PM’s $10bn housing promise hits snag

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s big promise on housing has been delayed. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Labor’s signature housing package has hit a major snag after the Greens and the Coalition joined forces and delayed the legislation’s potential passage through parliament.

The government had upped the ante in its stalemate with the Greens over the Housing Australia Future Fund by attempting to ensure a vote in the Senate this week on the bill to set up the $10bn investment vehicle.

But those plans were thwarted on Wednesday afternoon when the Greens united with the Liberals and Nationals and some crossbenchers, including independent senator David Pocock, to reject Labor’s bid to rush debate on the HAFF legislation.

Their decision meant Labor failed in its attempt to guarantee a vote on the Bill by 1pm Thursday, despite having the support of crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie and Tammy Tyrrell.

The legislation is now likely to be pushed back until June when the Senate returns from a post-budget break.

Labor says it will spend up to $500m worth of returns from the $10bn HAFF on social and affordable housing each year, with a promise of 30,000 new dwellings in the first five years.

The Greens, who hold the balance of power in the Senate, have been arguing the policy doesn’t go far enough because it won’t guarantee a minimum funding floor or help renters in the private market.

Greens housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather wants Labor to keep negotiating on the bill. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Greens housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather accused Labor of attempting to “shut down debate” and “force a vote” on the HAFF bill “in the middle of negotiations” with the crossbench.

He said Labor needed to stay at the negotiating table and “work with the Greens” on a plan for renters and people who need public and affordable housing.

“We’re in a once-in-a-generation housing crisis and the government playing politics with housing in the Senate shows they don’t understand or don’t care that people are stuck in housing hell,” he said.

“Our message to Labor is we will pass this bill straight away if you work with the states to get a freeze on rent increases and guarantee five billion to build public and genuinely affordable housing.”

Housing Minister Julie Collins blasted the Greens’ decision and said the government had addressed “every single concern” raised by the Senate crossbench as of Wednesday.

“We worked constructively across the parliament, because we know how critical it is that the $10bn Housing Australia Future Fund is passed,” she said.

“This bill can’t be delayed any longer. Senators who say they support more social and affordable homes need to stop the delays and pass the bill this week.”

The government has agreed to a number of crossbench requests including to index the $500m cap against inflation from the 2029-2030 financial year to support long-term availability payment contributions.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s signature housing promise has been delayed. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senator Pocock has called for the HAFF to be allowed to dispense more when it generates higher returns and for it to be indexed given the value of $500m will be different in 10 years’ time

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said it “makes no sense” that the Greens would block the legislation from passing parliament this week.

“The Greens have just voted with the Libs/Nats in the Senate to prevent a vote this week on Labor’s Housing Fund that would see 30,000 social & affordable houses built,” she wrote on Twitter.

The Liberals and Nationals had already ruled out supporting the HAFF, citing concerns about the use of commonwealth bonds to raise funds at a time when interest rates and loan repayment costs are increasing.

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.

The Albanese government suffered its first major defeat in parliament in February after Greens, Coalition and crossbench senators formed an unlikely bloc to overturn some of Labor’s superannuation regulations.

At the time, the Greens warned Labor not to take the minor party’s support for granted.