Radio Interview with Piia Wirsu – ABC Northern Tasmania – Monday 14 December 2020

SUBJECTS: Social housing; drop in apprentices in Northern Tasmania.
PIIA WIRSU, HOST: Earlier this afternoon, you heard about the big demand for homelessness services in Tasmania that’s going unmet at the moment simply because there’s more demand than help available. We’re talking about 36 people a day in Tasmania being turned away from homelessness support services. Leon Compton on Mornings also spoke to Tony Collidge from the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania.

Voice of Tony Collidge from the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania: Really, I think a lot of it comes back to the public housing issue. At the moment, the private sector is providing probably up to 2,500 to 3,000 homes for the public sector. And I know the government is trying really hard to try and build more properties but the private sector is having to carry that and it just isn’t enough accommodation.
WIRSU: We have been talking housing today and also today federal Shadow Minister for Housing Jason Clare has been visiting public housing in Launceston. Jason Clare, welcome to the program.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Thanks very much. Great to be here.
WIRSU: We’ll get to the stock of public housing in a moment. Firstly, though, why are you focusing on social housing in northern Tasmania today?
CLARE: Two reasons: social housing is a safety net. It’s designed to catch Aussies when they fall and if the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that there are lots of Australians who are only a couple of paychecks away from strife. You lose your job, and then suddenly you can lose your home, get evicted. And social housing is supposed to be there to catch you. But it’s not big enough, we don’t have enough of it, and there’s lots of holes in it. There’s lots of social housing, which is rundown, full of mould and leaks and rot. And at a time when we’ve been in this economic crisis, as well as a health crisis, I thought, Labor thinks, it would make a lot of sense to spend money fixing up social housing. It would create work for tradespeople, create jobs for apprentices and also fix homes that the government owns. If this was a politician’s office, it would have been fixed in a flash. But because they’re government homes, homes that are lived in by people that don’t have a big voice, they get left to rot.

WIRSU: Let’s dive into this a little bit more then. Fundamentally, we hearing about a lack of supply for the demand. You’ve also identified the condition of the social housing, which we’ll come to in a moment, if we stick with the supply issue at the moment, what is Labor’s plan for how this is actually resolved?
CLARE: We need to build more social housing. We don’t have enough of it. So, we need federal government and state governments working on a plan to build more social housing over the long term. That takes time. Let me give you an example of how big the task is. The Victorian Government announced the biggest investment ever by a state or territory government in social housing a couple of weeks ago, that’s over $5 billion. That will build around 12,000 homes so it makes a big dent in the task that we see in Victoria but it requires all governments to lean in and build more social housing. The reason that we’ve been focusing on the repair work is because there’s a lot of social housing which is old and rundown that in some cases isn’t fit to live in. Also, it’s a sort of work that could be done really quickly. And when you’ve got unemployment that’s high, and it’s still high across the country, and you’ve got trades people right across the country that need work, it’s the sort of thing you could do quickly. We did it during the GFC and it repaired about 80,000 homes. We think that you could do something like that again if we got the federal government and state governments chipping in to do the work.

WIRSU: So would that address the supply issue? Or would that address the condition of existing social housing that people are already tenanted?
CLARE: Primarily, it addresses the condition of those homes. But there are some homes around the country, which are just not fit to live in and so people aren’t living in them.
WIRSU: Is that the case in Tassie?
CLARE: It’s the case right across the country. Let me give you an example of one on the Central Coast in New South Wales. I met a woman who’s got two kids living in a home there, actually, she’s not living in it. She pays the rent but the place is so bad, so full of mold, you can smell it when you walk into the place. She doesn’t think it’s safe to have the kids there. And so she lives with a mum, but she’s still paying rent for a place that she can’t live in. There’s lots of places like that all around the country.

WIRSU: We were speaking to Pattie Chugg, Chief Executive of Shelters Tasmania earlier in the program. She said that she would like to see a federal government commit to 10,000 new houses in Tasmania as a target to which everyone can then work towards. As federal Shadow Minister for Housing. Is that a commitment you’re prepared to make?
CLARE: I can’t make it on the spot today Piia, but what Albo, the leader of the Labor Party has said is that we will take to the next election, a comprehensive plan about repairing and building more social housing.
WIRSU: What is that plan?
CLARE: We’re working on it now. We’ve probably got an election next year so we’ll work on that over the next 12 months. But in Albo, you’ve got a bloke who grew up in social housing. His story tells you just how important social housing is. Put a roof over someone’s head, give them a safe and secure place to live, and you can rise to become Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. I heard a story this afternoon at the City Mission out at Newnham, where they look after men on the street. They met a bloke who was sleeping in a car. He’d lost his job but he’s got a trade. He’s a chef. He was there for I think three or four nights, was able to get his head together, reset. He’s now got a job as a chef out at Georgetown. So that shows you the difference that a helping hand in the way of a roof over your head and hot meal can make, and we need more crisis accommodation and more long term social housing if we’re going to help people just like that.
WIRSU: So when can listeners expect to hear Labor’s plan?
CLARE: Next year.
WIRSU: If you’ve just tuned in, you’re hearing from federal Shadow Minister for Housing, Jason Clare, who’s been visiting public housing in the north of the state today. You mentioned chefs just there, which brings us to another discussion point in Tassie which is the lack of builders. How do you actually propose to resolve some of the public housing supply issues when we simply don’t have the builders to build the houses?
CLARE: One of the great tragedies I think over the last six years or so is the drop in the number of apprentices. Across the whole country, we’ve seen a drop of about 140,000 apprentices. But right here in northern part of Tasmania, the number of apprentices has dropped by I think about 13 per cent in the last six years. At a time like this, where we don’t have enough tradespeople to do the job, we should be training up more apprentices. One of the policies that Labor has been talking about now for some time is when the federal government put some money into building infrastructure, whether it’s a road or whether it’s a bridge or whether it’s a house, one in 10 workers on the jobsite should be an apprentice. It’ll help to give you the people that you need to do the job now and it will train the next generation of tradespeople for the area.
WIRSU: Jason Clare, really appreciate you joining the program.
CLARE: Thanks Piia.