Doorstop Interview with Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers – Canberra – Wednesday 7 October 2020


SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; social housing; childcare.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Many of you would be aware of my backstory. If not, I recommend Karen Middleton’s book to you. I grew up in public housing, in Camperdown. I am the son of a single mum who was an invalid pensioner. I understand firsthand, from my own life experience, the difference that having a secure house makes to your life, no matter how difficult that life is. And it was difficult for my mum. I have always had respect for people who do it tough. And people in public housing often do it tough. This Budget is a lost opportunity. What we know is that the low-hanging fruit in terms of creating jobs in construction for tradies is in public and social housing. We know that there is a maintenance backlog in this country for about 100,000 social housing dwellings. We know also that maintenance backlog could be filled. It’s a job plan that’s ready to go. Within a couple of weeks, you could have sparkies, plumbers, other tradies, in people’s homes, making a difference to people’s lives. There are so many Australians who live in social housing who have leaky roofs, who have problems with their dunny, problems with their kitchen. Frankly, if it was an MP’s office, they’d be fixed in a week. We are missing an opportunity. And last night was an opportunity for the Government to do something that would create jobs and make a difference to people’s lives. And at a time when the Government itself says there will be an additional 160,000 Australians joining the unemployment queue, maintenance of public housing is an obvious thing to do.
What Labor would have, if it were our Budget last night, and in tomorrow night’s speech, we will be committing half a billion dollars. Asking state and territory governments to commit up to that amount to support maintenance and repair of social housing. When we were going through the Global Financial Crisis, Labor repaired 80,000 social housing units and homes. It made an enormous difference. It made a difference in terms of increasing supply as well. Because frankly, some places are uninhabitable. And they need fixing before people can live there. This is a common-sense measure. And we’d say to the Government, if they want to adopt this measure, we’d welcome it. We were surprised, frankly, that they ignored the calls from so many to not take action last night. I would ask Jason to make a few comments about this specific policy and about our plan for housing policy. And of course, Jim Chalmers as well about the economics of these issues.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks, Albo. The Master Builders Association, the Property Council, the HIA, all called for government funding for social housing. 49 economists were asked last week what they wanted to see in the Budget. They said their top priority was money for social housing. And there’s a reason for that. We’re in a crisis. Tradies are losing their jobs. This could be done quickly. And in terms of bang for your buck, you can’t beat investing in housing. One dollar invested in building houses or repairing houses equals $3 in the economy. And we’ve got a housing industry at the moment that is in crisis that’s going off a cliff. Last year we built about 170,000 homes. It’s predicted this year that it could drop to as low as 125,000 homes. That means tradies losing their jobs. That’s why we called, in the environment where migration has stopped, the way to fill that gap in private demand for housing is to be investing in repairing or building social housing. The Government ignored all of that last night. This is what we would do if we’re in Government right now. This is what the Government should be doing right now. Because repairing social housing means work for tradies. Tradies who are running out of work right now. You could do this really quickly. If this was in the Budget last night, you can have tradies on the job doing this sort of work in two weeks. And this would mean work for tradies in almost every suburb and every town big and small across the country. As Albo said, there’s about 100,000 government-owned or community housing owned dwellings around the country that need to be repaired, riddled with mould, broken dunnies, broken bathrooms, broken kitchens, broken roofs. You’re right, mate. If it was a government office, it would have been fixed yesterday. But too many people are being told they have got to wait years and years to get this fixed. And this would be a win-win. It would mean work for tradies and fixing homes that desperately need to be fixed.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Jason and Anthony. If you’re serious about jobs, you’ve got to get serious about social housing. You cannot go past social housing as a key stimulus which creates jobs and builds something which lasts for the most vulnerable Australians. It beggars belief that the Government could rack up a trillion dollars in debt and still not find the money we need to invest in social housing in this country. It beggars belief that the Government can rack up a trillion dollars in debt and still leave people behind, still leave tradies behind and still leave the people who live in social housing behind. The Budget was a massive missed opportunity to invest in social housing. The Budget was a massive missed opportunity to come forward with a plan for jobs, a plan for the future, which recognises that the best way to go about dealing with this Morrison Recession is to invest in jobs now and build a lasting benefit. That’s what social housing is all about. That’s what we’re calling for. And that’s what our announcement today is all about as well.
ALBANESE: We’ll have a limited number of questions because of Question Time being on soon.
JOURNALIST: Will you announcing a childcare package on Thursday night that includes free access for low-income earners?
JOURNALIST: Will there be a childcare package on Thursday night?
ALBANESE: I answered your question.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor be supporting the hiring credit plan?
CHALMERS: We’ve only just got an indication of the legislation from the Government. We’ve said, obviously, for some time that there is a role to play for hiring subsidies. We need to remember that even after a trillion dollars of debt, still 160,000 Australians are expected to lose their job between now and the end of the year. We need to recognise that even at the end of the four-year forward estimates, we’re still talking about an unemployment rate higher than it was before COVID-19. So, we’re prepared to be responsible where we can be to make sure that we get people back to work. The issue that has been raised with us, and the issue that we have raised, is that there are 928,000 Australians on unemployment benefits who are not eligible for the Government’s hiring subsidy. And it beggars belief, as I said, when you’ve got a trillion dollars in debt, you’ve got all of this money being sprayed around, that not just older workers, but workers in their 30s, workers with young families, are being left out and left behind and left in the lurch.
JOURNALIST: Just on the tax cuts, most of the money from the Government’s tax cuts isn’t going to be in people’s pockets until the end of the financial year next year. Is that too late to be stimulating the economy?
CHALMERS: Well, the sooner the better for that tax relief which workers on low- and middle-incomes need and deserve and which the economy needs desperately to be circulating in our shops and small businesses of Australia. There is a combination, as you rightly pointed out, between tax relief which is available now on a fortnightly basis, and tax relief which is available at the end of the financial year. We’ve said for some time that there is a role for that relief. Today, I’m writing to the Tax Commissioner to indicate formally from the Albanese Labor Opposition that we fully support the bring-forward of Stage Two and the associated changes to the low- and middle-income tax offset, the LMITO. We’ve written to the Tax Commissioner to say that we fully support that bring-forward. There is no reason for the Tax Commissioner not to immediately implement the new scales which are agreed between the two big parties in the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) tax cuts as $2160 compared to 2017/18 financial year. Is it disingenuous to compare that over such a long period considering we’ve already got a tax cut since then, is it actually a $1,000 tax cut or a $2,000 tax cut?
CHALMERS: Well, they’re notorious for over-claiming. Not just in tax, really right across the board, this is a Government which badly over promises and then badly under delivers. There’s always spin. There’s always lots of spin. There’s always trying to present what they’re proposing is better than it is. And others have raised that issue with us as well. And the key thing here, from our point of view, is that we provide tax relief to low- and middle-income earners. We’re honest about the impact of that. Some of it will be saved, some of it will be spent. It will do some good in the economy. And that’s why we support it.
JOURNALIST: But it is only one thousand bucks rather than two thousand bucks. Should there be more relief? Should there be a bigger offset? Should there be more work on the brackets?
CHALMERS: Well, the thing that concerns us about support for workers is that the average tax cut being brought forward is about $50 a fortnight for the average worker at the moment. More than two million workers are going to be losing $300 a fortnight because their JobKeeper was cut on the last weekend in September. And so, many workers are actually worse off despite the fact we’ve got a Government that’s racked up a trillion dollars and sprayed $100 billion around last night. That’s our concern.
JOURNALIST: Why is free childcare for low-income families not a good idea? On the humanitarian (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Good attempt to get a couple of questions. We won’t be announcing it tomorrow night, that was the question I was asked.
JOURNALIST: But will there be a package on childcare?
ALBANESE: Well, I hate for you to not be anticipating what’s in my speech tomorrow night. I have seen a report. Journalist didn’t speak to me about that report. That’s wrong.
JOURNALIST: Should there be free universal childcare for working mothers to get back into the workforce?
ALBANESE: I, in general, am very disappointed with last night’s Budget, that it offered absolutely nothing in terms of participation in the workforce for women. There are three ways you can get economic growth. The three Ps. Population. Participation. Productivity. Good policy on childcare that encourages women’s participation in the workforce is obviously good for participation but it’s also good for productivity.
JOURNALIST: We have heard a lot about the last two Ps but not a lot about the first. What would Labor do to address the one million fewer Australians being here by 2020? What would Labor do to boost Australia’s population?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s just a reality of what we have to deal with. Our borders aren’t open. Migration, we will actually see, according to the Budget papers emigration, not immigration over the coming year. That’s why it’s now more important than ever to address the other two Ps, productivity and participation. It’s simply impossible to address the question of population at this point in time. One more, if someone who hasn’t had one?
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Can you expand on that? (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Not at all. It’s exactly what I said I would do at the beginning of the process. When I became the Labor Leader, I said that we wouldn’t be making announcements on new policies every week. We would hold the Government to account. And I said that we would have the review into the ALP’s performance in recent times. We did that, and we made it public. Have a look at that review. It recommended the exact way in which I’ve been operating as the Labor Leader. I said I would have a number of vision statements. The truth is that if the Budget was in May, which it normally would have, if there wasn’t the pandemic, then obviously the timeframe would have been different. With due respect to your organisation and the others represented here, the focus has been on the immediate getting through the pandemic. We’ve been dealing with that. We’ve been dealing with that. We’re now at the first Budget since I’ve been the Labor Leader. This is my first Budget Reply. And the Budget Reply would always have signalled, and I said very early on last year, if you go back and have a look at what I said, and what I said in private was the same as what I said in public, was that we would be putting forward initiatives closer to the election. We will do that. We have used this period of the pandemic not just to be constructive, to put forward ideas about the immediate response that was required by the Government. We’ve attempted to improve the circumstances. And in some cases, like arguing for wage subsidies, they have been adopted by the Government. We’ve pointed out the flaws that are in the system. But we also said that we would advance what is very much an alternative agenda. And we will have that at the next election. We have used this time to develop the draft platform of the Labor Party. It’s available on The Australian’s website, if any of you don’t have it. So, what we will do is to, more and more, increasingly, you’ll see, Labor not just talking about our position on Government initiatives, but putting forward our own. And there’ll be a few of those. We told you what one of those was yesterday, with the Centre for Disease Control, or ACDC for short. We have told you another one today on social housing that we flagged. If you want to have a look at the sort of policies that we’ll be putting forward, have a look at my vision statements. The hints are all there. Thanks.