Doorstop Interview – Meridian at Miranda – Thursday 24 September 2020


SUBJECTS: Affordable housing; supercharging superannuation; homes for heroes; social housing; HomeBuilder.
DAMIEN WEBB, HEAD OF INCOME AND REAL ASSETS AT AWARE SUPER: Thanks for being with us today. I’m Damien Webb. I’m the head of Income and Real Assets at Aware Super, formerly known as First State Super. It’s a very great pleasure to welcome you all here today to our first ever purpose-built affordable housing development in Sydney, and even in Australia. We’re still in the construction phase. We’ve had a chance to see the sales gallery and it’s going to be absolutely fantastic, really great accommodation for key workers and so forth. We’re so pleased to invest in projects like this to create jobs, but also provide quality accommodation for key workers. I’m also very pleased to welcome Shadow Minister of the Housing and Homelessness Jason Clare today who will be speaking soon. First up I’d like to welcome Aware Super CEO Deanne Stewart. Thank you.
DEANNE STEWART, CEO OF AWARE SUPER: Thanks so much, Damien. Welcome everyone to Meridian at Miranda. Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land that we all meet on today. We’re really proud to acknowledge the traditional custodians and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. As Damien said, I thank the Shadow Minister, the Honourable Jason Clare, for joining us this morning for this really important event and thank you all for joining us. I would also like to acknowledge a few people in the crowd, the chairman of Aware Super, Neil Cochrane, and Phil Moffit who is one of our board directors. I can’t quite see Phil but he’s here. Michael Cole, who’s on our investment committee, as well as the former director, Rod Harding, and a number of our partners have actually joined us as well: Altis Property Partners, Evolve and Echo, Alliance Project Group, the builders, as you can see, and Murdoch Projects who have also joined us. Thank you very much for being here today with us.
I also would like to introduce the honourable Leading Senior Constable and executive member of Police Association, Oliver Behrens, who’s going to provide some real insight into why housing really matters for essential workers. There are a couple of things that I wanted to discuss before getting Olly to join us, like exactly why does affordable housing matter. We all know that Sydney is expensive. In fact, I was looking up the stats. In 1980, the median house price here in Sydney was $68,000. Today, it’s over a million dollars. Certainly I know when I started at Aware Super just over two years ago and went and met many of our members, many of our members are essential workers – police officers, teachers, nurses, paramedics – and I asked what was on their mind, what were the things that mattered the most. Housing affordability came up again and again and again. The ability to live and have your home near your work doesn’t seem too much to ask, and yet people are doing such huge commutes to get to work, so housing affordability really matters for us. We’ve certainly set about in the last couple of years, what’s the role that superfunds can play, and really solving the housing affordability crisis here in Australia, and we believe that super funds have a real role to play. It’s a really good return for members, but also helps to really solve the issue of housing affordability. So, over the last eighteen months we’re really proud to have invested over 250 million (dollars) in affordable housing.
This here today, Meridian, is our first purpose built affordable housing development, as Damian mentioned. Here at Meridian, just to give you a couple of facts about it, there will be 100 units built and more than 50 per cent of those will go towards affordable housing. What we mean is that affordable housing will be there for essential workers, and will be at 80 percent of the market rent to make it much more affordable. So, for us, that’s a win for our members in terms of good returns, but also a win for the community and for essential workers and really helping towards affordable housing. For us the other added benefit of this development here is that it really helps economic recovery. It’s a win-win-win. It helps our members with returns, it helps solve housing affordability, it also helps with economic recovery. So, without further ado, I’d love to be joined by Oliver who is, as I mentioned, a Leading Senior Constable. He’s going to share some insights as to why this is such an important issue from a police officer’s perspective. I have to say, as he mentioned on his way here today, I think he’s had three hours of sleep, and so we’re really glad to have you join us. I’m just going to ask a couple of questions to really give a sense of why it’s meaningful. So Oliver, if you don’t mind, can you let us know why housing affordability is such an important issue for your colleagues. Thank you.
LEADING SENIOR CONSTABLE OLIVER BEHRENS: You covered it quite well. Housing affordability is a very important issue to our members. I’m an executive member of the Police Association and my members are police officers. In some areas of the country housing affordability is quite decent. In the Sydney areas I’m responsible for, it’s extremely expensive. So expensive that my members can’t afford to live anywhere near where they work. That means they’re commuting, commuting sometimes many hours to and from work each day. For the most part, first response policing is a 12-hour shift. You add four or five hours of commuting and next thing you know, you’re barely home long enough to have a shower before you turn around and go back to work again. So, in the long run, what does that mean for policing within the central metro areas? It means police are not there any longer than their tenure requires them to be. Once they’ve done their minimum time, they’re tired of that commute and they look to go elsewhere. So projects like this mean a lot to my members. Projects like this mean they can stay in the areas that they work without the lengthy commutes (inaudible). It keeps those experienced officers in metro suburbs.
STEWART: I’d like to introduce the Shadow Minister, the Honourable Jason Clare, to say a few words.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks very much, everybody. G’day. Can I first recognize the traditional owners of the land of which we stand, their elders past and present, and can I thank the team at Aware for what you’re doing. I think Olly said it better than any politician could say it. This about providing homes for heroes. Over the last six months, we’ve all done it pretty tough, some people have done it tougher than others. There are lots of lessons. But here’s a couple. I think one of the things we’ve learned through COVID is just how important having a safe and affordable home is. It’s our homes that we’ve been forced to hide inside to keep safe from the virus, but you can’t do that if you don’t have a home, if you don’t have a safe, affordable home. One of the other things we’ve learned is just how important people like Olly are. Not just police officers: nurses, teachers, childcare workers, aged care workers. People who haven’t been able to just grab the laptop and go home and work from home. People who wear a uniform and keep us safe. People who often don’t get paid the big bucks and have to live a long, long way from where they work. And what this project is about is about bringing those two things together. Homes for heroes.
It’s a win-win-win; homes for heroes, work for tradies, and money for superannuation members. It ticks all of those boxes. We’re in a tough time at the moment, we’re in recession. For tradies in the building industry, it could get particularly tough in the next 12 months. It’s expected that work will go off a cliff. It’s a times like this where the Government has to step up and think about the sorts of things that can keep tradies working. Because for every dollar you spend in building places like this, you create another $3 in the economy, whether that’s money at the shops or money in the pockets of the people working. That’s why I’ve been saying the Government should do things like this, as well as superannuation funds doing it.
On top of that, there’s a whole bunch of things that government could do. They could invest in building and repairing more social housing. I’ll give you one example; I was at Riverwood not far from here last week. I was at a home that’s riddled with mould. Three little kids have to live in a bedroom where all the clothes are full of mould and the Department of Housing say it can’t be fixed for three years. The mould is in the clothes, it’s in their lungs it’s a health hazard and we’ve got tradies running out of work. We should get in there and fix that quick smart. We should extend the HomeBuilder Scheme as well. It’s helping a bit but not enough. I was at Cobargo down the South Coast two days ago, Cobargo is a place you probably remember from the bushfires. It just got torched. I caught up with about six people whose homes have been burned, they won’t be able to get access to that 25 grand to build a new house because they can’t sign a contract by Christmas. Now if anybody deserves 25 grand to rebuild your home, I reckon its people who had their home burn down in the bushfire. So, we should extend that, build more social housing, that’ll help keep more trainees working. But also do this.
I think Aware Super are setting a great example for other super companies, but also for the Government about what we can do to supercharge superannuation, and to build a better, fairer society. A place where people like Olly and his colleagues, and teachers and nurses and childcare workers and aged care workers can all live close to where they work. There’s hospitals here and police stations nearby, child care centres, and if you have to travel an hour just to get to work, it just makes it harder and harder for the people that I think we now recognize more than ever, are the people that we need to have the sort of society we all want to live in. So, thanks again, congratulations. It’s a privilege to be invited here. This is the sort of thing that I think we need to see more of, from super companies and from government.
JOURNALIST: What is the selection process for people that want to get into one of these affordable homes?
STEWART: So, an affordable home like this here in the Meridian at Miranda is available for essential workers. So, we work with CHP that helps vet the essential worker to make sure that they meet the criteria, but other than that, then they’re eligible. What housing affordability means is that they are then eligible to pay 80 per cent market rent.
JOURNALIST: And we’re talking about low income earners here? Like they have to meet a certain pay threshold?
STEWART: They certainly need to meet a certain threshold in terms of being an essential worker so it’s low and medium incomes.
JOURNALIST: I know you’ve probably heard the Prime Minister say an essential worker is anyone who has a job, but what exactly are we talking about when you say essential worker?
STEWART: So, for us, essential worker is police officers, teachers, nurses, aged care workers, paramedics, people that are really essential to really driving the economy and we’re seeing that live through COVID-19. They are absolutely the heroes of COVID-19.
JOURNALIST: Do your members get first dibs?
STEWART: No, it’s open to all essential workers.
JOURNALIST: And it’s 50 percent. So, the other 50 per cent people buy and is that how you kind of make a profit?
STEWART: That is correct. Half of the units will be for sale, and then half of the units will be for rent with the affordable housing 80 per cent of the market rent.
JOURNALIST: Is this the first one you’ve done?
STEWART: No, Aware Super has been really investing in housing affordability for the last couple of years. So, we’ve invested over 250 million (dollars) in housing affordability and by the end of the year we’re looking to make that 400 million (dollars). We see this as such a win-win. It’s a win for our members in terms of good returns and a win for the community for essential workers having homes over their heads that they can afford.
JOURNALIST: And excuse my ignorance, but is it a rent-to-buy situation, like you rent it and then you eventually own it?
STEWART: No, it’s for rent.
JOURNALIST: Okay. Great. Thank you. And can I ask you a couple of questions as well. So, is this the kind of situation you could see yourself living in?
BEHRENS: Yes, absolutely, myself and lots of people that I work with, especially as you start out in your career on a probationary constable salary. It’s not that grand and we’re stuck in a 2.5 per cent pay cap for a while so having affordable housing like this is a big assistance, especially to the younger cops starting out.
JOURNALIST: Perfect, thank you. And I just have one question for you. Obviously, Shadow Minister, what do you think about the fact that the Minister’s not here?
CLARE: The Minister is in Melbourne, so he’s stuck in the lockdown so I’m not going to criticise him for that. But what I would call on the government to do is to follow the example that the super industry has set here. We all know that whether you live in Sydney or in Melbourne that houses are not very affordable. Prices are through the roof, it’s really hard to buy, it’s really hard to afford the rent, and if you’ve lost a job it’s even harder. What this project is all about is supercharging superannuation. To build houses for the heroes of this crisis – cops, nurses, teachers, aged care workers. I think that there’s a lesson in that for all of us. So, I’d love to see the government do more here. Invest money in building more social housing for the poorest Aussies and building more affordable housing for the heroes of this crisis. Thank you.