Speech: HomeBuilder

Speech: HomeBuilder Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (12:02): I absolutely support jobs in the construction industry. It is absolutely great news that HomeBuilder has provided some stimulus to the economy—that is true—but it has certainly been no magic wand, particularly for people in my electorate on the New South Wales South Coast. When HomeBuilder was first announced, many local people thought that this would be great for them. We had only just been through the devastation of the bushfires. In the Shoalhaven and the Eurobodalla, 1,037 homes were lost or severely damaged, so it is safe to say that a lot of building work was needed. Local people were contending with underinsurance and increased building costs because of changes to bushfire attack level, or BAL, ratings, and an extra $25,000 to help would certainly have made a difference. Personally, I would have liked to have seen the Morrison government dedicate funding specifically to help bushfire victims rebuild, but, like I said, we took what we could get from this government.

It didn't take long before it was clear that HomeBuilder would simply not help many local people impacted by the bushfires at all. Roslyn, who lost her home in Conjola Park, one of the hardest hit areas, signed a contract to rebuild her home in March 2020. She was committed to getting on with things as quickly as she could. She thought this would help her recover from her loss sooner, but that meant she was excluded from HomeBuilder. I wrote to the Treasurer and asked him to make an exception. I got a response back two months later from his chief of staff—a resounding 'No'. What was the government's advice? 'Go and see the Red Cross'. It's appalling.

On the other end of this spectrum are a number of families who are not quite as organised as Roslyn. Because of circumstances beyond their control, they cannot get a contract signed in time to be eligible, but the government won't make allowances for them either.

Fiona and Ian from Yatte Yattah lost their home and tried to apply for HomeBuilder, but they felt exhausted by the level of paperwork and constant requests for further information. Then there is Peter and David. Peter and David are mirror twin brothers from Jeremadra. They have lived together for 68 years and they jointly owned the home they lost in the bushfires.

Like so many others, they have had to make special adjustments to their rebuild, like the massive underground water tank they had to install. How much did that cost them? It cost $25,000—perfect; HomeBuilder can take care of that! But again this government has shown its cruel heart to be just that. It has denied Peter and David's application. Why? Because they are siblings, and the eligibility explicitly excludes siblings from accessing the program. This makes absolutely no sense. I also wrote to the minister, for Peter and David. I'm still waiting on that response. So far the silence has been deafening.

I have also been hearing about another unintended consequence of HomeBuilder that is hurting bushfire victims in my electorate. With so much of our forest burnt and with the added demand of HomeBuilder, the timber industry is in crisis. Timber for building is either not available or incredibly expensive, and it is our bushfire impacted families that are bearing the brunt. And what is the government doing? Its grant programs to help the timber industry have been slow to roll out, and, with no transparency or accountability, it is difficult to see how they have helped. The reality is the government has no plan to address this crisis, even though it has been clear for more than a year that it was coming. Instead, its programs have made things worse, not better—flashy announcement, failed delivery once more.

There is one last point I would like to make about HomeBuilder. The South Coast has the lowest rental vacancy rate in New South Wales, at 0.3 per cent. We are experiencing a housing crisis. It is dire. Once again, the government saw this coming. It should be a shock to no-one. Investing in affordable and social housing projects would have stimulated the economy and helped the construction industry while also addressing the unfolding and urgent housing crisis we are now facing. Instead, the government took the short-sighted path. It took the path that would help people in the city undertake extravagant renovations, instead of helping bushfire victims and instead of addressing the housing crisis impacting on everyday families across the South Coast. HomeBuilder has been nothing more than a wasted opportunity which has left vulnerable people in my electorate behind.