Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr GUTWEIN
Since we asked you about the housing crisis a fortnight ago, the stories of rental hardship have continued unabated. I am not sure, given you last answer, whether you are paying attention but the heartbreaking stories on our television screens and in the pages of the state's newspaper, and the data, confirm widespread rental stress keeps on piling up. The Real Estate Institute of Australia says Tasmania's rental affordability is now the worst in the nation. Tassie tenants spend on average 29.5 per cent of their income, nearly a third, on rent, 5.5 per cent above the national average. The widely accepted measure for housing stress is 30 per cent of income. Again, 29.5 per cent on average, Premier. Given we are already on the precipice of housing stress being the average, the situation for Tasmanian tenants is particularly terrifying and, as we know, the JobSeeker and JobKeeper supplements end at the end of March.
Premier, we agree with you that we need to build more houses. That is obvious. But houses do not just spring up out of the ground overnight. We need measures that will tackle the housing crisis immediately. That is why today, the Greens will table a bill to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to put stronger limits on unreasonable rent increases. Premier, will you at least consider our bill with an open mind, or do you deny that is any need for immediate action on Tasmania's housing crisis?
Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens, Ms O'Connor, for that question and her genuine interest in this matter and her hard work on policy, albeit different to what we would look to do. However, she does actually apply herself, unlike Labor. I have read that you are going to introduce a bill to cap residential rents. It does not surprise me that you would view stepping in and attempting to control the market as right thing to do. I do not think that it is.
In contrast, we are a government that wants to see the market flourishing for houses to come out of the ground. Our Government wants markets to be competitive, but at the same time we will provide support for people in our community who may be struggling.
That is why our Government has provided one of the most generous assistance packages to the private rental market to support both landlords and tenants with any hardship caused by COVID 19. We provided significant financial support - I think the most significant package rolled out in this country. I do not think there is any question about that. More than $3.6 million has now been provided to landlords and tenants. This has meant tenants have been able to keep up with their rent. My understanding is that 93 per cent, at last count, of rent arrears accumulated during the emergency period has been repaid, Madam Speaker.
I also want to outline protections already in place. Regarding the existing protections for rent increases in the Residential Tenancy Act 1997:
A rent increase must be given in writing with a minimum number of 60 days' notice before it is to take effect. Can only be increased once in a 12 month period and a tenant who considers that their rent increase is unreasonable can apply to the Residential Tenancy Commission for an audit declaring the rent increase unreasonable.
That process is available now. As of 12 March, I am informed that the Residential Tenancy Commissioner had received just five applications for unreasonable rent increases following the expiry of the Emergency Period on 31 January, which is similar to the same period last year. On Tuesday I announced a series of policies to ensure we could provide more supply -
Madam SPEAKER - Order. Can I not have conversations across the Chamber, please?
Mr GUTWEIN - For landowners who wish to activate residential zoned land, my advice is that at last count we had around 5000 hectares of residential zoned land available in the state for around 60 000 residential lots.
Now, Madam Speaker, to help move that go forward we provided a $10 million headworks holiday for new residential subdivisions, $5000 per residential lot for power and up to $5000 for water and sewerage. We are introducing an apartment code to establish appropriate permitted discretionary assessment pathways for medium density residential development, where that development is near transport routes and services - where we should be building.
It will be interesting to hear the debate in this place over time as proposals come forward. I hope we will see broad support for the sector to get those buildings out of the ground and provide those additional dwellings Madam Speaker. Importantly, the ancillary dwellings I have already mentioned - extra living quarters with a floor area of less than 60 square metres, self-contained but additional to the primary home on a block such as a granny flat - we will provide $10 000 for the first 250 of those made available for long-term rental for two years. We are taking steps across a multifaceted range of initiatives.
I think we can all agree that HomeShare is a fantastic program. It enables the Government to co-invest with purchasers by taking an equity stake in the home of up to $100 000 or 30 per cent of the home's value, whichever is the lesser. We are going to put another $10 million into that, meaning at least another 100 households could realise home ownership, Importantly, we are going to advertise it again. I hope we will not see the same sort of silly nonsense we have seen this morning in terms of a government policy being advertised so that people understand what it is, what it means, and what it means for them -
Opposition members interjecting.
Mr GUTWEIN - Again, this is the selective position they take - 'We don't like the government policy and we'll argue against you telling people about it but, if we do like it, we might support it.'. On that side of the House they simply do not know where they stand or what they stand for. I understand the Leader of the Greens will be introducing that bill but we are at policy odds on that.