The Australian government's $680 million HomeBuilder scheme is being slammed by critics

The government’s construction program HomeBuilder has foundational issues and shortcomings, according to critics.(Ashley Cooper, Construction Photography)
  • The federal government’s $680 million HomeBuilder grants scheme has been panned as “an inadequate response” by Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese.
  • Albanese criticised the entry point of the scheme, saying few Australians had $150,000 to lay out for renovations or a new home build.
  • Albanese, the unions and activists all urged the government to instead build public and affordable housing which would help generate jobs and help ease major shortages.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Morrison government looks to have run out of supporters on its latest stimulus package.

Its HomeBuilder program, which will hand out $25,000 grants for renovations and new home builds, found widespread criticism as soon as it was announced on Thursday.

First and foremost, criticism surrounds the sheer cost of accessing the program in the midst of the country’s first recession in almost 30 years.

“This package today will require $150,000 of expenditure at a time of economic uncertainty and not many people have $150,000 ready to go,” said Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, noting rising unemployment and diminished job security.

Even less presumably have the $750,000 upper limit the Morrison government has placed on renovations and new builds.

Given the income limits as well, even some of the Treasury examples of who might be eligible are coming under fire.

“[Cassidy] has an income under $125,000, owns a home worth $900,000 (it may have gone up in price since purchase) and is doing a $400,000 renovation. Does she have any disposable income at all?” REA Group economic research manager Cameron Kusher said in a tweet.

However, there remains another “big weakness” to the HomeBuilder package. With more than 140,000 Australians on the waiting list for public housing, Albanese said HomeBuilder would do nothing for those who required assistance the most.

“There’s nothing in this package for social housing, either new or to renovate existing housing. There’s nothing there in terms of affordable housing for essential workers,” he said.

Instead, he called for HomeBuilder to be replaced by a more comprehensive package to fund the construction of public and affordable dwellings.

According to the ACTU’s numbers, a four-year program to build 30,000 social housing dwellings would create 18,000 full-time jobs each year.

Albanese also called for greater investment in apprenticeships to safeguard the long-term future of the construction sector and avoid “what will be a future skills crisis”.

Labor wasn’t alone in its criticisms, with progressive think tank Per Capita saying it was doubtful that the package would actually generate the 27,000 grants the government had forecast.

“Anyone able to start this kind of large-scale renovation by the end of the year either already has their finance lined up and hasn’t suffered an income cut during this crisis that would make them reconsider, or has the cash to do it without borrowing,” executive director Emma Dawson wrote for The Guardian.

Those who have campaigned for expansions of other programs like JobKeeper also lamented the fact $680 million could be spent on this scheme instead of other areas.

“There are so many international students stuck here with nothing, [but] a program to feed 1,000 people received 17,000 applications and had to close, unable to meet demand,” head of campaigns at activist group GetUp Emily Mulligan said in a tweet referencing an oversubscribed food voucher program in Victoria. “There is no excuse for nonsense like HomeBuilder.”

In terms of what it means for the property market, AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver suggested it could conceivably see house prices soften even further as more supply is created by new building.

“The combo of housing supply falling less than underlying housing demand (with 200,000 less immigrants) could help tip the Aust housing market into oversupply (it’s currently back around balance after years of undersupply) which in turn should help improve affordability,” he said in a tweet, acknowledging however the effect could be “marginal”.

The construction industry, which had been facing an imminent shortage of work, unsurprisingly gave the package a warmer reception.

“HomeBuilder will be a lifeline for an industry facing a valley of death in the coming months,” Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said in a statement.

“Based on the Government’s estimated 27,000 grants, we think the scheme will be used for $10 billion in building activity, supporting the viability of 368,000 small builders and tradies – the businesses which employ 800,000 people in communities around Australia.”

The property sector also gave it a rubber stamp.

“Not only will it help more first home buyers into the property market, but it will also allow current homeowners to upgrade to a new dwelling or to update their current home, which can improve their financial futures,” Property Investment Professionals of Australia (PIPA) chairman Peter Koulizos told Business Insider Australia in a statement.

Now to see how many actually apply for a grant.

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