Ms STANLEY (Werriwa) (17:26): I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing
Affordability) Bill 2017. The bill that is currently before the House is yet another example of why this government
is not for Australians living on low incomes. This is a bill that hides punitive, draconian measures targeting the
most vulnerable in our community under the guise of housing affordability. This is a bill that's like The Strange
Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This is a bill that combines sensible administrative changes to the National
Rental Affordability Scheme with an attack on those in our society who are already down and out.
The member for Barton has already highlighted the opposition's support for ensuring landlords are not taking
advantage of the National Rental Affordability Scheme. That is not our issue with the bill. In my speech today,
I want to highlight the disturbing nature of the Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme. This is a scheme that targets
low-income Australians, demonstrates a disregard for social housing and lays bare a disgraceful ideology around
the nature of government assistance.
The bill has been brought to the House by a government that doesn't care about Australians living on low incomes.
We know that 99 per cent of social housing tenants are able to pay their rent on time, and are happy to do so.
Already, 86 per cent of Australians living in government owned housing participate in voluntary rent deduction
schemes. Going after one per cent of tenants who may not be able to pay is cruel and it is petty. This is a
government that only cares about economically supporting the top one per cent rather than the bottom one per
cent. With no cap on the amount of arrears that might be deducted from each fortnightly welfare payment, who,
does the government think, will suffer under these measures? We know that families make up a large proportion
of social housing tenants. In putting up legislation like this, have the government considered who they are going
to impact by recovering 100 per cent of an individual's Centrelink payments? This will impact not just those on
welfare payments but their children and other family members—those who will have done nothing to contribute
to the situation of rental arrears but who will suffer greatly should a significant portion of the welfare payments
be forcibly quarantined.
This government has been nothing if not consistent in its failure to take meaningful action on Australia's housing
crisis. The name of the bill is misleading. This is not a government that is for housing affordability. It's quite
the opposite actually. Social housing is an essential component in providing adequate supply of affordable,
quality housing to all Australians. This piece of legislation makes clear how little this government values social
housing. It views social housing as a handout rather than as an essential piece of economic infrastructure. It views
circumstances that may cause tenants to default on their rent as reason for punishment rather than compassion.
Social housing is an important component of tackling housing affordability in this country. Social housing
represents opportunity. It is a vital public infrastructure. It is the secure, stable home that all Australians deserve.
It also enables those Australians on minimal incomes to access the housing market, relieving cost pressures on
the low-cost private rental market.
I grew up in social housing in south-west Sydney. This was in an era when the government actually valued such
a commodity. Those opportunities that come when children have secure, stable housing are remarkable, and
the reason why I'm here. The value of family, a good education, a consistent roof over your head and adequate
nutrition afford children the best possible start in life. The government must look to create these circumstances,
which individuals living in social housing need to thrive, because we know that when we give vulnerable
Australians the tools they need to succeed in society they are able to thrive. Growing up in a secure and stable
home affords children the wealth of opportunities that this country has to offer. Implementing these compulsory
rent deductions will create further undue stress upon family environments, which goes against the very principle
of social housing itself.
The bill represents ideological whiplash. The minister, in his speech, discussed the benefits of streamlining NRAS
delivery. In the same breath, he cited the need to get tough on social housing tenants who default on their rent.
This is in spite of the fact that 99 per cent of social housing tenants pay their rent on time each fortnight. Given
the minimal amount that the government might hope to recoup, the proposed Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme
seems to be just another attempt to look tough at the expense of vulnerable Australians.
The Prime Minister is more than happy to wander around wearing a baseball cap supporting the cause of men
than to stand up to those who commit the act of interpersonal violence. However, this week we need to meet in
this place to debate a bill that could see uncapped automatic rent deductions for the damage caused as a result
of domestic and family violence.
We hold grave concerns on this side of the House about the practical implementation of these measures. It's
difficult to imagine ordinary circumstances where social housing tenants would simply fall into rental arrears
of their own volition. They're happy to be in social housing; they know what an honour it is to get a place. If
a stressful financial system causes individuals and families to fall behind in their rent, acquiring entire welfare
payments to recover the debt is likely only to worsen that situation.
When Labor was in government last we introduced the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Public Housing
Tenants' Support) Bill 2013. This bill capped the rental reductions in order to allow for a reasonable ability
for individuals to manage their other financial affairs. We required this to be communicated to tenants well in
advance, and the compulsory deductions only applied to tenants at considerable risk of becoming homeless. In
contrast, this bill that I speak on today allows for deductions that are unfair, unexpected and uncapped. Worse
still, it includes all those on government benefits, the disability support pension and carer payments—people
who are vulnerable and people who are looking after the vulnerable.
The Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme this bill proposes is a disproportionate and draconian response that
patronises social housing tenants by suggesting they're unable to manage their own finances. We believe that any
form of rental deduction should be applied as a last resort only, and only as a means of preventing homelessness
—remembering that we're only talking about one per cent of these tenants. What's more, a Shorten Labor
government would take a holistic approach to the issue of homelessness, encompassing all homelessness and
housing insecurity, not just the rental arrears of one per cent of the nation's housing tenants.
In conclusion, as I said at the start of my speech, this bill is a strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The
government claims it is about housing affordability, and, while the NRAS reforms are badly needed and sensible,
it's difficult to see how coming after social housing tenants in tough spots does anything to promote housing
affordability. Really, all it will do is make people's lives worse and take away their opportunity to get better.
Tying two separate reforms together demonstrates that this government does not care about the integrity of its
policy. Labor will support the changes to NRAS, but the bill needs to be split so that we can deal with each
component separately. If this were a government truly committed to the housing needs of our vulnerable and
low-income Australians, it would allow the NRAS changes and the Compulsory Rent Deduction Scheme to be
considered separately. As it stands, it is not right to support this legislation.