First Home Super Saver Tax Bill 2017

18 October 2017

DR CHALMERS (Rankin) (10:49): That is 11½ minutes that we are never getting back, unfortunately! These housing bills have all of the things that we have come to expect from those opposite, all of the ingredients that characterise and comprise the policy failures of a struggling government—a government so out of touch that it has only just dawned on them, entering their fifth year in office, that there's a problem with housing affordability in this country. Housing affordability is at 60-year lows, and disproportionately it is young people who are finding it harder and harder to get a toehold in a very important market, a very important part of the economy. It is a government so dysfunctional that, having finally worked out that it's an issue, it has absolutely no idea of how to go about fixing it, a government so prone to overpromising and underdelivering, a government so incompetent that it introduced these bills 68 days after the initiative was supposed to begin. It announced the initiative in the budget in May. It was supposed to start on 1 July, and 68 days after 1 July the Treasurer got around to introducing the bills. It is a government so divided that it can't agree to pull the most important lever of all, which is the negative gearing and capital gains tax lever, even though we know from credible, authoritative reports that both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were in favour of doing so but got rolled in the cabinet room.

It is a government so held hostage to the knuckle draggers and naysayers in the party that it is unable to do anything meaningful at all lest it be vetoed by the people who gather around the member for Warringah. It is a government so determined to shower largesse on the top end of the town, running a protection racket for a system that gives the biggest tax concessions in our budget and in our economy to those who need them the least. It is a government so welded to extreme ideology that it is compelled to threaten, diminish, undermine and tear at the foundations of superannuation, which is one of Australia's proudest policy achievements. All these elements, which poison its approach across the board—whether it be energy policy or whether it be the budget and the economy or, now, housing—are here in the bill we are debating today.

The bills implement two of the government's budget measures—the First Home Super Saver Scheme and contributing proceeds to super, allowing people to use the proceeds from one sale of their main residence to contribute up to $300,000 to their super if they are 65 or older. Other speakers have made it very clear that we on this side don't support the First Home Super Saver Scheme, and we don't think the downsizing measure is the best way to genuinely deal with barriers to downsizing. But we're always prepared to be constructive. If the government were to separate the two measures, we would likely not oppose the downsizing measure.

To truly understand what we are trying to deal with here, we need to go to the factual basis of the problem we're trying to address, because that will show how inadequate the measures contained in the bill are in dealing with a crisis in housing for a lot of people in our country. Homeownership is at a 60-year low. Just one in four young people aged 18 to 39 now own a home, which is down from more than 35 per cent 15 years ago, a fall of more than 10 percentage points over that 15-year period. Rates of property investment are at record highs, and rates of first homeownership are at record lows. That gives you a sense of the problem this side of the House is trying to address. We have the most generous tax concessions in the world, which preference property investors who are purchasing their fifth or sixth residential properties over young first home buyers trying to get their first crack in the market. At the same time, more broadly, living standards are under pressure, household debt is at record highs, underemployment is at near-record highs and wages growth is at record lows. All of these factors are combining to make it hard if not impossible for a lot of people to buy their first home.

In response to this, having finally discovered that this problem that has developed over the last few years is an issue, the government—true to form—overdid it. Before the May budget, some of those opposite were promising that their housing affordability package would be extraordinarily large, that it would be an impressive package, a well-received package. Talk about setting yourself up for failure! It's like a parent promising a kid a brand-new bike for Christmas and instead giving them a toothbrush or a pair of socks. This is the policy equivalent of a pair of socks. We get this package where the only retail item, the first home super saver package, won't work. It will undermine superannuation and obviously isn't even enough of a priority for the Treasurer to introduce it in time for it to be implemented by the start date that was promised in May this year. It can't be that great if the Treasurer can't be bothered getting around to introducing the legislation until 68 days after the thing was supposed to start.

When young Australians desperate for information, told that this is going to be some extraordinary breakthrough in housing affordability, they go to the ATO website, they are told, 'Legislation is currently being developed for this measure,' months after it was supposed to have started. And we have those opposite spruiking it as some kind of big policy triumph. That is embarrassing enough, but it's worse than that. It's worse than embarrassing for those opposite: it is a very dangerous development. They want to undermine superannuation. They don't believe in it. They say from time to time that they do, but they go out of their way to diminish it, to threaten the foundations of superannuation, to try to take the 'compulsory' out of compulsory super in lots of different ways. In this instance, they are ignoring the fact that super is supposed to be for retirement. It is not supposed to be for allocation at the whim of a government looking for something meaningful to say about the big and persistent problem that we have in our society with housing affordability. This really does reveal a deep obsession with superannuation. They can't understand what a proud achievement superannuation is not just for this side of the House—and we are proud of our role in developing and designing the system and making it a reality—but for the entire country, and it shouldn't be diminished and it shouldn't be undermined by those opposite playing their usual extreme-right ideological games.

Perhaps the biggest failure in these bills is what is not in them. The measures that they're proposing as they relate to superannuation are dangerous and we don't support them. What is even worse is that these bills show what the government are not prepared to do: they are not prepared to pull the most meaningful lever when it comes to dealing with housing affordability, and that is dealing with negative gearing and the capital gains tax concessions. They refuse to pull the lever. They will not do anything meaningful about negative gearing and capital gains, and, as a consequence, they will not do anything meaningful about housing affordability in this country, particularly for young people.

On this side of the House we are serious about levelling the playing field between first home buyers and investors. We don't think it's fair for a young couple, for example, to front up to an auction and to be competing against someone who might already own five or six homes and who is being subsidised by the Australian taxpayer in a way that makes it very difficult for that young couple to get into the market for the first time. That's why we announced our policies back in 2015—well ahead of an election, to give people the opportunity to hold our policies up to the light. We announced those policies on negative gearing and capital gains more than two years ago now. We took the reform out of the too-hard basket. We put it on the table and we said, 'Judge us on this policy,' and the Australian people responded. The Australian people appreciate that at least one side of this parliament is having a genuine crack at addressing housing affordability in this country.

And it wasn't just the Australian community that backed us in. A long line of people supported our policy on negative gearing and capital gains: former Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens; global organisations like the IMF and the OECD; the government's own Financial System Inquiry; the Grattan Institute; ACOSS; the Australian Institute of Company Directors; CEDA; Saul Eslake; and even a raft of Liberals, including Jeff Kennett and former New South Wales premier Mike Baird. Indeed, the former Treasurer from just over there in this House said in his valedictory speech that he wished he had dealt with negative gearing in this country.

On Friday we had a very important intervention in this conversation about negative gearing. At regular intervals the Reserve Bank puts out the Financial stability review, and we got one on Friday. The Financial stability reviewsaid something that is very troubling and that everyone in this House should be cognisant of:

The number of investors with multiple properties has grown relative to those with a single property … Indeed, the number of investors with five properties grew by 7½ per cent in that one year, compared with average growth of 4½ per cent over the previous nine years.

So there has actually been a substantial growth, a troubling and concerning growth, in people with a number of properties—in this case, people with five properties or more. That number is growing faster than the number of people with one property. That gives you a sense of the problem. When the taxpayer subsidises the investors and the speculators, that is the inevitable outcome, and that's what we're seeing.

The new data from the Reserve Bank showed that negative gearing increasingly does favour the most wealthy investors with multiple properties. That is more justification for our approach to negative gearing, so that first home buyers aren't going up against people with multiple properties who enjoy those big tax breaks from the government. In a tight budget environment it makes absolutely no sense to give the biggest tax concessions to the Australians who need them least. It's dumb. It's daft policy, and we need to fix it.

We need to fix it not just because of its impact on housing affordability—although that's its most important objective—but also because doing so will help repair the budget. There are not that many policies which can do a terrific job in pulling a policy lever and getting a good outcome and, at the same time, deliver substantial savings to the bottom line of the budget. We're talking about raising something like $37 billion over the medium term, $2 billion of that in the forward estimates. The budget needs that kind of savings. It needs that kind of strengthening. If we can do that at the same time as satisfying a policy objective on housing affordability, we'd be mad not to take up that opportunity.

Apart from negative gearing and capital gains, we've led the broader conversation on housing affordability on this side of the House. I pay tribute to Senator Cameron and to the shadow Treasurer and the Leader of the Opposition, who earlier this year put their heads together and announced what I think was a very substantial package of housing reforms on top of what we are proposing to do on negative gearing and capital gains. These were some of the elements. We said we should limit direct borrowing by self-managed superfunds, which was another recommendation of the government's Murray inquiry. We said we should work with COAG to get a uniform vacant property tax across all major cities. We said that we should establish a bond aggregator to increase investment in affordable housing. We said that with a bit of effort we can get better results from the National Affordable Housing Agreement. We said we should increase foreign investor fees and penalties. We said we should boost homelessness support for vulnerable Australians and that we should re-establish the National Housing Supply Council and actually have a minister for housing so we don't have this situation develop, as it has on that side, of a government which has taken until its fifth year in office to finally work out that Australians are hurting and struggling in the housing market, particularly those who can't get into it for the first time.

When all of our measures on negative gearing and capital gains and that Senator Cameron, the shadow Treasurer and the leader announced earlier this year are combined, we think we might be able to shift the needle, and we might be able to shift the needle to favour people who are working and struggling to get into the market for the first time. Our measures and our policies will help give people a real chance. They'll give people the opportunity to realise that great Australian dream of homeownership, not the nightmare of housing unaffordability that they have been experiencing under the Turnbull government—a government which is so out of touch, dysfunctional, incompetent and divided, so desperate to favour the top end of town and unable to lead on important economic policies like this one.

We have provided the alternative. We have shown that you can develop substantial, meaningful policy from opposition. We're happy to compare our policies on housing with the rabble of those opposite. And we're happy to fight an election, whether it be on housing or the mess that the minister has made on energy. We are prepared to put our policies up against theirs any day.