Interview with Marcus Paul – 2SM – Thursday, 8 October 2020

SUBJECT: Labor’s plan to invest in the repair of social housing.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: As you know, those who listen to the programme regularly will understand that I’m a very strong advocate for social housing. We got a stack of stock in Australia that’s basically being downtrodden. Now, I know that a lot of people might say, well, we put people in public housing, but they trash the joint. Some of them do, yes. But 90 per cent of them don’t, and should this 90 per cent of people be affected by the other 10 per cent of ratbags, who doesn’t matter whether you put them in a trench or trash the joint anyway? Look, a really good idea has been floated and sadly, was a missed opportunity, yet another missed opportunity, in the Federal Budget. But now I see Labor is calling on the Morison Government to create work with thousands of tradies in almost every suburb across Australia by investing half a billion dollars to fast track urgent repairs to social housing. Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the Member for Blaxland and joins us on the program. Jason, good morning to you.
PAUL: It’s nice to talk to you. I get emails each and every day and I had a call this morning, an elderly woman who’s partially blind, one of the most vulnerable people in our community. She has mould throughout the public housing complex, she lives in mould, broken glass, she makes repeated calls, nothing gets fixed.
CLARE: Yeah, and there’s 100,000 stories like that right across the country. I think 25 per cent of the public housing across the country needs repairs or urgent maintenance right now, whether it’s mould, or leaks, or rot, broken water systems, exposed cables, holes in the floor, holes in the roof, and there’s tradies running out of work. You can do two things at once here, you can fix government homes that need to be fixed and you can keep tradies who are running out of work in the housing construction industry by getting them on the tools doing this work right now.

PAUL: This is the thing, too. We all own this public housing – every taxpayer in Australia, everyone who contributes to our economy, it’s our stock. You wouldn’t not fix your own house if it was covered in mould, you wouldn’t live there yourself if it was, and if there were broken things you would repair them as quickly as you possibly could. And you do it responsibly and reasonably.
CLARE: Marcus, if this was a politician’s office, it’d be fixed tomorrow. If this was a government office, if this was a government department office it would be fixed tomorrow. These are government houses, we own them.

PAUL: Yeah. 
CLARE: And it’s in all of our interest to keep them from running down. These are assets that governments eventually sell on to community housing organisations. It makes sense from that point of view. I went to an apartment in Riverwood in Western Sydney two weeks ago and inspected a place there. The place is riddled with mould. I went into the bedroom where the kids slept, three kids – one four, one three and a baby less than 12 months. The walls are black with mould, and I pulled open the wardrobe and the clothes have mould growing on them. If the clothes have mould on them, what’s growing in the kid’s lungs? And the Department of Housing said, Look, we can’t fix it for three years.

PAUL: What?
CLARE: This is just stupid stuff.

PAUL: Yeah. 
CLARE: And it is at exactly the same time when we’re in recession, where the housing construction industry says that we’re going to build maybe 25 per cent fewer homes over the next 12 months and that means less work for tradies and for the people that make the building supplies and materials. And that number is not going to turn around quickly because there’s no migration at the moment, which drives housing construction, when there’s a lack of private demand to construct new homes, fill it by fixing the government homes that we own right now. I was talking to a bloke who runs a housing company the other day, he said that we could stop this work within two weeks. The state governments have the list of all the work that needs to be done and we could crack on really quickly. And as you pointed out, in your introduction, it’s almost every suburb and every town, big and small. The big cities, small country towns, there is social housing everywhere. One in four needs basic simple repairs.

PAUL: That’s right. 
CLARE: And you could create this work really quickly for an industry that’s suffering.

PAUL: Well, I think the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association would probably agree with the sentiments here. Now data shows unfortunately, apart from that, we need work for plumbers, sparkies, plasterers, painters, brickies, they’ve all been crying out for work. We have a recession and as you as you rightly pointed out, two birds, one stone. It’s not rocket science. But data shows women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing demographic facing homelessness. Two thirds of primary social housing tenants are women on low income. Vulnerable people, we should be looking after them a little better.
CLARE: The stereotype in a lot of people’s minds of the average homeless Australian is the old bloke on the park bench with the bottle of grog in a paper bag. It’s just not right. The biggest group of homeless Aussies are mums with kids fleeing domestic violence and at the fastest growing group is older women, they could be our mums, or our grandmothers, or our Aunties people over the age of 55. They might have got divorced, they can’t afford to buy another house after the divorce or they’ve lost their job because of medical problems. I hear this story all the time. Here’s another example: it’s not women, but it’s veterans. One in 10 people before the pandemic sleeping rough in parks and streets in Sydney are people who’d march on ANZAC Day. People who wore the uniform, the Australian uniform and we find them sleeping in our parks. It’s not good enough.

PAUL: No, it’s not. 
CLARE: This is what social housing is about, it’s helping the poorest of Aussies to help them to get back on their feet. Anthony Albanese knows this better than most. He grew up in social housing, grew up in poverty raised by a single mum, rose to become the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia so he knows the power of putting a roof over someone’s head and how it can change people’s lives.

PAUL: Yep, well Albo will give his Budget Reply speech tonight so we’ll tune into that and it’s great to have you on this morning, Jason, I appreciate it.
CLARE: Terrific. Thanks, Marcus.
PAUL: Talk soon. There he is, Jason Clare. And look again, we should be, in my opinion, looking after the investment of taxpayers right across Australia.