Doorstop Interview – Canberra – Tuesday 16 March 2021


SUBJECTS: NSW government rips off struggling renters; Vaccine.  

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, probably, right across the country that today are struggling to pay their rent. In the peak of the pandemic, state governments across the country set up schemes to help people struggling to pay the rent, because they’ve lost their job because of COVID or lost hours at work. 

There’s a story in the Sydney Morning Herald today that I think deserves a bit of attention. What that story tells us is that in New South Wales, the scheme that the government set up there to help renters pay the rent has abjectly failed. It was a $220 million scheme to help people pay the rent. How much of that do you think has been spent? The answer is 4.6 per cent. $220 million of taxpayers money designed to help landlords and renters who are struggling to pay the rent because they lost their job and only 4.6 per cent of it has been allocated to people who need help. This is bloody appalling, straight out of the Scott Morrison playbook: make a big announcement and then do absolutely nothing. 

To make matters worse, the scheme is now being wrapped up and all of the money sent back to consolidated revenue. In two weeks’ time, JobKeeper ends and the JobSeeker supplement ends. If the information from Treasury is right, more people are going to lose their job, more people are going to struggle with to pay the rent, and this scheme is wrapping up. I’m calling on the New South Wales Government today to keep the scheme going and fix it, make it easier for people who are struggling to pay the rent to access it.

I’m calling on all state governments across the country to do the same thing. There’s other schemes like this. We need to get help to people who are struggling to pay the rent now and in the months ahead when more people lose their job, because JobKeeper disappears. And finally, I’m calling on the Prime Minister to act. This is the sort of thing that National Cabinet should look at. I’ve been calling on them to put this on the agenda for National Cabinet for a while. Now that we know these schemes aren’t working, I ask the Prime Minister to get the Premiers together and fix these schemes once and for all so people who need help get it because they’re going to need more help in the months ahead. 

JOURNALIST: Is there any reason the Government’s given for this scheme not using the allocated funds? 

CLARE: One of the big problems with the New South Wales’ scheme is that they said to landlords, “if you cut the rent, we’ll cut your land tax”. In New South Wales, most landlords don’t pay land tax, so the scheme was badly designed from the start. They should redesign the scheme so the tenants can say, “Look, my income’s been halved because I’ve lost hours or I’ve lost my job,” and then be able to easily access the money without having to go through the landlord when the landlord’s got no incentive to cut the rent because they can’t get a cut in land tax that they don’t pay.

JOURNALIST: Just on vaccines today, there’s more European countries that have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Are you concern by that at all and does it show that do you think perhaps that Australia was right, even though we’re going bit slowly that Australia’s got a bit of an advantage moving second on vaccines?

CLARE: I’ve got total trust in the Therapeutic Goods Authority. The TGA do a good job and I think all politicians here will tell you the same thing: we have trust in them. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the rollout is so slow here. I said on the weekend, this is like Cliff Young, the old ultra-marathon runner, who used to shuffle down the Hume Highway in his gumboots. This is taking a long time. The Prime Minister told us that we’d all be vaccinated October, looks like we won’t be. Told us four million would be vaccinated this month, looks like that won’t be the case either. I think that the government can do two things at once here. They can give confidence to the Australian people that the vaccine is safe and they can actually make sure that the vaccine goes into people’s arms. 

JOURNALIST: What about, you know, these countries have clearly suspended it for a reason. Do you think perhaps, Europe’s got its own political climate, are they reacting to each other? Is that the reason? Maybe they’re kind of jumping the gun here? 

CLARE: I defer to the experts. I heard on the news this morning that all the evidence from our authorities is that there is no causal link there and so rather than pretend that I’m a scientist or a doctor, like some politicians do, I’ll refer to the experts. 

JOURNALIST: But does it make the job harder in an electorate like yours with such a diverse community?

CLARE: Yeah, I think that’s probably spot on. In a community like mine, where it’s critical to get confidence up and information out, and that’s part of getting confidence up, getting information out in lots of different languages, that we’ve got to make sure that all levels of government, all the politicians, all the religious leaders, all the community leaders, are speaking with one voice: that the vaccine is safe, and that we encourage people to access it. I caught up with some leaders in the Islamic community the other day who put out a Facebook video explaining to the Islamic community that the virus is safe to take and people should take it. Sorry that the vaccine is safe to take. My apologies. They’re the sorts of things that I’d encourage all community leaders to do. Because building that confidence, will see more people vaccinated. As one Vietnamese doctor said to me the other day, “this is not just about saving your life, it’s about saving our community”.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government’s done enough to address multicultural communities and make sure that they know that, to put official information out rather than just relying on communities?

CLARE: They’ve made big promises, we need to see action. The Government has a habit of making big announcements, and then not delivering the promise to do this. I’m just calling on the Government to make sure it happens. 

JOURNALIST: What about the anti-vaxxer community? They seem to be running riot on platforms like Instagram. The government puts out token things to stop them but does the Government really need to really ramp up its opposition to them? 

CLARE: I see it on my own Facebook page. If you go onto Facebook, or you go into WhatsApp or you go into WeChat, you can see a lot of rubbish about how vaccines are dangerous. And the government does need to combat that. All of this mischief thrives in a vacuum and so the work that the government, but not just the government, politicians, generally, community leaders nationwide, do to combat this mischief and misinformation is very important. So yes, the government can do more. We need to make sure that campaign gets out in all the languages that people speak on the streets, in my community, and right across the country. But community leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, we’ve all got a job here to build confidence and the sooner the vaccine gets out, the sooner the better. I’m planning to visit my local GPs, film people in my community, young and old, getting the vaccine and have GPs tell the story about what they’re doing. That’ll build confidence. You can’t do that until needles are going into arms and that’s taking too long. I’ve got GPs in my community telling me that they’re only being given 50 vials of the vaccine. They want more, they want to speed it up. I think most Aussies sitting here today listening to this will be saying “Bring it on. Give me the jab. Give me two jabs”. It’s taking too long.

JOURNALIST: On the rollout, though, Australia is certainly in a very privileged position in that we haven’t had widespread spread of the virus. Is it fair that Australia really accelerate and order in a lot of doses when other countries, when production is limited and other countries are really struggling to access it?

CLARE: We want to see everyone in the world vaccinated. One of the encouraging things out of The Quad meeting over the weekend was a billion doses of the vaccine going into our broader community. The world won’t get back to normal until everyone’s vaccinated. But the key point here is the Australian economy won’t get back to normal until everybody is vaccinated. We talk a lot in this building about wanting to get people back to work, get jobs back, get the economy back up and running. The borders aren’t going to open and we’re not going to have the sort of country and the sort of economy that we had in 2019 until everyone’s vaccinated. That’s why we’ve got to speed this up.