Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Monday 1 June 2020



SUBJECTS: Housing Stimulus

JASON CLARE:  Thanks for coming along today. I’ve got two words for the Prime Minister – hurry up. There’s news today that the Government’s working on a plan to save the housing construction industry. If that’s the case, then that’s good news, and we welcome it. We’ve been calling on the Government to do this for a number of weeks, but we need them to hurry up. This is taking too long.
We’ve known for weeks that the housing industry is expected to go off a cliff. The forecasts are pretty terrifying. Instead of 160,000 homes built this year, it’s now predicted that it could be as low as 100,000. Now, if that happens, tens of thousands of tradies will lose their jobs.
We’re talking about an industry that employs about a million Australians. Everything from carpenters, plumbers and electricians on the job site, through to all the people that make the materials that go towards making a house, the people who make the tiles, the plasterboard, who make the timber, the cement. All those mum and dad businesses with their names on the side of a ute that could hit the wall if this government doesn’t take action to help save this industry now.
That’s why we’ve been calling on the government to act for weeks because if they don’t help out, the only thing a lot of tradies will be building is a longer line out the front of Centrelink.
Five and a half weeks ago, the Labor Party called on the Government to develop a plan to help save tradies jobs. We recommended a number of things. We suggested five things the government could do. One, build more social housing. Two, repair more social housing. Three, build more affordable rental accommodation for frontline workers. The sort of people who have been the heroes of this Coronavirus crisis; nurses cleaners, bus drivers, supermarket workers. The sort of people who don’t earn a lot of money and have had to put their own safety at risk over the last few months, Who often work a long way from home to make it a little bit easier to work closer to home. Number four, expand the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. We called on the Government to do that just on the weekend. Number five, grants for first homeowners to make it easier to build their first home sooner.
They’re just a couple of ideas. We’re being constructive here, not prescriptive. Just encouraging the Government to hurry up. I see the Treasurer on the beers today. Well, that’s good, but we need him back at work developing a plan to keep our tradies on the tools. So my message today to the Prime Minister is very simple. Hurry up. Hurry up and develop a plan to save these Australian jobs.
Happy to take questions. I think we’ve got a couple of people on the line.
JOURNALIST: Mr Clare it’s Michael here from 2GB.
CLARE: G’day Mike.
JOURNALIST: I was just wondering have you spoken to most people across the building or construction sector and if they’re all on the same page? We spoke to someone from a group called the Builders Collective of Australia, his name is Phil Dwyer. He’s the President of this Builders Collective of Australia, and he thinks that putting more money into the construction or building sector, especially when it comes to renovations or building new homes doesn’t make sense. He thinks that tradies are already busy enough, and this could overheat the market. So I’m wondering if you’ve heard whether or not the sector itself is on the same page?  
CLARE: Michael you’re right, a lot of tradies are still working now.  Whilst a lot of us have been forced to stay at home, if you look around our big cities and our suburbs a lot of tradies have been working.  But here’s the thing, over the last few months a lot of people have lost their jobs, they’ve stopped signing contracts to buy new homes. What that means is that in four or six months time after that, when concrete should have been being poured at work sites around the country, it won’t be poured. That’s why all the forecasts indicate that we’re headed for a cliff here.
I’ve spoken to builders big and small. Small mum and dad operators that tell me they normally build four or five houses a year that have only got one job on their books for the next 12 months. Talk to the Master Builders Association, talk to the Housing Industry Association, talk to economists, talk to unions, anybody that’s looked at this knows that this is a problem and it’s coming at us fast. I’m glad the Government has finally woken up and realised that this is a big problem. Now we need the government to take action.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea how big you’d like to see this package be? There’s talk that it could be around $4 billion. Do you think that’s enough? Do you think more is needed? Do you think less is needed? How should it be structured?  
CLARE: Michael we will need to see the package. My advice to the Government is that it needs to be a comprehensive package. There’s talk about grants for renovation or grants for the building of new homes. That could be a good thing. They’re the sorts of things we’ve called for, but that on its own won’t be enough to fill the hole created by the Coronavirus smashing into our economy that’s left a massive crater. All of the analysis indicates that that can help to build more homes but we need a comprehensive plan.
That’s why I said one of the things we should do is what we did during the Global Financial Crisis. Look at the budgets that State Governments have for the building of social housing, and the renovations of existing social housing and bring all of that forward. That’ll help keep tradies on the tools. It’ll keep work going. The last thing you want is to be paying Australian tradies to be on the dole, to be building a longer dole queue, when we could be building the housing that Australians need.
JOURNALIST: It’s Daniel Hurst here from the Guardian, can I ask about this idea of the renovations being funded? Should that be just a minor focus here? Or what are the risks? What are the risks involved in providing grants in this fashion? And what sort of conditions do you think would have to be put on it if that were the case?
CLARE: Daniel, we’ll have to wait and see the details of whatever the Government announces. They haven’t announced anything yet. One thing to look at though is what the Northern Territory Government is doing. They’re already rolling out a programme like this with vouchers to residents to encourage them to hire a tradie, get them on site, get work done. So there are examples for the Government to look at here and our objective is to keep tradies on the tools and to keep tradies working.
Just to get back to Michael’s point, have a look at history, whenever we’ve faced a massive economic crisis, one of the ways to tackle it is to build houses. Look at what Curtin and Chifley did, even in the darkest days of World War Two, they were building plans for reconstruction and a big part of getting out of that nightmare was building houses. It was a big part of getting us through the Global Financial Crisis and it can be a big part of speeding up economic recovery, speeding up the recovery we need to get us out of this economic hole we’re in right now.
JOURNALIST: So basically, you don’t want to focus on the renovations you want the bigger ticket projects?
CLARE: Daniel, what I’m saying is we need a comprehensive plan. You can’t just have one thing. One thing on its own, is not going to save all these tradie jobs. We need a comprehensive plan and Labor has given the Government some ideas about what that could involve. It can involve renovations, it can involve grants, but it also needs other things. Building more social housing, you can do that quick. It’s a great way to keep Australian tradies at work. Bring forward the renovation of social housing. Build more affordable rental accommodation for frontline workers. We do it overseas, why can’t we do it here in Australia. Expand the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, that’s already capped out after five months, it’s a 12 months scheme. We found out last week from the Minister that it’s already met its target. So expand that but make it available to first home owners who want to build their first home.  Now that’ll help as well. We need a number of things. We need a comprehensive plan. That’s what will help get us through. That’s what will speed up economic recovery. And that’s what will help keep Australian tradies on the tools.
JOURNALIST: Jason could I just ask a quick question? Do you have any response to today’s airport announcements given that you represent a Western Sydney electorate. The Federal Government is giving $1.7 billion to build these new train lines and so forth, I assume that you would welcome the announcement?
CLARE: What’s this all about, what I’m speaking about today, creating jobs, saving jobs, protecting jobs. If we’re going to invest more in infrastructure, that’s a good thing. The Government, at least in this area, has been too slow to act. I think a three legged tortoise would get to this quicker than the Government. They’ve just been too slow. And I just urge the Government, hurry up, hurry up and save these jobs.