The Greens’ $5 billion line in the sand

After nearly a year of accommodation and compromise, the Greens are drawing a line in the sand when it comes to the Albanese government’s Housing Australia Future Fund.

The party has negotiated and secured sufficient concessions from the government to enable it to pass several large pieces of legislation including the 43 per cent emissions reduction target, the safeguards mechanism to reduce emissions and the National Reconstruction Fund.

The Greens are appealing to renters with their rejection of the federal government’s housing package.

Peter Rae

But the $10 billion fund, a key election promise which is supposed to build 20,000 social housing properties and 10,000 affordable homes for essential workers over five years, could be a bridge too far.

The Greens want much, much more than this: $5 billion for social and affordable housing and a national agreement to cap rent increases for two years to help the up to 700,000 people in need of a social and affordable home.

Without some significant and expensive concessions from Labor, the policy – which the government wanted passed this week but pulled from debate – won’t get through the Senate.

As the Australian National University’s 2022 election study revealed, 22 per cent of renters voted Green at the last poll, compared to 37 per cent who voted for Labor, 26 per cent for the Coalition and 16 per cent for others.

In other words, renters are a core constituency for the party. They played a key role in getting new inner-city Brisbane MPs Max Chandler-Mather and Stephen Bates elected, and they’re also a large proportion of voters in leader Adam Bandt’s inner-city seat of Melbourne.

Two weekends ago, the Greens went door knocking in seven marginal seats around the country to talk about housing policy, and to make the point that if Labor can promise up to $368 billion for submarines, surely it could find $5 billion for renters. They have more such exercises planned.

On Tuesday Chandler-Mather, the party’s housing spokesman, was joined by the Labor-aligned construction union at a rally conference criticising the ALP’s policy.

Renters are a large proportion of voters in Greens leader Adam Bandt’s inner-city seat of Melbourne.

Alex Ellinghausen

“We’ve made very clear to the government what they currently offered will make the housing crisis worse and we want to negotiate. Of course, it’s a possibility that we don’t support [the bill],” Chandler-Mather said.

In state capitals where rental vacancies have plunged, rents have increased and several generations are grappling with the prospect they may never be able to buy a home, it is a hot button issue which the party wants to capitalise on.

Chandler-Mather believes there is an emerging constituency of renters who may have to rent for life – and that his party should represent them.

By working with the government on environmental legislation but calling its bluff on housing the Greens are playing a risky hand. But they are also tapping into a key concern for younger voters who they are hoping will continue voting for them for years to come.

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