The proposed housing affordability package in the May budget will target people relying on social housing as well as those trying to break into the market, Treasurer Scott Morrison has said.
Morrison said housing would be a very strong focus of the budget and he stressed the rental side.
“It won’t just deal with the challenges faced by first home-owners,” he said. “You have got to remember that over 30% of Australians actually live in homes that are rented, and when people are finding it hard to get into the housing market that puts a lot more pressure on the rental market.”
Noting that the number of people on low incomes in rental stress had gone up, Morrison said: “I am as much concerned about someone who is on a low income struggling with their rent as I am with someone who I know wants to get on the home-ownership market themselves. They are both important challenges for Australians.”
Morrison renewed his criticism of “one of the most disgraceful failures of public spending” – the National Affordable Housing Agreement. This was “a one-way cash ATM to the states which asks for nothing in return.
"We are handing over A$1.3 billion every year and the number of people on public housing waiting lists has gone up. The number of social housing dwellings which are owned by the state governments has gone down. We have basically shelled out billions and billions and billions for a program that isn’t achieving anything,” he told Sky. These were matters that would be addressed in the budget.
“We have to spend that money better. We don’t necessarily need to spend less on that. It is a very important issue,” he said.
He was frustrated as treasurer that while serious money was spent on a lot of problems, “the debate is so often that you need to spend more here. No, just spend what you are spending really well and more effectively and get the outcomes that we are accountable for.”
He said social housing often got overlooked in the debate, and he was “quite passionate” about it.
The Victorian government at the weekend announced relief from stamp duty for first home-buyers purchasing properties below $600,000. Investment properties would not be eligible.
There will be a concession, applied on a sliding scale, for properties between $600,000 and $750,000. The exemption and concession applies to both new and established properties and the state government says it will help 25,000 Victorians with first homes.
Morrison also highlighted the problem of flat wages growth and the consequences that brought.
“Whether it is the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme], whether it is schools, whether it is hospitals, whether it is Medicare – at a time when wages growth is admittedly and regrettably flat, Australians – particularly hard-working Australians on middle incomes – rely more and more and depend more and more on these services,” he said.
“And so the budget does need to signal, and the government has been signalling this, the need to ensure that people can feel confident about the support for those services.”
He made it clear that any improvement in commodity prices or wages growth would be used for budget repair rather than for new spending.
With an eye to the imperative that the budget must be convincing to the ratings agencies, Morrison said: “We have to deal with the political environment that we work in. You can’t just go out there and announce a whole range of things which you don’t have a reasonable prospect of being able to implement.”
He said Labor seemed “to be engaged in a very cynical process of sabotaging the budget to try and crash the AAA rating”.
“They won’t engage in getting spending under control, they want to see the nation’s welfare bill be higher. They want to tax people more to pay for a higher welfare bill.”
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra