Interview with David Speers – ABC RN Drive – Wednesday 30 September 2020

SUBJECTS: Social Housing; Manufacturing; US Presidential Debate.
DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Days out from the all-important federal Budget, Anthony Albanese has today laid out his alternative plans to put Australia on a path to recovery. He says Australia is now in what he’s calling the “Morrison recession” and he’s calling for stronger investment in infrastructure manufacturing and social housing.
“This would create jobs and inject economic activity into sluggish local economies. And if we invest in the right projects, we will make our transport system safer and more productive creating efficiencies that will drive even more jobs growth.”
The Prime Minister will address the National Press Club tomorrow where he’ll unveil plans to invest in high end manufacturing. That’s all ahead of the Budget on Tuesday. Joining me now is Labor’s Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Regional Services, Local Government and Territories. Jason Clare, welcome to the program.

SPEERS: So, Anthony Albanese said today that he has a plan to help those hardest hit by this crisis. He noted they’re women, young people, the aged and small business. Perhaps we should have a look at some of those categories. What is in the Labor plan to help women back into work in particular?

CLARE: You’re right, women have been the hardest hit by this, and we’ve got to make sure that one, we get out of recession as quick as we can, and that we get unemployment down as quick as we can. In my own portfolio area of social housing and housing more generally, taking action there is going to help to stimulate the economy, not just for the people who build houses, but for the economy more generally. But you’re right to point out, as I’m sure you will, David that it’s very much a male dominated industry, and (interrupted)

SPEERS: I mean, this is the thing because Anthony Albanese spoke in his speech today, he noted the fact that women have been hard hit by the recession, but the sort of plans he laid out, he was talking about building roads and railways, getting chippies and plumbers back to work on social housing and so on, is there a plan to help women?
CLARE: Albo will have more to say about that in the Budget-in-Reply, but particularly in those service sectors like teaching, childcare, aged care, areas that are very female dominated, there’s a hell of a lot of work that needs to be done. Think also about tourism and hospitality, some of the areas of the economy that have been savaged by the Coronavirus, and people that have lost their jobs in the multitudes.

SPEERS: So, there’ll be more to come on this next week, presumably after the Budget.

CLARE: Absolutely.
SPEERS: Let’s look at social housing, though. This is your patch. How much is Labor saying the government should be investing on social housing?

CLARE: David, we haven’t been prescriptive on it, but if the government is going to be serious here, the first thing they should do is invest in repair of social housing. There are long lists of houses and homes that need to be repaired that every state government has, there’s about 100,000 I think, that need to be repaired. This is the sort of thing that could be done very quickly. It doesn’t need a DA in order to fast track it. And it would help to keep a lot of the tradies who work in the housing construction industry working at a time with the number of homes that are expected to be built next year is going down by a factor of about 20 to 25 per cent.

SPEERS: So that should be the priority, is repair existing stock?

CLARE: It’s the fastest thing, David and just to give you an example, during the GFC, we were able to repair about 80,000 homes so you can do it quickly. I was in a home in Riverwood in New South Wales last week where the place is riddled with mould. All the clothes that the family has had to get thrown out because the mould’s growing on the clothes. In the bedroom that I had a look at, you’ve got three little kids that sleeping the one room: one four, one three, one less than 12 months, you can only imagine what the mould is doing to their health. And the Department of Housing said it’s going to take three years before they can fix it. If you’ve got tradies running out of work (interrupted)

SPEERS: Why is that, because as you say, you don’t need DA approvals and so on for repairs necessarily. Is the delay because of a lack of funding?

CLARE: I can only assume it’s because they’ve got a backlog, a long list of homes that need to be fixed and these are government owned homes. If a government office was in this sort of disrepair to get fixed very quickly, but the public own these homes, they’re government homes, and if we’re being told that it takes three years to fix. Now, that’s the sort of thing that should be fixed fast. It’s in the interest of the health of the family and if you’ve got tradies who are running out of work, because we’re told that the amount of homes to be built next year is going to drop dramatically, then it just makes sense that this is the sort of thing to do.
SPEERS: The Grattan Institute says the government should commit to spending $10 billion on something like 30,000 new social housing units. Do you agree? Is that about right?

CLARE: Look, I haven’t put a number on it. I’ve said (interrupted)

SPEERS: Is that because you’re waiting to see what the government does in in the Budget on Tuesday?

CLARE: Certainly Treasury would be in a better position to tell you what’s possible. They’re going to spend a lot of money on infrastructure, we’re told. So, the question, David, is where do you get the biggest bang for your buck? If you’re going to spend money on infrastructure, where do you have the biggest positive effect on the economy? We know that there aren’t too many industries that create a bigger multiplier effect than housing: if you spend one dollar on housing, you create three dollars in the economy. It’s why there was a report out yesterday, a survey of economists, where they were all asked what’s the one thing you think should be the top priority that’s going to rev up the economy and get it going quicker. They said social housing. And one of the reasons (interrupted)

SPEERS: What Labor’s saying though is social housing needs to be…

CLARE: A big part of it.

SPEERS: … the top priority, or one of, the list of things Anthony Albanese has talked about here from building train carriages, roads and so on. Where does (interrupted)

CLARE: It’s one of. Think about it, David, you’ve got an industry that employs about a million people, the home building industry. Everything from the tradies on the site, through to all the people that manufacture the bricks, the tiles, the plasterboard. So, if an industry like that shrinks by 25 per cent, lots of people lose their jobs.
SPEERS: So whatever the Government announces on Tuesday, and presumably there’s going to be a lot of spending and you agree with that, on a whole range of fronts, will Labor inevitably say they should go further, they should spend more on these areas?
CLARE: What we’ll say is you’ve got to do something here to help the housing construction industry to get back to where it was last year. Because if it shrinks, jobs are lost. Part of the reason for that David is the borders are shut, migration has stopped so there isn’t as much private demand for housing. It’s why the Housing Industry Association, the Property Council of Australia, the Master Builders Association have all said the way to fix that is build more social housing. There’s no private demand, or at least not as strong as it has been in the past. There’s certainly a lot of demand for social housing. So build that now. These aren’t organisations that are card-carrying members of the Labor Party, they’re not raging socialists, they’re not saying that we should build social housing because it’s going to create a better society, they’re saying it because this industry is in trouble and the best way to keep their members working is to build government housing, build social housing at a time like this.
SPEERS: I’m talking to Labor’s Jason Clare on RN Drive. Is any of this resonating with you? Are you in social housing, are you waiting for an upgrade or repair? Send us a text. O418226576. The Prime Minister tomorrow will be unveiling, at the National Press Club, plans on manufacturing. We’re hearing that this will include a priority, basically Government picking priority areas: defence industries, medical technology, biotech, agriculture and food. Does that all sound like the right list of priorities to you?
CLARE: I think we’ve learned some pretty tough lessons in the last six months We were critical of the Government when they let the car industry disappear from Australia but a pandemic like this has reminded us that we need a homegrown manufacturing capability. Think about this, David, the two biggest places to manufacture masks in the world before this pandemic hit were Wuhan in China and Milan in Italy, the two places that were hit first, and so we had to scramble to be able to have the equipment we needed. I think there’s going to be a real, I don’t know if paranoia is the right word, but there’s going to be a real obsession, or there should be, by policymakers, over the next few years to make sure we’re better prepared for the next pandemic. And as inevitable as that is, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the stockpiles ready. We’ve got to have the domestic manufacturing capability so if something like this hits again or worse, we’re not caught flat footed.
SPEERS: Before I let you go Jason Clare, did you catch any of the great debate today?
CLARE: I did a little bit and I thought the debate could have used a bit of an intervention by Tony Smith, the Speaker of the Federal Parliament.
SPEERS: Good call.
CLARE: One of the things that you’d know David, but not too many people know, is the Speaker has a mute button.

SPEERS: Might have been handy today.
CLARE: I reckon.

SPEERS: Labor’s Jason Clare, Shadow Minister of Homelessness and Housing. Thanks very much for joining us.
CLARE: Thanks, David.