ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE, SYDNEY
TUESDAY, 30 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: ALP Special Platform Conference; National Housing and Homelessness plan.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: G’day everybody. Welcome to my neck of the woods. The mighty Revesby Workers Club. Quick shout out to the kids from Picnic Point High who are just behind us there in the gym. I want to say a few quick words about housing and the housing debate that we’ve had inside here today.
Last year 10,000 mums and kids were turned away from domestic violence refuges right across the country. Turned away because there wasn’t a bed. Think about that for a second. In the middle of a pandemic, and 10,000 mums and kids fleeing domestic violence, often in the middle of the night, and they’re turned away from refugees because there isn’t the space.
Tonight, right here in Sydney, probably one in 10 people who will sleep rough in our parks and in the street will be a veteran. Just think about that for a second. ANZAC day only a couple of weeks away and one in 10 people sleeping rough in the streets of Sydney are a veteran. The same people that walk down George Street on ANZAC Day with their medals might be sleeping there in the same street that night. It’s just not right.
It took a virus to show us that if we really want to reduce homelessness, we can. In the middle of the pandemic last year, we were able to scoop up 40,000 people right across the country who had been sleeping rough and find them a bed in empty hotel rooms and motel rooms. The reason for that was because last year it was more important to have a roof over your head than to have a mask on your face. But as I stand here today talking to you about homelessness the sad fact is that many of those people are now back on the street.
There are more people homeless here in Australia today than ever before. We need more crisis accommodation for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence. We need more crisis accommodation full stop. We need more social housing to provide permanent accommodation for people who desperately need it. It’s not just good social policy, it just doesn’t just save someone’s life, turn their life around, it’s good economic policy as well because it creates jobs building those houses for the people who need it.
And it’s not just what we do to reduce homelessness. There’s a lot that we need to do at a federal government level to help people that are struggling to pay the rent. It’s getting harder and harder to rent every single day. Last year governments right across the country set up funds to help people struggling to pay the rent, people who might have lost their job or might have had their hours cut. That fund here in New South Wales WAS 220 million bucks. Guess how much of that money has been doled out, spent by the state government, helping people who lost their job to pay the rent? Four and a half percent, and the scheme ends tomorrow.
Here’s a scheme that’s designed to help people struggling to pay the rent because they’ve lost their job, now with JobKeeper gone, more people are going to lose their job in the next few months, and we’ve got a scheme here to help people and it’s being shut down tomorrow. I call on Gladys Berejiklian, please don’t shut the scheme down. Fix it. Make it easier for people to use and make it easier for people who are struggling to pay the rent to get the help that they need. It’s there, it should be in the hands of renters and landlords who desperately need it, not in the coffers of Macquarie Street.
And finally, we’ve got to make it easier for people to buy a home. It’s getting harder and harder every single day. The motion that was put and passed at the conference this morning was that we need to put in place a national housing and homelessness plan. Something that makes it easier to buy, easier to rent, and puts a roof over the head of more Australians. It’s the sort of thing we need to do. It’s the sort of thing we’ll do if we win the next election. It’s the sort of thing that government should do now. But what we get out of Scott Morrison all the time is ‘this is mainly the responsibility of the state governments’. He says it whether it’s buying a house, renting a house or funding for social housing, and it’s just not right. If we’re going to really shift the dial and make a difference here, then it requires leadership from people in Canberra. So, I call on the Prime Minister again, toss away those old ideas about “I don’t hold the hose”, “it’s not my responsibility, it’s the state governments’. You can fix this. You can make a real difference here if you show a bit of leadership. If you don’t, we will.
JOURNALIST: How do you balance calls to make housing more affordable, without alienating people who managed to crack into the property market and don’t want to see the value of their investment decrease?
CLARE: Anybody that owns a home doesn’t want to see the price plummet, doesn’t want to see the price drop. I own a place just around the corner from here, I get it. What we want to make sure is that any increases in homes are sustainable. That’s the key.
Everybody wants to make sure that their home increases in value over time. We’ve also got to look at how do we make it easier for people to crack into the market. You know that the HomeBuilder Scheme has helped more first-home buyers get into the market recently. But that’s temporary. The long-term direction is all going the wrong way, it’s getting harder and harder for young people to get into the market. Fewer Australians own a home today than did 60 years ago. Half as many working-class kids own a home today as when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister in the 1980s. I’m not pretending that there’s any simple easy way to fix this, there’s not one thing that you can do that’s going to turn that around. While ever wages are sort of going like that, property prices are going like that, it’s just going to get harder and harder.
But there are some good ideas out there. What the state government is doing here in New South Wales is a good thing. They’re talking about getting rid of stamp duty. Think about it: the average cost of a home here in Sydney is pretty close to a million bucks. The average cost of a standalone house is more than a million bucks. You get rid of stamp duty and you can save about $50,000 on the cost of buying a home. Now, federal government can play a role here, they can help coordinate that sort of policy being implemented right across the country.
JOURNALIST: This national plan you are referring to, would this still mean that the states and territories could raise revenue? If so (inaudible)
CLARE: I think the states are screaming out for a bit of leadership. It might surprise you but the housing ministers across the country don’t meet with Michael Sukkar as the housing minister. It’s good that the government now has a housing minister but there’s no national cabinet meeting on housing policy. The sort of thing I talked about a moment ago, getting those rent funds to work and distribute money to renters, that should be on the agenda at National Cabinet. Making sure those schemes work so we can help people who desperately need it.
I called for a moratorium on evictions last year with Albo, you might remember the press conference where Albo grew up. And we got action. National Cabinet decided yes, we do need an eviction moratorium and they were implemented across the country. They worked; they were the reason that we didn’t see people thrown out into the street in the middle of a pandemic. But those other rent relief schemes didn’t work and we should be using a meeting of all of the ministers to try and work out how to get these schemes operating. If we’re going to have a national housing and homelessness plan, it’s going to require the federal government to play a leadership role and work with states and territories, but also local governments, superannuation funds, work with community housing providers, work with homelessness organisations to make sure we put in place the sort of policies that are going to do the three things I talked about. Making it easier to buy, making it easier to rent and putting a roof over the head of more homeless Aussies
JOURNALIST: Will you take changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax to the next election?
CLARE: We’ve said many times that we’re not going to take the same policy to the next election we took to the last election. We’ll set out the details of what our policies are on housing closer to the next election, but they’ll be about all those three things, making it easier to buy, making it easier to rent and putting a roof over the head of more desperate Aussies that are homeless at the moment. Often you’ll find the Libs are keen to talk about “how we make it easier to buy a home”, but don’t offer anything up for the many Australians who are renting and are struggling to pay the rent, let alone do anything to help homeless Aussies. We need to do all three.
JOURNALIST: So, you will make changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax?
CLARE: I know you’re trying to draw me out here. We’ll set out our policy before the next election.
CLARE: You’re trying to read my mind here. We’ll set out our policies before the next election, okay. But we’ve made it clear we lost the last election. We’re not going to make the same mistakes that we made at the last election. We’re not going to have the same policies.
But there is no single fix here. As I said in the answer to Matt’s question, wages are a big part of this, supply of land is a big part of this, and tax policy is part of it as well. You know that some people in the Libs at the moment are talking about telling people to rip money out of their superannuation fund, in order to make it easier to buy a house. All the evidence is if you do that, it’s just like throwing gasoline on a fire. It’ll increase the price of houses. Think about it, if you’ve got two couples going to an auction, and they’ve both got their superannuation to bid against each other. At the auction prices go up and up and up and up. The person who wins the auction is the person selling, because they ended up selling it for a higher price. The bank is happy as well, because they end up signing you up to a bigger mortgage. But you end up paying more, you’ve got a bigger mortgage, and you’ve got less of a nest egg for when you retire because you’ve got less super. Industry Super did a report the other day and it showed that if everybody was allowed to take $40,000 out of their superannuation to buy a home, it would increase the average cost of a home here in Sydney by three times that at $130,000. So that’s a dumb idea. That’s what we shouldn’t do.
But what the Liberals are doing here in New South Wales is a good idea. Where I see good ideas, whether it’s Labor or Liberal, I’ll tell you. Getting rid of stamp duty will make it easier to buy a home and I think that the Federal Government can play a role here in helping other states to implement a policy like that as well.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) housing affordability policy at the next election?
CLARE: What I’ve said quite clearly is we need policies that are going to make it easier to buy, easier to rent, and to put a roof over the head of more Aussies who are homeless. If we’re serious about wanting to improve housing affordability, you’ve got to do all three.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned your counterpart Michael Sukkar’s name in your response earlier, he’s already sort of issued something of an attack against Labor based on what your leader Anthony Albanese said on the ABC’s AM program this morning about negative gearing and capital gains tax. Do you concede that this is a very fraught area for Labor considering what happened at the last election with how the Coalition was critical of your policies (inaudible)?
CLARE: Well look, I’d just like Michael to try and be a bit positive here. He’s the minister, he’s got a chance to do things that are going to make it easier for people to buy their own home rather than it getting harder. I’d also like him to talk a little bit about the other title in this portfolio, homelessness. he’s been the Minister for Homelessness now for almost 100 days. It’ll be 100 days in two days’ time. How many times do you think he’s even talked about homelessness? The only time he’s even mentioned the word is when he got a question in Parliament two weeks ago about it and then had to debate an MPI that Andrew Wilkie put forward, that’s it.
We’ve got to think about what we can do here to help everybody. There’s very few things that are more important in life than a roof over your head. We want more Aussies to be able to own their own home. Too few are able to do that at the moment.
There’s a lot of people renting that are struggling and there are practical things we can do now to help. I just gave you one example, if Gladys Berejiklian fixes that scheme rather than folds it up tomorrow, that’ll help a lot of people. But please don’t forget the people who don’t even have a roof over their head. Whether it’s those mums and kids I mentioned before, that get turned away from a refuge in the middle of the night because there isn’t a bed, or whether it’s the veterans that are sleeping rough in a park in Sydney.
We passed a motion through the parliament, what was it last week, last Monday, about the importance of a Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide. When you’ve got people who’ve served their country who are now sleeping in a park doesn’t it tell you something is terribly wrong here. And Michael’s in a position to do something about, so I just encouraged him to do so.
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