I thank my colleagues across the House for this debate, especially my colleague the member for Clark, for bringing this important motion for debate. Surely, it is indeed a cry from the heart for a roof over our heads for all Australians.
But I want to place my comments around regional Australia today. COVID-19 has changed us in many ways, but perhaps one of the most unexpected is that it has sparked a wave of migration out of the cities and into the regions.
Last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded the biggest internal migration to regional areas on record, with the net loss of 11,200 people from Australia’s capitals to the regions. In many ways, this is really good news. More people moving into the regions is critical for our future. It is critical to sustaining our schools and health services and providing the employment base to maintain economic activity into the long term.
But, if we fail to plan properly for an increased population in the regions, then simply adding more people and encouraging more people to move to the regions will be creating a whole new set of problems.
The lack of affordable housing in many regional communities is perhaps the clearest example of that. Last year, house prices in regional Australia rose by seven per cent. In contrast, in the city, they rose by just two per cent. That’s the first time in more than 15 years that house prices in the regions rose by more than those in the cities. Anecdotally, I see this right across my electorate. In towns like Mansfield, Wangaratta, Wodonga, Benalla and Bright, the availability of homes to rent or buy is going down and the prices are going up.
I’ve met with many businesses who tell me that they’re advertising for jobs but it’s simply impossible to get somebody to move to town because there aren’t houses available for them to live in. Last week, I heard from the chief executive officer of Corryong Health that one of the reasons it’s so hard to recruit nurses and mental health practitioners to Corryong is that they have absolutely nowhere to live there.
This week, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
You could live like a king or queen in regional Australia with, you know, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, three-car garage, huge backyard…
This might be the case if you move from Sydney or Melbourne and you can work remotely in a high paid job. But for most people, the idea that just anybody can afford to purchase a palatial five-bedroom home in regional Australia is pretty ridiculous.
I hear from people in tourist towns, like Bright and Beechworth, that, increasingly, many houses purchased by investors are being used for Airbnb. This could be great for tourism economy but it’s really not good for the young family trying to find a family home, or the jobseeker looking to move to that town to take up work.
I fear that, too often, the government seems to think that their role in developing regional Australia consists of simply spruiking about regional Australia.
If we want regions that are growing, that have sustainable job creation, which are developing industries that will last well into the future and where people can afford to purchase a house and raise a family, then the government actually needs to step up. They need to make sure that we’re building the mixed stock of houses in regional areas, that we’re providing the education and health services, that we’re building the roads and investing in things like child care that enable people to live and work and ultimately purchase a home in regional Australia.
This week, the Regional Australia Institute launched its Move to More campaign which aims to encourage people to move to regional Australia. I commend that campaign and the work of the Regional Australia Institute in advocating for the regions and putting out detailed policy proposals to drive regional development.
We need government to listen to voices like this and actually back up the big talk with big action. To solve the housing affordability challenges in regional Australia, we need to listen to people like the professors of housing, Hal Pawson from the University of New South Wales and Wendy Stone from Swinburne University, who tell us that we desperately need a national housing policy—we simply haven’t had one since 1945.
We need short-term rentals for seasonal workers and backpackers so that they’ve got somewhere to live for a ski season, a harvest season, a shearing season or, indeed, summer fruit picking. We need medium-term one bedroom rentals so that young single people can move to the regions for a few years on placement or take their first job. We need long-term rentals for people who are unlikely to ever be able to afford a home and we need pathways to homeownership for diverse demographics like younger families and retirees.
All Australians should be able to find a home in the regions. I call on the government to do more than just talk but to act and really make it a reality.