House of Representatives- First Home Saver Accounts (Further Provisions) Amendment Bill 2008

I rise to speak in favour of the First Home Saver Accounts (Further Provisions) Amendment Bill 2008. This is a bill which, among other changes, amends the First Home Saver Accounts Act by, first, establishing a scheme for dealing with unclaimed money; secondly, making amendments to secrecy and information sharing between the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; and, thirdly, dealing comprehensively with family law situations. These amendments further implement the government’s election commitment to introduce first home saver accounts. This commitment is an innovative response to the housing affordability crisis which is besetting our country. It was a crisis which the previous government was unable or unwilling to respond to. It can be recognised that the solution provided by the First Home Saver Accounts legislation is not a complete solution. There is no single solution to the housing affordability crisis, but as part of a larger package of measures that are being undertaken by the Rudd government this measure will help reduce the impact of the housing affordability crisis on working families.

I rise to speak in favour of the First Home Saver Accounts (Further Provisions) Amendment Bill 2008. This is a bill which, among other changes, amends the First Home Saver Accounts Act by, first, establishing a scheme for dealing with unclaimed money; secondly, making amendments to secrecy and information sharing between the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; and, thirdly, dealing comprehensively with family law situations. These amendments further implement the government’s election commitment to introduce first home saver accounts. This commitment is an innovative response to the housing affordability crisis which is besetting our country. It was a crisis which the previous government was unable or unwilling to respond to. It can be recognised that the solution provided by the First Home Saver Accounts legislation is not a complete solution. There is no single solution to the housing affordability crisis, but as part of a larger package of measures that are being undertaken by the Rudd government this measure will help reduce the impact of the housing affordability crisis on working families.

Under the First Home Saver Accounts Act, eligible individuals will be able to establish accounts to assist them in saving a deposit. These accounts will be similar to superannuation accounts in their treatment under the taxation system. Individuals will be able to contribute a maximum of $50,000 overall and up to $10,000 each year, of which up to $5,000 may be made from pretax income each year. A government contribution of 17 per cent for all individuals on the first $5,000 of personal contributions will also be paid. Government contributions and withdrawals are not taxed, and earnings in the accounts are to be taxed at 15 per cent, like superannuation. Under the scheme, savings will have to be left in a home saver account for a minimum of four years.

We have had some rather startling contributions to the debate on this legislation made by those opposite. Among them were some absurd criticisms from a number of speakers of the requirement that savings be left in home saver accounts for a minimum of four years, apparently on the basis—and this shows the perspective of wealth—that people would want to save more quickly for their deposit. It is really typical of the out-of-touch party that the opposition still is that it has missed the point entirely about the assistance that this scheme is intended to provide for people who are attempting to save a deposit. The scheme will help those who would not otherwise be able to save a deposit in four years. Those opposite should come and talk to the young people in my electorate, for whom saving for a deposit in 10 years, let alone in four years, seems at present almost impossible. The assistance that is going to be provided by this First Home Saver Accounts scheme will be welcome. There are thousands of working families out there who are unable to save a sufficient amount over any period of time, and it is precisely the special taxation treatment that is given to these accounts which is going to be of assistance.

The amendments before the House that are contained in this bill deal with four specific areas—secrecy and exchange of information collected under the scheme, the money in unclaimed first home saver accounts, taxation reporting requirements and family law amendments. As I have indicated, this initiative is part of a package of measures worth $2.2 billion that the Rudd government is undertaking to tackle the very real difficulties that the housing affordability crisis has caused for Australian families. These measures deal with issues on both the demand side and the supply side of the housing market. In particular—and a number of other speakers on this bill have mentioned this fund—the Housing Affordability Fund is a $512 million initiative that will target the planning and infrastructure costs that are incurred when building new housing developments. Thousands of new homebuyers will benefit from this fund through the targeting of holding costs brought about because of delays due to the planning process.

The government has also established the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the purpose of which is to increase the availability of affordable rental dwellings. It is envisaged that up to an additional 50,000 dwellings will be available by 2012 and a further 50,000 will be available in the period after 2012. In return for an annual $6,000 Commonwealth tax incentive to investors and $2,000 per year direct or in-kind support from state governments, these properties will be rented at rates 20 per cent below market rates. These measures, taken as a whole, will help to alleviate the very real housing affordability crisis in this country. This government is determined to bring the crisis under control. The fact that the crisis was exacerbated by the inaction of the previous government makes the actions of the Rudd government all the more important.

We have seen the former Treasurer out there this week hawking his book, despite events overtaking him somewhat. Interestingly, the former Treasurer writes about the ‘areas in which the coalition could have done better’ and he lists those as being Indigenous disadvantage, the republic and One Nation. Of course it is the case that on each of these issues the coalition failed the nation, but it was their failure as economic stewards that will leave the deeper scars on Australia. The member for Higgins, the former Treasurer, claimed that he created an age of prosperity in Australia. You cannot claim to have created an age of prosperity when the housing affordability crisis means that thousands of young families on a good income cannot afford to purchase a home. If you did nothing to fix that you cannot claim to have created an age of prosperity. You cannot claim to have created an age of prosperity when working people feel more insecure in their employment, when they have fewer rights. You cannot make that claim if you took away their rights. You cannot claim to have created an age of prosperity when you have spent half a decade pump priming the economy with reckless spending at the peak of the economic cycle; you cannot make that claim if you were responsible for that type of spending. And you cannot claim to have created an age of prosperity when you failed to invest in infrastructure, when you cut investment in education and skills, when you allowed a relative decline in Australia’s productivity and trade performance.

In July last year, the former Treasurer, on Sky News, flat out denied the existence of a housing affordability crisis. That was completely contrary to the experience of thousands of families in my electorate of Isaacs who were renting or purchasing their home—people who live in the new development areas of my electorate such as Carrum Downs, Skye, Keysborough or in other areas where new homes and new developments are being built, where many thousands of families want to get into those homes.

The former Treasurer has claimed in his book that the coalition were defeated because they ‘failed to renew’. He further claimed: ‘We mismanaged generational change. We did not arrange the leadership transition.’ The former Treasurer, the member for Higgins, has still failed to understand why the former government lost the last election. It was not because the former Treasurer failed to become leader; it was because those opposite lost touch. They are still demonstrating how much they have lost touch, with the contributions that those opposite have made to the debate on this legislation. The position that those opposite have taken on the First Home Saver Accounts bill is really typical of their behaviour for so much of this year and demonstrates that they simply have not learnt from their defeat at the election last year.

Although we have seen from those opposite a pretended support for this bill or, at least, a claimed support for this bill, opposition speakers, one after another, have stood up in this chamber and whinged either about the lack of action on the part of the federal government—a federal government for which they were responsible until November last year—or about the imagined shortcomings of state Labor governments. And we heard more of that today from the member for Fadden and yesterday from the member for Farrer, who went on and on about limited land supply—which of course is a matter on which the opposition attribute fault to the state governments—as if that were indeed the cause of the housing affordability crisis in this country.

What the opposition could have mentioned, but failed to mention, is the halving of the capital gains tax rate—something that the former Treasurer, the member for Higgins, was directly responsible for. That had a far more direct effect on the price of housing in this country than the imagined limits on land supply of which we have heard opposition members complaining. It is a regression to what we heard so much of from the former government during their time in office. When they could think of nothing else to say they would complain about state Labor governments. It became almost a substitute for policy. Instead of actually coming up with ideas that might grapple with the problems that were besetting this country, we had the attempt to blame state Labor governments over and over again. We have had a return to that theme in the contributions made to the debate on this bill in the chamber. This time what is picked out as a matter for blaming state Labor governments is the imagined limits on land supply, as though that were the only matter that had to be attended to in dealing with the housing affordability crisis. This is from a group of people who were members of a government which did so little to deal with the economic conditions and, in particular, the housing affordability problem that the Rudd Labor government is now dealing with.

The rank hypocrisy of those opposite is astounding. In her speech on this legislation, the shadow minister for housing, the member for Farrer, quoted approvingly the call of the Housing Industry Association for ‘a united focus and interest by all governments’. We agree that a united focus and interest by all governments is what is called for in order to grapple with the housing affordability crisis. You would think that the shadow minister for housing, the member for Farrer, would no doubt be pleased that Labor now has an outstanding Minister for Housing who is focused and is interested in this issue. I would be curious to know how the member for Farrer thought that the previous government was able to focus on the housing affordability crisis, given that it did not have a housing minister for the entire period that it was in power. Do those opposite feel no sense of shame about their wasted years in government? Don’t they feel some embarrassment for the way in which they let down Australia’s working families not just on this housing affordability issue but also on so many other issues?

The actions of the Rudd government stand in sharp contrast to the failure of the previous government. We understand why housing affordability is so important to working families. I understand it, because people in my electorate constantly tell me about it, and I am proud to be part of a government which is getting on with the job of acting on the problems faced by people in my electorate. This government is serious about housing. We have demonstrated this through the appointment of the first housing minister in 11 years. This bill, by further implementing Labor’s commitment to introduce first home saver accounts, is a further demonstration of the seriousness of this government. We believe that the struggle that working families face because of the housing affordability crisis can made easier by government taking the crisis seriously and taking action. I commend the bill to the House.