Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Thursday 4 June 2020




SUBJECTS: Government’s announcement of HomeBuilder scheme; US protests; Hong Kong.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. I am here today with Jason Clare, Labor’s spokesperson on Housing and Homelessness, to respond to the Government’s announcement that it will be making today of support for housing. It comes some six weeks after Labor called for a national housing stimulus plan. And this is an inadequate response. It is too little and it is too late. There is nothing in this package for social housing, either new or to renovate existing housing. There is nothing there in terms of affordable housing for essential workers. Those workers who have seen us through this crisis. Our nurses, our police, our emergency services workers, supermarket workers. They have seen us through this crisis putting their own health at risk for others. But many of them can’t afford to live near to their work. And that is why in terms of a response, the Federal Government should be backing in the sort of the work that we’re seeing from superannuation funds, the sort of work from local government, to support increased, affordable housing in areas closer to where people work for essential workers, for our nurses. The fact is that we see, in today’s figures as well, potentially, another 100,000 apprenticeships being lost in this country. That comes on top of the significant loss of many more than that of apprenticeships and trainees over the life of this Government. We’ve seen $3 billion cut from TAFE. If the Government had a package that included social housing, then you can put in place mechanisms to support tradies, apprentices on the job to make sure that we deal with what will be a future skills crisis, on top of the skills shortages that we see today. 

There’s nothing wrong with supporting private housing. That’s a good thing. But this package today will require $150,000 of expenditure at a time of economic uncertainty. Not many people have $150,000 ready to go, ready to sign a contract, when their jobs and the economic uncertainty that is out there will provide a hindrance to that investment. So, we’re concerned about the targeting of this package. We’ll examine it in detail, but we do think that the Government needs to have a comprehensive plan that deals with private housing, yes, but also deals with social housing. And that’s the biggest weakness in the package. That’s the big missing element. I grew up in social housing not far from here. It provided security and a roof over the head of myself and my mum. It makes a difference to people. During this crisis we’ve put homeless people up in hotels because there’s simply nowhere else for them to go. We know that the queues have got longer and longer over a period of time. We know that investment in social housing provides a return on that capital over a period of time. It’s purchasing an asset, whether it be new or whether it be upgrades. And that’s something that this Government doesn’t seem slightly interested in. Jason?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks, Albo. This morning, the Prime Minister talked about keeping the dream alive. Well, today I think a lot of tradies will be saying, ‘Tell him he’s dreaming’. The Prime Minister pretends that he’s the friend of Australian tradies but today he’s let them down because what they’ve done today is fail to deliver. They promised a rescue package but instead of delivering a lifeboat, all they’ve thrown Australian tradies is a floatie. There’s about a million Australians who work in the home building industry from the carpenters and electricians through to the people who make the plasterboard, the tiles and the cement. All were relying on the Prime Minister to deliver today. And he’s failed. We know that the housing industry is in crisis. Before the coronavirus hit, there was supposed to be 160,000 homes built this year. Now it’s predicted that’ll be as low as 100,000. The package the Prime Minister has announced today will only inflate that figure by 10,000. That means a lot of homes won’t be built and a lot of tradies will end up on the dole queue, a lot of tradies ending up at Centrelink. For a lot of tradies, what this means is that instead of working on the tools at the local job building houses, all they’re going to be building is a longer line out the front of Centrelink. Over the next few months as tradies in their utes are doing laps around Centrelink looking for a car parking space, they’ll know who to blame. The Prime Minister, who failed to deliver today. He can’t say he wasn’t warned. For six weeks we’ve been telling the Government they need a comprehensive plan to keep Australian tradies working. That includes building social housing, repairing social housing, building for affordable accommodation for front-line workers, expanding the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme to encourage more first home buyers to build their first home, and grants for first home buyers as well. What the Government has announced today is barely one of those measures. The Government can’t say that they don’t have history to tell them what to do either. When the Global Financial Crisis hit, it smashed the housing construction industry. And we responded. We put together a package that included grants, and social housing, and it helped the industry to recover. It stopped us going into recession. Today, the housing industry is in even worse shape. Even the Government’s documents admit that. And we’re already in recession. What the Government’s announced today is less than one-tenth of what we did to help the housing construction industry and Australian tradies a decade ago.

Remember, at the start of this week they talked about ‘renovation rescue’. All of this hype about renovations, how you’re going to be able to renovate your kitchen and renovate your bathrooms. It turns out it’s all rubbish. There’s not many Australian battlers in the suburbs of Australia who have a lazy $150,000 to renovate their bathroom or the kitchen. It reminds of the movie the Wizard of Oz. We have all seen it. Remember when they get to the Emerald City and they hear the big, booming voice of the Great Oz. And Toto pulls the curtain away and you suddenly find that he is not that great and powerful afterwards. The same with the housing package. All week we were told how big and bold, and powerful it was going to be. Turns out it is not that big and powerful at all. Australian tradies are the ones who will suffer because of it.

ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the Housing and Construction package is an uncapped scheme. Is that wise and how much do you think it will end up costing the Government?

ALBANESE: We will wait and see what the take-up is. But as Jason just said, there aren’t too many battlers out there who have a lazy $150,000, who will see this announcement today and say, ‘I’m going to go between now and December 31 and sign a contract for a project which is worth more than $150,000.’ That’s a pretty decent renovation to your bathroom or to your kitchen. That is a substantial amount. I got a bathroom renovation not too long ago. Let me tell you, it wasn’t 150 grand. It didn’t have pearl taps, it didn’t have a gold bath. That’s a substantial amount. We’ll wait and see what the take-up of it is. But, once again, why the delay for six weeks? This is a Government that spends more time working out the marketing and the slogan, this time another one, ‘HomeBuilder’, than it does in actually the hard yakka of the detail in putting together a package that will make a difference.

JOURNALIST: You referenced social and affordable housing, and affordable housing for essential workers. What is an essential worker?

ALBANESE: An essential worker is someone like a police officer around the corner there. Go and talk to them. I did an ad last week with the Area Commander for the Inner West Police. You know what it was to do? To attract police to this station, because they can’t get people to come here because people can’t afford to live here. That’s an essential worker. The nurses who work at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, that’s an essential worker. These people can’t afford to live close to where they work. The people who work in the aged care facility, the people who work just behind us is an early childhood centre that looks after kids with severe disabilities. It’s tough work. It doesn’t pay that much. The people who are working there, work out of their commitment. I’ve spoken to them. They don’t actually live in the area. They commute long distances in order to do their job to look after kids with severe disabilities. They work out of their commitment. And they don’t have to re-invent the scheme. They could go talk to various superannuation funds, industry funds that are already investing right now in affordable housing. They could go talk to the Inner West Council about what they did for affordable housing on New Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill, and how they promoted investment in expansion of housing. This isn’t anything new. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Just like they don’t have to reinvent the wheel to invest in social housing. They could go look at projects at Lilyfield, where old, rundown housing that hadn’t been maintained properly, was renewed with a lifting up of the spirits of everyone who lives in that housing and a benefit because that capital investment remains with the public sector. So, there are a range of things that they could do. They’ve done none of them. They’ve come up with just one element of what should be a comprehensive package.

JOURNALIST: You said $150,000 could buy you a golden bath. Should that amount be lowered?

ALBANESE: Well, look, this package, we’re just very concerned about how targeted it is and how many people, who weren’t going to do renovations anyway, will actually build in. That’s the other factor here. Will this be supporting projects that were ready to go anyway? Because it’s now June. This has got to be in place by December. There’s great economic uncertainty out there. And I will look at the detail of this package. We think that any support is good. And there’s no doubt that there will be some jobs created by this package. The question is; is it properly targeted? Is this the best value for money? Josh Frydenberg, this morning, spoke about protecting a million jobs. Now how you get a million jobs from this package is beyond me, but this is the bloke that got the sums wrong by $60 billion and three million people on JobKeeper. So, maths is not Josh Frydenberg’s strong point. It’s just a pity that he holds the position of Treasurer of the country where maths is probably pretty handy. Thanks. There might be some online, too.

JOURNALIST: A question from Canberra, are you still there?



ALBANESE: Yes, you’re on, Brett.

JOURNALIST: Your position is that the threshold for renovations grant should be lower?

ALBANESE: No, no, that’s not our position. Our position is that there should be a comprehensive national house stimulus plan. That’s our position.

JOURNALIST: Just more broadly on the economy, there’s a generation of Australians who’ve never experienced recession. They don’t really understand what that word means. How concerned are you about the longer-term deepness of the recession and what that will mean, particularly for young Australians?

ALBANESE: Well, I’m very concerned. And that’s why we’ve been calling for a comprehensive plan. Let’s be clear here, the figures that have come out are about the quarter which began on January 1. The truth is that the economy was really struggling beforehand. We’d already had a doubling of the debt. We had consumer demand falling. We had business investment falling. We had productivity going backwards. We had economic growth being downgraded. We had interest rate decreases, because the Reserve Bank was saying there was a need for stimulus. So, the economy was not in good shape and the Government was complacent about it. The Government was sitting back and saying, ‘She’ll be right, mate’, without putting in an economic plan. This is a Government that is very short on plans, whether it be for the economy, will it be for employment, whether it be for energy policy. And so, this was an economy that was struggling already. Of course, the coronavirus has had an impact. It would have had an impact regardless. But the fact is the Government has been very slow to respond. And I suspect, I’d be interested, perhaps you could get another FOI rejected from SBS, Brett, by putting in an FOI about how much money the Government spent on marketing to come up with the latest slogan. Because there is no doubt announcements are being delayed to come up with slick slogans. What this country needs is slick policies and outcomes, not slogans.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, should Australians be joining protests in solidarity with demonstrations in the US given the social distancing rules and advice here?

ALBANESE: Well, Australians, of course, in a democracy, and the US is a democracy, people are entitled to express their views. But, at the same time, we need to be ever conscious about social distancing, as are myself and Jason are here at this media conference, as all of you good people in the media are being as well. So, I think people have a right to protest but they need to bear in mind that we’re not out of the woods yet re the coronavirus issue, and that the health advice is that people still need to maintain that one and a half metres. One of the ways that we’ve come through this crisis is that ordinary, everyday Australians have listened to the advice and have responded magnificently. And that is what has seen us through. I’d say to all Australians, they need to do that in whatever capacity they’re participating in society in.

JOURNALIST: The health orders say you need to stay one person per four square metres. So, how can a protest where one person is per four square metres? Should the protest go ahead or should it not?

ALBANESE: Look, we’re that distance ahead right now. There’s people here, I’m sure that the media are, at any time now could start chanting yourself, could lead it about the treatment of the media that’s occurred in the US, which is completely outrageous and which I called upon immediately the Australian Ambassador to the US to protest appropriately to the US Government, the fact that Australian journalists were assaulted in doing their job. 

JOURNALIST: So, on the health orders, there is an exemption for participating in work. This is for public gatherings of more than about 10 people, this is exempt because it is for work. But is protesting exempt from health orders?

ALBANESE: I think you should be asking the Chief Medical Officer. There is more than 10 people here right now.

JOURNALIST: The UK suggested that Australia could help resettle Hong Kong residents if the political situation there becomes deeply repressive. Do you think Australia should consider that, and how would we do it? Would it be through the humanitarian refugee program, or should we contemplate other options?

ALBANESE: Well, the Government is looking at, my understanding is the Government’s looking at the existing visa system. That’s appropriate. We know there are many Australian citizens who live in Hong Kong and we know that the existing visa system has been used for many people from Hong Kong to visit and, eventually, to become Australian residents or Australian citizens. Indeed, the second-largest polling booth in an Australian federal election, after London, is Hong Kong. It is not Sydney or Melbourne Town Hall. It’s Hong Kong. Thanks.