Matter of Public Importance - Purchase of New Dwellings by Foreign Non-Residents

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:15): It is good that this time of debating in the Senate chamber has taken on a very serious subject today. Too often in these matters of public importance we are debating motions put up by the Greens political party, which are simply based on fantasy and which never have any factual base to them. I congratulate the One Nation Party for at least putting forward for discussion in this Senate a motion on the important issue of housing for Australians and the limits that need to be placed on some of the acquisitions by foreign non-residents.

The government will place a limit on foreign ownership in new developments. We will introduce an annual charge on foreign owners who buy residential property and leave it vacant and we will tighten the foreign investor tax integrity rules to reduce avoidance of capital gains tax on Australian property. I intend to elaborate on those three initiatives that the government is already putting in place, if time permits, but first of all can I say that I listened with interest to what Senator Ketter from the Australian Labor Party said. I always wonder with the Australian Labor Party that they were in office for six years—six terribly long years, I might say—and never once did they do anything to seriously address the issues which Senator Ketter says now a Labor government would put in place.

Home ownership, particularly for young Australians, is an important issue; it is a goal for all Australians to own their own homes, but it becomes very difficult if the broader parameters are not in order. I remember when I was buying a home and, admittedly, it was now some time ago—in the days of the Hawke and Keating administration of our country. I say this as often as I can, because people do not believe me when I say that I was paying 17 per cent interest on my housing loan in the Labor years. That was when Paul Keating said that we had to have a recession and the Labor Party was, as they are now, promising everything to everybody and spending wildly without having any idea of where the money was coming from and borrowing money from overseas. As a result of Labor's mismanagement at the time, I and other young home buyers—and I was young in those days—were paying 17 per cent interest on my housing loan. Of course, business loans in those days were above 20 per cent.

Fortunately, those days are gone, and there is encouragement for young people in some of the initiatives of this government to acquire a house and pay it off over their lifetime. Of course, to do that or to even contemplate acquiring a house, one must have a job. Again, under Labor administrations, we found unemployment very high. Regrettably, at the moment in my home state of Queensland, unemployment is unacceptably high in the city of Townsville, where I have my office. I am embarrassed to say that we currently have the record for the highest unemployment. It means that there will be a lot of people in Townsville who will not even be able to think about buying a house, and those who have in recent years purchased a house at values are now finding it extremely difficult to continue with payments and to maintain the value of their house when it was acquired during the time of the Gillard-Rudd administration.

It is important that governments not only look at the direct issue of housing affordability and what might be causing the problems that we see, particularly in the major capital cities these days, but also address the wider economic position of Australia so that we can get the fundamentals right, so that we can get people into jobs so that we can get the economy going reasonably well. That is why I can never understand why the Greens political party, in particular, are always attacking the job creation policies of coalition governments. The Adani issue is a classic and very recent issue about that. Adani will create jobs. It will boost the economy of Queensland. It will provide for economic growth in the North of our country, yet the Greens are totally opposed to it. They are trying to use every trick in the parliamentary book to stop that process from proceeding. Fortunately, today, I was delighted to see that the native title amendment bill was passed, which was the last legal impediment to the Adani coalmine. The Senate graciously—well, almost graciously—adopted a motion congratulating the federal government and the minister and also the Queensland government and the Premier on their leadership in bringing those job prospects to a part of Queensland that desperately needs them.

I did mention in relation to this motion brought forward by Senator Hanson that the government is already acting on the things that Senator Hanson mentioned in her initial contribution. We do not necessarily agree with Senator Hanson in what she is proposing, and I have made that clear. But I do again thank her for raising this important issue for discussion.

The government will ensure that dwellings in Australia are kept available for Australians by introducing a 50 per cent cap on foreign ownership in new developments. This will be applied through conditions imposed on new dwelling exemption certificates. These new dwelling exemption certificates are granted to property developers and act as a pre-approval, allowing for the sale of new dwellings in a specified development to foreign persons, without each foreign purchaser seeking their own foreign investment approval. The current certificates do not limit the proportion of dwellings that can be sold to foreign investors. What we are doing will strengthen the existing rules that apply to certificates where the government considers whether developers market or advertise the development in Australia. The new 50 per cent cap builds on existing rules to ensure Australian buyers have access to a greater pool of homes to buy in these new developments. Developments have to be multistorey and have at least 50 dwellings. From budget night, developers who are granted a new dwelling exemption certificate will be subject to a condition which limits the sale to foreign investors of new dwellings in that development to 50 per cent. it is a budget measure that is just one of the steps which the government is taking. I did mention at the beginning of my contribution that we are also going to charge foreign owners who leave their residential properties vacant a fee, and we are going to improve the integrity of capital gains tax rules for foreign investors.

Unfortunately, I am not going to have time in the time allotted to me in this debate to go into the detail of those two issues, suffice to say that they will make a difference and they do demonstrate that the coalition government, the Turnbull government is taking real steps forward to address the problem identified in this motion.

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