Television Interview with Tom Connell – Sky News – Tuesday 12 May 2020


SUBJECTS: National Housing Stimulus Plan.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back. Coronavirus is set to impact the Australian housing sector and building and construction. Huge parts of our economy. How much is unknown, it’s likely to be significant. Joining me live now is Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness. Thanks very much for your time. You’re calling today for a National Housing Stimulus Plan. Can you outline how that would work broadly?
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: This is all about keeping tradies working. The housing construction industry is about to go off a cliff in the next few months. There were supposed to be about 160,000 homes built this year. Now the Master Builders Association say it could be as few as 100,000. There’s a lot of people who work in the housing game. Almost a million people from carpenters and electricians and plumbers through to the companies that produce all the materials, the bricks, the plasterboard, the cement, the timber, etc. 
So what we’re saying here is that the government needs a plan to make sure that we keep these trades and these small businesses working over the next few months, over the next 12 months to 18 months, instead of having all of these tradies on the dole. Now one obvious way to do this is to build more social housing and to repair social housing. It’s the sort of thing that’s been done in the past. You can do it quickly, and it works. Some state governments are doing a bit of this already, but if you do more then we will keep these tradies on the tools instead of being on the dole.
CONNELL: So you’re talking about some teaming up with state governments. Where’s the responsibility and crucially as well, the responsibility for funding going to lie here?
CLARE: Well, it’s a little bit like the health crisis. In an economic crisis, we’re all in this together. It’s the federal government, state government, local government as well. Superannuation funds can help and the private sector. The bottom line here is we want to keep people working. We’ve got an economic crisis coming at us like a freight train here at the moment. It’s bad now but it could be worse at the end of this year. 
There was all this talk about snap back, that looks like now it’s not going to happen, you’re still going to have unemployment at eight, nine, ten percent at the end of the year. When JobKeeper and JobSeeker are gone, you’re going to have more than a million people on 40 bucks a day. Now a lot of those people could be tradies who are working right now, but won’t have any work to do come December, or come the middle of next year. A little bit of common sense here and a little bit of work by the federal government, working with state governments. I’ve said this should be the sort of thing on the agenda of National Cabinet to make sure that we’re using taxpayers money to keep people working, not paying them to be on that ever lengthening dole queue.

CONNELL: Labor has spoken specifically about helping nurses, cleaners, aged care workers and supermarket workers in terms of getting them into the housing market. How does that work, what a sector specific subsidy or grant?
CLARE: Well I think if this crisis has taught us anything is that not all heroes wear a cape. We’ve seen the extraordinary work that people like the people you’ve just described, nurses, cleaners, aged care workers, have done, bus drivers, to keep us safe. They’re people that don’t get to work from home. They don’t sit at home behind a computer. They don’t get paid a lot of money. They often have to travel long distances to get to work. Now, what I’m saying is, there’s some good stuff that’s already been done by state governments, by local governments, by super funds to build housing for essential workers, for key workers. The sort of people that don’t get to work from home and often have to travel big distances. A good example is in Strathfield, in Sydney, where the local council developed a plan to build more apartments near Concord Hospital and they allocated I think it was six out of 20 odd apartments for people who work at the hospital so they could live close to where they work. We need to do more of that.
CONNELL: Just to clarify, so you’d be talking about specific projects, that would mean that there are homes set aside in these developments for cleaners, for aged care workers, for supermarket workers that they’d be officially classified as those essential workers and given these specific houses at certain prices. 
CLARE: Yeah, you bet. It’s not an original idea, we do it already. The state government up in Queensland’s doing work on this right now. I’ve seen local governments do it in Sydney and in Melbourne. Superfunds are doing this as well. What I’m saying is let’s do more of it. More housing for these sorts of heroes. We’re seeing how important they are. This government’s talked about a 30 minute city where you can live closer to where you work. Now often, it’s the case that there’s a lot of people who live on very modest incomes live right out the back of town and they’ve got to travel really long distances to get to the expensive part of town where their job is. It makes sense in a crisis like the one we’ve got now, where you’ve got tradies potentially losing their job and being on the dole queue, to get busy working on housing, and building housing for these sorts of heroes.
CONNELL: So the housing market you mentioned as well, you’re saying it could fall off a cliff. It might be depending on your estimate here. I get we’re all sort of in uncharted territory here, but they’re talking about maybe a 10% fall off. I mean would 10% be a disaster, or would that be the sort of return to affordability that Labor actually wanted, albeit in a slower way?
CLARE: There could be a fall in prices, and there’s also a fall in construction as well. We’ve got to wait and see what the true fallout of this is. But the nature of the economic crisis we’re dealing with is that there’s going to be a long economic hangover. A lot of people are either going to be unemployed or not get the hours they need for a long time. A lot of people’s homes will be worth less, they’ll have less in their superannuation and we’ve got to think practically about what can we do to keep people working. You know, from my point of view, it just makes common sense. If you’ve got all these tradies out there that are at risk of ending up on the dole, we should be taking some action now to make sure that doesn’t happen.
CONNELL: Where do you sit on where the market goes? I mean with 10, if it goes at 10% drop that is in the housing price, and then levels off, putting construction to one side for a moment, would that be a good result overall, for affordability?
CLARE: I don’t think any homeowner there wants to see their house price worth less. We always want to see sustainable growth in that area. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that you’ve got decent supply.  What I’m talking about here, building homes for the sorts of heroes here is going to help with that. Now, it’s not the total solution. There’s a whole bunch of things we need to do. But if we’re in a situation, Tom, where we’re going to be building less because of this crisis, then that’s not going to help the supply of houses. Ultimately, it’s going to put more pressure on house prices. Let’s think practically, as a team here in Parliament, about what can we do to build more of the houses that we’re going to need now and in the future?

CONNELL: Can I just clarify one final thing as well, Anthony Albanese said on negative gearing last week, “we made it clear there will be no impact on existing arrangements”. So does that mean that whatever is happening between now and the next election Labor is entirely jettisoning that policy on reining in negative gearing tax arrangements?
CLARE: I think he was saying what was clearly our policy at the last election, it wouldn’t have had any impact on existing arrangements. We also said it’s all under review. Tom, you know, we lost the last election.  We got towelled up. I’ve said it a million times we won’t take the same policies to the next election, we took to the last election. All of this is up for review. To be honest, I’m not focused on what we’re going to take to the next election in two years. I’m more interested in what we’re going to do in the next two months to keep tradies working rather than ending up on the dole queue.
CONNELL: All right. So yeah, just talking about what the policy was at last election. Good to get that clarification. Jason Clare, fascinating area at the moment. We’ll talk again soon. Thank you.