Doorstop – Melbourne – Thursday 18 July 2019














SUBJECTS: Michael Sukkar acting like a real estate agent, Australia’s weak economy, Labor’s housing and homelessness policies.

JOSH BURNS: My name’s Josh Burns, I’m the local Member for Macnamara here in South Melbourne. We’ve spent the morning with the Father Bob Foundation, a fantastic local organisation. Who instead of putting positive spins on homelessness services, have actually been doing the hard work to make sure the people who are homeless and people who are struggling actually have food and resources and something that they need. This sort of organisation are part of the fantastic local community here in South Melbourne. For me today it’s really special to have Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness. I might ask Jason to say a few words.

JASON CLARE: Thanks very much Josh. It’s been great to spend the morning with you here in South Melbourne with Father Bob and the whole team at the Father Bob Maguire foundation, otherwise known as the ‘Bob squad’. Bob and his volunteers who do such fantastic work here in the local community helping people in desperate need, cooking meals and delivering food to people right across the local area most nights of the week. Also operating a community pantry here where people can come in and grab food to make sure that hungry bellies are filled and that people don’t go without. It’s organisations like this that help make Australia a better country. I feel so fortunate that I was able to see the work that Father Bob and his volunteers do today. It’s a great example of the real action I’ve been talking about over the last few weeks. Organisations in local communities that are really lending a helping hand and helping people that are homeless or disadvantaged and need a little bit of help. That’s what we should all be doing. That’s what government can do a lot more to help organisations like Father Bob’s. 

There’s some stories in the press about housing today and I thought I might make some remarks about them. Starting with the story on the front page of The Australian newspaper.

Owning your own home is the great Australian dream. For most Australians the chance to own your own home is something that a lot of people look forward to in their life. It’s the biggest investment that many people will ever make in their life and it’s a really important decision that they have to make. Unfortunately over the last few years the number of Australians owning their own home has dropped. Fewer Australians own their own home today than at any time since Robert Menzies was Prime Minister back in the 50s and 60s. We also know that it’s getting harder and harder for people to keep their own home. We’ve seen reports over the last few weeks that in some parts of Melbourne and some parts of Sydney, one in three homes have been sold recently at less than they were purchased for a couple of years ago. People are being forced to sell their home when they don’t want to. We also know that there are more and more people struggling to keep up their mortgage repayments. More people are behind in their mortgage repayments today than any time since the global financial crisis 10 years ago. We’ve also got interest rates now down at crisis levels. At lower than they were during the global financial crisis. At some point they’ll go back up to normal levels but at the moment interest rates are at crisis levels. 

The comments by the new Housing Minister, Michael Sukkar today encouraging people to get into the housing market and buy a house – ‘you won’t regret it” I think they were his words – are words that I think he should reflect upon. We’ve got to be a bit careful here. We shouldn’t have Ministers of the Crown acting like real estate agents or property speculators, telling people to get into the market. We want more Australians to buy their own home, but we want to make sure that all Australians don’t get in over their head and don’t get a loan that they won’t be able to repay at some point down the track when interest rates go back up. I’ve seen that in my own community in the western suburbs of Sydney, when interest rates went up in the early 2000s and dozens and dozens of families had the keys to their home taken off them by the local sheriff when interest rates went up. It’s a big and important decision that individuals have to make. It’s important that people make that decision with all the best information possible and are not being told by a Federal Minister that now’s the time to get in and buy a house, without doing all that due diligence. It’s also important that banks act responsibly here and don’t lend money to people that they can’t afford to repay. So I just urge a bit of caution here. We want more people to own their own home. We want more people to be able to get their own home but we don’t want people getting in over their own heads.

Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Are you suggesting that they think the comments from Michael Sukkar are irresponsible and unhelpful for first home buyers?

CLARE: Just as last week, when the new Homelessness Minister said that we need to put a ‘positive spin’ on homelessness, I said look we don’t need spin, what we need is real action. What I’d say here is what we don’t need are Housing Ministers acting like property speculators. What we need from government is real action. Real action to make it easier for Australians to get their own home, rather than just encouraging people to get out there into the market.

JOURNALIST: The banks and economists, a large number of them now are forecasting either a flat price growth, or even a small turnaround later this year or even next year. Wouldn’t it makes sense then for people who are able to, and as the Minister is saying ‘if you can, not saying all first home buyers should do this, but if you can start thinking about it and buying property now’, doesn’t the climate make sense for first home buyers? 

CLARE: These are decisions that individuals have to make based on their own individual circumstances. We’ve got a weak economy. The Reserve Bank hasn’t cut interest rates because the economy is strong. It’s cut interest rates because the economy is weak, and they’re not going to stay at that level forever. It’s important that people, when they do borrow money can afford to repay it, not just when interest rates are at crisis levels but they can afford to pay it in the future when interest rates go back up. We’ve seen evidence of this over the last few weeks. A story in The Sydney Morning Herald just over a week ago, that showed us that in some parts of Melbourne and Sydney you’ve got people selling their home for less than they bought it for a couple of years ago. Now you don’t sell your home for less than you bought it for unless you absolutely have to. It puts people at risk of negative equity and still having a debt they owe the bank after they sell their home.  These are important decisions that individuals make and they shouldn’t be pushed into making it by Ministers acting like real estate agents or property speculators.

JOURNALIST: And confirming Labor did say during the election campaign it would support the Government’s proposed first home loan deposit scheme. Is Labor still of the mind to support it, or do you need to consult on it once we see the legislation?

CLARE: That’s right. We said in the election that we would support it. We said it would have a modest impact, but we thought that it was a welcome initiative. We’re looking forward to seeing the legislation when the Government does introduce it, so we’re able to go through the detail and make sure that it does everything that the Government has promised that it will do. Hopefully we’ll see that legislation introduced into the Parliament sooner, rather than later.

JOURNALIST: Just on that scheme, do you think there’d be any good reason to bring it forward beyond on January 1, or do you think January 1 is still a reasonable start date?

CLARE: That’s a decision for the Government to make. Parliament sits next week and the week after that. Then there’s a considerable break until the Parliament returns in September and October. But the Government should bring the legislation forward when it’s ready, when it’s been completed and it’s ready for the Parliament to debate.

JOURNALIST: Have you started consulting as a Shadow Housing Minister with stakeholders now on a new housing platform?

CLARE: As Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese have said when it comes to the policies that we took to the last election. It’s a clean slate. We start again. It’s going to be no surprise to you, we’ve said it many times that the policies we took to the last election, don’t expect that we would take them to the next election in the same form.

Part of my role as the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness is to meet with organisations across the country in this space from the Property Council right through to organisations like Father Chris Riley’s Youth of the Streets, Father Bob Maguire’s foundation, where we are here today in Melbourne, to talk to the people on the frontline who work in this sector about what are the policies we should take to the next election. Because the fact is this, housing affordability is a massive problem in Australia. It hasn’t gone away. There’s a problem here that needs to be fixed. Fewer Australians own a home today than at any time since Menzies was Prime Minister. More people behind in their mortgage. Rents are through the roof. Homelessness is higher today than it’s ever been. What we don’t need from the Government is spin, or encouraging people to purchase homes like a real estate agent, but real action to tackle these problems. That’s what I’d encourage the Government to do.

JOURNALIST: When you say it’s a clean slate. Does that mean the negative gearing and capital gains tax policies are gone?

CLARE: Well it means exactly what Albo and Jim said last week. We start again.

JOURNALIST: So do you think those policies should, or could be modified or do you think they should be abolished?

CLARE: Rosie, you’re getting way down the track here. We’ve said that we will review all of our policies and come up with fresh policies for the next election. I’ll be involved in developing those policies along with the whole of the Shadow Cabinet and the Caucus.

JOURNALIST: Okay so you start again, but just to confirm they are still Party policy at this stage until you come up with your new platform.

CLARE: Rosie, I think when people are talking about is it this is it that, you’re splitting hairs. We lost the election. We go back to the start and develop policies afresh. We review all of the things that happened in the election. But we’ve got three years of a Morrison Government in front of us and we’ve got to hold this Government to account because they’re on the Treasury benches, they’re in the position to make decisions that can make houses and housing more affordable for Australians. That’s what I’m focused on. I’ll spend the next three years holding them to account for the things they do and the things they don’t do. At the same time work to develop policies to help tackle these issues if the Australian people give us the privilege of serving as a Government after the next election.

JOURNALIST: What are stakeholders telling you, what are they crying out for in terms of reform in the housing space?

CLARE: It is everything from a government which cares and acts to help people who are homeless. And as you can see from the remarks the new Minister for Homelessness made last week, there’s not a lot of that in the Government at the moment – they think everything’s hunky dory when it’s not – right through to looking to government to take some positive action to make housing more affordable. That is not just what the Government has done with the legislation, which we’re expecting to come forward in the next few weeks, but it’s also in areas like build-to-rent policy. There’s a whole suite of things that the Government can do and is proposing to do. We will look at it carefully when it comes forward to the Parliament. But there’s not much in Australia which is more important than making it easier for Australians to get a roof over their head and keep it over their head. We think that the Government should be working on policies to help do that, rather than just telling us that every thing’s okay with homelessness, or encouraging people to go out by home which they may not be able to afford to repay if interest rates go back up.