Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on the First Home Buyer Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on the First Home Buyer Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, on 30 May 2023:


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (21:55): The Greens support the First Home Buyer Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. While The Greens want to see an equitable transition from stamp duty to a broad-based, progressive land tax, that is not what the First Home Buyer Choice scheme amounts to. Thanks to our Greens colleagues in the Australian Capital Territory, who helped to shepherd in a landmark stamp duty reform in collaboration with the Territory Labor Government, we know what genuine reform in this area looks like. The First Home Buyer Choice scheme is simply not it.

The inquiry secured by The Greens in the upper House when the scheme was first introduced by the previous Liberal-Nationals Government showed us that the First Home Buyer Choice scheme was neither a housing affordability measure nor an equitable transition away from stamp duty to land tax. So what was it? It was little more than a half-baked attempt at housing policy reform that was always intended to be temporary and that the former Coalition Government rushed through in the final sitting weeks before an election. The Greens did not support it as good policy then, and we do not support it now. While we absolutely support long-overdue reforms to stamp duty in this State, and we want that reform to go further towards implementing a progressive land tax system, we cannot have the complex conversation required to do that if we use scare-tactic rhetoric about a forever tax on the home. The Greens and progressive housing tax advocates expect better from Labor, and I hope that as the conversation continues we can leave that kind of rhetoric aside and talk about the big challenges we face in the housing system.

In the past six months since the scheme was introduced, it is reported to have "saved" first home buyers $199.8 million in stamp duty. But to put it another way, the State Government has forfeited almost $200 million to subsidise the private property market. Imagine what that almost $200 million could have done to actually support housing affordability in the midst of a worsening crisis. We could have built new public housing. We could have refurbished existing public housing dwellings that are currently uninhabitable and therefore sitting empty. We could have provided cost-of-living support for renters struggling to meet their weekly housing costs. The list goes on. Instead, nearly $200 million was used to marginally subsidise the cost of home ownership, predominantly for the slim minority of first home buyers who buy properties worth between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Over the past few weeks we have heard from people in our communities and we have heard concerns being raised within the Newtown electorate and beyond. Understandably people are concerned that rising property prices are making it impossible for them to make the jump to buy a family home near their schools, their public open spaces or their communities. We know that many people are absolutely desperate right now to scrape funds together to purchase a home so that they can escape the completely cooked rental market, even if it means going into massive debt and buying into an overheated property market to do so.

It is clear that the entire private housing system is broken for renters, first home buyers and people with a mortgage across the board. The only ones not suffering now are big investors and property developers who are continuing to profit from other people's desperation and housing insecurity. It is also clear that funding private home ownership is not the solution. Instead, we need to reform rental laws to better protect tenants, offer longer leases, implement rent controls and freeze interest rates now as well as rents. Federally, we need to address tax handouts and concessions. We need to advocate for more than what the Federal Government is investing in funding for public and social housing.

Rental prices have continued to ascend to astronomical heights as vacancy rates have plummeted, painting an incredibly grim picture for people who rent across the State. In their contributions to this debate a number of members have talked about the rental crisis in their areas. I urge members to look at this more closely in the coming weeks when I lead for The Greens and introduce a rent-freeze bill to this Chamber. We can look at putting in place a two-year rent freeze to help ease the pressure on people who are currently facing a rental crisis while we move through the reforms this new Labor Government has introduced that addresses things like ending unfair no‑grounds evictions and other changes that would see a pressure lift on the cost of living.

We need time to get that legislation and those reforms right. I note the Minister for Planning is in the Chamber. He has a vision for how we can increase supply. We need to increase the supply of affordable housing in New South Wales. While we go about working together on that project and ending unfair evictions, putting in place a two-year rent freeze would be a sensible measure. We saw the benefit it had during the pandemic. It is a sensible measure that will take the pressure off families and other people renting right now while we make those legislative changes. Rental prices have continued to increase to astronomical heights. There is cold comfort in the promise of being able to choose between a lump sum, stamp duty and an annual property tax for two-thirds of low-income renters who can barely afford to pay their weekly rent let alone even think about the idea of purchasing their own home.

The Greens support raising the stamp duty exemption threshold in this legislation to $800,000 and the concession threshold to $1 million in recognition of the fact that 84 per cent of first home buyers purchase a home for less than $1 million. We welcome the extension of residents' requirements for first home buyer benefits from six months to 12 months. The Greens will always support closing any loophole that allows investors to reap the benefits that were made for people who intend to live in their homes. We know that the real issue underpinning every debate on housing affordability in this place is the fact that investors and property developers are still making a profit from housing, which should be a universally accessible human right.

Stamp duty may be an old-fashioned tax that we want to see phased out, but it is far from the only barrier that people face when it comes to housing affordability in this State. Stamp duty should never have scrapped at the expense of losing revenue that could have been used to fund real solutions to the housing affordability crisis, like providing public and social housing, and homelessness and crisis services for those who need it most. A healthy tax base that can fund the social services our communities need is one of the best ways to redistribute public wealth, and address inequality and financial disadvantage.

While The Greens absolutely support the bill before us and rejected the so-called First Home Buyer Choice scheme, we recognise that it is important to talk about the idea of a shift from stamp duty to a broad-based progressive and equality-based land tax. But we will never be able to have that very hard and complex debate if we resort to tactics where social media tiles and media grabs start using phrases like "a forever tax on your home". We need to move beyond that. The people of New South Wales expect better from us. We need to find a solution to move forward and we need to have a complex conversation about developers, investors and those who are making a profit out of the insecure housing market that is causing people in our communities so much stress.

The Greens support the bill. We look forward to seeing well-thought out and substantive reforms that deal genuinely with improving housing affordability in this State. We hope that we can move beyond the wedge politics that invokes discussions of forever taxes, nimbys or yimbys. We hope to find a solution that focuses on delivering affordable social housing and significant rental reforms for our communities.

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