SKY NEWS AFTERNOON AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 8 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: COVID-19 in Victoria; Banks’ announcement on loan deferrals; Rent debt bomb; future of JobKeeper and JobSeeker.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services, Jason Clare. Mr. Clare, thanks so much for your time. We’ve just had confirmation that three new cases in the ACT are all linked to the Victorian outbreak. I guess a reminder of how quickly this virus can spread and jump borders with ease.
JASON CLARE: It’s a very serious reminder that this isn’t over yet and it’s not going to be over until there’s a vaccine or a treatment. What it shows is what we’ve seen overseas, that this thing can take off like a rocket, which is why governments around the country have made the right decisions when it comes to shutting down buildings, locking down cities or closing borders. The virus can spread quickly and if it gets out of control, then hundreds or thousands of people can die. For most of the country, I know for people here in New South Wales, we’d like to think that this was just a bad dream as life has slowly got back to normal. It’s easy to forget that this ever happened – that we had to lock ourselves in our homes in April and May. But this is a serious reminder that it’s not over, and that we’ve got to be careful. I think of all the people in Melbourne at the moment, this would be incredibly tough for them. They’ve got to go back into lockdown, back into what they had to experience and go through in April and May. It’s tough, and this is going to be a challenge that’s with us, like other countries, until there’s a vaccine or a treatment.
GILBERT: And with each of these setbacks, obviously there are the major economic impacts. Do you welcome the initiative today from the banks to signal more relief for businesses and mortgages, mortgage holders?
CLARE: Yeah, I do. And we recognise that there are real economic impacts of this but there are things that have to be done because if you don’t take these steps then people die. Just before we get on to the banks, one thing I was thinking of today, Kieran, was the lessons we might learn from 100 years ago when the Spanish Flu hit Australia. We did pretty well with the first wave, and managed to put in restrictions to stop the flu from spreading and save lives, and then the restrictions were raised, and then the flu came back again, and there was a reticence from governments to reimpose those restrictions. The flu spread like wildfire and more people died. More people died in the second wave than the first wave. So hopefully, there’s lessons learned from that.
But to your question about the banks, I do welcome that because there’s a lot of people that have lost their job and have got a mortgage, and they would have been fearing September when they were due to start paying their mortgage again. So the decision by the banks to extend that mortgage freeze for people who don’t have a job, who are in that dire circumstance of having a mortgage and no way to pay, it is really welcome. It’s a sensible step and I’m glad that they’ve taken it.
GILBERT: When we look at the support, obviously JobKeeper is front and centre. The Prime Minister is giving every indication that there will be ongoing support beyond September. You’d welcome that?
CLARE: Well he’s got to, and people need certainty about what’s going to happen. Because at the moment JobKeeper is supposed to end at the end of September and JobSeeker is supposed to go back to $40 a day. Now if that happened, businesses would shut, more people would be unemployed and more people would struggle to pay the rent and pay for their bills. This is a cliff that’s coming at us really quickly and the Prime Minister’s promised to build a bridge to the other side. He’s got to build that bridge quickly because if all this stops in September, well, that would be an economic nightmare.
GILBERT: And what about the support for those who rent? I mean, we know that there’s the bank support for mortgage holders and so on. What’s the rental support that’s being afforded to those who are struggling right now?
CLARE: It’s a good question. So if you if you’ve got a mortgage and you’re struggling you’re helped out by the banks and haven’t had to pay the mortgage for the last couple of months. But if you’re renting, you still have to pay the rent. There’s been a freeze on evictions and that’s been important. In the teeth of the pandemic, you didn’t want people thrown out onto the street if they couldn’t pay the rent, but people still had to pay it. We think about ten per cent of landlords and tenants have agreed to a reduction in the rent but there are still a lot of people that are struggling to pay the rent. What we don’t know is how many people are behind in their rental payments and whether, come September, when the eviction freeze ends, whether we’ve got a lot of people with a massive debt that they can’t repay – whether you’ve got a rent debt bomb that’s going to go off come the end of September. We’ve asked the Federal Government if they’re doing any analysis to find out if this is a problem or not. They said they haven’t done any. So we really don’t know how big or small a problem this might be, come the end of September.
GILBERT: So what would you like to see happen now in terms of well first of all, I guess assessing the size of this issue, and what support then might be forthcoming? And further to that, do you, is it your view that the JobSeeker allowance should stay where it is at double what it was prior to the crisis?
CLARE: Well, certainly if you drop JobSeeker then that would make this problem even worse. But the first thing we need to do is we need to get some information from Governments – federal and state – about how big a problem this is. And you can get that information from the Real Estate Institute and other organisations, the Tenants Union, to try and find out how big a problem this might be. But certainly the decision that the Government makes with JobKeeper and JobSeeker is really important here because it’ll determine whether it’s going to get even harder for people to pay the rent come October, November and December. And we need Governments to have a look at if we’ve got a problem here, come September October, with tenants in large numbers getting evicted. If that’s happening, you know, then that’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for landlords, bad for tenants and it’s bad for the whole country.
GILBERT: Labor frontbencher, Jason Clare, appreciate your time. Thanks.
CLARE: Thanks, mate.
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