Peter Dutton and Bill Shorten clash on TV over budget reply plan to ban foreign homebuyers

Peter Dutton has been challenged over the number of foreigners who buy houses in Australia each year after promising in his budget reply speech to ban foreign investors.

The opposition leader was asked on Nine’s Today show on Friday about the impact of foreign buyers on the housing market after he proposed the ban as a key measure to ease pressure on the housing market.

He did not provide the number of homes sold to foreign buyers each year, saying instead that his proposed restrictions on migration would ease housing pressures overall.

“We say in the first year, 40,000 homes would be freed up,” Dutton said.

Debating Dutton on the program, the government services minister, Bill Shorten, had the number to hand. “I’ll tell you how low it is,” Shorten said. “It’s less than 5,000, Peter. [Over] two years, less than 5,000.”

Earlier the program presenter Karl Stefanovic asked Dutton how he felt about the government labelling him “Darth Vader” for his doom-and-gloom tone. In Thursday night’s budget reply, he had promised to cut migration by 25%, to 140,000 migrants a year, and to further cut the number of overseas students.

“When your opponents reduce themselves to personal attacks, you know that you have come up with a policy that they can’t really poke a hole in,” Dutton said.

But when Shorten challenged him to provide the number of home sales to foreign buyers over the past two years, he replied with an attack.

“Well, Bill, back to you. How did you go in the 2019 election?”

Shorten jabbed back, suggesting hypocrisy.

“Oooh, oooh, did you say you don’t like personal attacks?” Shorten asked, adding: Zinger! You just said before you didn’t like personal attacks. As soon as you’re under pressure, you go personal.”

Shorten repeated the question about foreign homebuyers. Dutton answered a different one.

“We say in the first year, 40,000 homes will be freed up,” he said. “We have a situation where if the government had adopted our policy over a five-year period, you would free up 325,000 homes.

“So the number of people who are foreign citizens who are buying houses in our country is low but nonetheless it contributes to an overall shortage of housing in our country.”

Shorten then provided the number of 5,000 over two years – a number that the education minister, Jason Clare, had also furnished when responding to Dutton’s speech immediately after it was delivered.

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Peter Dutton delivers budget reply speech – video

After his speech, Dutton also appeared to be unclear about how many foreign students were renting homes in Australia. The ABC 7.30 program presenter, Sarah Ferguson, put to him that only 4% of international students were in the rental market, based on figures from the housing industry.

“Really?” Dutton replied. “Well, where are they living, Sarah?”

On Friday Shorten said Dutton’s reply speech was “lightweight” and “a showbag of slogans and Band-Aids”.

“In the last two years less than 5,000 foreigners have bought houses, so it’s about 2,500 a year,” Shorten told ABC Radio National after the Today show interview. “So he’s going to stop that for two years. We’re going to need more than 2,500 houses a year.”

The minister said the real focus in the migration system should be on net overseas migration.

“What we need to do is reduce, I think in a structured way, the number of visas we’re issuing for people to come to this country,” he said. “We want to get it back to its long-term average.”

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, said the Coalition’s plans to cut migration were focused on the housing market.

“It’s allowing supply to catch up,” Littleproud told ABC News Breakfast. “We have to allow homes to be built and state and local governments to get on with the job, to get on with planning and help industry to build the homes.”

The Reserve Bank governor, Michele Bullock, has acknowledged that the spike in migration since Australia’s borders reopened after the emergency phase of the Covid-19 pandemic was putting pressure on housing. Speaking to journalists on 7 May after the board met and decided to keep official interest rates on hold, Bullock noted that migration had also provided much-needed workers.

“Our judgment is that on balance it really hasn’t added dramatically to inflation, with the exception that it has put big pressure on the housing market and that’s obviously working its way out in rents,” she said.

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