That this House calls on the Government to:
(1) act urgently to address housing affordability and availability in regional Australia; and
(2) establish a dedicated fund to build critical infrastructure to unlock more housing supply in regional Australia.
Today I’m using my first motion of this parliament to draw attention to the housing crisis in regional Australia. Let me say it simply: there is nowhere to live in the regions. A few months ago, I met a woman who applied for 170 rentals in Wodonga before she found a place. Every business I speak to says they’re unable to fill their roles because people cannot find anywhere to live in town. The prices tell the story. For renters, the average price to rent a three-bedroom house in towns like Wangaratta, Wodonga, Benalla and Mansfield is now hitting $400 a week. In our region, this is just unheard of. Buying a house is getting harder too, and it has got harder fast. In the last two years, prices are up 33 per cent in Wodonga, 34 per cent in Wangaratta and 25 per cent Benalla. In Bright, it’s 55 per cent. This is just out of control.
I’ve put forward this motion to sound the alarm on the housing crisis and also to make the case that we do not just have an affordability problem; we have an availability problem. Both parties like to put forward policies that simply throw fuel on the fire by subsidising people to purchase houses. What we need is a comprehensive plan to actually better match supply and demand for housing. In the regions, we’re simply not building enough houses to accommodate our rapidly rising population, especially since the pandemic with people going regional out of the cities. Right now, Wangaratta can’t build any more houses because the main sewer line is at capacity. It will cost hundreds of millions to upgrade that infrastructure, and that’s money that a regional council doesn’t just have lying around. Benalla has a similar problem. It needs $10 million worth of drainage works done in the west and north-west of the town. Otherwise you just can’t build more homes there.
We need to be making strategic investments in infrastructure in our regional towns that would unlock more housing supply. The housing problem is probably the biggest economic handbrake we are facing. Businesses can’t fill their jobs because prospective workers cannot move to town. If you solve housing, you go a long way to solving the regional workforce problem. If you solve the workforce problem, our towns can really start to blossom. I’ve put a proposal to government to set up a dedicated regional housing infrastructure investment fund. The current policy framework set up by the last government, the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, has manifestly failed to meaningfully solve this problem. In the five years since it was set up, it has spent just 40 per cent of its allocated funding and helped build just 1,400 dwellings a year across the entire country. The proof is in the pudding; the problem is just getting worse. Clearly, the former government’s policy didn’t work.
This new government announced last week that they were releasing $575 million from this fund. That’s good and it’s a start, but I want to see that money actually get out the door and into the regions—to regions such as mine. I want money urgently targeted to regional Australia. I want to see that it gets to the critical infrastructure priorities holding back new housing supply in the regions. In Indi, we’ve got people sleeping in tents in numbers we have never seen before. It’s frequently below zero degrees in the mornings these days. Many of these people have jobs and they still can’t find somewhere to live. And, whether people have a job or not, surely we are decent enough as a country that we should not be letting people fall behind like this. It’s a problem that affects us all. The new government needs to offer something more than what’s been put on the table thus far. We need to think a bit differently and we need to think contextually. We need to think about rural and regional Australia and what we need there to open up housing stock—and, by that, I mean housing stock that’s at all levels. We need something creative. We don’t want to create suburbia in our regional towns, but we need medium density housing, we need social housing and we need clever housing.
I will not leave this place—this parliament—without making a lot of effort in this area. It’s work I will do every day because we in Indi come from a beautiful part of the world and we have jobs aplenty. We have an enormous desire for people to come and live in our region, and we have a strong desire to look after those people who are sleeping rough and to give them a chance. I want to see this government do something substantial, creative and nation-building on regional infrastructure and on housing in particular.