This week, the Senate voted to delay the implementation of the $10 billion housing Australia future fund for social housing until 16 October, despite the ongoing national housing crisis. The delay has sparked debates, criticism, and frustration among various political parties, housing advocates and the public.
The Labor government had hoped to secure the support of the Australian Greens and two other Senators – David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie – to pass the legislation. However, the Greens and the Liberal and National parties voted to postpone the progress of the Bill. This decision has raised questions about the justification for delaying a program aimed primarily at addressing the pressing housing crisis.
The essence of Parliament is to tackle critical issues and ensure the prompt delivery of essential services but the decision to delay the housing Australia future fund legislation appears difficult to justify, especially considering the urgency of the housing crisis. Supporters argue that it is crucial to initiate the program as soon as possible to begin providing much-needed housing to those in need.
Critics of the legislation’s funding structure point out that relying on future investment results poses significant risks: investments can be unpredictable, and the government should not solely depend on making money through investments when alternative and more stable income streams are available. Many people in the community believe that housing is a fundamental right that warrants a more robust funding approach.
Legislation delayed by Greens: how will this assist those who need housing now?
The Greens find themselves in a challenging position, aligned with the Coalition, who are unlikely to support any government propositions, irrespective of the quality of these propositions. However, they may have been outmaneuvered by more cynical and experienced politicians, which has now led to a delay of five months in critical housing legislation. This delay could also potentially provide an opportunity for the Labor Party to lay blame on the Greens for impeding progress, which is now becoming a narrative that is more prevalent in the mainstream media.
While the housing Australia future funding program has faced criticism for its apparent inadequacy, starting the program and gradually expanding it over time can still lead to incremental progress. Although the initial target of building 2,000 to 5,000 dwellings per year falls short of the current demand of 640,000 dwellings, it is start that added to be by state and territory governments, and is a step in the right direction. Additionally, other housing policy measures and increased pressure on the government can be explored to address the pressing housing crisis comprehensively.
The Greens’ stance on the legislation has resulted in frustration among segments of the public. Some accuse them of obstructing government efforts to provide public housing and question their commitment to the cause. However, the Greens argue that they are seeking better alternatives and comprehensive solutions, which is a reasonable standpoint. Nevertheless, their failure to propose a viable solution or provide suitable alternative plans may have consequences, both politically and in terms of public perception.
Media narratives have also begun to shape public opinion against the Australian Greens – conveniently overlooking the fact that the Coalition also played a role in blocking the legislation – several news stories have emerged, criticising the Greens for allegedly denying new housing to the homeless and painting them as “heartless”. Such narratives further complicate the political landscape surrounding this issue.
Will the housing bill delay result in a double-dissolution election?
Speculation about a double-dissolution election has also arisen, but this speculation is premature. According to parliamentary procedures, a Bill must be rejected twice by the Senate to trigger such an election, whereas the housing Australia future fund legislation has only been delayed, not rejected, leaving a considerable distance to cover before any double-dissolution election comes into play.
While the Greens’ decision to block a crucial government program has drawn attention, it carries the risk of damaging their own reputation, although it could be argued that the government’s reluctance to increase funding for the program and ensure its adequacy may also harm its standing among the public.
The situation has fostered a hostile debate between the government and the Greens, characterised by name-calling and verbal attacks, with accusations from the Labor government that the Greens had a priority for social media engagement through TikTok, rather that really addressing the needs of renters and housing stock. The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, also argued that the Green’s decision to side with the “Coalition of cookers” instead of cooperating with Labor on building more social and affordable homes suggests misguided priorities and a poor alignment of their political ambitions and philosophies.
A predictable refusal to comprise?
Suggestions have been made that the Greens’ resistance to compromise on social housing stems from previous disappointments with compromised legislation. Some point to the compromise on the 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 – the Greens wanted a 75 per cent target but settled for less – only to witness the Labor government approving more coal mines.
This history may have influenced their current stance on the housing program. However, when considering all the factors and political dynamics at play, the decision to delay the program by at least five months still appears questionable.
The delay of the housing Australia future fund legislation has ignited debates, frustration, and political backlash amid the ongoing national housing crisis. While the government’s plan may have limitations, initiating the program first and then seeking opportunities for improvement should be the priority. Both the Labor government and the Greens need to find common ground and work towards comprehensive solutions that address the pressing housing needs of the Australian population. The urgency of the situation demands swift action and collaboration, with a focus on the wellbeing of those in need, and avoid further polarisation within the political landscape.