TV Interview with Fauziah Ibrahim and Kathryn Robinson – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 1 August 2020


SUBJECTS: Role of the ADF in Victoria; First Home Loan Deposit Scheme; HomeBuilder.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Victorians are being warned that the six week lockdown in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire could be extended as coronavirus cases continue to rise. Restrictions in regional parts of Victoria have also been tightened in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19.

KATHRYN ROBINSON, HOST: Let’s bring in our political panel now, and we’re joined by the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Darren Chester. Good morning to Darren. And we’re also joined by the Shadow Minister for Regional Services and Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare. Darren, I might start with you. If we look at the ADF personnel who are being deployed across not just Victoria but across the country in really different roles, they’re door knocking, they’re helping with tracing, they’re protecting some of the borders. Can you take us just through how some of these different roles, or what some of these different roles are actually doing?

DARREN CHESTER: Great to join you, guys. G’day Jason, I hope you and your family are well in these challenging times too. There’s about 3200 Australian Defence Force personnel now deployed, working with the states primarily. Obviously Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland has been a major focus. They’re working alongside police in some situations on the border checkpoints, they work with health authorities going door to door making sure people at home who are meant to be at home, and also doing the contact tracing. They’re supporting the state authorities and work they’re doing. Keep in mind, the Australian Defence Force aren’t sworn enforcement officers, they’re not doing the police job. They’re assisting the police network.

HOST: That’s an interesting point: assisting the police network. Jason Clare, I want to bring you into this conversation as well because there have been people who have said that it’s quite disconcerting to see soldiers and camouflage door knocking, going from door to door out in the streets, and corralling people and trying to persuade them to continue with their self-isolation and to adhere to coronavirus restrictions as well. Some people would say this is surveillance on civilians. What do you say to that?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: I wouldn’t call it surveillance. This is an unusual year. We’ve got a virus that’s racing through our community and we need everybody pulling together to try and make sure that we stamp out this virus, from doctors, to nurses, to police officers, to soldiers. I don’t think it’s overdramatic to call it a war. More people have died from this virus in the United States than have died in all the wars since World War Two. I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got our military there at the borders checking cars, but also making sure people are at home. I saw just before our interview started, we’re talking about the number of people that aren’t at home. It blows my mind that people who are sick and have got the virus aren’t staying at home. If you don’t stay at home, there’s a bigger chance of spreading the virus to other people. We’ve all got to pull together here as a community and we need all different governments – Labor, Liberal, state, federal, army, police, doctors, nurses, everybody – working together to make sure that we don’t have more people die from this terrible virus.

HOST: I think those numbers blow everyone’s minds, Jason. But Darren, if I can ask you, we’re seeing a surge in numbers of these frontline workers, particularly health workers in Victoria, that are becoming infected with the disease. Are you confident that the ADF personnel who are going out to assist authorities and health workers have the right training, have the right protection?

CHESTER: Just taking up your last point regarding the personnel on the streets as well, I’ve got to say here in Gippsland we had the Australian Defence Force helping out during bushfires. It gave people a lot of comfort to see the ADF here so I think it actually can work in quite the reverse. But in terms of making sure they prepared, absolutely we’re making sure the Defence Force personnel have access to the personal protective equipment. Don’t mind the rainbow lorikeets coming to say g’day, but they’ve got access to personal protective equipment, to the facemasks, and they’re working alongside to health authorities. But as Jason’s correctly indicated, this is a highly contagious virus. There are risks involved in this work. And I want to thank the Australian Defence Force personnel for their service in doing this work for us. The states have asked for additional systems to keep up with the demand. Unfortunately in Victoria, we’ve had a blowout of numbers over the last few weeks which caused enormous problems for us so having the ADF here to lend a hand, to support the health authorities, to support the police, has been critically important. I really want to say thank you for the work they’re doing.

HOST: Darren briefly, just before we move on to housing which Jason can speak a little bit more to, I just want to ask you, you mentioned here we’ve got ADF personnel being deployed since last year with respect to the response to the fires and now the Coronavirus. Are we likely to see this trend to continue this changing nature of how the ADF is deployed in this country?

CHESTER: The ADF has always been available for what we call humanitarian aid and disaster relief. So we’ve seen the ADF deployed before in times of cyclones and floods and that type of thing, but coming off the summer of bushfires which was unprecedented in terms of scale along the East Coast, the ADF has an important role to play in recovery. And now this pandemic has hit us as well so again, it’s the capacity of the ADF to be resilient, to be flexible, to use their skills and logistics and transport, and a lot of medical training as well. Using that flexibility of the ADF in response is important where the states can’t necessarily have the resources on hand to cope. I think it’s been a real test for ADF and they’ve passed it with flying colours, and see the young men and women doing the work they’re doing for us right now is something we should all be very proud of.

HOST: We want to move on to another issue that’s made headlines this week and the property market. Jason Clare, I want to put this question to you. You are of course the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness as well. We saw that the Government is considering expanding first homebuyer loan scheme to beyond the 10,000 cap and beyond October. This is something that you’ve been pushing for, and you say that this is actually going to help with the construction industry, which of course, is one of the biggest employers in Australia as well. I’m presuming that you would welcome this move from the Government?

CLARE: We called for this month ago and there’s rumours the Government will do this in the Budget but I urge them to do it now. The sooner they do something to help create more jobs in the construction industry, the better because as you rightly point out, Fauziah, this is a massive industry. It employs about a million people from the tradies building houses right through to the people in the manufacturing industry who produce everything from cement to tiles, and the industry is going off a cliff at the moment. As unemployment goes up, it becomes not unsurprisingly tougher and tougher for people to sign a contract to build a new house. To provide more support for the industry, one way to do that is to expand this scheme and provide more support for people who are going to build a new house. This is a scheme that allows you to get a loan with as little as a 5 per cent deposit without having to pay mortgage insurance. We support the scheme. We think that expanding this for people who will build rather than just buy, and that’s most people who use the scheme at the moment who buy a house, if we expand it for people who are going to build it’s going to help a lot of Australian tradies. But another thing that we can do on top of that is also put some money into building social housing. This would be a win-win. It would put a roof over the head of people who desperately need it and help to save these jobs in the construction sector.

HOST: Jason, I do wonder though, these are uncertain times and employment is at an uncertain rate at the moment. Someone may lose their job the next day, in the next week. They just don’t know. Is this really a time for first home buyers to be getting into the market?

CLARE: Good point. You can’t buy a house if you don’t have a job. It’s hard to pay the rent if you don’t have a job and unemployment is already high. It’s expected to get even higher by Christmas, another 240,000 people are expected to lose their job. That means as government support comes down, more and more people are going to struggle to pay a mortgage, more and more people are going to struggle to pay rent. That’s why this is just one thing that the Government could do to boost the construction industry. One thing we did during the GFC, and this is worse than the GFC now we’re in recession, is we put money into building social housing, and repairing dilapidated social housing. It saved jobs, boosted the economy and put a roof over the head of people who need it. And I’d urge the government on the eve of Homelessness Week to think about doing that, because that’ll save thousands and thousands of tradies jobs

HOST: Darren, with respect to the scheme, the first home loan deposit scheme, why not extend it now?

CHESTER: I think you’ll find Jason and I almost in furious agreement on the challenges we’re facing here about how we support tradies to stay in work. So there have been schemes put in place by both the state governments and the Commonwealth to support new builds, so the new HomeBuilder Scheme and also the deposit scheme you’re referring to. Jason’s also right, the challenge is making sure that people have jobs so they can afford to get a mortgage and with low interest rates, there would be a lot of people who will have the confidence and the hope for the future to actually go out and take loans and to support their families and getting their first home. We’re all about trying to get people into their first home sooner so I think that’s working well, that scheme has worked well. And as Jason indicated, that’s a matter for the Budget in October. That will be an issue for the Government to work through at that point. What I would say, Jason, I’m not sure if you’re seeing the same thing in your electorate, but I’m seeing tradies and builders in my electorate absolutely flat out at the moment. So there was a lot of work going on still in the construction trade. There’s been a lot of disruption in other industries in my electorate around hospitality and other transport and aviation type industries. But construction right now is going very well to the sense that local builders are telling me they’ve got work all the way up next six months. So there’s a lot of work still going on in the economy. It’s not all doom and gloom out there when it comes to the construction sector.

HOST: Final word to you, Jason. Are you seeing a lot of tradies, a hive of excitement which would suggest that perhaps the HomeBuilder Scheme is working, Jason?

CLARE: To Darren’s point, you’re right. Tradies have been able to keep working over the last few months but there’s a bit of a lag because if you don’t sign a contract for a house in say March or April, then that means cement doesn’t get poured on a block in August or September, and that’s why the industry is really worried. We saw figures come out this week that showed housing approvals are down. That means fewer houses are going to be built in the next 12 months. The HomeBuilder Scheme helps a bit but not enough and the Government’s great at slogans. It’s a ripper slogan, but they’ve been pretty poor so far at delivery. They announced it two months ago and still most Australians can apply for the scheme. So I urge the Government to hurry up, get the scheme out the door. It’ll help more tradies to keep them working over the next 12 months and boost the scheme, expand it by building more social housing and expanding the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme.

HOST: Gentlemen, we are out of time but as always, it’s lovely to talk to you both and hear the birds chirping behind you Darren Chester and Jason Clare, thanks for your time.

CLARE: Thanks guys.

CHESTER: Thanks.