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Greens call for national rent freeze in Labor housing policy


The Greens have doubled down on their call for a rent freeze, despite Jim Chalmers saying he thinks increasing housing supply is a better way to cut costs.

Greens spokesman Max Chandler-Mather wants the federal government to give states and territories incentives to freeze rents for two years in exchange for crucial votes in the Senate.

Labor last week failed to corner the Greens, who hold the balance of power in the upper house, after unsuccessfully trying to trigger a vote on signature housing policies without reaching a deal with the small side.

With legislation on the Housing Australia Future Fund stalled until June at the earliest, Mr Chandler-Mather said the Greens were ready to negotiate “in good faith” with the government, including a rent freeze.

“It’s fantastic to see that the treasurer has finally admitted that the Greens’ plan is possible,” Chandler-Mather told reporters in Brisbane on Sunday.

“Now that they’ve admitted it’s possible the federal government could provide incentives to freeze rent increases, the question they need to answer is why aren’t they acting now? Because talking is cheap.”

Mr Chandler-Mather made the comments in response to an interview Mr Chalmers took part in earlier on Sunday, in which he said that “rent freezes and policies like that are essentially a matter for the states and territories”.

The Greens are urging the federal government to match the $1.6 billion it gives states and territories each year under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement in exchange for freezing rents for two years under their own tenancy laws.

Speaking to ABC’s Insiders program, Dr. Chalmers said the government was willing to increase the amount of funding disbursed under the deal, but would not provide any figures.

“When it comes to the agreement with the states and territories, we will do what we can,” he said, adding that housing and homelessness were already a “huge priority” for the Albanian government.

But asked specifically if any rent freezes are on the table, Dr Chalmers said: “We have other things we can do at a national level and I’ve focused on that”.

Asked whether he thought a national rent freeze would be good or bad for the economy, Dr Chalmers said: “My thoughts are – we’d better try to encourage supply”.

“And while we’re doing that, we better try to take some of the rent pressure that people are feeling,” he said.

“And that’s why I funded (in the federal budget) on Tuesday night the largest increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance in three decades.”

The government will have to get the Greens on the side if it wants to approve the Housing Australia Future Fund, as the opposition has ruled out supporting it.

Labor says up to $500 million in returns from the $10 billion investment vehicle will be spent building social and affordable housing, with a pledge of 30,000 homes in the first five years and at least 1,200 homes a year for each state and territory.

The government has agreed to a number of crossbench requests, including indexing the $500 million cap against inflation from fiscal year 2029-2030 to support long-term payment contributions.

But the Greens insist the policy will do little to address Australia’s severe shortage of social and affordable housing and want the fund to guarantee that a minimum amount is spent on housing each year.

Dr. Chalmers on Sunday accused the Greens of playing games by blocking the fund.

“It’s not the only policy we have for housing, but it’s an important part of it,” he said.

“It’s time to end the politicking and gambling claims in the Senate and get this important piece of legislation passed.”

With tenants’ rights a major issue across Australia, Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders agreed to unite tenant protection at their most recent national cabinet meeting.

The federal budget, which found rental vacancy rates at near historic lows, included new tax incentives for building rental housing in an effort to increase supply.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.