Matters of Public Importance: Housing

16 August 2023

It is a great pleasure to rise and speak on this matter of public importance. We know, as has been described, it is a crisis that we are facing at the moment in this state and indeed across the country. It is what everyone is focused on. It is what constituents come to my electorate office about as well, and that is why it is so important. It is why I wanted to speak on this, because it does relate to and affect my electorate of the Bellarine. It affects the Geelong region, our state and our country.

Last sitting week out the front, on Parliament’s steps, were 6000 paper houses to represent what was needed to tackle this crisis. Outside I met Rebecca Callahan, who is a coordinator of the Barwon South West Homelessness Network. I really want to thank her for her advocacy and the work that she does in our region. I have gotten to know her over the past few years, and she has a team really dedicated to this cause. I do thank her. She, her team and others recognise, as many in this sector know, that there is this growing concern that the waitlists are long and people are desperately needing houses and a roof over their head. It is that dignity and foundation for a better future. We are not going to sugar-coat it. We understand that with the cost of living, paying mortgages and rent, for those looking to buy a home, it is tough. This mounting pressure then flows on to the Victorian Housing Register for those who are on that waiting list. We have certain groups in our community who are our most vulnerable and who really face a range of challenges, such as our youth, people who experience family violence, our First Nations Victorians and maybe those who have disability or mental health challenges, who need that specialised housing.

In my electorate we have many people who are being evicted because people are selling those homes or are upgrading them, and they are being evicted after being in their rental for a very long time. Housing problems are visible for all of us to see, and that dream of securing a home is becoming a lot harder. Just to add a piece to the jigsaw puzzle, there is a shortage of housing for workers, especially in rural and regional Victoria – for teachers, nurses and hospitality workers, just to name a few. We have towns such as Queenscliff and Portarlington in my electorate who do struggle to find housing for their workforce. Especially in that summer season and that summer period, workers really have been priced out of some of those towns. So I will continue as a local member to advocate for more social and affordable housing in my own community and in our Geelong region, and I know that this government is absolutely committed and working hard to address this housing crisis.

We are under no illusion that that is an issue, and it is one that we are tackling. When you know the problem and when you measure the problem, you can fix the problem, and that is what we are working towards. That is why this government has been ambitious. It is measured, and it has recognised that the key here is supply. That is why we have our Big Housing Build, which is truly reforming this state: $5.3 billion, as has been mentioned, to deliver those new social and affordable homes right across the state. This is one of the biggest investments that we have seen in our state’s history, and probably the biggest across the country.

What I am really pleased about, being a proud regional member, is the fair distribution across regional Victoria as well – to have that investment of $1.25 billion. I will just talk a little bit about the Geelong local government area that most of the Bellarine is in, of which the investment through the Big Housing Build is $188 million. 280 new homes have been completed, with 234 new homes on the way. These are homes that are taking people off that waiting list. A further 33 new homes are being completed as part of other capital programs with a $12.5 million investment, and 1500 homes are also in the process of having maintenance or upgrades undertaken. This is key to addressing the issues that we see at hand. In addition to this Big Housing Build though, the government has committed a further $1 billion to the Victorian Regional Housing Fund to deliver at least 1300 new homes across regional Victoria. As I was talking about, for the workforce that comes to regional Victoria we have $150 million for a regional worker accommodation fund. This will provide new housing options for key workers struggling to find affordable places to live.

I believe we now have a serious partner in the federal government. We wasted a decade before that. With the federal government now also committed to addressing this housing crisis, we have an active partner and are able to build and upgrade more housing. The Albanese government did announce a $2 billion social housing accelerator to deliver thousands of new social houses. I do not want to get ahead of the Premier; I would hate to do that. I am sure he is doing the media now. He has not been in this house today because he had national cabinet. Since we have been sitting here, there has been some breaking news that national cabinet has announced some significant reforms in this space. From what I can tell – from media reports – the Prime Minister has announced 1.2 million new homes to be built in the next five years, starting from July 2024. The target has increased by 200,000 homes than had been previously pledged. And there is $3 billion to be used for a fund for the states and territories to build new homes.

The Prime Minister has said, though, that the Greens are standing in the way of new social and affordable housing. I will quote the Prime Minister, because I think that this sums it up perfectly:

This is an inititive that shows how serious we are as state and territory governments across the political spectrum as well as the Commonwealth, understanding that supply is the key …

You cannot say you support increased housing supply and vote against the Housing Australia Future Fund.

That is really exciting news that has come out of national cabinet today. As I have said, it is great to have a federal partner now that is actually serious about addressing this issue. These figures are large, the numbers are large and the money is a serious investment, but let us get to the reality of this. This actually changes lives. It changes people’s lives for the better. Housing services are a cornerstone of a just and equitable society. They provide access to affordable, safe and stable housing for individuals and families who need it most. I cannot stress that enough – every new home and affordable home built through government is taking pressure off the housing market but it is also providing a home to a family – a family in need – and it does put downward pressure on overall rental prices in the private market. There is a strong pipeline of social housing that we will be delivering across the state. It is clear that only this side of the house and Labor governments get on with doing the things that matter and the things that make a difference. We would like to have other partners in this place, but it seems that we have to do it on our own. It is a shame that the Greens party in particular let politics get in the way.

I want to, just in conclusion, thank the Minister for Housing for his hard work in delivering affordable homes reform and packages for our future. I know that you and your team in the department are deeply committed to building more affordable homes across our state. As I have said, housing does serve as that cornerstone for a just and equitable society, and I am proud to be part of a government that does that. By investing in housing, we create a stronger, more resilient and more inclusive society for everyone. I look forward to advocating for more housing in my electorate of Bellarine and continuing to do the work that needs to be done into the future.