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Speech on rental crisis

On 6 September, I spoke about the rental crisis and the need for a rent freeze.

I want to talk about the response to the Greens' call for an emergency two-year rent freeze and pause on interest rates, because I think it reveals something about just how badly disconnected from everyday people many politicians are. After announcing our proposal, I heard from countless renters who had copped outrageous rent increases, like a $100 rent increase despite no repairs being done in years; or a $60-a-week rent hike with less than a week's notice to sign a lease or move out; or a sudden 10 per cent increase on a cold and mouldy house. But renters are telling us they've got no choice but to put up with it. There's nowhere even vaguely affordable to move into, with vacancy rates around the country at record lows. We heard from a renter who agreed to swallow a $40-a-week rise, only to get booted out anyway so the owner could turn the property into an Airbnb. We heard about a tenant who got kicked out because the owner said they were selling, only to see the same owner whack it straight back up with the rent at a higher price—about $150 extra a week.

The most outrageous story we heard was of a tenant who copped a $250-a-week rent increase. That's $13,000 a year extra on rent. I spoke to a single mum who ended up being evicted because she couldn't afford a $150-a-week rent increase. Her kids go to the local school and work at the local supermarket, and she works full time as a disability support worker, but she was evicted because we have a housing system where landlords are allowed to put up the rent by as much as they want.

Meanwhile, we've seen federal Labor and state Liberal and Labor governments demonstrate a spectacularly callous disregard for the 30 per cent of this country who rent homes. When I proposed a rent freeze, the Prime Minister, presumably feigning ignorance, said he had no idea how a rent freeze would work. The Treasurer admitted that skyrocketing rents were a huge part of the cost-of-living crisis but then turned around and said it wasn't something they were working on.

We know that rent controls work. In Scotland, British Columbia and New York, rent controls are used to protect renters' right to affordable housing. In fact, we've had rent freezes in Australia before. The Victorian government froze rents for six months during the pandemic and the Commonwealth government froze rents nationwide in 1941 to deal with the inflation crisis caused by wartime shortages. There's no reason why we can't have rent controls in Australia today. The only thing standing in the way is the lack of political will to put first the rights of everyday people to have a roof over their heads.

When I asked the PM in question time yesterday if he'd help the 2.7 million Australians in rental stress by putting a freeze on the agenda for the next national cabinet meeting, he told me that he's already got a comprehensive plan to deal with the housing crisis. But not only is Labor's plan to build 20,000 social and 10,000 affordable houses over five years not a comprehensive plan; it's not even a drop in the ocean. When we have 116,000 people homeless in Australia every night and 163,500 families sitting on the social housing waiting list, how are 20,000 social homes good enough? When there are 2.7 million Australians in rental stress and one million of them in extreme rental stress, spending more than 45 per cent of their income on rent, how are 10,000 affordable homes enough to even make a dent? The reality is that Labor's fig leaf of a plan will see the waiting list for social housing end up longer than it is now. It will abandon millions of people to housing stress, homelessness and eviction.

But just imagine if the government treated this like the crisis that it is. Imagine if millions of Australian households didn't have to worry about the next rent increase. Imagine if there were a nationwide urgent investment in well-designed community and public housing that actually addressed the need that we have in this country. Imagine that instead of the government spending $224 billion on the stage 3 tax cuts, which will give everyone in this place an extra $9,000 a year—and we really don't need it—there was a plan to build one million public and affordable homes with integrated public parks, transport, schools and community facilities. People in cities like Vienna don't have to imagine. But in Australia, for now, our political system remains dominated by the banks and property developers who profit so handsomely off a housing system that is okay with kicking a woman and her family out on the street but is also fine with the Commonwealth Bank making an extra $9 billion a year in profit.

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