Interview with Simon Lauder – ABC South East NSW – Wednesday 5 May 2021


SUBJECTS: Housing crisis in regional Australia; Australians stranded in India; Budget.

SIMON LAUDER, HOST: A couple of events have been happening in Jindabyne and Cooma, a government roundtable featuring our politicians from local governments teaming up with Member for Eden Monaro, Kristy McBain and Labor’s Jason Clare. He is the Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government and the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness. We know there’s lots of issues around housing in Jindabyne and Jason Clare joins us now to discuss it. Good morning. 
LAUDER: What did you hear from Jindabyne locals last night? 

CLARE: Kristy asked me to come down to talk to mayors and locals because of the problems a lot of people have in finding a place to live or affording a place to rent. She was right. I don’t think I have found a place in the country that’s got it as bad as places like the Snowy region and the South Coast. The rental vacancy rate is almost the lowest in the country. I heard some stories about people who’ve been renting places for $350 a week and now being told by the landlord that the rents going to double to $700 a week. And if you can’t pay it, then you have to get out. 

LAUDER: Yep, the seasonal nature of this the ski season and the workforce required does create problems. But what is the solution from a federal government point of view? What can federal government do? 

CLARE: Just before we get to that, I think seasonal influxes of people for snow seasons are part of it, but what people were telling me yesterday is governments have been trying to get people to move to the regions for decades and that all came in one fell swoop with COVID. Thousands and thousands of people from Sydney and Melbourne moved to the north coast or the south coast and that’s part of the reason why there’s nothing to rent, or there’s less to rent and why rents are going up. Snowy 2.0 adds to that, as well. When you’ve got the snow season, big construction projects, and COVID all on top of one another, that’s the reason why there’s nothing to rent. 

What can government do? Well, what the Mayors were telling me yesterday is this isn’t temporary. People have moved to the regions and they’re intending to stay. They can commute into Sydney or Melbourne once a month and take a plane if they need to get there, but they want to live and stay in the area. A lot of them are expats, people who have been living overseas until COVID and they told me, “Look, we’re going to need more doctors, we’re going to need more police officers, we’re going to need more teachers because the population is bigger but they can’t come here and work if there’s no houses”. The federal government could play a role in building more affordable housing and for that matter, building more social housing in the region, because there is a chronic lack of it. 

LAUDER: Okay, to the India travel ban now. What should be happening on this front? Should Australia cancel that travel ban immediately? Is that your view? 

CLARE: The health officials have said we’ve got to stop flights coming in from India for the moment because of the number of people coming in with COVID. we’ve said if that’s the health advice, fair enough. I think where the Government went too far was saying that if you’re trying to get into Australia from India at the moment, then you’re liable to get jail. I think if anybody listening has been on an overseas trip to America or Europe, got stuck there and then told that the Government has passed a law saying if you try to get home, then you’ll have a $60,000 fine or five years in jail. It’d send a shiver down your spine. You’d think the Government had gone too far. I think the Prime Minister realises that now and he’s been moon walking away from it yesterday. 

LAUDER: Would you like to see Australia reach a position as you know, a relatively wealthy and well off country when it comes to COVID-19 despite the woes we have had, should Australia be assisting countries that are struggling more such as India by actually sending crews of health professionals? Is that a position we should aspire to? 

CLARE: We should be sending what we can. Over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve produced a lot of ventilators for our hospitals. I think a lot of those are now being sent. That’s a good thing. A lot of protective equipment that is needed for our health officials here, we’ve produced bucket loads of that in the last 12 months. If we can send that, we should. But we should also look at ways of how we get those Aussies trapped in India at the moment home. Commercial flights have been cancelled, but when commercial flights were cancelled to China last year, we sent a charter flight into Wuhan and got the Aussies out and sent them to Christmas Island to quarantine. There’s not much in the way of a safer quarantine place than Christmas Island. I would have thought if the Government was serious, they’d charter a plane, get those Aussies who are trapped in India at the moment and put them in places like Christmas Island or the other quarantine stations that the Government’s got. A lot of them are empty at the moment and they could be used to get Aussies out. 

LAUDER: Charter flights, should the Australian Government send military planes as well? 

CLARE: The Government’s got a range of different aeroplanes that it could use, but I would have thought the easiest thing to do here would be for the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the head of Qantas and say “Start your engines. I’m going to charter a couple of flights”. Get the planes over there, tell the Australians there to pack their bags, get on the plane, get home, put them into quarantine to make sure that the virus doesn’t get into the general community. You could get those Australians out without a risk to our community in Australia. 

LAUDER: The Federal Budget is next week so there might be more debate around these questions. But we saw a statement from the RBA governor Philip Lowe saying Australia’s economic recovery has been stronger than expected. Does that mean the Government got it right on JobKeeper since the economy is looking good? 

CLARE: One of the problems with JobKeeper is that a lot of companies who got it made a big profit, a pretty tidy profit last year. Companies like Harvey Norman. Everybody was stuck at home, so they went to the shops and bought things. Harvey Norman made record profits last year, but still got millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money. If companies that made record profits didn’t get JobKeeper, there’d be more money there to help some of those businesses up and down the coast that are still struggling, businesses that rely on international tourists or businesses that rely on hospitality. The Government should have made some changes to that scheme last year when they realised that they were giving money to companies that were making a motza and if they’d done that, they’d still be able to help the sort of companies that are struggling right now. 

LAUDER: Jason Clare, good to talk to you and get your views of what’s happening in our region and more broadly. Thanks very much. 

CLARE: Good on you. Thanks. 

LAUDER: Jason Clare. He’s Labor’s spokesman for housing and homelessness in federal parliament.