Page 1187 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 24 March 2009

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First Home Owner Grant Amendment Bill 2009

Debate resumed.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (12.07): The First Home Owner Grant Amendment Bill 2009 seeks to make life easier for Canberrans who wish to enter the property market. We believe any reasonable scheme which is designed to encourage people to enter the property market should be encouraged and we will certainly be supporting this bill.

However, it is worth putting on the record some concerns regarding affordable housing in the ACT. It was reported in the news yesterday that real estate agents expect a rise in the number of properties sold in the next couple of months as first home buyers around the country rush to take advantage of the increased government assistance. While this will prove a temporary boost to the real estate sector in the case of new properties in the building sector, it is unclear how long this boost will last. Simply providing first home owners with a one-off grant is not enough itself to stimulate the market. Long-term strategies need to be put in place to encourage growth in the housing market which will make property more affordable and provide a sustainable boost to the building sector. According to the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association of the ACT, builders have indicated a slowing of business from the middle of this year and the situation is unlikely to improve until mid next year.

The ACT government therefore needs to find ways to stimulate the building industry. One of the most important is to look at the planning system. The Chief Minister and the planning minister were told at their industry roundtable last week that the planning system needs an overhaul in order to streamline the approval process. The Chief Minister and the planning minister have claimed that bottlenecks have been cleared, but we are still seeing slow progress. The current system is not working and developers and builders no longer want excuses; they want action. It is time to look at effective long-term solutions to make the planning system more efficient and effective.

The Stanhope-Gallagher government has even admitted that the planning system is failing. The government has released regulations that exempt certain developments in schools from the approval process so that federal government stimulus money can be spent. If the planning system were working as efficiently as it should, there would be no need to circumvent the system in this way. While we do not object to the regulations the government is proposing, we do object to the Stanhope-Gallagher government creating two classes of builders and developers. If streamlining the system is good for public money then surely it is good for private money. Why is Mr Rudd’s money more valuable than ACT residents’ money?

The Stanhope-Gallagher government also need to look at so-called affordable housing initiatives and how these are working to stimulate the economy and to get young people into their homes. We are yet to hear from the Chief Minister which lender will provide finance to those hoping to take part in the land rent scheme. Despite claims from the Chief Minister several weeks ago that a lender had provided in-principle

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