Big Issues

Literally What Is Happening With Labor’s Housing Bill?

housing bill Australian labor party and Greens party drama explained taylor armstrong cat meme

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The rental crisis is on everybody’s lips as the government scrambles to find a solution that addresses housing shortages and rental affordability. One such attempt at a solution — Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) Bill — is threatening to tear the literal government apart and send us to an early election. And I’m not even being dramatic, promise. 

There are a lot of news pieces out there explaining the housing disaster and the drama that’s unfolding in the government over the HAFF. Problem is, I don’t understand a single one. My brain just can’t comprehend all the expert lingo. I’ve tried talking it through with friends but they also have no idea what’s going on. We are all confused! Somebody help! 

I realised if I was having a tough time making sense of the housing and rental crisis bill that Labor has introduced — and how it could possibly lead to an early election — then you might be too. Although, maybe not, I don’t want to assume. You might be one smart cookie, effortlessly capable of understanding the complexities of the housing market. I am not, but I’m determined to get it. After all, young people are some of the hardest hit by rent increases and the lack of affordable housing, and knowledge is power, etc…

So, come along with me as I try to figure out why one bill has caused so much contention…

What Is Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund? 

If you’ve blacked out the past few years — I’ve tried my best to — you might have forgotten that Labor promised to address the housing crisis during the last Federal Election. The reintroduction of the Housing Australia Future Fund, which Prime Minister Anthony Albanese brought up in his budget reply in May 2021, was an attempt to make good on that promise. 

Labor said that the fund would invest $10 billion into the stock market to build 30,000 affordable homes by spending the returned investment earnings — up to $500 million a year — on social housing projects. For the first five years, the fund would build 20,000 social housing buildings with 4000 of those being specifically for women and children fleeing domestic violence, as well as older women with low incomes facing homelessness. 

Addressing the housing and rental crisis is front of mind for a lot of Australians and creating housing opportunities for vulnerable people is obviously incredibly important. But Labor’s HAFF bill didn’t get the support that the party assumed it would. When they put the bill to the Senate back in June of this year it was rejected after the Greens and Coalition joined forces to delay the bill until October. Drama. 

It’s unusual to see the opposite ends of the political spectrum team up but obviously both parties felt strongly enough about the bill that they decided it was worth coming together on.  Don Farrell, Labor’s deputy Senate leader, described the Greens and Coalition as “the axis of evil” because any delay means vulnerable people will continue to be at risk. The comments might seem just a tad bit dramatic but I understand where it’s coming from. It’s hard to stomach political drama while people are being pushed to their limits as the cost of living increases. 

If the bill gets put forward and rejected again, the government has flagged that it can trigger a double dissolution which would lead us to an early election. But what the hell is that, you ask? 

Wait, What’s A Double Dissolution?

A double dissolution occurs when the Prime Minister asks the Governor General to shut down the Senate and the House of Representatives so that an election can take place. This happens after a proposed bill fails to pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate twice, three months apart. 

In this instance, the HAFF Bill passed through the House of Representatives but was rejected in the Senate. The Labor party considered this as the bill failing to pass. Now if the Bill comes back to the Senate in October and it fails again, Albanese can go to the Attorney-General and ask for the Parliament to be dissolved and send Australia to an early election. 

A double dissolution can’t be called within six months before the date of the expiry of the House of Representatives — which is three years. The expiry of the House of Representatives for this current term is 2025. Double dissolutions are the only time all senators are up for election at the same time. 

This can work in two ways for Labor: if we go to an election and a majority of voters agree that Labor should pass the HAFF bill and they get more seats, they have a higher chance of passing the bill. However, if the Greens manage to pick up more seats, then Labor will be forced to compromise with them on legislation. 

So Why Don’t The Greens Like Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund? 

The main concern that the Greens have about the housing bill is that it doesn’t go far enough to address the current rental crisis that’s currently gripping the nation. They also don’t think the fund is an adequate way to build homes. Max Chandler-Mather, the Greens’ spokesperson for housing and homelessness, said that the bill was a “$10bn gamble on the stock market” and relied on the “volatile returns” to be invested into housing. 

Instead of relying on the stock market, the Greens initially wanted Labor to guarantee that the proposed $500 million a year spent on affordable and social housing would be upped to $5 billion a year. Chandler-Mather said that this amount, although high, was only a fraction of what the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation estimated was needed per year. Lidia Thorpe, now an Independent Senator, also called for $1 billion to be invested each year into First Nations housing. 

On top of stronger direct spending into the Housing Fund, the Greens have also been pushing the Labor government to implement a two-year nationwide rent freeze — followed by increase caps — so that renters can have a moment to breathe while the housing crisis is properly addressed. Of course, no one can agree on that either. Greens Leader Adam Bandt said that “unlimited rent increases should be illegal,” and Albanese said that a rent freeze would “destroy supply”. 

Why Won’t The Coalition Support Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund? 

The Coalition says that the proposed HAFF is a “completely warped approach to use taxpayer funds to support super funds buying houses, but not allow people to use their own super to buy their own home”. They also say that there’s no guarantee that the fund will make housing more affordable. They believe that people should be able to use their own super to buy their own homes. Coalition senators argue that the HAFF is “another example of Labor adding to government spending in a time of inflation”. 

In their Dissenting Report, the Coalition said that it was suspicious that CBUS Super was heavily committed to the bill before it was publicly released. They say there might be a conflict of interest because the CBUS Chair is the national president of the Labor Party

All this back and forth between the parties led to a stalemate between Labor and the Greens, who said they would pass the HAFF bill with Labor only if Labor compromised to a $2.5 billion annual spend on public, community, and affordable housing with a one-year rent freeze. They still called for a freeze on rent increases through the National Cabinet, who said they should offer $1 billion a year in extra funding that states can use immediately to purchase affordable homes. 

So Labor did it. They found an extra $2 billion to directly spend on social and affordable housing. But the Greens delayed the bill until October 16 anyway. Why? To allow for the National Cabinet to discuss renters’ rights. Did they do that? Not entirely. 

What Did The National Cabinet Discuss? 

In the middle of August, the National Cabinet met to discuss a range of issues but housing was front and centre. The Greens had hoped that the meeting would result in stronger renters’ rights and some discussion of a rent freeze but they were left disappointed after there was hardly any conversation around those topics at all. 

Instead, the National Cabinet focused on housing supply, setting a new target to build 1.2 million new homes over five years starting in July of next year. That’s an additional 200,000 homes above the National Housing Accord target that was set last year. On top of this, states and territories will receive an incentive payment of $15,000 for each new home they build in addition to the 1 million “well-located” homes that will be built across the country. 

In regards to the rental crisis, leaders agreed to move towards rent increase limits to once per year. They also agreed to implement minimum rental standards like a nationwide policy that requires landlords to actually prove reasonable grounds for eviction. 

The Greens’ Chandler-Mather was not impressed with the results of the National Cabinet meeting, saying that the government “spat in the face of the nearly eight million people” who rent in Australia. He also called Labor’s plans “smoke and mirrors”. I mean, this political thriller writes itself. Michael Sukkar, Shadow Minister for Housing also called out the new targets set in the meeting, saying that there’s no “concrete plan on increasing housing supply” and no support for first home buyers.

So Where Does All This Drama, Fighting, And Chaos Leave Us? 

Pretty much the same situation we were in when the Housing Australia Future Fund bill was first turned down by the Senate. That’s right. We’ve basically endured all this for nothing because as of now, there are still no more houses being built to adequately address the shortage and our rents are still going up. But there has been some progress with the pressure the Greens have been putting on Labor to put more direct spending into affordable housing. 

The Greens will now wait and see how the fund will be presented to the Senate again in October before officially supporting it. In the meantime, Labor has a lot of convincing to do to get the HAFF bill over the line. If the bill is rejected again, we might end up at an early election. One upside? I can already smell the democracy sausages. 

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on X

Image credit: Bravo / Twitter