Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Sunday 29 November 2020


SUBJECTS: Changes to HomeBuilder; China; Stranded Australians; JobSeeker.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks for coming along and thanks for your forbearance. We’ve been forced to hold this press conference a little later because I’ve been waiting for the results of a COVID test. Fortunately, they’ve now come back and it’s negative, you’ll be glad to know, so we’re good to go.

I just want to make some comments about the Government’s announcement today of changes to the HomeBuilder Scheme. As you know, I’ve been calling on the government to fix the HomeBuilder Scheme now for months. The first version of the HomeBuilder Scheme was too small, and frankly, what they’ve announced today, is still too small to save the jobs of thousands of Aussie tradies. Last year 170,000 homes were built across Australia, in the next 12 months, it’s expected that that will drop to about 150,000 homes, and what the government has announced today will increase that by about 1,500. So there’s still a gap and what the Government has announced today doesn’t bridge that gap. That’s why I said that the Government needs to do more to keep the homebuilding industry from shrinking and stop tradies who work in this industry from losing their jobs.
That’s why I’ve urged the Government to put money into repairing social housing. There’s 100,000 homes right across the country that are owned by the Australian people that are falling apart. Full of mould, leaks, and rot, and the Government could get tradies in there working right now to fix those homes. It will create work for tradies and it would put a roof over the head of Aussie’s who desperately need it. These are places that are in almost every suburb and every town across the country and if we were to put money in here, we’d be creating work for tradies right now, and it’s not too late for the government to take action there.
What they’ve announced today is a patch up job. They fixed some of the problems with the HomeBuilder Scheme, but the scheme was always too small and it’s still too small to save the jobs of lots of Australian tradies. Okay, I’ll hand over to questions.
JOURNALIST: Jason, I wanted to ask about China. Labor’s been critical of the Government over Australia’s relationship with China. Do you have any criticisms of China’s behaviour?
CLARE: I think China should pick up the phone. I think they shouldn’t be conflating trade and politics. But I’m not letting the Government off the hook here either. The Prime Minister says there needs to be frank discussions between China and Australia. I want to know what action has the Prime Minister taken to have those frank discussions.

I support action being taken by the Government to take this to the WTO. That’s what the WTO is for, but it really shouldn’t have come to this. It shouldn’t be that hard. It should be able to be sorted out on the phone or face to face. That’s what Bob Hawke would have done. That’s what John Howard would have done and that’s what Scott Morrison should do.
JOURNALIST: Australia is now preparing to take China to the WTO over the barley tariff. Do you support this move even though there are fears that it will spark further retaliation?
CLARE: I support this going to the WTO. That’s what the WTO is for, to sort out trade disputes. But it shouldn’t be that hard. This is the sort of thing that should be able to be sorted out over the phone, or face to face. That’s what Bob Hawke would have done. That’s what John Howard would do. And that’s what Scott Morrison should do, as well.

China is our biggest trading partner and we’re more exposed to the vicissitudes of decisions in China than any other country in the world because more of our trade is with China as a proportion of our trade than is the case with any other country in the world and its trade relationship with China. So it’s up to the Government here to have the deep relationships, the sophisticated relationship with China so that when a problem emerges, you can fix it. 

That’s what happened when we had a problem with potential steel tariffs with the United States. Donald Trump was threatening steel tariffs on Aussie exporters, the Prime Minister picked up the phone and spoke to the President, Premiers spoke to Governor’s, business leaders spoke to business leaders in the US, and we were able to stop it and sort it out. You would think after seven years, this Government would have the sort of relationships with the key people in China, that when there’s a problem, you can pick up the phone and sort it out.
JOURNALIST: Grain growers have said that they’re worried that their industry is just collateral in a much bigger dispute. Are those concerns warranted? And do you expect that the government should provide an assistance package to some of these growers that have been here?
CLARE: I’ll leave the detail of that to our trade spokespeople and our agriculture spokespeople. The Government always emphasises the point here that we need to take steps to diversify our trade. It’s good to say that, but what action have they done to achieve it? What real substantive action have they taken to help Aussie exporters trade with other businesses in other countries? It’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to actually do it. This Government is great at announcements, but hopeless when it comes to delivery and they’ve got to do a much better job of helping Aussie businesses to get their exports to other markets and diversify their trade than they’re doing at the moment. As I said, a greater proportion of our trade is with China than any other country in the world. And that means when problems emerge like this, we have bigger problems, and we’re more exposed than any other country in the world, and the Government’s not doing enough at the moment to fix it.
JOURNALIST: If I could ask on war medals, do you think the Government should support the recommendation from the war crimes report to strip Special Forces soldiers of their medals?
CLARE: That’s a matter for the government and I’ll defer to Richard Marles, the Shadow Minister for Defence for further remarks on that. 
JOURNALIST: Do you have concerns about foreign relations (inaudible)
CLARE: I’d refer you to Kristina Keneally who’s got carriage that for the Opposition. We’re looking at that and I think the opposition has made some important remarks over the course of the last few weeks identifying that we will support that legislation, but there are elements of it that we’d like the government to look at.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that Anthony Albanese is safe as Labor Leader?
CLARE: Absolutely.
JOURNALIST: The last sitting fortnight, all eyes were on the Labor Party during the last sitting fortnight. Do you believe that your colleagues will all be well behaved in the next couple of weeks? What are you expecting?
CLARE: Fiona, all eyes should be on those thousands of Aussies that are still stranded overseas. The Prime Minister’s promised that all those stranded Aussies would get home for Christmas. Well, in order for that to happen, they need to be home by Thursday, and then spend two weeks in quarantine if they’re going to be around the Christmas table. If they don’t get them home by Thursday, they won’t be at the Christmas table on the 25th of December. It’s just another example of a government that talks big and delivers little. They promised that they would get thousands and thousands of Australians home for Christmas, they still haven’t.

We’re putting the pressure on the government on that issue this week, as well as the issue of the cuts that they’re making to the JobSeeker supplement. For hundreds of thousands of Australians who don’t have a job who are struggling at the moment because of the coronavirus, their life’s about to get a lot harder when that payment gets cut. When it disappears entirely come the end of March, and JobKeeper disappears entirely come the end of end of March, it’ll get harder still. NCOSS put out a report a couple of weeks ago that said they predict in New South Wales alone that homelessness is going to go up by 24 per cent after March, after JobKeeper ends, after the JobSeeker supplements ends. They’re just two of the issues that we’re going to focus on when Parliament returns this week.

JOURNALIST: With HomeBuilder, there’s been about 24,000 applications. About 2500 of those have been paid out so far, is that good enough? Is that providing enough of a boost?

CLARE: My main concern is not that. My main concern is that there are not enough homes being built out of this scheme. As I said, last year 170,000 homes were built. This year, it’s expected it’ll be 150,000. And that’s what the HomeBuilder Scheme factored in. That means a contraction in the industry of 20,000 homes; that means the industry gets smaller; that means there’s less work for tradies; fewer tradies working on building houses and apartments. And the announcement by the Government today only helps at the margins. According to the Master Builders Association, it’ll increase the amount of homes built next year by about 1,500. It’s a patch up job. It’ll help a bit, but not enough. There’s more that needs to be done to save the jobs of Aussie tradies and repairing public housing that’s falling apart is a great way to do that.

Thanks very much, everybody.