The blood from the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill has spilled onto the streets. Waltzing around, focusing on politics-at-all-costs, the government may have less scope on this issue than it wishes to admit.
Australians talk about the property market. Incessantly. So much so it is a cliché. If you’re under 40, the housing crisis has been part of your BBQ conversation a fair bit longer than this newly minted government has existed.
But in its struggle to project relevance and gain sufficient purchase on the issue, the Government has chosen to dig in on a flimsy mandate, leaving people to weather the worst living crisis in a generation on their own.
Heated exchanges on the floor of parliament have flowed out to the press gatherings, and rang out across the Twittersphere, landing in everyday Australian homes, as ordinary citizens watched an open-air shit-fight between the highest paid parliamentarians in the OECD.
Most renters vote Labor. Knowing this, the entire Labor A-team, indignant at the resistance from the Greens, and equipped with a full complement of backbenchers, descended in artform and song on the newly elected and notably young member for Griffith, Max Chandler-Mather.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese informed his overconfident government, despite all of its minimal and questionable street cred on housing, that the Greens daring to resist his paltry Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) was akin to a “juvenile student politics approach” which apparently needs to be “exposed”. From that moment, whatever was left of the housing debate of 2022 spilled into the housing wars of 2023.
Many things were exposed, but mainly the entitled nature of a childish Labor government, laid bare for all of us to see.
“You’re a joke, mate,” barked the Prime Minister at Max Chandler-Mather, across a high-school level of raucousness in the house, responding to an accusation of misleading parliament (which it seems he ultimately did) after misquoting an article penned by the Greens MP; incorrectly paraphrasing Chandler-Mather of flatly rejecting 30,000 social and affordable homes.
On the internet, it continued: “Go and get stuffed you Tree Tory prick. You are a stain on the blanket of humanity,” scribed Labor MP for Nicklin, Robert Skelton under Chandler-Mathers Twitter post.
Australian politicians are some of the highest paid politicians in the world and this is what we get in return pic.twitter.com/ABkwldMzt1
— John Delmenico (@thebigjohnnyd) June 26, 2023
Queensland MP Don Brown, added the full court press from the state Labor branches, mocked the representative again for being a “student politician”, while fully knowing that most of modern vapid neoliberal Labor representatives forged their careers by holding positions as modern vapid neoliberal student politicians themselves. Most of them own more than one house too.
Amongst the rolling street fight, the government responded by announcing an injection of a one-off $2 billion “Social Housing Accelerator” into the HAFF, which would still be drawing the lion’s share of funding from a $10 billion market manipulated slippery dip, that hoped to use the theoretical profits to fund social and affordable housing. The corporate news dutifully reported it as Labor beneficence, ignoring the Green’s role in forcing the government to do slightly more than piss all.
But it wasn’t substantive offering by a benevolent government. It was a reactive response; a course correction under pressure from those like Chandler-Mather and outcries from people in the electorate, ceding political capital to the Greens on an issue where they have stood firm. It will take more than glib dismissals like “TikTok over housing stock”, as Treasurer Jim Chalmers so self-pleasingly put it, to make this go away.
What the Greens showed this week is they care more about retweets than renters, more about TikTok than housing stock.
They had a chance to work with Labor to build more social & affordable homes or side with the Coalition of cookers & they chose the Coalition of cookers. #auspol pic.twitter.com/grx66q0UNM
— Jim Chalmers MP (@JEChalmers) June 20, 2023
As rent capping in the ACT protects tenants from “egregious’ price hikes”, and its Chief Minister Andrew Barr recommends it could be replicated nationwide, is it really so “incomprehensible” for the Greens to be holding firm on this issue? While the cross bench passionately communicates their opposition based on listening to the concerns of the electorate, and the two thirds of those that dwell in the electorate repudiate the government’s position on housing in a recent poll, does Labor, after years locked in opposition, possess the political capital to tell the electorate what it needs to solve this issue when Australians are telling them it is not enough?
Anthony Albanese’s popularity is sinking to its lowest since the election. With the low-ball budget that lacked even a hint of the true reforms needed to address the housing crisis, what is the point of Anthony Albanese? He can’t rely on “not being Scott Morrison” forever.
The thing is, no matter how the Labor’s career politicians spin it, Chandler-Mather isn’t coming across at this issue as a latte sipping inner-city Greenie. He is stepping into a territory long forgotten by the upwardly facile major parties: representing the interest of his voters. He is moving into the space that millions of Australians are confronted with, a societal crisis with political overlaps that can be understood by many across the spectrum; an issue that can’t be spun by the words of a baby government channelling the augmented essences of dead Labor greats, many of whom would be rolling in their esteemed graves at what is currently on display by this iteration of the party, a party that is supposed to fight for the ability of working people to afford shelter.
One in six children were living in poverty before the year of endless interest rate hikes and inflation. After this year’s budget, food banks have begun warning that parents are foregoing food to keep a roof over their children’s head. That’s on Labor.
It was foolish for Labor to lump the Greens into the ‘Noalition’ that is personified in Dutton’s Coalition. Voters do not see the housing issue like their multiple property-owning political representatives in Canberra, nor do they attach those that oppose it to the lazy pejorative. Attacking a reasonable argument for meaningful action to properly address the housing crisis reeks of an arrogance that is unearned by a very young government.
Australia has a $1.55 trillion dollar economy, primarily cordoned off by the record profit making corporate titans that churn up the earth in and around the sacred lands of our continent. We are the second highest exporter of fossil fuels on the planet. The distribution of our groceries are controlled by a price gouging oligopoly. The government seems to be genuinely fine about all this.
We used to live in a country where a Labor government would never let this happen, where it once wouldn’t have had to negotiate with the Greens to make acceptable compromises in the benefit of the nation’s renters on the issue, because it would have taken the lead and removed the need for a debate altogether.
Things have changed. We have a Labor government that favours $368 billion-dollar submarines (subject to inflation) to be complimented by the $500 million-dollar HIMARS systems, and praises $3.5 billion Naval Strike Missile (NSM) that will join the $4 billion dollar long range missile programs and the 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Lots of missiles, not so many houses. A bold choice for the party of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating.
Sometimes it’s hard to pick the issue that Albanese really cares about the most. But from the story he reminds us about on many occasions, public housing is part of the projected identity the public receives from the man, and the inadequate actions on housing, and the insufficient reactive corrections is worse on his character than he may realise.
In a political environment so full of vapidity, Chandler-Mather has managed to capture a huge issue and fight for it from a political platform in a non-partisan manner. No matter how much Labor doth protest, there are many people from both sides of the political aisle, outside the intelligibility of the neoliberal government crucible in Canberra, that can relate to this generational crisis – because they can’t afford a roof over their head. You don’t even have to be poor to relate to this crisis. Anyone with an undercapitalised Bank of Mum and Dad has been subject to the whims of the housing debacle in the past 12 months.
The Labor party was elected with 32% on the primary vote – the smallest winning election in history. The childish arrogance displayed by the government in this back and forth on housing comes from a non-existent place – one that mistakenly presumes that it has the street cred on public interest social issues like housing. Maybe they do, thanks to the bold reforms of a Labor Prime Minister five decades ago. But most of the people facing this crisis, right now, weren’t even alive under Whitlam. Albo’s rule is by no means Whitlamesque, its barely even Howardesque.
Labor may think they can win because their friends in the Press Gallery laugh along with them as they mock the Greens. But the Greens are not in this to win the approval of the political classes. They’re in it to achieve bold, Whitlamesque, reform. So it’s an issue that Max Chandler-Mather is going to continue to pursue, no matter how many times he gets told he’s behaving like a brat. Because the Greens know the issue is an electoral killer. It has the capacity to completely reshape the voting patterns that the Labor party has relied on for the past fifty years.
Most renters vote Labor. At the moment. There is no reason that will be the case forever.