Interview with Simon Lauder – ABC South East NSW – Wednesday, 23 September 2020

SUBJECTS: Bushfire Survivors, Bungled HomeBuilder, NBN Backflip

SIMON LAUDER, HOST: Now 31st of December 2020, it will be 12 months to the day that the first of the worst bushfires impacted this region last season. It’s also the date when survivors planning to rebuild have to have their application in to access the Federal Government’s $25,000 HomeBuilder Grant, which was announced as part of the government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Well some are saying it’s just too soon for a range of reasons. And it’s a point which has been raised with Federal Labor’s Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare, and he’s in the region at the moment. Jason Clare, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Simon.

LAUDER: I understand that you had a meeting with some people in Cobargo just yesterday. What are some of the concerns you’re hearing around bushfire recovery?

CLARE: Yeah, I caught up with about half a dozen people in Cobargo yesterday who had lost their home in the bushfires with Kristy McBain, the new local MP. These are people who are living in caravans or living in pods, or just living with friends who, as you would know, are just terribly traumatised by what happened over summer. In many cases, they’ve lived in the same home for 20 years, some cases built the home that was torched in the fires. And now they’re desperately trying to rebuild, but they’re caught up in a quagmire of delays whether it’s getting the debris clean, which has now finally happened, or state planning approvals, which are just so difficult to get over. And if there’s anybody that deserves a little bit of a helping hand to rebuild their home and to rebuild their lives, it’s people that lost their homes in the fires. There’s about 3000 right across the country. The Federal Government’s offering $25,000 to build a new home or to do a big renovation. But most of these people are going to miss out because it’s just going to be impossible to sign a contract by Christmas.

LAUDER: Yet that home builder grant was announced as part of the response to the pandemic. But are there a lot of people who survived the bushfires who were hoping to leverage that as well?

CLARE: Yeah, all of them have their fingers crossed. It’s really expensive to rebuild. And for a lot of people, because of the BAL, the bushfire attack levels, they’re going to have to build a smaller house. Insurance is not going to give them all the money they need to rebuild the house they once had, so an extra $25,000 would really help. But in order to qualify, you’ve got to sign a contract, pick the house and get all the approvals from the bank, and sign the contract by New Year’s Eve. Now, for anybody that’s ever had their home burned down the bushfire, they’ll know that it normally takes two to three years to be able to rebuild. And for the people I spoke to yesterday, they just threw their hands up in the air and said “Look, we’re not going to be able to do it.”

LAUDER: What are you calling for when it comes to special consideration for people who lost times in the bush fires and that HomeBuilder grant?

CLARE: I’m just asking Scott Morrison to have a heart. Extend the scheme, provide a special exemption for bushfire victims, to the 3000 Aussie families that lost their homes. They should be able to get access to this, whether they sign a contract before New Year’s Eve or not. I think most people listening today would agree – if anybody deserves a bit of an extra helping hand here, it’s them. This is a pandemic scheme to help us get out of recession. Well we’re still in recession. The whole scheme needs to be extended. It’s going to have to be because it’s too small and it’s rolling out too slowly, no one’s got money yet. But if anybody deserves a bit of help, it’s the bushfire victims, it’s the people who had their homes burnt down.

LAUDER: Now the HomeBuilder scheme, the figures are pretty big. Treasury says it’s going to generate an extra $1.6 billion in residential investment this financial year and for every 1 million of that, six full time jobs in construction and surrounding industries will be supported. So this is already a very substantial scheme. Why does it need to be expanded beyond that?

CLARE: Well just to put it in perspective Simon, there’s about a million Aussies working building houses across the country, either on the tools at the site where homes are being built, or in the manufacturing companies that make everything from the cement to the tiles to the plaster board. So a lot of people working building homes. It’s expected that the amount of homes built in the next 12 months is going to go off a cliff. It could drop by 20 to 25%, so lots of people could lose their jobs. That Treasury number shows that just this package called HomeBuilder might help about 10,000 tradies or 10,000 people who work in the industry. The government have been saying it would be helping “hundreds of thousands”. Well that’s obviously not true. Treasury’s now said it’s only about 10,000. So I’ve said look, you’ve got to do more. You’re going to have to invest more in housing to get us out of the recession. Every buck we spend on housing creates $3 in the local community, so it’s a great way to stimulate the economy. And one thing that you can do when there’s not a lot of demand out there to build houses, is to build more social housing. A lot of our government-owned houses are in bad shape, they need to be repaired. And we need more particularly down here on the south coast. 

LAUDER: All right, well we’ll see what’s announced with the Federal Budget coming up early next month. And we’re learning this morning that NBN Co is going to spend $3.5 billion upgrading the network in the next couple of years. And it’s expected that will create thousands of new jobs and will mean millions of Australians will get access to ultra-fast broadband under this shake up of the NBN. What do you think of that?

CLARE: Well, look, I think anybody listening that’s still struggling with their broadband connection, that it’s still buffering or still complaining about the speeds they’re getting, because they had to put up with this copper system for the last seven years, would be rightly frustrated and angry this morning. This should have happened seven years ago, but Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison all thought they knew better and thought that a copper-based system would be good enough. And now today, we’ve got the biggest backflip in Australian political history. Remember, Simon, in the last seven years, this Liberal Government has bought 50,000 kilometres of copper and installed it around Australia. That’s enough copper to wrap around the world and then some. And now we find out that they shouldn’t have bought that, they shouldn’t have installed it. They should have done what was the original plan back over a decade ago and that is install fibre to people’s houses. I think Australians would be rightly frustrated today.

LAUDER: Jason Clare, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks very much.

CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Simon.