Tensions over Labor’s signature housing package have boiled over, with government MPs blowing up at the Coalition and the Greens in parliament.
Housing Minister Julie Collins lost her cool during question time on Thursday after the Liberals and Nationals teamed up with the Greens and a few crossbenchers to delay a vote on the Housing Australia Future Fund for the second time in two days.
Ms Collins shouted at MPs on the opposition benches, accusing them of “saying no when we want to put more houses on the ground”.
“If you’re serious about what’s going on when it comes to housing … you would support the Bill in the Senate,” she said.
The opposition has ruled out supporting the $10bn investment vehicle the government says would be used to build 30,000 affordable homes over the next five years, while the Greens say the policy doesn’t go far enough.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers also blew up in question time, claiming the opposition had formed an “unholy alliance” with the Greens to thwart the HAFF in the upper house.
The government attempted to wedge the Greens over the HAFF by bringing the Bill into the upper house this week without having struck a deal with the minor party, which holds the balance of power in the Senate.
But those plans were kiboshed on Wednesday when the Greens united with the Liberals and Nationals, One Nation, and independent senator David Pocock to reject Labor’s bid to rush debate on the HAFF legislation.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong failed for a second time in her bid to ram through a vote on the HAFF and then sensationally claimed the Greens cared more about media attention than affordable housing for the vulnerable.
Senator Wong accused the Greens of teaming up with the Liberals and Nationals to filibuster at the expense of women and children fleeing domestic violence.
“The joint crossbench, including the Greens, came to the government with concerns and Minister (Julie) Collins negotiated in good faith to address every single concern,” she told the upper house.
“But you know what … your spokesman on housing is now prioritising media attention (over) housing for women and kids fleeing domestic violence. That’s shameful, you know, this man’s ego.”
Greens senator Nick McKim said the government leader in the Senate’s comments were “well out of order” and called for her to withdraw them, which Senator Wong did.
The government has made some concessions to win over the crossbench including agreeing to index the fund’s $500m spending cap against inflation from 2029-30.
But the Greens insist the policy will do little to address Australia’s serious shortage of social and affordable housing.
With a vote on the HAFF now delayed until June at the earliest, Greens Housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather said Labor needed to come back to the table.
“We’ve been very clear from the start that we want to negotiate a good outcome and that is what every Green in the Greens party room has been trying to do,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“But instead what we‘re seeing in the Senate at the moment is the government throwing around personal insults.”
The left-wing party is calling for a guaranteed amount of funding to be doled out from the HAFF’s returns each year as well as more government action to tame rising rental prices.
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who secured a minimum of 1200 social and affordable houses to be built in each state and territory over five years as part of a deal for her and Tammy Tyrrell’s vote, was visibly emotional as she pleaded with the Greens to vote for the Bill.
“I know this is not perfect but people out there need a roof over their heads, so for goodness sakes, please can we just get a start on this? I don’t want to hold them back any further,” the crossbencher said.
“So please, for you people over here that think you have a social conscience, do you really want to keep playing with people’s lives?
“This is something we can keep chipping away at. We can keep doing deals out and adding to it, so please can we just use the base here and get started today? No more on the politics, no more rubbish.”
Senator Pocock said he ultimately wouldn’t block the HAFF’s passage through parliament but chose to vote against the government trying to “gag debate” on the Bill this week.
The government can easily get legislation through the House of Representatives but it needs the support of the Coalition or the Greens and at least two crossbenchers in the upper house, where it doesn’t hold a majority.