Television Interview with Tom Connell – Sky News – Wednesday 3 February 2021


SUBJECTS: Housing affordability; HomeBuilder; Social Housing.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and he joins me now. Thanks for your time. This was a huge issue last time that Labor zeroed in on, as I said. We’re at this point of affordability again so presumably you’ll have to have something on the table for housing affordability.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: I think both parties are going to have to present policies that are about making it easier for people to buy homes, but also about making it easier to rent, there’s more people renting now than ever before and renting for longer, there’s more people that are homeless than ever before in Australia. Both parties need to be thinking seriously about what you do there to try and tackle the chronic level of homelessness in Australia. We know from a report from the Productivity Commission just last month that there’s fewer public housing dwellings in Australia now than there was 10 years ago, so this is a big problem. It’s about helping people buy, it’s providing more secure rentals for people who are struggling who are renting, and it’s also helping to provide a future for people who don’t even have a roof over their head at the moment.

CONNELL: And I know that we’ve spoken before about social housing policy, but just on housing affordability, people wanting to enter the market, you will need something at this election, won’t you? To take something? I know there’s a lot of talk about what policies you can keep, but something will need to happen in relation to housing affordability.

CLARE: What’s happened with HomeBuilder recently where we’ve seen a surge in take up there, that’s helped first time buyers, but that’s short term. That’s a stimulus measure. We’ve still got a major problem in Australia helping first time buyers get into the market. So, you’re right, we do need to do everything we can to make it easier for people to get into the housing market. But those statistics are good news, Tom. Remember in the middle of last year, you’re right, people were thinking that house prices could drop by 30 per cent. If you own a home, you don’t want that to happen. Stimulus measures helped, low interest rates helped, they’re still there and we expect them to be there for a number of years. The other thing that doesn’t get a rap very much in this building is what the banks did. I know the banks cop of flogging here regularly but that freeze on mortgages shouldn’t go unremarked. There were 400,000 people who had their mortgage frozen, people who couldn’t pay it. Just imagine if there wasn’t a mortgage freeze last year, there would have been a lot of people, I have people in my own family who took advantage of that, who might have had to sell the house. So that saved homes, saved lives probably, but also stopped people from having to put the house on the market because they couldn’t pay the mortgage, and then seeing prices plummet.

CONNELL: Yeah, and look, this is the thing, nobody ever wants to see a plummet. Plenty of people have barracked for a slow, perhaps, you know, meandering but interesting to hear you say that those figures, they’re good news. I mean, John Howard once said, nobody stops me in the street and gets angry at me for the house price going up. Is that what you took out of the last election?

CLARE: No one wants to see their house price fall. You own a house, I own a house, we all want to see the value of our assets increase, but you want it to be sustainable too. Mums and dads want their kids to be able to afford to buy as well. The other interesting thing in that was the shift to the regions. One of the things the pandemic has shown us is that we can work from home or work further away. I had a mate the other day who told me they were looking to move to Tamworth, they saw a property online, they rang the real estate agent and it was sold within an hour. Sydney is an expensive place to live. I know it, and it’s always going to be expensive. My brother moved to Brisbane for a job, he’s never coming back to Sydney. These things are very, very difficult to shift, but there are things the Commonwealth Government can do. Wages policy is part of it. While ever property prices go up more than wages, it’s going to be difficult to buy. Immigration is part of this as well. As immigration comes back, it’ll help the housing construction industry, but as immigration comes back, it’s going to have an impact on prices.

CONNELL: So, what does that mean on immigration? The government already took steps to tighten it before the pandemic. Was it still too high?

CLARE: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that it’s got to be carefully calibrated because it has an impact. 

CONNELL: Wasn’t the government doing that already? I mean, are you saying that they should have been more carefully (interrupted)

CLARE: No, I’m not. Don’t read into that. I’m saying it has an impact. We think HomeBuilder’s going to help the housing construction industry this year, but over the next year and the year after that, we’re expecting it to go down again because immigration helps to fuel housing construction. The industry is worried about that. But, as immigration comes back, it’ll also mean that governments have to be up to the mark in releasing land and planning new developments so that supply meets demand.

CONNELL: Which gets to state (inaudible). What about HomeBuilder, because it’s been a massive success. I mean, you’re not criticising it now, but there was some initial criticism of that whether it would work (interrupted)

CLARE: Well, it started off slow. It started off too slow. I’m glad it’s speeding up.

CONNELL: But could it be permanent?

CLARE: I don’t think it’ll be permanent. 

CONNELL: Is something needed in its place, not just for construction, but for first time buyers?

CLARE: There’s going to be something the Government’s going to need to do either next year or the year after to keep the industry going. That may be HomeBuilder, but it could just as easily be an investment in public housing. I think there’s still a strong argument that the federal government as well as state governments need to invest more there, either in repairing or building more. I made the point at the start of the interview that we’ve got less public housing today than we had 10 years ago. No wonder there’s more homeless Aussies than ever before.

CONNELL: A lot of talk about your policies. Negative gearing took the headlines but in fact, what appeared to really distort prices if you look at the history of Australian property prices was changing the capital gains tax discount. So, this is an investor element to 50 per cent. Could you look at changing that and not touching negative gearing? Would that be something perhaps it’s more palatable to the electorate?

CLARE: The problem of housing affordability is still there. We’ve got to look at other ways to solve this. We’ve said that we’re not going to take the same policies to the next election that we took to the last election.

CONNELL: And so what does that mean, though? Does that mean that one of those could survive, and that wouldn’t be considered the same policy?

CLARE: We’ve cleaned the slate with the old policies. You’d forgive us that we haven’t really focused on this in the last 12 months. We’ve been focused on the immediate problems of the pandemic like job losses, that’s why the focus is on investing in social housing and making sure HomeBuilder gets up and running, but we will announce a comprehensive housing policy ahead of the next election.

CONNELL: But just in terms of the principal where you’re at, obviously you’ve looked at this a lot already and thought about it. When you talk about cleaning that slate and you mentioned before that Australians don’t want to hear their house prices are going to go lower, would that mean those sorts of policies that really target investors would not come back?

CLARE: Tom, I haven’t even focused on it, haven’t had a conversation with colleagues.

CONNELL: You must have thought about it. 

CLARE: We’ve been focused on other things. 

CONNELL: But you’re in the housing portfolio. You must have thought about these policies, people must have spoken to you about them, and you must have thought about what’s palatable. 

CLARE: We’re working on our policies now. But you say HomeBuilder’s done and dusted, it’s not. There is still the need to make sure people get paid and that the houses get built. I’ve got people coming into my office, calling my office now saying they applied for it, but they’re not getting the money because the builder can’t start within six months. That’s unfair and it should be fixed. I’ve got one more example of unfairness that the government can fix in an instant: mums who are applying to buy a house with their sons can’t get it because you’ve got to be married or in a de facto relationship, you’ve got to be a couple. That’s unfair. That should be fixed. Three thousand Aussies us who had their homes burned down this time last year, unlikely to be able to apply by March, so they miss out as well. So yep, it’s ramping up and that’s good, but there are still things that government can do to make that scheme work better.

CONNELL: Well, yeah. The single parent, mother or otherwise, it does seem crazy. Just to return to that element you spoke about in terms of people never wanting to their home values to dip. Is that the lesson out of the last election for Labor – just be careful about how you talk about house prices?

CLARE: That policy was never designed or intended to do that. But that’s just common sense, mate. This is the biggest investment you’ll ever make in your life for most Australians. You don’t want that investment to go south. You want it to continue to grow, and you want it to grow in a sustainable manner, so that you build the equity in your home. But also, most Aussies are thinking about their kids as well and making sure that they’ll be able to buy a house when they grow up as well. 

CONNELL: Jason Clare, thanks for your time. 

CLARE: Thanks mate.