improvements are so urgently needed.
On the night of the 2021 census, 24,930 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were homeless.
That means one in five, or 20.4 per cent, of people experiencing homelessness identified as First Nations Australians.
In the 2021-22 AIHW Specialist Homelessness Services annual report, around 28 per cent of all specialist homelessness services clients were First Nations clients.
We clearly have so much work still to do, but the Voice will be a critical step forward to help properly address these tragic figures.
It’s one of the reasons why I’ll be voting Yes on Saturday.
It’s great to be back at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).
Thank you for hosting today’s event and thank you for encouraging debate on Australia’s economic and social challenges.
Challenges are occurring right across the housing spectrum.
We know there are too many Australians experiencing homelessness – around 122,000 people on Census night in 2021.
We also know there hasn’t been enough investment in community or social housing to keep up.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says the proportion of households living in social housing declined from 4.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent from 2011 to 2022.
We know more people are dealing with rental stress.
Nearly half (46.7 per cent) of low-income earners who rent, spend more than 30 per cent of their weekly income on housing costs.
And then there are decades of falling home ownership rates for younger Australians.
The Intergenerational Report said for those aged between 30 and 34 years, home ownership fell by 18 percentage points from 1981 to 2021.
We can’t afford to leave any of these challenges in the too hard basket.
So as a responsible and practical government, we’re facing the challenges head on.
And today I want to focus on how we are going about this work across the entire housing system.
Our agenda represents the most comprehensive set of national housing policy reforms in decades.
This includes investing around $9.5 billion in our first year in government to help Australians access safe and affordable housing.
But we can’t do it alone.
No tier of government controls all the policy levers alone.
Likewise our nation’s housing challenges are such that government and governments can’t solve them on their own.
It will take the combined and coordinated efforts of the public, private and community sectors, working together over several years to undo decades of declining affordability.
The investment community and the not-for-profit sector bring different strengths.
Lending institutions, the property and construction industries also have significant roles to play.
Partnerships underpin every aspect of our agenda.
Community housing is a prime example.
I often attend community housing events where the Federal Government has contributed funding via the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), from tomorrow known as Housing Australia, which I’m sure you’ll all agree is a much easier name to say!
Getting the opportunity to meet tenants who are starting a new chapter in their lives is always a highlight, but so too is meeting the successful project partners.
Behind every ribbon cutting ceremony, there is often a team of people from the private sector, community housing providers and multiple levels of government.
The community housing launch I attended across the bay at Brighton East near where we are meeting today was a great example.
In July, the first tenants moved into the first of three buildings set aside for people aged over 55 years – 36 new homes are now complete, another 116 will soon be built on the site.
A project of this scale just wouldn’t be possible without the partnership between the Australian Government, the Victorian Government and the community housing provider HousingFirst.
HousingFirst’s CEO summed it by saying, ‘Together, government and community housing providers not only build homes but build communities, support neighbourhoods and change lives’.
It brings home the reality that partnerships are fundamental to getting things done in housing – not just individual projects but on a national scale too.
That’s why I have already held four meetings with my state and territory housing and homelessness colleagues to make sure we are all working together.
I will soon meet with my Ministerial colleagues again - our fifth meeting in just over a year.
When we came to Government, Housing Ministers from across the country had not meet in almost five years.
This says a lot about the lack of care or engagement by the Commonwealth over the past decade.
Housing is not someone else’s problem, its everyone’s problem.
Partnerships are so critical to driving real housing change, but they couldn’t even bring Ministers together.
Our Government is not making the same mistakes.
And that’s why building stronger relationships through the National Housing Accord is so crucial.
Announced as part of our first Budget, the Accord brings together governments, investors, and representatives from the building and construction sector with the shared ambition to increase housing supply.
National Cabinet and the Accord
Through the National Housing Accord we’re setting ambitious housing supply targets.
This is the first time all jurisdictions have agreed to ambitious national housing targets since the post war reconstruction in 1945.
We were elected to Government with an ambitious housing plan and we make no apologies for having added to our agenda at every opportunity.
The significant reforms coming out of the August meeting of National Cabinet in Brisbane are a case in point.
National Cabinet agreed to a Better Deal for Renters - working towards harmonising and strengthening renters’ rights across Australia.
This is significant because it comes at a time when more Australians are renting than ever before.
National Cabinet agreed to a National Planning Reform Blueprint.
This includes actions to unlock housing supply and improve affordability such as planning, zoning, land release and other reforms.
And National Cabinet agreed to a new national target to build 1.2 million well-located new homes over five years from 1 July 2024.
The new target is an additional 200,000 new homes above the National Housing Accord target agreed last year.
We know this housing target is ambitious but it has to be if we’re to increase supply across the country with the urgency required.
How we will achieve the Accord’s aspirations
We are not sitting back - we know incentives will be critical to help us meet these targets.
At the National Cabinet meeting, the Albanese Government committed $3 billion in performance-based funding under the New Homes Bonus.
As the Prime Minister said, we’re taking a leaf out of the playbook from the successful competition reforms of the 1990s.
We’re providing payments for state and territory governments to boost housing supply and increase housing affordability.
The New Homes Bonus will pay state and territory governments for delivering more than their share of the one million well-located homes target agreed under the National Housing Accord.
Housing Support Program
The $500 million Housing Support Program will also help local and state governments to reach this ambitious housing target.
It will be a competitive program to help local and state governments kick-start housing supply in well-located areas.
The Program will fund things like connecting essential services or building amenities to support new housing developments.
Just say there is a need for medium density housing in an inner-city suburb, but you have to upgrade the supporting infrastructure.
This Program is about making sure we have the essential services, community infrastructure and planning capability to make it happen.
Build-to-rent tax incentives
We’re changing incentives in other ways.
For example, we’ve announced tax incentives to encourage more investment in build-to-rent projects.
Build-to-rent is emerging as an asset class, but currently accounts for only around 0.2 per cent of the total housing stock in Australia.
We’re reducing the withholding tax rate for eligible fund payments from managed investment trusts attributed to newly constructed build to rent developments from 30 to 15 per cent.
We’re pleased to see CEDA welcome this decision in its recent Making Renting More Viable submission paper.
We’re also increasing the capital works tax deduction rate from 2.5 per cent to 4 per cent per year.
This means a new development can be depreciated over 25 years instead of 40.
More social and affordable housing
The $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund – which passed the Senate in September – is also a central part of this plan.
A crucial part of meeting the aspirations of the National Housing Accord is ensuring there are homes of all types, homes to buy, more homes to rent and more social and affordable homes.
And through the Housing Australia Future Fund the Albanese Government will deliver the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing in more than a decade.
The Housing Australia Future Fund will help deliver 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes in its first five years.
This includes 4,000 social homes for women and children impacted by family and domestic violence or older women at risk of homelessness.
We’ve structured the Housing Australia Future Fund to be there in perpetuity with disbursements available every year.
This will provide certainty to community housing providers and support their ability to attract private capital at scale.
I welcome the support the Fund has received from front line organisations, housing experts, community housing providers, and every state and territory housing minister.
These groups understand just how vital the Fund is.
As part of the new Housing Accord, the Government has also committed $350 million over five years from 2024-25 to support an additional 10,000 affordable rental homes.
This commitment has been matched by state and territories as part of the Accord with up to another 10,000 affordable rental homes.
As we provide more long-term certainty it’s also critical that we have the right architecture in place to deliver our housing agenda and maintain the momentum of reforms.
Housing Australia (National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation)
I’ve mentioned Housing Australia on several occasions today.
Housing Australia does an outstanding job and we’ve made several changes to widen its remit and improve the tools available to them.
We’ve broadened the scope of the National Housing Infrastructure Facility by allowing up to $575 million in funds to be invested in social and affordable homes, in addition to financing housing-enabling infrastructure, with projects already underway from this funding.
More recently we’ve announced an additional $1 billion to be invested in the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to support more social housing.
We’ve also increased Housing Australia’s liability cap by $2 billion to provide more lower cost and longer-term finance to community housing providers through the Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator.
And we’ve made Housing Australia the agency responsible for administering the majority of disbursements from the Housing Australia Future Fund.
I’ve also made a series of appointments to bolster the skills and experience of the Housing Australia Board.
This includes the appointment of Ms Carol Austin as Chair and Mr Nigel Ray and the Hon Richard Wynne as board members.
National Housing Supply and Affordability Council
We’ve also passed legislation to establish the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.
The Council is a big step forward – its independent and expert advice will play a pivotal role in shaping our housing reform agenda for years to come.
As CEDA members can appreciate, the Council will provide a strong evidence base to support government decisions.
The Interim Council has been operating since the beginning of the year until the permanent Council is established under legislation.
The Interim Council is led by one of the most accomplished leaders in Australia’s property sector, Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz.
One of the Interim Council’s first tasks was to deliver a report on barriers to institutional investment in housing and what can be done to increase this.
Institutional investors can and should play a much greater role and we needed to understand what barriers might be holding them back.
The Report on Barriers to Institutional Investment, Finance and Innovation in Housing makes 11 recommendations.
Collectively, these recommendations seek to ensure a pipeline of residential projects suitable for institutional investment.
Through the National Housing Accord and decisions taken by National Cabinet, we are already well on the way to implementing one of the Council’s recommendations.
Earlier I mentioned the agreement with states and territories to establish housing targets, and for the Government to provide incentives to encourage and support the meeting of these targets.
We will consider the report’s recommendations carefully and consult with key partners.
I also plan to discuss the report with my state and territory colleagues at the Housing and Homelessness Ministerial Council.
The National Housing and Homelessness Plan
We’re also working with state and territory governments to develop the National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
The Plan is another major piece of work and another significant process for delivering certainty.
The Plan will be a ten-year strategy, outlining a shared vision across the different levels of governments to inform future housing and homelessness policy reforms required in the short, medium and long term.
The Plan will help us better understand the drivers of homelessness and housing insecurity throughout urban, regional, rural and remote Australia.
We released an issues paper in August this year, formally commencing public consultation and stakeholder engagement activities integral to the development of the Plan.
The consultation process is broad and includes submissions as well as a mix of online and face-to-face consultations around Australia.
Meaningful consultation with the Australian community and housing sector is key to ensuring this Plan achieves real change in improving housing outcomes for Australians.
Submissions are open until 20 October, with online and face-to-face consultations continuing until 10 November 2023.
I would encourage you to visit the Department of Social Services Engage website for information on opportunities to contribute to the development of the Plan.
We want to hear from as many diverse opinions as possible.
We are hearing from a range of stakeholders including organisations, local councils and individuals.
By emphasising the voices of individuals with lived experience of housing stress, insecurity and homelessness, means solutions and resources are developed and directed in the most effective ways.
Taking action now
This new architecture will be transformative for housing policy in Australia.
But we know our housing challenges are very real, right now.
Which is why our Government has taken immediate action while we go about implementing our housing reform agenda.
We’ve already acted in several crucial areas.
Social Housing Accelerator
The $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator will deliver thousands of new social housing across the country.
In fact, we’ve already delivered the funding to the states and territories so they can start investing in building new homes right away.
The states and territories must commit their share of the Social Housing Accelerator payment by 30 June 2025.
The governments will have flexibility in how they permanently boost social housing stock under the Accelerator.
This might include new builds, expanding existing programs, renovating or refurbishing existing stock.
We’ve already seen concrete commitments from this new funding, including one not far from here in Carlton.
The project recently announced by the Prime Minister will see 196 outdated, uninhabitable dwellings – built in the 1960s – replaced with 231 modern, energy efficient homes for Victorians, increasing housing on the site by at least 10 per cent.
Commonwealth Rent Assistance
We’ve moved to ease pressure on renters.
Rental stress is elevated across Australia, not to mention other household cost pressures.
On 20 September 2023, the Government increased the Commonwealth Rent Assistance maximum rates by 15 per cent – the largest increase in more than 30 years.
The increase will help many renters keep pace with strong rental growth and relieve cost-of living pressures here and now.
When it comes to tackling homelessness, we are also providing around $1.7 billion through a one-year extension of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with states and territories.
This includes a $67.5 million funding boost in 2023-24 to help us tackle issues surrounding homelessness in Australia.
In 2023-24, the Agreement will provide around $128 million of dedicated homelessness funding which states are required to match.
Home Guarantee Scheme
The Albanese Government’s expanded Home Guarantee Scheme is already helping thousands of Australians.
In fact, since the election more than 70,000 Australians have been helped into home ownership, including more than 10,000 through the new Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee.
There are people behind these numbers and they often write to me.
One story that stands out was a parent of two who secured a home under the Family Home Guarantee.
She said, ‘being able to buy a home not only provides me and my children stability, security, and safety, but an overwhelming sense of pride and self-worth’.
We want more people to have safety and security.
Therefore, we’ve made a series of changes to expand the Scheme’s eligibility criteria.
For example, the Family Home Guarantee is now available to single legal guardians of children, not just parents.
Under the First Home Guarantee and Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee any two eligible borrowers – siblings, friends, family members – can now jointly apply, not just spouses or de facto couples.
We’ve also opened the door to both guarantees to non-first home buyers who have not held a property interest in Australia within the past 10 years.
Help to Buy
At the same time, we’re working to deliver the Help to Buy Scheme.
The Scheme will support up to 40,000 low-income and middle-income households to purchase a home of their own.
Help to Buy won’t just be a leg up to help Australians into home ownership.
It will provide lasting relief for participants in the scheme.
And critically it will help Australia’s renters.
Help to Buy will be a lifeline for renters who have lost hope at achieving the great Australian dream of homeownership.
This new support isn’t just a pipedream.
All states agreed at National Cabinet to progress legislation so the scheme will run nationally from next year.
The Albanese Government is using a combination of policy levers to address Australia’s housing challenges.
It’s never going to be easy working across eight different jurisdictions to move – and to move together – to achieve results in the country’s best interest.
But we’re building stronger partnerships not only between governments but also with industry and investors.
We’re setting ambitious targets and we’re backing that up by providing incentives to help us get there.
We’re shifting the levers to provide long-term certainty and balancing that by addressing immediate challenges.
And we’ve set up the institutions to provide the expertise to keep things moving in the right direction.
These are the actions required to improve outcomes for renters, new buyers, mortgage holders and Australians experiencing homelessness.
I’m proud of what the Albanese government has been able to achieve but there is more work to do.
Thank you to CEDA for recognising the importance of housing to our economy and our society.