Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Thursday 29 June 2020

MONDAY, 29 JUNE 2020

SUBJECTS: HomeBlunder; First Home Loan Deposit Scheme; JobKeeper; China.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: There’s three issues specifically related to the Government’s HomeBuilder Scheme that I want to focus on this afternoon. The first is the application process. It’s a month this week since the Government announced their HomeBuilder Scheme and still not one person has applied for the scheme. The reason for that as revealed in the media today, is that you can’t. You still can’t apply to get the $25,000 grant under this scheme. You can register your interest in the scheme, but you can’t apply. Clicking on a link won’t save one tradies’ job, so today I’m calling on the Government to pull their finger out and hurry up. It’s been a month now since you announced this scheme. Surely you should have set up a system by now to enable Australians who want to access this scheme to apply for the grant.
The second point is using the construction of social housing to save tradie jobs. We’ve got another report out today, this one from the Grattan Institute, saying that to speed up economic recovery and to help get Australians back to work we should be building more social housing. That backs what Labor has been calling for now for months. It’s what we did during the Global Financial Crisis. We built 20,000 new social housing dwellings, we renovated more than 80,000 homes and it helped to save the jobs of thousands of tradies and helped to keep us out of recession.
There’s a lot more work that needs to be done right around the country. Just on the issue of the repair of social housing, in my own electorate I’ve seen examples of homes that are just infested with mould, where there are cracks in the ceiling above where kids have to sleep. An example that I got in my office this week is a family that has raw sewage bubbling out of the drain in their bathroom. There are a lot of examples like this around the country. More than 100,000 places that need to be renovated, public housing places that need to be renovated, and we can do that now and save the jobs of thousands of tradies that are running out of work. It would be a win-win. More houses for people who need it, fixing homes that need to be fixed and saving the jobs of thousands and thousands of tradies around the country. Again, I’d urge the Government to look at what the Grattan Report has said, and what a number of other organisations have said in backing our call for an investment in social housing and the repair of social housing.
Finally on that point, the point of trying to create more jobs for Australian tradies, this week the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme opens up for round two. This is the scheme that allows first homebuyers to get a loan for as low as five per cent without the need to get mortgage insurance. It’s a small scheme. It supports about 10,000 first home buyers a year and we support it, but we think it could be better, particularly at a time where we’re in recession. We’ve got the housing construction industry going off a cliff and tradies need more work. It makes sense to expand this scheme. So I call on the Government to this week, as they open up round two of this scheme, to uncap that scheme for first home buyers who want to build a new home. We called for this a couple of weeks ago and the Government ignored our calls. I ask them again to look at this and implement it on Wednesday when they open up round two. It just makes sense. It will encourages more first homebuyers to build a new home and that will help to create more jobs for Australian tradies, and small mum and dad businesses in the housing construction industry that are struggling at the moment and need more work. So there are three things that the Government could do this week to make their HomeBuilder scheme a hell of a lot better than it is today.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Firstly, a few questions on JobKeeper. It ends in September. What would you like to see done after that?
CLARE: There is a report out today from the Grattan Institute that makes the point we’ve been making, that if that scheme ends at the end of September, then it’s going to create a cliff that a lot of Australians could fall off. JobKeeper ends at the end of September and JobSeeker goes back to $40 a day, and that is an economic nightmare in the making. These are hard decisions that the Government needs to make, but if they don’t get it right then it’s going to slow economic recovery and it’s going to make the recession longer and deeper than it has to be.
JOURNALIST: Now the Government has also flagged industry specific support for industries that are struggling the most. Does it make more sense to do that or to have a blanket scheme like JobKeeker?
CLARE: Well it’s not one or the other. That’s why I called for an expansion of the HomeBuilder Scheme specific to that industry – a big industry that employees about 1 million Aussies building homes for other Aussies – but that scheme itself is inadequate. It’s too small and it’s badly targeted. That’s why I’ve been calling for months, and I’m glad to see the Grattan Institute back that call today, for an investment in more social housing and the repair of social housing, because it will help Aussies who need it and it will help those tradies who are running out of work at the moment because the pipeline of work in the construction sector is drying up. I’d rather see tradies on the tools building homes for Aussies who need it rather than building a longer line at Centrelink.
JOURNALIST: Still on JobKeeper. What level would you like to see that at post September?
CLARE: I make this point: the Government has a report on what to do with JobKeeper. They’ve had that report since Friday afternoon. The Treasurer said he got that report Friday afternoon. Release the report. The Treasurer has got the report, so what are you waiting for? If this had good news in it you can bet that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer would have released it by now. They to be in it like a rat up a drainpipe. They like good news. The fact that they are refusing to release this report until after the by-election on the weekend should send a shiver up the spine of anybody thinking of voting for the Liberal Party on the weekend, because it means there’s likely to be bad news in this report. This Government abandoned the people of Eden-Monaro during the bushfires earlier this year, and now they’re refusing to come clean and tell the people of Eden-Monaro what’s in this report until after they vote on the weekend.
JOURNALIST: Just over to China.  Are you concerned that our relationship with Beijing is moving into dangerous territory?
CLARE: It’s an important relationship. It’s a very important economic partnership. There are obviously problems with trade at the moment. It’s important that both countries work to resolve those as quickly as possible. In the national security space foreign interference, these are serious issues. The point that I want to emphasise is this: this is not a Labor/Liberal thing. The Government and the Opposition work hand in glove on this. We are briefed on all of these important matters and where legislation is needed to provide security agencies with the powers they need to stop this from happening, we support that legislation.
JOURNALIST: Just one more, Moselmane says he is not a suspect in the investigation. What is your response to his denial?
CLARE: The point that I’d make again is that these are serious issues, and they need to be treated seriously. I haven’t been briefed by our security agencies on that so it’s not appropriate for me to comment in any detail here, but I’ll just make the general point that Australia’s national interest is well served by the work of our security agencies, and the Labor and Liberal Party at a senior level work very closely together to make sure that our national interest is always protected. I think we may have questions on the phone.
JOURNALIST: Yes, that’s right. I have a question on HomeBuilder. Do you think it’s likely that there will be a number of applications like the Government has indicated their hopeful for with this program, and what have you’ve heard so far about how effective this program is, how many people can take it up and so on, given that it’s now been a month or so since it was announced?
CLARE: I hope people take it up but the fact is at the moment that no one has taken it up because they can’t. I don’t know whether it’s a stuff up by the Federal Government or a delay in signing agreements with the State Governments, but the bottom line is this is a scheme that’s designed to create jobs and save jobs and you can’t save a job if people can’t fill out a form at the moment and apply to access this scheme. I hope people take it up. What I’d say to the government is they need to do a hell of a lot more to save these jobs than what they’re doing at the moment.
We put forward a five point plan. We said in addition to providing grants to first home buyers, expand the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, and they could do that this Wednesday. We also said build more social housing, repair existing social housing, and build more affordable housing for frontline workers. The Government barely picked up one of those in its package a month ago, but there is still an opportunity to swallow its pride, admit it got it wrong and add more elements that we’ve suggested to its package, because in the end what this is all about, it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s about saving the jobs of tradies and saving the small businesses that are running out of work.
JOURNALIST: Given that it hasn’t had, that it’s not allowed people to sign up so far and it’s due to end in December in terms of when people can sign up, should that be pushed out by a month now into January given this is still not up and running?
CLARE: I think the Government is eventually going to be forced to admit it got this wrong. It’s going to be forced to expand this scheme and it might be forced to extend this scheme because reality is going to catch up with this Government. They are going to work out that the scheme is not doing enough to save Australian tradies jobs in the housing construction industry. Let me remind you of this. It was originally expected that about 160,000 homes be built this financial year, now it’s expected to drop down to 100,000. The analysis from the Master Builders Association says that with HomeBuilder added to the mix, it might increase the number of homes built to about 110. An extra 10,000 homes being built. If it’s still dropping for 160,000 to 110,000, that’s a lot of work tradies aren’t going to be able to do. That means tradies with less work, it means tradies on the dole queue. That’s why I’ve said there’s not enough here. The Government is going to eventually have to admit that it got it wrong and it’s going to have to do more to save these jobs.
Thank you.