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The Greens, Labor, and the Housing Crisis

Alexander Batshon gives his opinion on the housing crisis, pushing the Greens for more action on the issue.


In recent times, the Australian Greens have positioned themselves as defenders of Australia’s well-educated urban youth, and nowhere has this distinction been made more explicit than their stance on housing policy. Despite the increasing willingness of the federal Greens to compromise on issues such as climate change, electric vehicles, and Indigenous recognition, it appears that the party has chosen the Labor Government’s Housing Australia Future Fund as the hill it is prepared to die on.


The Facts


The Australian Labor Party (ALP) took the Housing Australia Future Fund to the 2022 federal election with the details outlined in Anthony Albanese’s 2021 budget reply speech. This policy would if passed into law:

  • Create a $10 billion fund that the government would invest, the proceeds of which would be spent on social and affordable housing, up to $500 million in a year.

  • Over the first five years 20 000 social housing properties would be built, with 4000 of these allocated to women and children fleeing domestic violence and for older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.

  • Following these, another 10 000 housing properties would be built for frontline workers such as nurses and teachers. [1]

The Greens have harshly criticised the policy, arguing that it does not provide adequate support for renters and that it does not do enough to address current housing shortfalls and the housing affordability crisis. The Greens offered to support the bill if sweeping changes were made, most notably a two-year freeze on rental prices and direct building of 225 000 publicly owned homes over the next ten years. The Greens also want Commonwealth rent assistance to be doubled unless other support payments, such as Jobseeker, are increased. These demands would cost almost $70 billion over the next decade. [2] Since this piece was written, the Greens have revised down their demands, with this act of negotiating in good faith being applauded by this author.


Analysis


Ignoring the obvious implications of raising rent assistance can cause further rent rises and inflation, which increases the cost of living across the board. These demands seem reasonable prima facie, considering the current housing situation across the country is manifestly unsustainable. It is self-evident that this policy proposal by the Greens meets a key need in the community and, importantly, a key need from within their voter base, with many interest groups that the party purports to represent, crying out for more federal assistance in this area.

As Joe Biden often says: “Don’t compare me to the almighty; compare me to the alternative.” While The Greens’ proposal does seem reasonable on its face, I urge readers to look back at the carbon tax. When the Greens voted down Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and haggled with Julia Gillard over the carbon tax, emissions did decrease. However, this progress was quickly undone when Abbott swept to power in 2013, tearing down much of the progress made in the Rudd-Gillard years and starting the “lost decade” of climate action. [3] The Housing Australia Future Fund may not be perfect, but it is certainly preferable to nothing being passed at all or a newly elected, Dutton-led coalition government stripping away what changes are made. This is far more likely if Labor caves to the demands of the Greens in full.


Why This Matters To You


You, dear reader, may be asking yourself how this policy area affects you. Affordable housing is a pressing issue for all university students, which can have a profound impact on a student’s ability to complete their studies. With the prohibitive cost of living in Sydney and other capital cities, finding affordable accommodation close to campus can be challenging at best or impossible at worst. The lack of affordable housing can have a significant impact on students' ability to complete their studies, with many students forced to take on multiple jobs or take out large loans to cover the costs of housing in addition to the skyrocketing costs of HECS. Additionally, affordable and stable housing can help to foster a sense of community among students, providing them with a safe environment to learn and grow. What has happened to the formative experiences offered by student housing and moving out of the home while studying? These rites of passage have been rendered impossible due to exorbitant housing costs. As such, it is imperative to be well-informed on this issue and to lobby decision-makers for a competent and comprehensive housing policy.

Simply put, the need for new housing is far too pressing to wait for the perfect bill to be put before Parliament. The best time to act was ten years ago; the second best is now. Therefore, I ask the Greens to look to the ghosts of the past for guidance, take the opportunity that is before them with progressive majorities in both houses of parliament, and, if they so choose, take a more comprehensive housing policy to the next election, and seek a mandate for these changes which would importantly build on work that has already begun. This is immensely preferable to remaining stuck in the past with no progress being made.

Simply, it is easier to build on work that has already begun than to start from nothing. So, to Adam Bandt and Max Chandler-Mather, seize this moment, and forge a legacy that will be remembered for generations to come, with the work that begins today serving as the foundation for the housing reforms of the future.


[1] Collins, Julie. "Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 Second Reading Speech." Australian Parliament House, 9 Feb. 2023, parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F26420%2F0005%22


[2] Bandt, Adam. "Bandt's National Press Club Address." Australian Greens, 26 Apr. 2023, greens.org.au/news/media-release/bandts-npc-address-will-lash-labor-party-property-moguls-outline-costed-plan


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