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Housing Affordability

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Mr Parton for moving this very important motion, which I support. Housing affordability in the ACT is a big problem. I quote from the Vital Signs Canberra 2021 report, which was released yesterday: ‘Lack of affordable housing remains the biggest challenge confronting people on low incomes in the Canberra community and Canberra is the most expensive capital city in which to rent’.

As the same report makes clear, despite the territory’s high average incomes, nine per cent of all Canberrans are living in poverty, including 11 per cent of children. This means that, on average, if you see nine children playing in a public park, one of them lives in a household below the poverty line.

Of course, whenever I speak in this place about addressing poverty, my Labor and Greens colleagues always demonstrate a complete lack of personal accountability by talking exclusively about income support payments. But as this report makes very clear, nearly 40 per cent of Canberrans living below the poverty line are in wage‑earning households.

These are included amongst what researchers term the ‘working poor’—people who are employed, but still struggle to make ends meet in this increasingly expensive city. And they are not alone in facing difficulties. Beyond those already in poverty, another 24 per cent of residents are just squeaking by. As the Vital Signs report notes, this means that one in three adults in Canberra cannot survive a sudden large expense or a loss of income.

Clearly, this issue is much bigger than the 3.5 per cent of residents currently receiving income supports while looking for work. As a member for Ginninderra, I am intensely aware that many of these working poor and struggling families live in my electorate, which, according to the ABS, has the lowest income in the ACT. This is true whether one measures personal income, family income or household income.

Far too many Belconnen residents work hard but find it increasingly difficult to keep a roof over their heads. According to ABS data, five years ago, one in every 12 renting households in my electorate was in rental stress and one in every 19 households with a home loan was in mortgage stress. We do not yet have the 2021 census data, but over the last five years the cost of health in Canberra has gone up 19 per cent, the cost of electricity and gas has soared by 28 and 26 per cent respectively, and the cost of housing has climbed by 16 per cent. Since 2018 the median weekly income has dropped. We can be reasonably certain, therefore, that even more families in Belconnen are struggling to make their rent or mortgage payments.

High accommodation costs are not only a tragedy for those on lower incomes but also impact those with greater financial stability. The December 2020 rental affordability index found that a single income couple with children will pay a higher proportion of their income on rent in the ACT than anywhere else in Australia, including Greater Sydney. The same is also true for a dual income couple with children on an estimated combined income of $191,000.

In other words, despite Canberra’s higher than average incomes, working families who choose to live here will fall further behind financially than if they chose to live elsewhere in Australia. The ACT government is choosing to punish families when they deserve to be rewarded by keeping more of their hard earned dollars in their pockets.

Labor and the Greens have monopoly control over land supply and, according to basic economics, they therefore determine land prices. They also regulate land taxes and residential rates, both of which directly impact the cost of housing. It is time—past time—to declare a housing crisis in the ACT and to allow an independent review of the impact of ACT government policies on rising house prices and rents.

If the policy settings are right then the government has nothing to fear from such an inquiry. Defeat of this motion will make it perfectly clear that those opposite know full well that their policies are completely wrong.

I commend this motion to the Assembly.


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