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The Homeless, the Liberals and their investment properties

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Scott Ludlam 23 Feb 2016

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia-Co-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (15:37):  I rise to take note of answers provided by Senator Cormann to questions I asked in his capacity as finance minister. It is impossible to tell, amidst this headless monster that the government has become on matters of tax policy, exactly who is driving the bus and who is in charge. But one thing is very clear: this government has no interest whatsoever in housing affordability.

 

It is not even a kind of benign neglect; it is hostility. They are approaching government with a scorched-earth approach, where they have burnt to the ground everything that the previous government had put in place. Peak body funding for groups like Homelessness Australia, the National Rental Affordability Scheme, capital budgets for homeless and crisis support shelters-$44 million has been torched. It has disappeared and is not back in the budget.

This is the problem: there are more than 100,000 homeless people in this country right now. Forty-four thousand or so of them are young people and children. The greatest single cause of homelessness in this country right now is domestic violence. It is women-many of them with kids-fleeing homes that are too unsafe to remain in. That is the situation that faces 100,000 people. Roughly 10 per cent of those are sleeping rough in a doorway, in parks, or in completely transient accommodation-in cars.

Against that systematic, malign neglect of these 100,000 Australians who have nowhere to go, we have, over the forward estimates, Parliamentary Budget Office estimates of $22 billion worth of incentives for property speculators-people buying their first, second and third investment properties. These are people like Senator Cormann, who has two residences and two investment properties; the foreign minister, Ms Bishop-two residences, three investment properties-good on her; Senator Brandis, quite frugal-one residence, one investment property; Senator Fifield, one residence, two investment properties; Mr Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia, three residences and five investment properties. Good for you! How has that come about? What makes it so tax effective for property speculators to bid into the property market to start stacking up these properties? I should say that those figures I just quoted are from the register of interests that are a year or so old, so apologies if more purchases and acquisitions have been made, or if there are other changes in the record since we last looked.

I put this question to Senator Cormann not that long ago, and it is as though you get something back from a random-answer generator. You do not get anything even remotely comprehensible to the question that you put to him. So here is what I would put to Senator Cormann. Consider these words: 'the build-up of investors out-competing homeowners leaves young Australians disenfranchised and locked out of the housing market.' Senator Cormann said that those were matters of opinion not fact. But that is a quote from the Reserve Bank of Australia's head of financial stability. So it is not just Moody's; it is not just Professor Eslake; it is not others across the housing and the housing affordability sector, people working on homelessness and people at the crisis end of the spectrum saying that the $22 billion incentives for property speculation are bidding up prices and locking people out of the market.

It makes me sick when I hear people in this place and the other place talking about how it is just supporting honest mums and dads. Well, mums and dads are renters as well. Mums and dads are homeless as well. When the frontbench of the government come in here and pretend to simply be speaking for those mums and dads as honest property investors and blatantly misleading statistics from the Property Council and others, who say that some 840,000 Australians with taxable incomes below $80,000 are using negative gearing, they are very careful to always say 'taxable incomes'. Those taxable incomes are after deductions like negative gearing have been applied.

It is a remarkable deception to then come in here and say they are just ordinary mums and dads, when, in fact, only 10 per cent of people earning a total income between $50,000 and $100,000 are claiming a net property loss. The fact is the biggest winners from negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions are the top end of town. They are the top 10 per cent of income earners-and you know it! Don't pretend you don't know it. The idea that you would push these massive incentives into the property market and then step back and say, 'It is not the role of the state to intervene in housing affordability', is absolutely disgraceful. Thank goodness this debate in this country has finally arrived.

 

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