Towards a new housing strategy

17 October 2017

Opening address to the ACT Housing and Homelessness Summit

The response to this summit and to the big consultation process we have run in the lead up has been really great.

And I’m grateful today that we have so many of Canberra’s leaders, all together, working on the goal of getting everyone access to a steady home and to the life chances it brings – good health, safety, friends, education, work, happiness.

Many of you have been on this journey for months if not years.

I want to acknowledge the advocacy and community service of so many people here.

I also want to acknowledge the great contribution of the government’s affordable housing advisory group who were brought together to inform this summit and the path towards a new housing strategy:

  • Christine Shaw
  • Chris Redmond
  • Travis Gilbert
  • Neil Skipper
  • Adina Cirson
  • Meredith Edwards
  • John Jacobs
  • Peta Dawson
  • Alan Morschel

This group has overseen an amazing conversation with the Canberra community (as the video has shown), based around the discussion paper we released a few months ago.

I thank them all this morning.

The advisory group has been key not only to the shaping of this summit but also to giving the expertise and perspectives of the housing sector around some early initiatives the government will take, and which I will get to in a moment.


Strong starting place

Before that, I do want to emphasise the point that we, as a group, have achieved some great things in recent years.
We come to this summit and to a new strategy from a strong place.

If you look at the cost of housing against key market indicators like income, Canberra remains the most affordable place in Australia.

This is important.

We could have a Sydney scenario here but we don’t, in large part because the ACT Government has pulled the biggest tax levers we have to make a more progressive tax system and reduce the appeal of housing for speculative investment.

It’s estimated that the difference to house prices made by the first three years of ACT tax reform was about $37,000 – as home loans around Australia grew by 19 per cent, in Canberra they grew by 9.

Further to the tax reform program, the government announced in this year’s budget that land tax would be applied to vacant investment properties to get more affordable rentals onto the market.

We continue to have to fight for these changes.

They’re not easy and they’re often not popular.

What Australia desperately needs now is for the federal government to step up and do the same – to reform negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions so that housing moves back away from Australia’s big investment scheme to being a foundation of a fair society.


Social housing

In social housing, the ACT also finds itself in a position that others in Australia would want to be in – made possible by the amazing services provided by many of the people in this room.

We maintain the lowest rough sleeping rate in Australia.[1]

We maintain the highest social housing ratio in Australia.[2]

We are among only one or two jurisdictions in the country actually growing and renewing its public housing stock.[3]

And on this point, as long as Labor governs in the ACT it will be this way.

When other parties turn their backs on public housing or tell people, whose only crime is to be poor, that they’re not welcome in our communities, Labor will not.

And neither will I.



But I’m the first to admit that this is not enough.

Because as you all know Canberra’s averages hide a large group of people under housing stress – as many as 10,000; often living in poverty – who are left behind by the housing market.

Our job in a new housing strategy must be to respond for these people.

And the announcements I want to make today make a solid start.

Based on our consultations so far, these initiatives have strong support across the housing sector, but more importantly, they will be implemented with ongoing consultation and alongside future initiatives as together we develop a new housing strategy.

First a one million dollar Housing Innovation Fund to seed new affordable housing initiatives and support new partnerships among community housing, community services, real estate, design and construction sectors.

The fund will initially pilot three programs committed to in the ACT parliamentary agreement:

  • HomeGround affordable rental
  • Homeshare, and
  • the Nightingale housing model.

As part of the announcement the government is seeking expressions of interest from organisations to lead these pilots and we will put more information out about that process soon.

The fund will also support initiatives which have come through in the many conversations leading up to the summit and others which will no doubt be raised today.

As just one example, it could be support to bridge financial gaps that assist in making an affordable or social housing project financially viable.

Second, the government will improve and expand the way it releases land for affordable, public and community housing.

For the remainder of 2017-18, 530 sites will be released for affordable home purchase and public and community housing, a combined increase of 240 sites on what the previous affordable housing policy would have yielded.

The government will soon start work – again, with your input – on targets for 2018-19 and consult community housing providers, builders, estate planners and our own public housing authority in growing these targets in future.

Third, today I am announcing the establishment of an Affordable Home Purchase Database.

The Canberra community, through its ownership of land, provides a large subsidy for each block discounted for affordable purchase.

It’s vital to make sure these blocks go where they’re most needed and that the release of affordable land is fair and equitable which is why future affordable home purchase will be made available only to households pre-registered on a new ACT Government database.


Goals for the summit

The government has sought the views of the community on these initiatives, and many others, in the course of our conversations this year.

They are the starting point of a new housing strategy.

The bringing together for the first time of the social housing and Greenfield estate development portfolios is also an important change and has given me the scope to really cover the field.

But in many ways it’s now over to you.

I made it to a number of community consultations and the willingness to be a part of a positive new strategy was clear. 

I want to build on this willingness and engagement together.

We are a government, and this is a community that is prepared to challenge the status quo, work together more and try new things. 

I’m keen to see those issues that you, as representatives of the broader Canberra community, believe should be our shared priorities to progress.

To facilitate this process the team at Housing ACT has collated material from the thousands of conversations we’ve had so far to underpin today’s workshops.

It’s been an enormous task so a big thank you to them.

The facilitators will also use these summaries as the basis for their work, but overall you have pretty free reign.

There are many ideas already in the mix:

  • further analysis of tax settings and their ability to encourage affordable housing
  • the community housing landscape and how it can expand
  • possibilities of a lower-profit developer model as operates in other countries
  • the goal of further growth in public housing stock and how policy settings in Housing ACT can support that, and
  • pathways for homelessness services to help their clients to overcome or avoid homelessness.

The government will bring together the work done today, sit down again with the advisory group (and others) and build on existing efforts to develop a new housing strategy for finalisation next year.

My only ask is the one I have made at each workshop I’ve been to – that you work with the community interest front of mind and advocate for that interest.

President Obama talked about the need for us to “hitch our wagon to something bigger than ourselves”.[4]

He talked about how important it is to “show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose...

...hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves”.

It’s an idea I always try to live by.

There are many here who do.

And I believe that’s what will give us the best chance to really unite around a new strategy.


[1] 0.8 people per 10,000 against a national average of 3.8 per 10,000

[2] 30 dwellings per 1,000 people against a national average of 17 per 1,000

[3] SA engaged in a similar program

[4] Valedictory speech, January 2017