Questions Without Notice - Housing Affordability
(14:41): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Senator Kim Carr. Can the minister explain how splitting the housing portfolio back into two levels of ministerial responsibility again will solve the national housing shortage of 228,000, the resulting lack of affordable rental accommodation and the persistently high number of homeless people, which has risen by 17 per cent under this government, especially given that two reshuffles ago the Prime Minister then reconsolidated the portfolio to 'ensure a stronger focus on this issue'?
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria—Minister for Human Services) (14:42): I thank Senator Payne for her question. I remind her that this Labor government has a very proud record of helping to deliver affordable housing to Australians and their families. At the broad level, our economic management has kept unemployment low, it has helped contain inflation and it has enabled the RBA to keep interest rates low. The current standard variable rate of banks has meant that we are well below what the Liberals left us with when they were in government. If you want to talk about housing you have to talk about interest rates. It is quite clear that there is more money in the pockets of Australian families. They are now saving nearly $5,000 a year on a $300,000 loan, compared to the situation on 27 November. I also remind Senator Payne that, when she wants to talk about a commitment to housing, the Liberal government ripped out $3.1 billion from the housing budget and they—
Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. Comments about what a previous government may have done are not directly relevant to the question of how splitting a portfolio has contributed to the 17 per cent increase in homelessness over which this Labor government has presided.
Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on the point of order: I think it says something about Senator Brandis and the coalition that they think interest rates have nothing to do with housing. That is clearly directly relevant and the minister should be allowed to proceed.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I am listening very closely to the minister's answer. There is no point of order at this stage, but the minister has 52 seconds remaining to address the question.
Senator KIM CARR: Thank you, Mr President, for listening so carefully. The question here goes to the issue of commitment to housing policy and this government has a very proud record of achievement when it comes to the actual delivery of affordable housing to Australians. We have directly contributed to the construction of more than one in 20 new homes since coming to office through programs such as the $6 billion investment in social housing, which has delivered some 21,000 social housing homes across the nation. There is some $4.5 billion in the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which is providing incentive payments to the private sector to build 50,000 affordable rental homes. So when you compare this government's record with that of the previous government I think we can be quite proud in our assertions that this is a government that is actually committed to housing policy. (Time expired)
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (14:45): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Would the minister advise the Senate what part of the government's 'proud record' is the fact that only 10,671 dwellings have been allocated under the National Rental Affordability Scheme over the past four years when the government has established for itself a target of 50,000 dwellings by June 2016? When will the next over 35,000 be delivered?
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria—Minister for Human Services) (14:45): I am sure Senator Payne would be aware that the government has a $4.5 billion National Rental Affordability Scheme, which is delivered in partnership with the states and territories and which will provide 50,000 new rental homes. I am advised that there is an increasing supply of more affordable private rental through reduced rental costs for low- and moderate-income households, being done by encouraging private investment in innovative, affordable housing. The scheme does offer financial incentives for the business sector and community organisations and has done so, I think, quite effectively across the country. Tenants may also be eligible for rent assistance, making homes even more affordable.
Senator Payne: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I clearly asked the minister when the government would deliver the total of 50,000 dwellings under the NRAS scheme, which is their stated target by 30 June 2016, and the minister has gone no way whatsoever towards answering that question.
The PRESIDENT: I do draw the minister's is attention to the question.
Senator Abetz: And thank you for listening so closely!
Senator KIM CARR: I thank you, too, Senator Abetz, for your interest in the matter! As of 31 December 2012 nearly 11,300 dwellings have been built under the National Rental Affordability Scheme, with over 28,000 in the pipeline. I trust that satisfies the senator's interest. (Time expired)
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales) (14:47): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister referred in his previous response to rents. Given that median rents have risen by over 29 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, during your government's term, how can the stakeholders, whether they are homeowners or renters or investors or home builders and those who are struggling to even put a roof over their heads, have any confidence that the new minister, the new parliamentary secretary, will make any further difference at solving the housing shortage in this country?
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria—Minister for Human Services) (14:47): This is a government that actually has housing as a critical part of its ministerial line-up; you in government did not. Under the previous government, $3.1 billion was taken out of the housing budget and the previous government actually voted against building some 20,000 new homes the last time they had a chance to actually support affordable housing. So rather than talk about it, when you had the chance to do something about it, you failed miserably. And you want to compare our record with that! I think our case rests.