I thank the member for Hughes for this motion. I’m very pleased to speak about housing. I like to speak about housing. It’s so important. Many of us are deeply concerned about housing supply, especially in regional, rural and remote Australia. During the most recent census period, which includes the COVID-19 lockdowns, regional Australia saw a net population gain of 166,000 people. The trend is continuing. The most recent Regional Movers Index, developed by the Regional Australia institute and the Commonwealth Bank, shows it remains 11.7 per cent higher than in prepandemic levels. For years, regional and rural Australians were told, ‘Build it, and they will come.’ Well, they’ve come, and we haven’t built it. Put simply, we do not have enough affordable housing. We don’t have enough social housing. We don’t have enough rental housing. We don’t have enough diverse housing, and we don’t have enough of the critical enabling infrastructure to service any new housing.

Rental vacancy rates in regional Australia hovers at around one per cent, and the median regional house values have increased by over 54 per cent since 2020 and last year. In my regional electorate of Indi, I’m constantly hearing about and seeing the devastating consequences of this lack of supply. My electorate’s biggest community housing organisation, Beyond Housing, recently told me that 4,000 people across Indi have unmet housing needs. It’s sadly not hard to believe this. For the first time in my over 35 years of living in Indi, I’m seeing people sleeping rough like I’ve simply never seen before. So I, along with many, say that the government’s aim of 1.2 million homes over five years is not just a target; it’s a must-do. But we need to come at it from all angles. We need enough tradies to build the homes. We need the right infrastructure in place to support growing communities. We need to attract investors, and we need a greater diversity in future housing developments, including medium-density housing developments in regional Australia. These were some of the key recommendations made by the over-300 delegates at the National Regional Housing Summit held a couple of weeks ago here in Canberra. Local councils, community housing providers, lenders and real estate agents came together not just to describe the housing crisis in regional, rural and remote Australia but to offer solutions.

I want to focus on one of the summit’s key recommendations: dedicated and increased funding for regional local governments for critical housing infrastructure. Since 2022, I have been calling for the government to fund a $2 billion regional housing infrastructure fund to do just this. It is not sexy to talk about it but the key to more housing supply in the regions is providing local governments with grant funding for sewerage, for drainage, for pavement. The lack of a building and construction workforce is certainly also a key handbrake on more housing. But when I talk to my local building companies and housing developers, they consistently tell me that the No. 1 thing they need is a lot more lots that are connected to the water mains and the sewerage.

But with a small ratepayer base, the local councils in regional and rural areas simply do not have the funs to build this infrastructure on their own. They need a leg-up from government, which is where my regional housing infrastructure fund comes in. I have not pulled $2 billion out of thin air. We need at least 30,000 new homes to meet the demand in regional Australia and it costs around $75,000 to build the infrastructure needed to unlock a new home. This means that more than $2 billion is required to meet that demand.

I acknowledge that the government has recognised the need for critical enabling infrastructure to address the housing shortage through the Housing Support Program, and this program was announced last year using almost exactly my language. But this $500 million is for all of Australia and it will force small regional councils to compete against their metropolitan counterparts. What the government has announced is still a long way off delivering what the one-third of Australians who live outside of the metropolitan areas in rural and regional Australia, frankly, deserve.

Now, the opposition talk a lot about the government’s failed housing plans, but I am not seeing them put forward one single solution of their own. As an independent, I did not come to this place to only make complaints; I came here with solutions. Those at the forefront of the regional housing crisis back the regional housing infrastructure fund that I put forward and it is time that members of this place, both the opposition and the government, did so too.

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