Larissa Waters: "The reality for far too many Australians is that not only is buying a home out of reach, but so too is keeping up with rent." Photo: Michelle Smith
Does the Minister for Women not know that domestic violence is the single biggest cause of homelessness in Australia, or does he simply not care?
Clearly, Tony Abbott was ignoring the many women and children fleeing family violence when he said last week that he hoped housing prices would go up because his personal home in Sydney would increase in value. The couldn't-care-less attitude was driven home by Joe Hockey this week telling those priced out of the housing market to get a high-paid job.
If only it were that simple. The reality for far too many Australians is that not only is buying a home out of reach, but so too is keeping up with rent.
Sky-high rent presents one more barrier to leaving an abusive relationship, and means women are being forced to choose whether to sleep on the street or to return to domestic violence. What an impossible decision to make, even more so if you have your children's lives to fear for as well as your own.
I welcome the public discussion Australia is now having about domestic violence, and that it includes government voices. But women facing homelessness or violence need more than just talk. They need solutions – and fast.
The Greens have released a policy which we believe, if adopted, would be groundbreaking in the national effort to end domestic violence and the hardship and disadvantage it wreaks on victims. We want to put an end to negative gearing for new investments from July, and use the proceeds to boost affordable housing.
Negative gearing allows investors to deduct losses made on rental properties from their own income, reducing the tax they pay.
Despite what some people say, negative gearing does not keep rents down by driving more housing construction. In fact, a recent ACOSS report showed that 90% of investment in negatively-geared housing was for existing properties, not new properties. This just drives up prices without creating any new homes.
The biggest winners of negative gearing are the nation's highest income earners – over half of taxpayers negatively gearing rental properties are in the top 10 per cent of earners. By ending this tax break that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest, drives up house prices and blows the housing bubble up bigger and bigger, we can save $2.9 billion over the next four years to invest in social and public housing.
With that money we could build 7,000 homes to help put an end to homelessness, the main cause of which is domestic and family violence. This would be enough homes to house every person currently sleeping rough. The money would also allow the construction of another 7,500 homes to get more than 15,000 people, many of them families, off the social housing waiting list.
Australians would be shocked to learn the average waiting time on the priority list is now 2.6 years.
As time goes on, the policy would generate more and more revenue as negatively-geared investments slowly fall out of the market. Over the next 10 years it would raise $42.5 billion, which could be invested in achieving a more caring society, rather than one that leaves victims of domestic violence on the street.
Our plan has the power to save women and children from having to return to violence, and instead provide more opportunities for them to start a new, happy, healthy life in a safe, affordable home.
The Senate Inquiry into domestic violence has shown that housing unaffordability is causing bottlenecks in domestic violence refuges across Australia. Women are being turned away because there's no affordable, safe, long-term housing for those already living at refuges to move on to. Just last week my colleague Senator Ludlam confirmed that figure is 438 women a day being turned away, and he couldn't get a straight answer from the government on whether its policy is to reduce that rate. In fact, the problem has been exacerbated by the government's cuts to the rental affordability scheme and to the construction of new refuges.
By ending negative gearing to boost social and public housing we can free up spaces in refuges for the new arrivals who tragically keep coming and coming.
With investment in prevention, including respectful relationships education at schools, I hope we can slow the domestic violence epidemic to a complete stop. And that will mean a dramatic decrease in homelessness in Australia.
But right now, we're so far away from achieving that and we need to deal with the current harsh reality with urgent action.
The Minister for Women and the Treasurer need to re-think housing affordability for the sake of women escaping domestic violence, even if doing so adversely impacts the ever-increasing value of their own multiple houses.
Queensland Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens Deputy Leader and spokesperson for women.