Speech to Built Environment Meets Parliament Summit
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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on today, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
Thank you David (Parken) for your introduction and thank you all for inviting me to join Built Environment Meets Parliament today.
I am grateful for the chance to talk to you about the Government’s housing agenda, and some reform priorities for the future.
Many of you, like me, have watched enough Bob the Builder episodes with your kids to last a life time.
An important theme of the show is problem solving through cooperation.
Bob’s catchphrase is not, ‘Can I fix it?’
Instead he always asks, ‘Can we fix it?’
His friends respond ‘Yes we can!’
Importantly, Bob does not do the building projects on his own.
He gets the job done with the help of mates like Lofty and Wendy, Scoop, Muck and Dizzy and Roly too.
This is much like the challenge I faced when I was appointed as Minister for Housing after last year’s election.
As the first person in the job since 1996, I had no department responsible for housing – which meant there was no national housing policy and a need to increase housing expertise in the bureaucracy.
Just as importantly, there were no established, ongoing links on housing between government and industry.
No clear lines of communication for the sector to get a message across to the Government about the need to take action on housing.
I know that the Government cannot make housing more affordable for Australians and their families on its own.
We need industry support – your expertise, your opinions and your suggestions for reform.
I also need the support of other levels of government – State, Territory and local.
Holding this summit at Parliament House is a clear symbol that you are genuine about working with the Government to clear the hurdles in your industry that impact the quality of life for everyday Australians.
While we have similar goals, strong interaction is important to ensure there is clarity about the issues and how we address them.
When we take the time to ask the right questions and share our ideas for the future, we have the solid platform we need to build a solution.
View from Government
The Government’s commitment to housing affordability is no accident.
Housing is central to our social and economic agenda because we listened to what the community told us – in their letters, emails and in meetings around the country.
We listened to developers, builders, local government and community groups – and everyone was saying the same thing.
You said that access to secure and affordable housing was fundamentally important to the everyday lives of all Australians.
You said that there were problems that needed national leadership to get fixed.
We also heard from people who were doing it so tough they had been forced to cut back in many areas to make ends meet.
Every day my colleagues and I hear first hand from the families, singles and pensioners struggling to buy or rent a home, and from the young people giving up their hopes for home ownership.
Many people write with their suggestions to help people find rental properties they can afford or to increase the number of new houses that people can afford to buy.
We also receive advice from architects and builders proposing remedies like mass produced modular housing, and the use of shipping containers.
The level of interest has reinforced to me that housing really is central to the economic and social fabric of the nation.
If you do not have secure and affordable housing, you miss out on so many of life’s opportunities.
You become disconnected from the job market, health services, education and social networks.
This is why affordable housing is such a critical component of the Government’s participation agenda.
Our approach will start undoing a decade of inaction – and help to make housing more affordable for Australians and their families.
Planning and development
One way to improve housing affordability is to improve the efficiency of the housing market itself.
I know that many of you have been saying for a long time that planning and development reform is needed.
While some the States and Territories have made a start, I agree that there is much to do if we are to have a genuine impact.
Part of the reform process is a mindset shift for all levels of government.
We need to think more about how the decisions we make affect your business and your investment plans for the future.
We need our planning system to bring together the aspirations of local communities with the commercial realities of the housing industry to create the best developments we can as efficiently as possible.
One of greatest concerns in this area are the high holding costs our planning system imposes on developers, that are in turn built into the cost of new homes.
We owe it to home buyers to handle necessary planning processes without creating additional costs.
We also need to look at some of the other upfront costs faced by developers that are ultimately passed on to home buyers – like infrastructure charges for the installation of sewerage, roads, cycleways and parks.
As a first step to progressing reform in these areas, the Government has established a Housing Affordability Fund.
This $512 million initiative aims to lower the cost of building new homes by cutting red tape and reforming infrastructure and planning systems.
Money will be targeted to areas with high demand for new housing, and can be used for both green-field and in-fill developments.
Applications will be assessed against transparent, needs-based selection criteria, and applicants will have to demonstrate how cost savings will be passed on to new home buyers.
We also need to improve the efficiency of the planning and development paper trail – to drag it into the 21st century by making it quicker, more accessible and more user-friendly.
It still seems incredible to me that you can buy plane tickets, book a hotel and even theatre tickets online, but in most places you cannot lodge or track a development application – and if a council wants to send one to another agency, they have to give the paper copy to a courier to deliver.
That is why the Government has allocated $30 million from the Housing Affordability Fund to fast track the national roll-out of an electronic development assessment (eDA) system to make use of 21st century technology to replace a 19th century system.
The use of eDA and an on-line tracking will allow home buyers to check the status of their approval at any time of the day.
The system will also reduce confusion about the causes of delays – such as whether the household has made mistakes in their submissions, or whether the developer or local government is taking too long.
Ultimately it will help reduce development costs and improve housing affordability.
$26 million of the funding allocated to eDA will be provided to the States and Territories to fund new projects, starting in areas of high household growth, ensuring maximum savings to home buyers.
We are now deciding with the States and Territories which high growth councils that will benefit first from this new initiative.
Final allocation of funding for specific projects will be announced in September.
eDA and on-line tracking systems are one thing, but IT systems used by the different agencies also need to be able to communicate with each other if we are to eliminate the bureaucratic and inefficient paper-based processes that are used now.
To create a modern and national economy we need a single set of standards that allow for the interoperability of existing software.
Earlier this month I announced that the Government would provide $3.6 million so that software used by councils and State and Territory Governments can communicate with one another.
These funds are being used for a national project team that will implement and continuously refine a common protocol for eDA.
This protocol will set out the technical specifications for having interoperable eDA systems, sometimes referred to as the eDAIS.
Development of the protocol will help to ensure that different software systems, built by different vendors across different jurisdictions, will be kept broadly compatible.
By providing a national framework, the Government is ensuring that all affected parties move to electronic systems that ‘talk to each other’ in the most efficient manner possible.
This commitment is one more contribution to establishing a single, national economy.
Creating sustainable communities
Sustainability is another important challenge for the future of housing.
While they are important, particularly when you think about our future energy needs, I am not just talking about environmental measures – because sustainability is far broader than that.
It is also about creating the sort of modern communities that people want to live in.
Home buyers not only want an affordable and secure house – they also want to live in a community that is serviced by transport, schools, shops and other social infrastructure.
They want to live in places that are well-designed, and take advantage of the local landscape – whether it be creeks and bushland, or the inner-city vibe.
I am sure there are many more, but just recently I have visited three wonderful new housing developments – the Delfin Lend Lease Woodlands estate on Brisbane’s southern fringe, VicUrban’s Aurora development in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and Landcom’s development and Victoria Park in my own electorate.
Aurora, Woodlands and Victoria Park are terrific examples of what can be done if you bring builders, developers, planners and environmental experts together to deliver high quality urban design and affordable and sustainable housing.
These developments are finalists and winners of UDIA awards demonstrating some of the best quality in urban development.
Both of these developments reinforced to me industry is already taking the lead by building communities and not just houses.
You understand the social reality that people do not just want a house – they also want a community to come with it.
I do not underestimate the challenge of driving the cultural change needed across industry and government to make these sorts of developments the norm rather than the exception as we move forward – but I think it is the way of the future.
Other new opportunities
I have already mentioned eDA and the Housing Affordability Fund, but there are other important new opportunities for industry in the Government’s housing reform agenda.
We are also investing $623 million in a new National Rental Affordability Scheme.
The Scheme will help to build 50,000 affordable rental houses around Australia.
Rent for these properties will be 20 per cent below market rates, and tenants will still be eligible for Rent Assistance – making it even more affordable for individuals and families.
On 24 July, the Treasurer and I launched the first Expression of Interest round for the National Rental Affordability Scheme.
The expressions of interest close on 4 September and I am looking forward to seeing what people have managed to create.
There has been strong interest from institutional investors and community housing groups who want to build their portfolios of affordable housing stock.
These new homes will make a practical difference to people who are doing it tough in the private rental market.
We have established a National Housing Supply Council to forecast future housing need and identify gaps between demand and supply.
I think Marcus Spiller who sits on the Council is here today.
This is the first time in a decade that the Government has worked on predicting the future housing needs of Australians.
It is the lack of new housing supply that is driving up rents and keeping the price of existing stock high, causing stress for both home buyers and renters alike.
But we need to do more than stimulate housing supply.
We also need to make sure that a good proportion of that supply is available to low and moderate income earners, including renters.
Beyond my portfolio of housing, the Government has also made major policy decisions for the future in areas such as education and infrastructure.
The $20 billion Building Australia Fund will invest in new infrastructure – both to move goods across the country and to move people across our cities.
Our education revolution is directly targeted at raising productivity and addressing the skills shortages that too many of our industries are facing. That includes serious skills shortages in the traditional trades that are crucial to the construction industry.
The Government is use the immigration intake to meet our skills needs in the future and I have spoken to my colleagues about the particular needs of the construction industry.
As I said earlier, housing is an integral part of the Government’s overall policy agenda.
Our collective challenge is to show that the Government’s investment in these areas can produce real results for the nation.
We do not want to micro-manage you, but we do want to create an environment where investors, developers and the community can achieve results.
We want to support innovation and creativity: a variety of local solutions.
We want to encourage urban development that deals with the major issues of our time – environmental sustainability, integration with transport and employment and creating socially cohesive communities.
My challenge to you is to work out how your product needs to continue to evolve to take advantage of these new opportunities.
I know that there is genuine enthusiasm to work together on housing affordability.
There is a commitment to positive, creative new initiatives to address the serious issues of affordability and availability.
I hope that we can continue to work together to develop new solutions to help improve housing affordability for Australians and their families.
I am sure your input will help us deliver new ideas and a long-term vision to make housing more affordable in Australia.
I look forward to the panel discussion, and I hope the rest of the Building Environment Meets Parliament summit is productive for you all.