Chapter 3The National Housing Supply and Affordability Council and Housing Australia
3.1As detailed in Chapter 1, the Housing Australia Future Fund package of bills (HAFF bills) includes three bills:
Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023 (HAFF bill);
National Housing Supply and Affordability Council Bill 2023 (Council bill); and
Treasury Laws Amendment (Housing Measures No. 1) Bill 2023 (Amendment bill).
3.2The previous chapter outlined stakeholder views on the HAFF and suggestions for improving or strengthening the HAFF bill. This chapter looks mostly at the Council bill and the Amendment bill, which would establish the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council (Council), and change the name and remit of the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC) to create 'Housing Australia'.
3.3Inquiry participants made a number of comments on the proposed institutional architecture, remit and membership of the Council and Housing Australia, along with suggestions aimed at ensuring Housing Australia can optimise outcomes of the Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF).
Scope and remit
3.4The Council will be responsible for:
reporting to the Minister on housing supply and affordability matters, including matters that the Council [deem] relevant, or as requested by the Minister;
reporting on conditions in the housing sector that impact on home ownership, housing supply and affordability, rental affordability, homelessness, and the provision of new social and affordable housing supply;
working collaboratively with other Commonwealth bodies, State, Territory and local governments and other stakeholders in the housing sector to support the collection and publication of nationally consistent data; and
providing advice to the Minister to inform appropriate allocations of disbursements from the HAFF.
3.5Inquiry participants were broadly supportive of establishing the Council as a statutory body, with the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) suggesting the Council will 'contribute a strong evidence base' to support the development of national housing policy, and better collaboration with the states and territories.
3.6Mr Proud of PowerHousing Australia noted: 'We [are] lucky the Housing Supply Council is being delivered now', because the sector needs 'a compass bearing on the future of housing delivery and pricing'.
3.7The Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University (Centre for Urban Research) suggested the Council be geared towards 'advising government on actively reducing housing insecurity overall, paying specific attention to meeting levels of need for public housing provision and maintenance'.
3.8Master Builders Australia (MBA) argued the bill 'effectively defines' the Council's functions, but 'should be clearer on the state of existing housing to support ongoing reporting on what's needed in the future'. MBA suggested the Council should consider a broader range of matters in exercising its role, including:
… the performance of the housing sector; building a strong evidence base; specific impacts on the sector including credit conditions, taxation, macro‑prudential regulation, rental market regulation, other regulation (land use planning, zoning and building codes), climate and demographic change, social policy; availability and quality of data, role of intergovernmental forums, improving housing outcomes for vulnerable groups, climate resilience and supply.
3.9Community land trusts advocacy body, Grounded, suggested the functions of the Council in section 9(2)(c) be expanded to include:
(vi) zoned capacity and profit maximising strategies
(vii) the impact of staged releasing of lots in a falling market.
3.10Peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing leadership and advocacy body, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association (NATSIHA), was concerned that there is no mechanism in the bill to 'require and enable codesign and shared decision making with [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Housing Organisations (ATSICCHOs)]'. It argued a partnership should be formed to ensure ATSICCHOs are involved in the 'development and implementation of research, policies, programs and funding outcomes, as decided by the Council, that directly impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People'.
3.11Disability housing advocacy organisation, JFA Purple Orange, recommended that the Council be renamed 'the National Housing Supply, Affordability and Accessibility Council', and that the Object, Functions, Annual report, and 'Minister may request reports and advice' sections of the Council bill be amended to include 'the accessibility of housing and the supply, demand, and affordability of accessible housing'. In addition, JFAPurple Orange recommended adding 'the need to improve equality in housing outcomes for persons with disability' to the Functions of the Council, 'in line with the [existing] commitment to improve gender equality'.
3.12Anglicare Australia said the Council provides an opportunity to focus on the shortfall in social and affordable housing, and advise on 'specific strategies to address it'. However, Anglicare was concerned that the bill lacks clarity around the Council's role and remit, saying the legislation should explicitly say the Council advises on 'the supply of affordable housing', and that its functions should be expanded to 'advise on strategies to end the shortfall of social housing', rather than 'monitoring conditions'.
Administration and reporting
3.13The City Futures Research Centre (City Futures) was interested in improving the 'institutional architecture' of the Council. City Futures argued that the role of supporting the Council should be delegated to Housing Australia, not to Treasury to 'ensure that advisors are housing domain experts and [to] underpin the accumulation of housing domain expertise within Housing Australia'. The Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA) agreed with this proposal, suggesting the bill be amended to remove 'the restriction that the "staff assisting" the Council be "APS employees in the Department"'.
3.14The Housing Industry Association (HIA) commented that the Council needs to be 'an independent advisory body', and proposed that support by Treasury may limit this independence. HIA added that the 'operating relationship' between the Council and Housing Australia must be 'transparent, open and not duplicative'. Similarly, Anglicare Australia highlighted the need for independence to ensure the Council can 'provide frank advice on the role of Government and the scale of investment required to meet these goals'.
3.15Not all stakeholders shared this view. The Property Council was supportive of positioning the Council in the Treasury portfolio, rather than in Housing Australia or, for instance, the Department of Social Services.
3.16Representatives from Treasury outlined some 'advantages' in situating the Council in Treasury, including:
the Centre for Population, which produces the annual Population statement is housed in Treasury;
macroeconomic analysis and forecasting, including on housing, are already conducted in Treasury; and
a general move by government to increase key policy functions in Treasury to 'lead negotiations with the states' and take forward 'its extensive housing agenda'.
3.17AHURI suggested the bill should support the independence of the Council by providing for independent publication, with an embargo mechanism. Echoing this point, the Tasmanian Government also recommended that Council research and reports (where relevant to the states and territories) must be 'supplied to members of the Housing and Homelessness Ministerial Council within an appropriate timeframe'.
3.18Treasury confirmed the Council will have independence in relation to its research and publishing roles, saying:
The council consists of a number of experts external to Treasury, and they have a direct role under the legislation in directing the work of the secretariat. Even though the secretariat is housed in the housing division, the secretary to the Treasury or to me does not have a role in directing them. There is independence in the sense of the council forming its own view and doing its own research agenda. There are, of course, provisions under the act where the housing minister can commission a research report from the council, but they also have self-directed obligations.
3.19A number of stakeholders made recommendations designed to ensure the membership of the Council would include persons with certain expertise, and some inquiry participants argued the Council should be larger.
3.20The bill as drafted allows for the appointment of persons with expertise in a number of areas and requires a 'balance' of qualifications and skills on the Council. These areas are: economics; development; planning; residential construction; demography; social housing; social policy; housing and homelessness policy; regional, rural and remote housing policy; the housing needs of Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders; and regulation, taxation or government policy relating to housing.
3.21PowerHousing Australia said the Council should have 'at least two' members with 'appropriate qualifications, skills and experience in social or affordable rental housing or homelessness services'. Anglicare Australia, Homelessness Australia, and the Centre for Urban Research also suggested the Council include 'representatives of the homelessness sector, housing sector, and tenants'.
3.22NATSIHA acknowledged it is possible under the Appointments provision for members with expertise in Indigenous housing to be appointed, but noted this is not mandated, and that the provision doesn't specify that these members must be Indigenous persons. Mr Ivan Simon, Chief Executive Officer of NATSIHA, explained that the experience of his organisation is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people prefer provision of 'housing services by our own organisations'. MrSimon explained:
Most [previous] investments have actually gone to public housing, not to our community groups, which, again, is a concern of ours. Our people have it virtually imposed upon them to access public housing services rather than services run by our own communities. … We will give [the HAFF] every chance of success through our input at a national level, but also at a state and territory level, because we have got three established peak organisations already and we've got a partnership with Aboriginal Housing Victoria. … So we're getting stronger all the time.
3.23Noting that the National Agreement on Closing the Gap recognises that 'better outcomes are achieved' in programs where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have 'a genuine say in the design and delivery of services that affect them', NATSIHA argued there should be 'designated positions' on the [Supply] Council.
3.24Another suggestion, made by Aboriginal Housing Victoria, was that an 'Aboriginal advisory group be established' to provide advice to Housing Australia and the Council on 'development mechanisms, models and vehicles' for housing delivery. The group should include Aboriginal community housing providers, state and territory officials, and housing supply experts.
3.25AHURI suggested that the proposed size of the Council is 'prohibitively small', and argued it should be increased by two or three members to allow for a broader range of expertise. This suggestion was echoed by the Centre for Urban Research.
3.26CHIA and JFA Purple Orange recommended amendments to guarantee representation for the disability housing sector on the Council.
3.27The Tasmanian Government were concerned that the participation of the Deputy Secretary from the Department of Treasury on the Council 'lacks some clarity and may diminish perceptions of the independence of the Council.'
3.28Representatives from Treasury explained that the provision on Appointments had been amended following public consultation on the exposure draft bill. The amendment added 'expertise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing' to the list of areas of possible expertise. Treasury clarified that the Council will also 'engage with a broad range of stakeholders, including industry associations, CHPs and particular cohorts, as part of its work', which provide 'a conduit to get that sort of expertise as well as relying on its members' own individual expertise'.
Scope and remit
3.29The Amendment bill amends the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation Act 2018 to rename and reform the NHFIC to become Housing Australia. In relation to the Functions of Housing Australia, the Revised explanatory memorandum (EM) states:
Prior to amendment, section 8 of the Housing Australia Act set out a range of functions and section 10 included the constitutional basis under which the Act was legislated. The interaction of the two sections was complex.
Schedule 2 to the Amendment Bill amends sections 8 and 10 of the Housing Australia Act and inserts new provisions to streamline the functions and simplify the constitutional basis provisions of that Act, improving the clarity, readability, and operation of these provisions.
The functions of Housing Australia include the following:
3.30The renamed Housing Australia will be a statutory, Budget-funded corporate Commonwealth entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. The Property Council supported Housing Australia continuing to 'operate as a corporate Commonwealth entity governed by an independent board'. The Parliamentary Library noted the entity structure 'appears consistent' with other Commonwealth finance corporations, such as Export Finance Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and the 'principles outlined by Finance guidance in relation to distinctive characteristics of each category of entity structure'.
3.31Stakeholders were generally positive about the proposal to upgrade and rename the NHFIC to create a national housing agency, with MBA saying Housing Australia is the entity 'best placed to lead the delivery' of the government's housing reforms.
3.32In addition to general support, some proposed its remit should be wider. City Futures said Housing Australia 'should have a wider remit to inform policymaking and to support the [Council]' and should also provide research to support the National Housing and Homelessness Plan. Anglicare Australia said:
Anglicare Australia supports the creation of a body whose role it is to understand Australia's housing crisis and find ways to address it, working with the Council and managing the funds it is given to deliver affordable homes. Actors such as Federal, State and Territory Governments; developers; and investors all bring competing priorities to this area. Housing Australia has the potential to be an independent voice solely focused on delivering affordable housing to those who need it. Such a body would have a public interest remit and strength that allows it to withstand political changes and changes of government.
3.33CHIA suggested government 'reinstate Housing Australia's research function', specifically:
Under subsection 8 insert 1D 'Housing Australia's research support function is to undertake research to assist it in the performance of its functions and in response to requests from the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council'.
3.34HIA argued that reinstating research as an 'express function of Housing Australia is critical', and suggested that it is, in fact, 'complementary to the role of the Council'.
3.35However, not all stakeholders shared this view. AHURI observed that Housing Australia will retain an appropriate, but limited, research function, which will focus on assisting Housing Australia 'in the performance of its financing, guarantee and capacity building functions'. MBA noted that the primary research function will be undertaken by the Council, and suggested the Council build on previous work by NHFIC, such as the State of the Nation's Housing report, and maintains a focus wider than 'just social and affordable housing needs'.
3.36Some inquiry participants made suggestions in relation to the membership of the Housing Australia Board. NATSIHA argued there should be 'designated positions' on the Board for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing experts, and MBA supported expanding the 'board member expertise' by including Indigenous housing stakeholders.
3.37PowerHousing Australia recommended the Board include 'relevant expertise from social and affordable housing providers', and JFA Purple Orange recommended amendments that would guarantee representation for the disability housing sector on the Housing Australia Board.
Engagement with industry
3.38MBA observed that there are formal mechanisms in place 'between the levels of government and with universities', but not with industry stakeholders, and suggested the establishment of an industry reference group to support planning and delivery. The Property Council supported this suggestion.
National Housing and Homelessness Plan
3.39Some stakeholders noted that, while the explanatory material for the bill mentions the planned National Housing and Homelessness Plan, the bill itself does not contain any references to it. City Futures suggested 'statutory underpinning' of the Plan would 'confer importance' and indicate government's 'commitment to an ongoing process':
We argue that this should be legislated. Such provisions could usefully define, for example, the overarching purpose and scope of the strategy, as well as the nature and periodicity of its review and renewal.
3.40This proposal was echoed by National Shelter, which said it 'would like to see a better articulation' of how the Council will assist in the development of the National Housing and Homelessness Plan:
This could be achieved by including a specific function under Section 9 of the legislation to advise the Minister on the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, as well as the annual report for the Council reporting achievements relating to the national plan.
3.41The National Housing Supply and Affordability Council is a critical component of the Government's housing reform agenda. The Council will bring together the knowledge and expertise needed to advise on strategies to increase supply and affordability to ensure an increase in the supply of social and affordable housing can be achieved under the HAFF.
3.42The National Housing Finance Investment Corporation will be reconstituted as Housing Australia, with a clearer remit, and a new capacity building function.
3.43Inquiry participants held differing views on the proposed purpose and remit of each of the two bodies, with some arguing Housing Australia should have a stronger role in research, policy development and coordination.
3.44The committee believes the roles set out in the bills strike the appropriate balance and avoid duplication. It is important that the Council is independent and separate from Housing Australia, as the Council will advise on how funds are spent by Housing Australia.
3.45The Council will be able to determine research priorities, and be free to publish reports. However, the Minister will still be able to request that research be conducted to inform delivery of its housing programs. Under these arrangements, there will be no loss of research output, and the Council can provide robust, independent advice to government.
3.46The committee acknowledges that some stakeholders would like to see specific expertise represented on the Council and the Board of Housing Australia. We note the legislation was amended following the Treasury consultation to add 'expertise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing' to the list of skills and expertise that should be targeted. We also support the provisions in the legislation that require the Minister to achieve a balance of experience and expertise on these bodies.
3.47The committee believes it will be critical for the Council to consult widely and directly with priority groups, and those with lived experience of housing insecurity and homelessness. It would also be beneficial for the Council to establish formal ongoing mechanisms to draw on the knowledge and experience of experts in
accessible housing provision for people with disabilities;
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled housing organisations; and
3.48The committee is confident that the criteria contained within the bill will allow for the appointment of a diverse, expert and independent Council.
3.49The committee recommends that the Senate passes the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council Bill 2023 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Housing Measures No. 1) Bill 2023.
Senator Jess Walsh
Labor Senator for Victoria