For so many Australians, buying your first home is one of life’s big moments. I’ll never forget my first home – the thrill of being able to paint the walls apricot pink and put up some Laura Ashley wallpaper.

Owning a home is part of our story.

Unfortunately home ownership is increasingly out of reach for so many Australian families. A decade of rampant price rises, declining availability and soaring interest rates has made it harder than ever for Australians, especially young people, to break into the housing market.

Today it costs eight times the average annual income to buy a home in Australia. That compares to only a generation earlier, where buying a house would cost on average about three and half times the household income. So today, unless you have support of the bank of mum and dad, lower-income earners feel they are destined for a life of renting.

We hear a lot about how unaffordable houses are in Melbourne and Sydney. Regional and rural towns are seen as the alternative places where you can afford to buy a home, especially if you have a family.

But quite frankly, this just isn’t the case anymore.

There are three flawed assumptions about buying a house in regional Australia – it’s cheap, there’s plenty of it and everyone wants the same thing.

Firstly, it’s not cheap to buy a house in regional Australia anymore. The median value of houses has increased by almost 55% since 2020. This is almost double the value increase in capital cities.

And let’s not forget that the median income of regional and rural Australians is lower than the median income in the cities.

The second myth is that there’s plenty of homes to buy. I’ll talk about housing supply later, but right now let me say we do not have enough homes to buy or rent.

The final myth of housing in regional Australia is the assumption that if you can afford to buy one of these ‘plentiful homes’, you want the ‘quarter acre block’ with a 4-bedroom house.

Again, this is just no longer true. A Regional Australia Institute survey found that in regional Queensland, half of respondents wanted a semi-detached townhouse, unit or apartment. Young professionals – often essential workers – or older downsizers want a 2 bedroom place. But these are simply not available in the regions.

Solving these challenges, to ensure more Australians can access affordable and suitable housing, requires many solutions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

The Help to Buy Bill is one part of the puzzle to fixing this crisis. This Bill sets up a shared equity scheme to help low-income individuals and families get a foot into the housing market.

Via Housing Australia, the Commonwealth will contribute to the purchase costs of a home – up to 30% for existing homes and 40% of the purchase price for new homes.

There will be 10,000 places within the scheme each year over 4 years.

I understand the eligibility criteria for the scheme will include income thresholds of around $90,000 for a single home purchaser and $120,000 for two people.

There will also be property price caps in the scheme, depending on whether you are buying in the city or country.

You will not have to be a first home buyer to access Help to Buy – you could be close to retirement, or starting out in the workforce, and are seeking the stability of home ownership. It will be open to not just to couples but siblings, or a parent and their adult child.

This is really important. There is an assumption that once you get on the property ladder, you’ll be fine. But this isn’t the case.

There are many people out there whose life circumstances – through divorce, illness, natural disaster – can change over time. So do their housing needs.

A small and suitably targeted equity scheme is seen by some experts as an appropriate response to Australia’s housing crisis; helping people to buy a home, and experience the stability that comes with this, who might otherwise be unable to.

I want to pause and emphasise ‘small and targeted’ here.

Many experts, including the Productivity Commission, the Grattan Institute and the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute – are clear that unless a shared equity scheme like Help to Buy is well-targeted at those experiencing persistent marginalisation in the housing market, there is a risk of further increasing housing demand, and subsequently house prices.

This program must be targeted at those who without it, would not enter the property market at all.

This includes low-income and historically disadvantaged people. That’s why I support the Member for Goldstein’s amendment which would add that a purpose of the scheme is to assist this cohort, such as single women nearing retirement.

The amendment also requires a review of the scheme to consider whether it’s actually achieving this objective.

Targeted cohorts should also include those in rural and remote areas where there is market stagnation – something the Regional Australia Institute have been calling for.

The scheme should not be used to help people who were always going to enter the housing market, get in sooner.

I understand that the Government intends to put the eligibility requirements for the scheme – including income thresholds and price caps – in written program directions, determined by the Minister, which she intends to consult on.

I urge the Minister to listen to the experts and the evidence when it comes to writing these directions, to make sure they’re appropriately targeted.

This is why I also support the Member for Wentworth’s amendment which would make these written program directions disallowable legislative instruments.

It’s critical that Parliament has oversight of the Help to Buy to ensure that the right people can access it, and to guard against unintended consequences such as increasing property prices.

This amendment would also address stakeholder concerns that the Bill lacks detail.

For example, it’s currently unclear whether the Commonwealth, who under this Bill will own a share of the equity, will benefit from any improvements that the homeowner adds to the property, or whether the Commonwealth will share in the risk that the property may lose value.

The Government must borrow about $5.5 billion to run this scheme. With so much money at stake, it’s so important that the Parliament has a say about where this money is going and how it’s being used.

I know the Government called for similar oversight and recording of spending when they were in Opposition, including when the then-Coalition Government were making executive decisions about billions of dollars of COVID spending.

I was here, I heard you!

This Government has a habit of complaining about flaws in governance while in Opposition, and then not doing much about them once in Government. I urge them to change that now and make the Minister’s written directions on Help to Buy disallowable by Parliament.

While this Bill is welcome, it’s not the transformational change we need to improve the housing crisis. The Government must put everything on the table. We need to consider and engage with discussions about reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts.

And most importantly, the Government must keep working on supply measures. It is absolutely fundamental to solving this crisis.

All three of these experts I just mentioned – the Grattan Institute, the Productivity Commission and the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute – clearly say that to mitigate against the Help to Buy scheme increasing property prices, the Government must focus on increasing housing supply.

The experts are saying it, and I’m constantly hearing about it on the ground in my electorate and whenever I talk to regional Australians.

Earlier this month I joined more than 300 people from across regional, rural and remote Australia at the National Regional Housing Summit, hosted by the Regional Australia Institute.

Local governments, real estate businesses, housing developers, lenders, community housing providers and more converged to speak about the lack of housing they are experiencing, what this means for their communities, and, most importantly, how to solve this crisis.

Throughout the day, I heard again and again that housing affordability schemes – like the Help to Buy scheme – are fine, but simply will not do much to address the housing crisis in regional and rural towns.

We need measures to build more homes.

One of these measures is help for local councils to build the critical enabling infrastructure that sets up the land so the homes can be built.

Funding is needed to connect essential services – powerlines and pipes, sewerage and drainage infrastructure, are absolutely key to unlocking regional housing supply.

It’s what the nine local councils in my own electorate, plus water management authorities and housing developers, keep telling me.

Take Wangaratta for example, the second largest town in my electorate. Wangaratta are struggling to build more homes because they have run out of sewerage infrastructure.

It’s why, since 2022, I have been campaigning for a $2 billion Regional Housing Infrastructure Fund – so money for critical enabling infrastructure will go to where it’s needed in regional and rural areas.

In August I met with the Prime Minister and presented my proposals for a Regional Housing Infrastructure Fund.

Just a week later, following a National Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister announced the Housing Support Program for, and I quote, “targeted activation payments for things like connecting essential services and amenities to support new housing development”.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

This is why it is so important to have a strong regional Independent voice in Parliament. I listened to my community about the problems we face, I worked with them to develop solutions, I took those solutions to Government and I’m pleased to say it’s clear they are listening.

But $500 million for the Housing Support Program is not nearly enough, and according to the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook it’s only been committed for two years.

We need at least 30,000 new homes to meet the demand in regional Australia, and it costs about $75,000 to build the infrastructure needed to unlock a new home. This means that at least $2 billion is required to meet that demand.

And that’s only for regional Australia.

The Housing Support Program is for local councils in both the cities and the country. Not a dedicated fund to meet regional needs. I am really concerned that when that program is up and running, our needs will be crowded out by louder voices in the major cities.

It’s why last year I also introduced my Unlocking Regional Housing Private Members Bill, which would require housing funding for critical enabling infrastructure to be directed to regional, rural and remote Australia.

I also moved amendments to the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill, so that funding can be directed towards local councils for critical enabling infrastructure.

I also sought for the HAFF’s Investment Mandate to be amended so that 30% of the HAFF’s $10 billion will fund social and affordable housing in regional, rural and remote areas, proportionate to Australia’s population that resides there.

These amendments were not supported by the Government, and they are yet to back in my Unlocking Regional Housing Private Members Bill and my $2 billion Regional Housing Infrastructure Fund.

But I don’t think they’ll be able to ignore my calls for much longer.

At the end of the National Housing Summit this month, the Regional Australia Institute, Master Builders Australia and Real Estate Institute of Australia issued a communique with clear policy, investment and innovation recommendations to address the housing crisis.

One recommendation was, and I quote “dedicated and increased housing funding for regional local governments for critical housing infrastructure”.

With this Help to Buy Bill, the experts are clearly warning that the Government must focus its attention on supply measures.

Rental vacancy rates, interest rates and, most worryingly, homelessness rates are all looking increasingly dire for regional Australia.

The problem is not getting better.

The Government must listen, and they must act.

So I will support this Bill, but I will not do so with much enthusiasm or fanfare.

Until the Government commits to ongoing, dedicated funding to address housing supply in regional, rural and remote Australia, they are simply not doing enough to address the housing crisis.

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