The Greens have doubled down on their calls for a rent freeze despite Jim Chalmers saying he thinks increasing housing supply is a better way to bring down costs.
Greens housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather wants the federal government to offer incentives to the states and territories to freeze rents for two years in exchange for crucial votes in the Senate.
Labor last week failed in its effort to wedge the Greens, who hold the balance of power in the upper house, after they tried unsuccessfully to bring on a vote on its signature housing policy without having struck a deal with the minor party.
With the Housing Australia Future Fund legislation now stalled until June at the earliest, Mr Chandler-Mather said the Greens were willing to negotiate with the government “in good faith”, including on freezing rents.
“It’s fantastic to see that the Treasurer has finally admitted that the Greens’ plan is possible,” Mr Chandler-Mather claimed as he spoke to reporters in Brisbane on Sunday.
“Now they’ve admitted that it’s possible that the federal government can offer incentives to freeze rent increases, the question they have to answer is — why don’t they act now? Because talk is cheap.”
Mr Chandler-Mather made the comments in response to an interview Mr Chalmers took part in earlier on Sunday, in which he said “rent freezes and those sorts of policies are essentially a matter for the states and territories”.
The Greens are pushing for the federal government to double the $1.6bn it gives each year to the states and territories under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement in exchange for them freezing rents for two years under their own tenancy legislation.
Speaking to ABC’s Insiders program, Dr Chalmers said the government was prepared to increase the amount of funding doled out under the agreement but he wouldn’t put a figure on it.
“When it comes to the agreement with the states and territories, we will do what we can,” he said, adding that housing and homelessness had already been a “huge priority” for the Albanese government.
But asked specifically if rent freezes were on the table, Dr Chalmers said: “We’ve got other things that we can do at a national level and they’ve been my focus”.
Pressed on whether he thought a national rent freeze would be good or bad for the economy, Dr Chalmers said “My thoughts are — we’re better off trying to encourage supply”.
“And while we do that, we’re better to try and take some of the edge off these rental pressures that people are feeling,” he said.
“And that’s why I funded (in the federal budget) on Tuesday night, the biggest increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance in three decades.”
The government will need to get the Greens on side if it is to pass the Housing Australia Future Fund, given the opposition has ruled out supporting it.
Labor says up to $500m a year worth of returns from the $10bn investment vehicle will be spent on building social and affordable housing, with a promise of 30,000 homes in its first five years and at least 1200 homes a year for each state and territory.
The government has agreed to a number of crossbench requests including indexing the $500m cap against inflation from the 2029-2030 financial year to support long-term availability payment contributions.
But the Greens insist the policy will do little to address Australia’s serious shortage of social and affordable housing and want the fund to guarantee a minimum amount of money will be spent on homes each year.
Dr Chalmers on Sunday accused the Greens of playing games by blocking the fund.
“It’s not the only policy that we’ve got for housing, but it’s an important part of it,” he said.
“It’s time to end the political games and the gambit claims in the Senate and get this key piece of legislation passed.”
With renters’ rights now a major issue across Australia, Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders agreed to unify protections for tenants at their most recent national cabinet meeting.
The federal budget, which noted rental vacancies are at near-historic lows, included new tax incentives for build to rent properties in an effort to increase supply.