Mark Riley: Anthony Albanese sees red over Greens hard line on social housing

The West Australian
Anthony Albanese has seen red over the Greens’ resistance to the social housing fund plan.
Camera IconAnthony Albanese has seen red over the Greens’ resistance to the social housing fund plan. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

The Greens have started a blue that’s making Anthony Albanese see red.

It’s an issue the Greens believe will strike political gold with their base.

That issue is the Government’s $10 billion Social and Affordable Housing Future Fund.

The objective is to borrow the $10 billion by issuing government bonds and invest it in a variety of assets to create a revenue stream.

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The Government predicts the fund would average returns of about 5 per cent a year. That’s $500 million which would then be directed into building 30,000 homes in the first five years.

It would be one of many future funds operated by the Government.

The good thing about them is that they are designed to take pressure off the Budget by making provisions for essential expenses coming down the pipeline.

Treasurers also like them because they are “off Budget”. That is, they don’t affect the bottom line.

The not-so-good thing is the “future” bit.

The past demonstrates to those of us inhabiting the present that the future is difficult to predict.

Last year, share markets went backwards and so did future funds. Most produced no working capital for their stated objectives, instead losing money.

This is one of the Greens’ main contentions. They say that even the projected earnings will fall far short of what’s needed to solve the housing crisis.

Greens leader Adam Bandt
Camera IconGreens leader Adam Bandt. Credit: TheWest

Greens leader Adam Bandt and his housing spokesperson, Max Chandler-Mather, are demanding $5 billion be spent a year.

Yes, that’s billion with a “b”.

Anyone who has tried to find a tradie to whack up a pergola or a sparkie to put in some downlights will know that finding enough builders to put up the 640,000 new homes the Greens are demanding would be beyond impossible.

The interesting aspect of this from a political perspective is that the Greens are issuing an absolute ultimatum.

If they don’t get everything they want, they will block the Bill.

“I find it rather bizarre, the argument that says ‘what we want is more money and therefore we’ll vote for no money’,” says Albanese.

It’s something the Greens haven’t done on other signature legislation, including the Government’s climate safeguards mechanism.

On those, they’ve conceded that getting something was better than nothing.

But on housing, as Tony Abbott would put it, the party has decided to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.


Because the Greens’ leadership believes that after buckling on the climate safeguards Bill it now must take a stand on something of equal significance to satisfy its base.

Affordable housing has become that something.

More specifically, it is focussing on a subset of that something — rents.

The rental crisis is climbing to a status of importance close to that of climate for the growing number of younger progressives who populate the Greens’ base.

It is seen as a defining example of capitalist inequality in which wealthier, older Australians jack up rents and leverage the tax system through negative gearing to exploit younger, poorer people.

Chandler-Mather blames the lack of housing supply for allowing rents to skyrocket at seven times the rate of wages over the past year, making it almost impossible for younger Australians to rent their own properties and forcing many who do into poverty or to the brink of eviction.

He and Bandt are demanding the Federal Government impose a two-year rental freeze to restore some balance — a demand Albanese ridiculed this week as “pixie dust”.

The Federal government can’t freeze rents. Regulation of rents is a State matter. It would take a referendum amending the Constitution to change that. The Government already has one of them on its books.

This has resulted in an implacable stand-off. It threatens to spoil Albanese’s perfect record of passing 78 of 78 Bills put to the Parliament since the last election, although it may not now be put to a vote in the Senate.

But Albanese isn’t giving up. He says he’s prepared to continue this blue with the Greens through to the next election to ensure his policy becomes law in black and white.

Mark Riley is the Seven Network Political Editor

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