Federation Chamberon 23/11/2022

We’re currently experiencing an unprecedented level of housing demand in rural and regional Australia, including in my electorate. During the pandemic, house prices in Indi increased by up to 34 per cent in some parts. Rental payments in regional Victoria have also increased significantly in the last couple of years and remain high still. A study by the national housing welfare organisation, Everybody’s Home, conducted in March 2022 found that 40.6 per cent of renters in Indi experience housing stress and 61.4 per cent of homeowners in Indi were under mortgage stress.

In Indi, we know that the problem with housing affordability is not just rising prices; it’s also supply. There are simply not enough houses. I met with constituents in Wodonga who’d submitted over 170 rental applications before finding a place. There are families in Indi who’ve worked hard to save a deposit, only to find there are no houses listed for sale within miles. The lack of affordable housing in Indi has disastrous flow-on economic impacts. If 10 per cent of workplace positions can’t be filled due to housing shortages, this flows on to a $200 million economic loss to our region. The regions will lose tens of millions of dollars in economic activity if the housing crisis is not addressed.

Local councils are working hard to approve new lots for houses, with a large influx of people who’ve moved to the regions. After Wangaratta saw a three per cent population increase over a five-year period, the local council identified more land for housing development. Unfortunately, they also identified that the current sewerage system simply couldn’t cope with this increase. So they can’t build those houses, and they can’t open that land.

With council budgets now facing more and more unexpected costs, into the hundreds and thousands of dollars, to repair roads after the floods, there simply isn’t the funding—there wasn’t before, and there certainly isn’t now—for enabling infrastructure which would unblock supply. This is a really big problem. Without it, regional communities like Wangaratta, Benalla and Mansfield are simply not given the opportunity to thrive. I’m the first to say there’s no single silver bullet to this problem; it’s complex. But there are evidence based solutions to address these obstacles. For example, they could be addressed by the proposal I took to the previous government and the people of Indi during the election to establish a regional housing infrastructure fund—a dedicated fund to build critical infrastructure which would help unlock more housing supply in rural and regional Australia specifically. Infrastructure from streetlights and water supply to community gardens and childcare centres would be a pathway for rural councils to partner with community organisations, like BeyondHousing in my electorate, to make applications and to underwrite the costs of the enabling infrastructure.

Another solution has been put forward by local councils from Indi. Again, we know the problem; we’re trying to come forward with solutions. The eight local government areas and three alpine resort management boards led by Tourism North East are proposing to establish the North East Workforce Management and Appropriate Housing project or the NEWMAH project. This is an innovative set of ideas and an innovative project that seeks government investment to address the lack of appropriate and affordable housing and, in turn, the challenges of retaining key workers. It seeks to do this by partnering with government in the NEWMAH project itself and subsequently approaching government for loans to construct workplace accommodation—not a handout; loans. It’s an exciting, sensible and evidence based proposal, and I really hope to see its eventuality. I really look forward to discussing this with the Minister for Housing in my forthcoming meeting with her.

Under this government’s first budget, they announced their $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund to build social and affordable housing. They announced the National Housing Accord, an agreement between all levels of government and investors in the construction sector to address housing supply. I welcome these government policies. I also welcome the government’s expansion of the NHFIC program. But I want to see it deploy more funds into the regions. So my question to the government is: how can these policies announced under the budget specifically improve housing availability and affordability in rural and regional Australia?

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