Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Regional Housing

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:38): If you look for properties to rent in regional South Australia right now, it is not great. The pressures on the housing market in regional South Australia have created a crisis of sorts that is both complex and simple. Lack of investment can be seen as both a cause and effect of why few rental opportunities are near where you might want to work. The failure of supply is complex too, as any young teacher, police officer or ambo might tell you. For lots of reasons a housing option of a four-bedroom family home with a big yard to water might not be all that attractive if you are in your 20s.

More rental options for regional South Australia: that sounds good, right? Everyone would agree with that, right? Well, you might be wrong if you thought that. I am reminded a little of TheSimpsons episode where a young Ned Flanders is running amok in the office of the doctor to whom his beatnik parents have come to seek assistance with his behavioural issues. Ned Flanders' mother laments, 'We've tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas.'

You can imagine those words coming out of Steven Marshall's mouth during the previous term of government that saw a whole lot of nothing happening across our regions in the crucial area of housing. But that is really not the question we need to be asking ourselves. We should not be asking ourselves if there is a housing crisis in regional South Australia—anyone could tell you that; everyone knows that, or at least you should.

What we need to be asking ourselves is what action we can take about it. We do not want to see regional wellbeing and growth hindered by a housing shortage, including when it comes to attracting and retaining skilled professionals. Police, teachers, health sector workers—how can our regions attract and retain them if there is nowhere for them to live?

From tourism to agricultural and resources exports, our regions are so fundamentally important to this state. The regions contribute billions to our economy every single year. The least we can do is look to give a little back to drive supply, to drive investment in the crucial problem of lack of appropriate housing.

So what are we actually doing? We know the challenges that regional people face when it comes to building housing: the costs are high, obtaining finance is difficult, and there is a limited workforce to deliver housing builds. This is in part what makes it so difficult to do what the Liberals did, to sit back and let the market decide, to sit back and let individual home owner after individual home owner take that risk, to ignore both the human and the broader economic costs of that ideological approach to this important issue.

The fact is there is a better way, but it requires a bit of work. We are creating the Office for Regional Housing as a dedicated office within Renewal SA. What will it do? It will work with local governments, economic development agencies, regional employers, investors and the development industry to address housing shortages in regional South Australia. We want to drive supply. We want to drive investment. The Office for Regional Housing will administer the Regional Key Worker Housing Scheme, which will deliver long-term rental accommodation for critical workers across regional South Australia.

New homes developed in key regional centres under this scheme will be sold to private investors—very importantly—with long-term employer-backed leases attached. The pilot program will deliver a modest number of 30 homes for workers in key service sectors across the Copper Coast, Riverland, Mount Gambier, Port Augusta and Ceduna. Let's be clear: what we are undertaking here is a pilot initiative. The intention is not to stop at 30.

In fact, if you are listening now as a regional employer or a regional council, it is fair to say we want you on board. We want to make sure that we work in collaboration with communities, councils, regional employers and others to ensure that homes are being delivered in a way that addresses local needs. We want to deliver what is needed to where it is needed so that we can house who is needed where they are needed.

Our goal is not only to enable regions to attract and retain critical service workers to regional areas but to reduce pressure on the private rental market too. For instance, every worker out of a rental accommodation that does not fit their purpose is another home for someone else in the rental market. Beyond delivery of the pilot program, there is scope for the scheme to be expanded to other regions, as well as the potential for it to be expanded to organisations wanting new fit-for-purpose housing for their workers. Regional people deeply deserve meaningful action from government and this is a great example of how this Labor Peter Malinauskas government is delivering it.