Doorstop Interview – Adelaide – Sunday 11 October 2020






SUBJECTS: Social housing in desperate need of repairs; Government’s failed HomeBuilder scheme; economic benefit of social housing; wage subsidies; Stage Three tax cuts not giving “bang for buck”; Royal Commission into media; aged care; childcare; economic benefits of women contributing to the economy; population; energy grid; Rewiring the Nation; state COVID restrictions.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH: Thanks everyone, for coming along this morning. I’m Mark Butler. I’m the Member for Hindmarsh, which is the federal electorate we find ourselves in. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Anthony Albanese who’s in a particularly good mood because Souths won last night. That’s why he’s spent the morning smiling. He’s accompanied here with Jason Clare who’s our Shadow Minister for Housing at a Federal level. We also have the Senate Leader for Labor Party, Senator Penny Wong, and we’re joined by a couple of our state colleagues. So Joe Szakacs, who’s the local member here, the Member for Cheltenham, and Nat Cook, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Housing. Without further ado, over to a very happy Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Mark. And I want to thank Nathan who welcomed us into his home today. He lives here with his son who’s just completing high school. And Nathan is very much a proud South Australian, and he’s proud of where he lives. But he’s not being done a good service. The fact is, that the bathroom that we just saw is a disgrace and it’s a health risk. There’s a hole been cut into it. There’s mould. It is an unhealthy circumstance for anyone to be living in those conditions. And as well, we saw some of the communal facilities – the laundries where the tap isn’t so much dripping as running. Wasting water, creating a mess, and meaning that people aren’t given the dignity that they deserve. Now, Nathan’s bathroom has been in this state now for 10 months since the beginning of the year, and nothing’s been done to fix it. They came and cut a hole out to check to see what it was, whether there was asbestos. There certainly is black mould there. And they have gone away and still nothing happened. We can do better than this. We have, at the moment, right around the country needs such as Nathan’s. This is his home. He deserves better. Australians deserve better. We should be using the opportunity that’s there to create jobs immediately by fixing up bathrooms like Nathan’s, fixing up communal laundries like the one here, fixing up people and at the same time employing plumbers, carpenters, plasterers, electricians, all be given jobs. Tradies could be on the job next week, if this Government was prepared to forget its prejudice against people who live in public housing, and actually do the right thing. This is a circumstance whereby, here in South Australia as well, I do want to say something about the Government’s rhetoric, which is ‘we’re not doing anything about public housing, but we’ve got HomeBuilder’. Now as of last month, September, HomeBuilder had been delivered precisely to one South Australian. One. That’s proof that you can get it I guess. But it’s also evidence that this just isn’t being rolled out anything like the speed that they say a would.
There are 100,000 public housing dwellings that have maintenance problems that could be fixed up. There are one million unemployed, they are to be joined by 160,000 more between now and Christmas. What we should be doing is matching that up. And that’s why Labor announced, in the Budget Reply, that we would take action in terms of social housing and we called upon the Government to do maintenance as a first step, immediately. We also need to increase social housing supply in order to look after the 200,000 people that are currently on public and community housing waiting lists. South Australia has a proud history of having a substantial public housing and community housing stock. And that fine reputation that South Australia has is being undermined
by circumstances such as Nathan’s, the Federal Government could be doing its bit. This would represent substantial value for money. This is low hanging fruit. The economists all identified it in the lead up to last Tuesday night’s Budget, the Government ignored it. They need to stop ignoring circumstances such as Nathan’s. All Australians should be valued. And Nathan should be given the sort of support to live in conditions that we would expect to be just the human right of all Australians. Jason?
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks, Albo.  Well, you saw the conditions that Nathan and his family are living in. There’s 100,000 places just like this, right across Australia, full of mould, leaks and rot, leaking taps, exposed wires, holes in the roof, damaged floors. And the plan that Albo announced just last week could help to fix a lot of that and keep a lot of tradies working. You know, the fact is, the housing construction industry that employs almost a million people is going off a cliff at the moment. Work is drying up. It’s expected that instead of building 170,000 homes this year, like they did last year, they’ll only build as little as 125,000 homes. Now, if that happens, that means a lot of tradies out of work looking for work. And this is a program that could be done fast, could be done in almost every suburb in every town across the country, and keep a lot of those tradies on the tools. And we know that the HomeBuilder scheme that the Government announced five months ago is just not rolling out as fast as it needs to and is not doing enough. Even with the HomeBuilder scheme factored in, the number of homes built this year is going to drop to that level of as low as 125,000. And if you need any more evidence that it’s not rolling out fast enough, then just listen to that number that you gave a moment ago, Albo. I remember that press conference on that bloke’s front lawn, the newly laid grass five months ago, where the Government was told to get off the grass. They promised 27,000 people would get this money. So far, only one family in South Australia has got a cent. So it’s too small to save tradies’ jobs. And it’s rolling out too slowly here in South Australia, and right across the country. The Master Builders Association, the Housing Industry Association, and the Property Council of Australia have all said the same thing. They’ve all said put government money into building and repairing social housing, because it can help save the jobs of their members. They’re not calling for this because they think it’s a way to end homelessness. They’re calling for it because they’re worried about the end to their members’ jobs. It’s a sort of thing that we could do really fast. We could do it in almost every suburb in every town, big and small across the country. And we can change the lives of people like Nathan and his son for the better. I only hope the Government finally wakes up and listens.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Jase. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST:  Just on JobKeeper. What rate would you nominate beyond the end of this year?
ALBANESE: Well, we don’t think it should have been cut this month. We think the circumstances whereby JobKeeper was cut whilst the economy is still really struggling. So it should be done on the basis, as we’ve said, it should taper off. We don’t argue that JobKeeper should be there forever, it’s a wage subsidy. But the wage subsidy should be there as long as the logic is the same as it was when it was introduced. And I think that it’s very clear that the circumstances which led to wage subsidies being introduced, reluctantly, by Scott Morrison, are still there.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a figure?
ALBANESE: What we think is that it shouldn’t have been cut this month. We think that it should obviously taper off according to circumstances. But the circumstances right now don’t justify cutting JobKeeper this month.
JOURNALIST: What is the circumstance that would justify a tapering here?
ALBANESE: It’s an improvement in the economy. People getting back to work. Not the prediction that’s in the Budget papers that says things are going to get worse,  that 160,000 people will join the unemployment queue between now and Christmas.
JOURNALIST: But that has been witnessed, since the start of the lockdown. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of jobs come back. I mean, how many hundreds of thousands have to come back?
ALBANESE:  We have 160,000 more unemployed people between now and Christmas. Those circumstances are that those people will be doing it tough. Many of those will be because JobKeeper being cut will have an impact and will add to the unemployment queue.
JOURNALIST: The Treasurer says that he’s absolutely committed to Stage Three tax cuts. Are you?
ALBANESE: The Treasurer this morning said the reason why he didn’t bring forward Stage Three of the tax cuts was because they wanted bang for their buck. The Treasurer has said that they won’t get bang for their back by bringing forward Stage Three of the tax cuts, you’ve got to question the whole economic policy of this Government. They don’t have a strategy to grow back the economy. What they have as $100 billion of new spending, creating a trillion dollars of debt, and no real plan for reform, or ways in which you really boost economic growth into the future. They will have nothing to show for it at the end of this. And I think that’s a tragedy. A big difference between Labor and the Coalition is that we’re saying ‘yes, you need to invest, but you need to invest in a way that makes a difference’. Now, one way that we’ve seen here today, short term difference, but tell you what, big difference to Nathan’s life, if he doesn’t have to live in the sort of toxic circumstances that we’ve seen the state of his bathroom that he has to put up with.
JOURNALIST: So are you committed to those Stage Three tax cuts?
ALBANESE: We tried to exclude Stage Three of the tax cuts. We tried to do that. We weren’t successful, and they’ve been legislated. We’ll make decisions about a whole range of policies down the track. But the question is now for Josh Frydenberg. If he doesn’t think there’s any bang for the buck from Stage Three of the tax cuts, why did he introduce it?
JOURNALIST: An additional spend on social housing that you’ve urged, do you have a sense of how much of the backlog that could clear if delivered? And then should you win the next election will it be necessary to increase the baseline of social housing spending to really bring that down to nothing?
ALBANESE: Look, we think that there’s about 100,000, the maintenance requirements. And the average cost of maintenance we found in the past, in terms of the GFC, we think that should be, we’d be asking the states to match investment as well. We’d be making that request. So if the states put in a similar amount, that’s $1 billion. 100,000 at $10,000 each, which is what the average, you know, we’re talking about maintenance costs. We’re not talking about just fixing the leaky taps that we’ve just seen. But jobs that are substantial. The average cost is about $10,000. We believe for a billion dollars is what you need to clear the backlog.
JOURNALIST: Do you support Kevin Rudd’s call for a Royal Commission into Murdoch’s media empire?
ALBANESE: I haven’t called for one, we’ll call for our own Royal Commissions at particular times. We called for a Royal Commission into aged care. Kevin is doing that as, as a private citizen, a former Prime Minister, he’s entitled to put his views. I get to announce Labor Party policy.
JOURNALIST: Tens of thousands of older Australians are still waiting for a home care package. Would Labor commit to ensuring everyone who needs one receives one?
ALBANESE: Well, what you need to do is to have additional investment in terms of home care and aged care residents as well. We need to address issues like staffing. I spoke at the National Press Club about a month ago and outlined an eight-point plan to deal with the immediate needs of aged care. One of those was increased home care packages.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe as well, by way of government’s responsibility, that they should be taking on more? You’ve flagged things like childcare as well? Is it your view that they need to be bigger and take on more?
ALBANESE: The Government does have a childcare subsidy now. There’s agreement on that. The problem is you need a number of degrees in micro and macro economics to understand it. There’s a complex interrelationship between the tax system and the childcare subsidies, so that people really struggle to work out what their entitlements will be. And such that if you’re a police officer, married to a teacher, and you want to work, both parents want to work five days a week, making a contribution to their careers, you currently have a massive disincentive in the system, so that if a woman, by and large, it is largely women that this impacts, who wants to work a four-day week, or a five day a week, instead of a three day week, you’re paying 80, 90, sometimes 100 per cent of your income to pay for the childcare costs. So there’s a massive disincentive that’s really hurting families in terms of lowering the income that they have. It’s hurting as well as a national economy. Because what it means is that lower productivity and lower participation. If you want to have a strategy, a serious strategy, to grow the economy out of the recession you’ve got to look at how you get economic growth, not just hope that businesses that are already struggling at the moment will go ‘oh, we’ll just make some new investments’. Businesses, particularly small business, are just trying to get by at the moment. They’re not looking at employing extra people. They’re not looking at investing in new capital equipment. What they’re looking at is trying to survive at the moment. And you have to look at ways in which you can grow into the future, and increasing women’s workforce participation, boosting productivity, helping business helping the careers of women who still retire with 47 per cent of the superannuation balances that men do, this is about a stronger economy, but a fairer society. And by the way, just as an add-on to the economic benefit, the long term economic benefit is because a child develops 90 per cent of their brain capacity in the first five years. This is good for them, too. We want every kid to have the best start in life. This is good for kids, it’s good for women and families. It’s also good for our economy.
JOURNALIST: Just on childcare, Australia’s population is said to be one million people less at the end of next year than previously thought. Do you think by providing more affordable childcare encourage people to have more children?
ALBANESE: Obviously what people do when they weigh up whether they have their first child, and the average age now is around about 31 when a first child comes along. It’s changed in recent times. One of the reasons for that is economic pressures. I spoke the other night in the budget reply, about a time when people could afford to buy their own home. A whole lot of young people now have written off the possibility of owning their own home. And the average wage isn’t enough to do that for so many people. And they weigh up their economic circumstances. And if you provide the economic security of ensuring that people know that childcare will be supported, and that you’ll be supported to participate in the workforce, then that will, of course, provide an incentive. There are three ways you can grow the economy, the three Ps – population is one of them. And with emigration, rather than immigration, more people leaving then are coming into Australia, that is going to be very problematic in the future. The only reason why we weren’t in recession last year was growth of population. The other two are participation, where this is the obvious thing to do. And of course, productivity, where this will really add to productivity in a substantial way. This is substantial economic reform, that also has benefits for our society, and in particular has benefits for women. And women were forgotten by last Tuesday night’s Budget. This is a Budget in the context of a recession, whereby the Government acknowledges that women have been disproportionately impacted adversely by this recession. And they had nothing to say to them. And when we raised it in the Parliament, you had stuff that you, frankly, couldn’t make up like ‘women can drive on our roads that we’re going to build as well’. I mean, it was the most absurd statement, since Scott Morrison argued, regarding maternity facilities at Yass Hospital, that women could give birth in the extra lines that we’re putting by the side of the Barton Highway. This Government just doesn’t get it. That’s the truth. It just doesn’t get it. Now almost a week after their Budget came down, Josh Frydenberg showed today that he still doesn’t get it.
JOURNALIST: How do you know the Government’s subsidy to hire workers over 50 has failed?
ALBANESE:  By when you look at when you look at the figures of the take-up, which still show that a majority of it hasn’t been used.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Government is supporting the project for new interconnecter between South Australia and New South Wales. Does Federal Labor have a view on that? Do you support it?
ALBANESE: We support it. We came up with the Rewiring the Nation strategy. The weakness here, though, is that if you look at the Australian Energy Market Operator, maybe Mark might want to add to this, their integrated system plan. It’s a whole integrated plan for the nation having a national energy grid. That is, that works. And I’ve been coming to South Australia for a long time, but just a short time ago, when I came to South Australia, we’re getting questions from both the state Liberal Party and also the Feds who were bagging the South Australian Labor Party’s policy under Jay Weatherill saying ‘none of it’ll work. It’s all a disaster’. And the fact is, it has worked and they’ve increased the size and the capacity of the batteries. So in terms of a policy, the low hanging fruit again here, and it’s available, it’s a technology neutral policy. But what it of course will do is drive investment in lowest cost new energy, which we know is renewables. Mark, do you want to say something?
BUTLER: Thanks for the question, Dan. I mean, the Federal Government is not supporting the interconnector in the way that Anthony Albanese’s Rewiring the Nation policy would. What we know is we need to build a modern energy grid to unlock the renewable energy resources of the future. But there is a real risk of gold plating. And we dealt with that risk on Thursday night by saying that we would leverage the Commonwealth Government’s capacity to borrow at super low rates, saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in effectively profits, hefty profits, that can’t be will go to these big multinational private operators that are building this grid. We’ve also heard, for example, that Transgrid, which will build the New South Wales end of the energy interconnector, have asked because they’re having trouble getting finance from the private market for revenue to be fast tracked, effectively fast tracked on consumers’ power bills. So what we’ve done is we’ve put in place a plan that will ensure that the integrated system plan, the Rewiring of the Nation, will be built effectively, will be built on time, and we will be built at the lowest possible cost. Scott Morrison’s plan will involve hundreds of millions of dollars of extra interest and profit payments going from consumers to these big transmission providers. It’s a very different policy.
JOURNALIST: Your state colleagues are a bit more sceptical about the idea of the interconnector. They’re worried about effectively offshoring generation to a larger state. DO you see that there is a difference of opinion yourselves?
BUTLER: Federal Labor has supported the Integrated Systems plan. This was a process that started after Alan Finkel the Chief Scientist’s review, commissioned by Malcolm Turnbull, a grid plan was something he said was essential for the 21st century to allow us to become a renewable energy superpower. All governments, all industry, all of the energy regulators have then developed that plan which was released earlier this year. And an Albanese Labor Government will make sure that that plan is built and built at lowest cost.
ALBANESE: One more, maybe.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that Daniel Andrews’ suggestion that the restrictions should be extended? Do you believe that he’s making a mistake by that?
ALBANESE: I haven’t seen the comments but people should take the advice, as I know Daniel has and another state premiers of all political persuasion have. And there have been restrictions in all the states. This is my first visit to South Australia for a considerable period of time. It’s my first visit to any state other than New South Wales or the ACT for a considerable period of time. The appropriate thing is to take the health advice. I don’t think anyone wants restrictions on one day more than necessary, but we do have to get the right health outcomes. And the truth is that in Victoria, in terms of the effort that’s being made by Victorians to keep each other safe, and to contribute to keeping the nation safe, is quite extraordinary. I just want to pay tribute to the Victorian population who are absolutely doing the right thing at the moment.
Thanks very much.