17 October 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:11): I rise also to speak on the Appropriation Bill. In so doing, I echo many of the comments made by my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks. I want to reflect on the failure of this Labor budget to really tackle inequality. In doing so, I want to start with the housing crisis.
We are in the midst of the worst housing crisis we have seen in generations—in generations. We have a record low vacancy rate for rental properties. We have a waitlist for public housing of almost 20,000 people. As a result, we have people sleeping in cars, people sleeping in the street, people sleeping in tents. There are people who have employment who are not able to afford to find a place to live.
I do want to recognise the leadership of the Malinauskas government in attempting to tackle the crisis. They have taken some welcome steps. I know that Minister Hon. Nat Cook is passionate about wanting to address the homelessness crisis, and I know that Minister Hon. Nick Champion is equally passionate about wanting to see more land released for housing. We welcome that, but the government needs to do better. They need to do much, much better and we need to see a more radical approach being taken to housing policy here in this state.
This approach of simply saying, 'Let's let the free market decide,' is not working. It is turbocharging this crisis. Let's look at the rental crisis, where we have a record low vacancy rate and where we see rent prices climbing up and up and up. Rent in the city over the last two years has gone up by 20 per cent. In some regional areas it has gone up by 70 per cent.
What action has the government taken on rent prices? They introduced a bill that prevented people from being able to advertise properties in a range, which they said was banning rent-bidding, which we know did not actually ban rent-bidding. It does not prevent somebody from offering a bid above the asking price and clinching the property. It was a step but, quite frankly, far too little to have a meaningful impact on this crisis. They need to take action on rent prices.
I introduced a bill in this place that would have capped rent increases in line with inflation, a simple proposition, one in line with the model that has been in operation in the ACT over many years. I could not get one other political party in this place to support that bill, not one—not the Labor Party, not the Liberal Party, not the SA-Best independents, and not the One Nation party.
It is outrageous that not one party would step up and support renters in this place, not one party. Instead, they kowtow to the likes of the Property Council, they kowtow to the big end of town who are advocating for the interests of landlords at the expense of those South Australians who are feeling the pinch of this housing crisis. The Greens will continue to hold this Labor government to account on that. They need to do better.
I am not just here to complain about the lack of leadership in this regard. The Greens have also put some concrete ideas on the table. I am a proud South Australian but sometimes Victoria comes up with some good ideas. Recently, they suggested a levy on the Airbnb sector, the short stay accommodation sector. That would have a really positive impact in terms of incentivising more housing back onto the long-term rental market.
Mr President, I ask you to consider whether it is fair, whether it is equitable, that in the middle of the worst housing crisis we have seen for generations we have perfectly good properties sitting there vacant for six months of the year while people sleep on the street. That is not right in our society. At least the Andrews government in Victoria, in introducing a levy, are trying to address that, and the money raised could be put into social housing. So the Greens support that and we urge the Malinauskas government to take some lessons from what their counterparts are doing in Victoria.
We also urge them to look at applying a tax on vacant property and vacant land. In Victoria, they apply a tax of 1 per cent on property that is vacant without good reason for six months, and on land that is vacant without good reason for five years—1 per cent on the value of the property or the land, with the money again going to boost social housing. We need that investment in housing in our state and we need to crack down on land banking. That is what the Labor Party is doing in Victoria—they should be doing it here.
We also need to ensure that there are better concessions available for renters and that is why, in the lead-up to the recent state budget, the Greens called for an increase in the Cost of Living Concession for renters so that it was at the same level as home owners. We have called for that over the last two budgets, the first two budgets of the Malinauskas Labor government, and they still have not delivered it.
We also want to lift the eligibility for the Cost of Living Concession so that it is in line with the threshold for the Low Income Health Care Card and introduce a partial concession for low income earners who live in share housing. That would really help give a helping hand to those renters who are doing it tough. And, of course, we need to build a lot more public housing. We have been calling for 10,000 public homes over the next 12 months—that is 10 times what the Malinauskas government has put on the table—because we know that whilst what they are doing is a start it is just not enough.
It is not just in the area of housing where the Malinauskas government have failed to take action on the inequality crisis that is engulfing our state. They also need to invest more in our public schools and in providing support to parents. We have been calling to increase the South Australian government's share of the Schooling Resource Standard funding from 75 per cent to 80 per cent for public schools. We have also been calling for the government to abolish materials and services charges and other fees for parents at public schools so that public schools are actually free.
We want a universal free, healthy breakfast and lunch program in every public primary and secondary school in South Australia, and I do want to acknowledge the leadership of the minister, the Hon. Blair Boyer, in that regard. The government has put more money on the table for free breakfast programs in some schools, and we welcome that. That is going to help a lot of kids, but they need to go further and make it available in every school.
We also want more money to upgrade infrastructure in our public schools. By way of example, I recently went to my old stomping ground, Aberfoyle Park High School. I think I am one of the few people in this parliament who went to a public school. I am proud of that.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: There are a few in this chamber, but not many in the other place. I am proud of that, but I might say that it was very disappointing to go to that school and see that it still has not seen the investment in infrastructure that is needed, 20 years after I graduated. There needs to be more money for maintenance of our public schools.
The other area where the Malinauskas government needs to step up, I would suggest, is in public transport policy. We conducted a major inquiry into public transport here in this chamber, and six months on I could not get the Minister for Regional Development to actually read the report for some time. I understand she may have done so recently—I certainly welcome that; that is a real move in the right direction—but we have not seen action in terms of the recommendations in the report.
That is, what is the government doing about rail for the regions? What is it doing to ensure that people living in regional areas have access to public transport? Where is the money for cycling infrastructure, when South Australia falls so embarrassingly behind other jurisdictions? There is lots of work to do, and the Greens will continue to push the government to go further.
In respect of transport, we saw recently that there had been a decline in the use of public transport over the last few years. We have been calling for free public transport to try to get people back onto the network and, in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, to try to provide relief to families who might be struggling with the rising cost of petrol.
There are lots of things the government could do, and the Greens will continue to put forward positive ideas here in this chamber. With that, I conclude my remarks.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.