Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Saturday 30 May 2020



SUBJECTS: Labor wants to save tradies jobs and help first home buyers, Robodebt, Scott Morrison does not like scrutiny, Scott Morrison repeatedly releasing bad news stories late on Friday afternoons, Local Government being left out of COAG will hurt Australia. 

JASON CLARE:  It is great to be here in Petersham with Labor Leader Anthony Albanese. What we are talking about today is calling on the federal government to expand the first home owner deposit scheme. This is all about keeping tradies working and helping first home owners to build their first home sooner.  There is about a million Aussies that work in the home building industry.  Building homes for other Aussies. And that industry is expected to go off a cliff in the next few months.

The predictions are scary, the forecasts indicate that instead of 160,000 homes being built this year it could be as low as 100,000. Now if that happens a lot of carpenters, a lot of electricians, a lot of plumbers could lose their jobs. And a lot of mum and dad home businesses that work in the home construction industry could hit the fence. We can’t let that happen. That is why we are calling on the government to develop a housing stimulus package as quickly as possible. Albo and I, we called for this five and a half weeks ago. And we are calling on the government to do it again today. You know they can give it a slogan if they like, they can call it jobbuilder if that is what it takes to get Scott Morrison to act. But if they don’t act the only thing a lot of tradies are going to be building in the next couple of months is a longer line out the front of Centrelink.
 We have given the government some ideas on how they could do this. They could build more social housing, they could bring forward the repair and maintenance of existing social housing, they could build more affordable rental accommodation for our frontline workers, the sort of people who have been the heroes of the coronavirus crisis – nurses, bus drivers, cleaners, supermarket workers. 

And here’s another idea today. They could expand the first home owners loan deposit scheme. At the moment only 10,000 Aussies benefit from it a year. The government announced this week that it’s already fully subscribed after five months. And they told us that four out of five people that benefit from it are buying existing homes, like the auction that we just saw a moment ago. Only one in five first time buyers are buying new homes.
Now we need to help the construction industry, we need to help all of those tradies and small businesses that are going broke or could be out of work in the next few months. And that’s why we’re saying expand the scheme, lift the cap and help more first home buyers to build a new home sooner and help keep Australia’s tradies at work over the next few months. Albo.
ALBANESE:  Thanks very much, Jason. And welcome to Petersham where we’ve just seen firsthand an auction and how competitive and how difficult it is. I’ve just been talking to people who were first homebuyers. A doctor just missed out on an auction for a one bedroom unit. It just shows how tough it is for people to get into housing. And it shows that the government needs to respond.

What we know is coming if there is no action is the loss of up to 500,000 jobs that are dependent upon a vibrant and dynamic building and construction industry. We know that the projections are instead of 160 or 170,000 new dwellings being built, that figure is likely to be 100,000 this year, and likely to be less if action isn’t taken.
Now, we have put forward a five point plan for the government to take up. Firstly, they should expand and lift the cap on the first home loan deposit scheme. They should do that, though, not for existing homes, but for new homes so as to stimulate construction activity. That cap of 10,000 has already been reached. This would be a sensible and practical measure that will create jobs for tradies, create jobs that the sector right across the board depends upon. Because we know that areas like the timber and the materials that go into building a new home, or a new unit, we know how important this industry is to stimulate the economy. And they’re all telling us that come August and come September, construction just falls off a cliff, we need action.

So that’s the first thing they could do.
Second thing they could do is look at the possibility of considering grants to first home owners. That would make a difference and would help stimulate the economy.

Thirdly, of course, they could look at public housing and social housing, and putting that direct investment in to social housing.

Fourthly, as we did when we were in government, look at refurbishing, existing social housing, renovating, upgrading, improving the quality and therefore improving the value of that asset. When you invest in housing, it isn’t money that’s just gone. If you invest in social housing, it’s an asset. It’s an investment in the government’s balance sheet, whether that be at commonwealth or at state levels.  In areas we see like defence housing, it’s an example of whereby the Commonwealth has directly engaged in a scheme that has been very successful indeed.

And fifthly, what they could do is to look at the affordable housing issue for essential workers. We know that our nurses, our cleaners, our emergency service workers and police, are desperate for housing that enables people to live near where they work.

Yesterday with the local area command of the Inner West police, I did a video trying to attract police to apply for jobs in this area. Because there’s a real issue that they have, because people can’t afford in the police force, can’t afford to live in the area in which they work. And this is a fundamental challenge for us as a society. These are the very workers that have seen us through this crisis and they’re deserving of support.

So we call upon the Morrison Government to have a comprehensive housing plan that builds jobs, that improves affordability, that makes a difference to the quality of life. Unless that happens, we will see more tradies queuing up at Centrelink than doing what they should be doing, which is working and looking after their families and contributing to the nation. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: How significant, there is such a huge gap (inaudible) international students?
ALBANESE:  Well what we’re proposing, we have proposed five ideas for the government. Every one of them would go some way towards protecting the jobs of tradies and others in our economy. And it’s something that we need to do. We’re not being prescriptive about this way. We are being constructive as we have been consistently, as we were when we proposed wage subsidies.

But this is a government that’s complacent. What we know is that snap back would snap the spirit of communities and would snap our economy. The Reserve Bank told the government that just this week. What we need is actually a transition plan to keep the economy going. The idea that we have this massive impact on our economy on one day and that just all the need for support disappears is not realistic. It’s not fair dinkum. And what it will do is result in an economic downturn. And just as we need to recover, we need to recover in a positive way that’s consistent, similar to the way that we deal with the health issues here. If we are complacent, and we stop providing support for the economy, then there will be an impact on jobs. And what that does is feed into each other and create a rolling mole going down in the wrong direction.
JOURNALIST:   What do you make of Stuart Robert saying he has acted on the best advice available when it comes to Robodebt?

ALBANESE:  Stuart Robert, what do you what do you say about Stuart Robert. Look the government now has an approach of tipping out the trash on a Friday afternoon to avoid scrutiny. We had a fortnight ago, the issue of a $60 billion black hole in what they said JobKeeper would cost and 3 million people not getting assistance that the government said was.

Here we have yesterday afternoon a $721 million payment from the government, so that government ministers won’t have to front a court case and explain their actions which had such devastating consequences.

We know and we said at the time that Robodebt was not working. There were Inquirys into Robodebt. There was suicides as a result of people who received these debt notices for debts that they didn’t owe, that were illegal, and that the government now concedes were illegal.

And the government in order to avoid ministers having to front up to a court case, has sent a 700 plus million dollar bill to taxpayers as a result of this. And there’s no doubt that the process doesn’t end just there. Because what we will have, of course, is people asking for compensation for those people who paid this money, for interest on it. And so this issue is not over. What should be over is  Stuart Robert’s career, because this gaffe prone minister has mishandled everything he’s ever touched, any time he’s been a minister.

And the consequences of Robodebt though, and I saw it, every single person who came into my office and asked for support either had their debt reduced to zero or reduced substantially, because the money simply was never owing. And what we know now is confirmation that it’s illegal that this has occurred. This is a government that will do anything to avoid scrutiny.
JOURNALIST: So should that class action continue (inaudible)?
ALBANESE:  People are entitled to pursue their interests. They know here that the government’s put up its hand at the last minute, so as to avoid giving evidence to two court cases, which they had no chance of winning, because the government itself conceded that it was illegal. But how is it that a government for a period of five years has a program that’s illegal and never gets advice?

This is incompetent and whether it is Robodebt, or whether it be the sixty billion dollar bungle, the largest accounting error in Australian political history, or whether it be the fact that the housing industry is heading towards a cliff, and we have no action from the government up to now. When we acted during the global financial crisis. It was effective. It made a difference. We kept Australia out of recession and kept people in jobs.  

(Pause for plane flying over)

JOURNALIST:  Should the government apologise?

ALBANESE:  Of course the government should apologise. This is a humiliation for this government and this minister yet again, a fortnight after the $60 billion bungle, we now have a more than $700 million bungle, they should apologise. People were distraught. People receiving these debt notices in the mail. Many of them having no idea what it was from. And many people of course who get a notice from the government just pay it. They didn’t go to their local member to complain, didn’t go to a lawyer. They just paid it. And now we know that the government is saying that for half of these people, they don’t have their contact details anymore, so they’ve got to chase them up to give them the payment back.

Stuart Robert yesterday, he’s performance with no apology, no contrition, just more arrogance from this government. A government that is arrogant towards the media, a government that tips things out on a Friday afternoon on a regular basis – just minutes after Scott Morrison finished his press conference. Scott Morrison always wants to give good news. Leadership’s about also being prepared to take responsibility and to give bad news as well.

JOURNALIST: If you were Prime Minister would you commit to maintaining national cabinet (inaudible)?

ALBANESE: Well of course. Questions on the phone?

JOURNALIST: A few people in housing industry have said that the only issue with the idea is that it could possibly push up house prices in Sydney. Is that part of your thinking at all?

ALBANESE:  Well, what happens when you have a comprehensive plan that is about building, construction and increasing supply, which to apply the support for loans and for deposits would do for new homes and new units is it would increase supply. Supply and demand works. If you increase supply, then you have an impact in terms of house prices. But more importantly, what you’re doing is keeping money in the economy by having construction like the tradie working on the house behind me this morning that needs that support.

JOURNALIST: Anthony what do you think about dumping stamp duty in NSW?
ALBANESE:  Well, look, that’s a matter for the state governments but a couple of state governments are looking at stamp duties and having a change in terms of land tax. Stamp Duty, we know is an inefficient tax because what it does is provide a disincentive for people to sell their properties and to move. What we know also is that with an ageing population, people do need to transit from a family home to in later years to downsize, there’s a disincentive there to do that at the moment. That of course provides also an issue meaning that that some people are living in inappropriate housing when they would rather actually be living in a smaller and more practical home. So those are all issues which are there.

JOURNALIST: Should the Robodebt scheme be abolished by Services Australia?

ALBANESE:  Well, what should happen, obviously, is if someone is in a circumstance whereby they are getting money from the Commonwealth, that they’re not entitled to, of course, that should be dealt with. And it always has been. What this government has done is remove humans from human services. What they’ve done is to have schemes that don’t give proper consideration to the rights of individuals, and which treat people like machines. And it’s a part of as well, the lack of employment, they would rather have a computer than someone on the payroll as a public servant. And we saw the chaos that occurred in Centrelink due to the contracting out, the privatisation of services, that occurred on that disastrous Monday when the government introduced jobseeker, but didn’t do anything about jobkeeper and keeping people in work. So we saw the consequences of that.

Could I just make a comment and ask Jason to comment as well about the national cabinet.

Of course, it’s a good idea for the Commonwealth government, to talk with State Premiers and Chief Ministers. Common sense tells you that that should occur. And if it occurs on a regular basis, then that’s good. We live in a federation that has the three tiers of government, and there should be cooperation. But I am concerned that local government has been left out. Local government has participated for decades, in COAG processes, and local government needs to be included. It’s an important part of the way that we govern our nation in terms of local government, delivering those local services and it’s a gap that this government seems to have shown contempt for local government. And it deserves better. And I ask Jason who is the local government shadow minister to add.

CLARE: Thanks Albo. Look it is really disappointing that local government hasn’t been included in the national cabinet. Local government has being kicked off the main table and put on the kiddies table. As Albo said, local government has been part of COAG since it started 28 years ago. I’ve spoken to lots of Premiers and lots of Chief Ministers about this. They tell me that all through that time, local government has added a lot of value. This is bad news, not just for the 500 odd councils across the country. But it’s bad news for all Australians who want to fast track getting out of this economic quagmire we’re in at the moment. Because local governments are going to play a key role in digging us out of all of this. They did it during the GFC and they can do it again. Local governments know how to create jobs quickly, they know how to run rebuild communities. They know how to help get us out of this economic crisis. And to take them off the main table, put them on the kiddie’s table at a meeting with the Prime Minister once a year is not the right way to do it. It doesn’t show respect for local government, for the experience of local mayors and councillors right across the country that can help work with state governments and federal governments to get us out of this economic mess and create more jobs right across Australia. So I’d urge the Prime Minister, admit you’ve made a mistake. Bring local government back to the table. If we’re going to work together, we need all three levels of government at the main table working together. Thanks very much. Thank you.