Doorstop Interview – Brisbane – Friday 14 May 2021




FRIDAY, 14 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: Budget in Reply 2021; Housing Australia Future Fund; domestic violence; Federal election.

JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Good morning, everyone. My name is Jenny McAllister, and I’m Labor’s spokesperson on the prevention of violence. It’s a real pleasure to welcome you all here today and to be here at a service that provides so much help, so much support for women and children in Queensland who are seeking to escape violence. The number one reason that women choose not to leave a violent relationship is fear of destitution and homelessness. And unfortunately for many women, this fear is well-founded. Violence is a leading cause of homelessness. And years of Coalition Government neglect of the housing sector has made this problem much, much worse. I have travelled in recent months and spoken to workers in Cairns, Kempsey, in Brisbane, Casino. And they all tell me one thing. The number one issue facing their service is the inability to find safe and secure housing for the women they are trying to help. Too many women are turned away each night from crisis accommodation. Too many women who are in crisis accommodation can’t be placed in transitional housing because there is none. Too many women in transitional housing cannot be moved into the private rental market because there are no homes available. And the consequence of this is that women are either couchsurfing, they are living on the street, they are living in their car, or worse still, they are returning to a home that is not safe for them and not safe for their children. The women who choose to confront the violence in their lives are courageous and brave women. And they deserve every chance to heal, rebuild and start a new life. And it’s why I’m so proud to be part of a Labor team that will prioritise housing for women and children that are escaping violence. And I’m very, very pleased to be here today with everybody to talk a little bit more about that. And I’d like to introduce my colleague, Jason Clare.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thank you, Jenny. And thank you for all the help that you’ve provided in putting together the Housing Australia Future Fund. We’ve got a housing crisis in Australia at the moment. The Government doesn’t like to talk about it but it’s real. It’s here and it’s happening. It’s harder to buy a house now than ever before. It’s harder to rent than ever before. And there’s more homeless Aussies today than ever before. And there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to do to fix that. But at its core, one of the things we must do is build more affordable housing and build more social housing. Albo, you said last night 10,000 mums and kids last year fleeing domestic violence, often in the middle of the night, were turned away from refuges because there wasn’t a bed, because the inn was full. That’s why last night we announced a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. This is a future fund that will give more Aussies a future. It’s a fund that will make money, create jobs, build homes, and change lives. It’ll create thousands and thousands of jobs during the construction phase, and it will change thousands and thousands of lives forever. It’ll build homes for frontline workers, the heroes of the pandemic, the real heroes of the pandemic, people like cleaners and aged care workers. It’ll build homes for older women at risk of homelessness. Not everybody knows this, but you should. The fastest growing group of homeless Australians at the moment are older women, people aged 54 to 65. Like our mums, our grandmothers, our aunties. It will also build homes for homeless veterans, people we trained and sent off to war and now need our help and are sleeping rough in parks around Australia at the moment. And it will help to fix some of the worst housing conditions in the country, some of the worst housing conditions in the world in remote Indigenous communities across Australia. And it’ll help to build homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Jenny, you made the point. Refuges around the country for women and kids fleeing domestic violence are full at the moment. As I’ve spoken to people who work in this critical sector, like DVConnect, the same story keeps being told. We haven’t seen this service maxed out as much as it is today in decades. And people are having to stay in refuges for longer and longer because they can’t get permanent accommodation. This was supposed to be a women’s budget this week. If the Government was serious about women’s safety, they’d be putting money not just into crisis accommodation, but into long-term secure accommodation for women and kids fleeing domestic violence. And that’s why a key part of this package is $1.7 billion to build, not just crisis accommodation, but long-term social housing for women and kids fleeing domestic violence. This will build homes and build lives. It’s the sort of thing that this tired eight-year-old Liberal Government should have done this week, but never will. Albo?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Jason. And I do want to thank Beck from DVConnect, and the other organisations who are here, and pay tribute to them, dealing with women and their families, fleeing domestic violence, providing services under extremely difficult circumstances, taking calls, dealing with people when they are distressed. The toll on the workforce here must be extraordinary. One of the things I’ve been told this morning is about how they keep going because this service and other services showed the resilience of women having the strength to come forward and say that they need support and that they need safety. But these services are under enormous pressure. During COVID, we saw that pressure increase. And that’s why when we were discussing the elements of Labor’s housing policy, the Housing Future Fund that we announced last night, a $10 billion program to deliver 20,000 new social housing units and dwellings and to deliver 10,000 homes for essential workers, for people who need affordable housing, that of that 20,000, we are going to make sure that 4,000 are set aside for women and families fleeing domestic violence. Because unless you provide more secure housing, then the pressure will continue to be on the temporary accommodation, the refuges, the places where people are being turned away from. Last night and again tonight, in every major city in Australia, women will be turned away from places that they’ve gone to shelter because there simply isn’t a spot for them. They’ll sleep in their car, they’ll sleep on the street, they’ll couch-surf with someone that they know, or they’ll go back to a dangerous situation that isn’t safe for them. We’re a better country than that. We need, if we’re going to give women’s security and safety the importance that it deserves, we should be able to come up with proposals that provide real solutions. Now, this is a considered proposal. We know that in the past the Federal Government have in the past made substantial contributions through the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement and had been engaged in housing. What’s extraordinary is that last year, in spite of the fact that there was money for everything, there was no money, not a single dollar went into providing a single additional public housing dwelling in the entire country from the Commonwealth. Not a single additional dollar. In spite of the fact that housing, we know, is a good way to create jobs in construction. In spite of the fact that maintenance of social housing, as well, can be a critical way to create jobs and make an immediate difference. When we were in Government during the GFC, we built 20,000 new social housing dwellings and we renovated or refurbished 80,000. Because we know that it can make an immediate difference. So we need to do better. And we need to, arising from this pandemic, not do what Josh Frydenberg said when he began his Budget speech on Tuesday night when he said, ‘We’re coming back’. How about we look forward and try to create a better Australia and try to deal with the challenges and issues that have been there for some time? How about we build back stronger? And one way we do that is by, as an entire society, having a comprehensive plan when it comes to dealing with issues regarding women’s safety. And this is just one element. There’s much more that needs to be done. Support for services like this are absolutely critical. But Labor’s Housing Future Fund was the centrepiece of the Budget Reply last night, just like child care was the centrepiece of our Budget response last year. The Government have had a bit of a half-bake response to that. But I’d encourage them to have a look at this policy. And I would be quite happy if they try and steal some of this as well and put some additional resources in. Because that’s critical. But if they don’t, we’ll be going to the next election with a comprehensive plan for a stronger and fairer Australia. Part of that is getting elected to Government so that we don’t give budget replies, we give budgets, so that these funding commitments become a reality. 

And part of that is, of course, getting extra members. We don’t need that many into the House of Representatives on the Labor side. And I’m very proud today to be introducing you to Madonna Jarrett. A local, someone I’ve known for 30 years, showing our age here, and someone who I have enormous respect for. And I’m very excited that someone with Madonna’s capacity, who’s worked in both the public sector and the private sector, who has worked in terms of the delivery of service provision, who has worked in terms of hard economic policy as well and looking towards policy solutions to benefit the people of the electorate of Brisbane. At the moment, we have a Government that after eight long years it’s difficult to think of any big major issue in which they have transformed the nation. And indeed, Tuesday’s Budget was really a list of problems that they themselves have created. The cuts to aged care made the aged care crisis worse. The child care policies have seen an increase in child care costs so we’re the fourth most expensive in the world and women can’t participate in the workforce. We know, of course, that this Government abolished even having a women’s budget statement in 2014 when the then-Minister for the Status of Women, yes, it really was Tony Abbott, abolished it and decided it wasn’t necessary. Do we think that would have been reintroduced if it wasn’t for the bravery of people like Grace Tame and, of course, Brittany Higgins, speaking out about violence against women and the need to address it? So this policy is one that I’m very proud of. It’s one I’m sure that Madonna will champion. And it’s one that I hope she can advance and be a part of as part of a Labor Government that I’ll seek to lead whenever the election is called sometime over the next year. Madonna?

MADONNA JARRETT, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BRISBANE: Thank you, Albo. It’s great to be here, everybody. And let me just say from the outset how proud I am to be here today. The work that Beck and your team are doing at DVConnect is just wonderful. The number of people that have been helped, the number of women that have been helped, we need these services to continue. Importantly, though, we need leaders in Canberra who care about women. We need more of them. We need leaders who put women at the centre of decision making and who put women in the centre of their hearts. And I believe Albo and Labor genuinely is that leadership. I too care about women, very much about the women of Brisbane. And I will be their voice in Canberra. I will fight every day from here to Canberra and back if I have to, to support the services and the women who need a better future. I’m running for the seat of Brisbane for a couple of other reasons, though. I really am concerned at the uncaring policies that are leaving people behind. Policies that do nothing to provide security and protection for our casual workers, many of them is, as Albo mentioned earlier, are our frontline workers, the heroes of the COVID crisis. This Government runs according to a 24-hour news cycle and a headline. That is no way to run a Government. Just look at the response to the COVID crisis, or better still, their response to the appalling behaviour of men in Canberra. Third, I’m a local. I grew up in Paddington. I was born in Brisbane. But I did have the opportunity to live and work overseas. And it was while working overseas where I saw just how harmful uncaring policies can be on people. But it goes beyond people, it goes to society. Uncaring policies create inequality, and they divide societies. We must stop the LNP from taking us down the America path. And that’s another reason why I’m standing for the seat of Brisbane. I care about policies that have people in their hearts. And I really do believe that it’s only Labor and under Albo’s leadership that women are in the hearts of those leaders. We are there to look after women and there to look after people. It would be an honour and a privilege to be on the side with you, Albo, be on the side of the people. And a real privilege to be the Member for Brisbane. Thank you.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much. We’re happy to take questions. And Beck is happy to take questions as well about the services that are provided right here at DVConnect.

JOURNALIST: There’s a question from Canberra saying how do you decide who is vulnerable enough? Aged care workers, for example, aren’t included, teachers aren’t. And also, your deadline is 2027. Isn’t that too long to wait?

ALBANESE: No. Our deadline is not 2027. 

JOURNALIST: It will take that long to build some of these homes.

ALBANESE: When you construct a home, it takes time to build it. But we will make the funding available in our first Budget. There will be funding available. We will create it. We’re not reinventing the wheel here. The Future Fund Board of Governors will manage the fund that will provide the funding through that investment return to invest in housing. Now, why is it that every Tom, Dick or Mary can make money out of housing in this country, but we’ve seen a retreat from the public sector, at the Commonwealth level anyway, from housing provision? This is a considered, sensible policy that will make an enormous difference to people’s lives. And we also, when you speak about the 10,000 homes that will be available, affordable dwellings for essential workers provided through community housing providers, these models work now. There are places now at the moment, there’s one in Scott Morrison’s electorate that Jason helped, I think you might have helped cut a ribbon on, which was providing support that’s funded by the superannuation sector now, but separate. No Commonwealth Government involvement in it at all. What this we’ll see is a considerable expansion as a result of the Commonwealth engaging in what is an essential part of public policy. If you’re serious about women’s safety and security, you’ve got to provide them with a secure home.

JOURNALIST: So will people own these homes or just rent them?

ALBANESE: This isn’t a private home ownership model. We have other things that we will say about that. So this is a model based upon social housing. We put out a full paper about that yesterday, about how the policy would work. There are separate policies that can assist people in the private homeownership. But let me say this, the idea that in Australia, everyone can get into private homeownership does not reflect the reality of Australia in 2021. A reality where we have record numbers of people who are homeless. A reality whereby so many young people do not believe they will ever be able to own their own home. I’d say to the Coalition, get out and talk to people. Come here near the Story Bridge here on a Friday night and talk to some of the young people who are out and about here in inner Brisbane about their prospects of owning a home. Some of them, some people tragically have just given up. We need to do much better across the board. But part of that has to be about social housing. 

JOURNALIST: The Treasurer has said (inaudible) creates economic prosperity to allow people to buy homes, therefore have more money in retirement. So therefore, are you trying to start a class war on housing?

ALBANESE: I grew up in public housing, and I’m proud of it. Josh Frydenberg grew up differently, and that’s fine too. Every Australian deserves respect. Every Australian deserves security. Every Australian deserves safety. What we have at the moment, with public housing waiting lists, well over the six figures. That’s what we have around this country. What we have is women and children who will be turned away from refuges tonight because there’s nowhere for them to go. Their option isn’t tonight to buy their own home and to move into it tonight. Their option is to sleep in their car, or sleep on the street, or go back to a violent situation in which they aren’t safe. This is a tragic reality that we are dealing with. That’s why we need to do better. 

JOURNALIST: The Housing Minister, Michael Sukkar, said Labor would need more than triple the current benchmark return for the future fund of 6.1 per cent to be able to deliver this many thousand dwellings. What do you say to this? And how would you explain how this fund works to the everyday human being?

ALBANESE: Everyday human beings, which Michael Sukkar, I don’t include as one, he’s a Cabinet Minister and he’s well-paid. As am I. The fact is, they need to get out and talk to some people about the reality of what is going on. And the fact is that in terms of people speculating on housing investment, do okay in Australia in 2021. At the same time, people are struggling to get into housing and to have essential shelter. This is a mob that produced a Budget on Tuesday night with another $100 billion of additional spending, following the $100 billion of additional spending six months ago. They have a trillion-dollar debt. They have the largest budget deficit in Australian political history produced this week. The second largest will be next year. And this is a Government that says they can’t find a dollar, not one extra dollar, for public housing in this country. We can do better than that. I want to lead an inclusive Australia. An Australia in which everyone who can own their own home gets to do so. But one, also, that doesn’t leave people behind. And the problem with this Government is that it’s left so many people behind because of its narrowness, because of the way that it approaches these issues. Women escaping domestic violence aren’t to be blamed for their predicament and looked down on because they don’t own their own home and can’t move into their own home. They need shelter.

CLARE: Well, the short answer to that is he’s just wrong. This notorious numbers man has got his numbers wrong again. This is based on the New South Wales Government Social and Affordable Housing Fund, just for your information. That’s a $1.1 billion fund that builds 3,400 homes. This is ten times the size of that. A $10 billion fund that builds 30,000 homes. And I just invite the Minister, before he grabs a pen and puts out a mistaken press release, to talk to the people who are building these homes in New South Wales and elsewhere at the moment. This is a carefully developed policy developed with the assistance of the PBO, independently modelled, conservative estimates with the assistance of the people who are building these homes right now. This is a Minister who won’t even talk to the people who are building these homes. They wrote to the Prime Minister two weeks ago, writing an official letter of complaint that the Minister for Homelessness won’t meet with organisations representing homeless people. This bloke has been the Minister for Homelessness now for about 150 odd days. Guess how many times in the last 150 days he’s mentioned the word homelessness? The answer is two. Once to answer a question in Parliament. And the second to answer a question from a journalist. He needs to do his homework.

ALBANESE: I might just ask Beck to make some comments about the services provided here. 

BECK O’CONNOR, DVCONNECT: I just really appreciate the opportunity to host everyone today and to have you here to see the work of my incredible team and what we do every day. I also think it’s really important that we welcome a policy that increases the focus on people’s safety, particularly women and children who are experiencing domestic and family violence. This policy really does for us acknowledge the intersect between homelessness and domestic and family violence, and that we know that having a safe place for women and their children is really going to reduce the barriers to their safety. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Is this enough or is this just the first step?

O’CONNOR: I appreciate that an allocation of housing to women and children experiencing DV really shows, any allocation and having that as a priority, really shows that people are listening to what we need. And it’s particularly in terms of having an allocation where we have long-term stable housing, because that’s what actually opens up opportunities for us to fill vacancies every day for women and children into emergency and transitional homes. Just last night here in Queensland, we had over 32 women and their children in emergency accommodation. That’s why this kind of focus is absolutely important. 

JOURNALIST: The magic rounds of the football this weekend, there’s actually no accommodation and staff are struggling to find anywhere for emergency help. Is that correct?

O’CONNOR: That’s absolutely correct. And we look at lots of other alternatives, particularly in terms of how we can transport women to friends and family, to outside of the area where the footy is. But what we’re asking there in that instance is to really disrupt women’s lives and to take them away from communities where they have support, and we are asking the women and children to disrupt their lives under those kinds of situations. So to increase opportunities for us to have appropriate, safe and non-hostile housing from women and children going through such an incredible experience, then we support that.

JOURNALIST: On quarantine, the suggestion about another facility in Darwin, how realistic is that when there’s not enough medical staff up there even to staff Howard Springs?

ALBANESE: Well, we need more facilities everywhere. That is what I call for last night. The fact is that Howard Springs hasn’t been put to full capacity as a direct result of the Federal Government’s complacency with regard to quarantine facilities. This is a Government that handoff responsibility at every opportunity. There’s a good proposal in Victoria that the Government should take up. There have been proposals here in Queensland put forward by Premier Palaszczuk and put forward also by the non-government sector, with options including use of the facilities at Toowoomba and also facilities outside of Gladstone. There are proposals that have been put forward by Jane Halton, who put forward a review to the Government last year, speaking about Exmouth and how that could be used in WA. The WA Premier has put forward proposals. You have the Avalon Airport proposal as well. The fact is there are a range of facilities that are needed. And this Government has ignored the issue of quarantine and continues to not provide, essentially, what its two jobs should be. This Government had two jobs this year to get right. The rollout of the vaccine. And it’s been a very slow rollout indeed after having been told we’re at the front of the queue, we now know we’re nowhere near that. We’re right up the back. And quarantine facilities. Those two measures are essential for getting Australians home. But they’re also essential for opening up our economy.

JOURNALIST: Why are they so hesitant to do these quarantine facilities?

ALBANESE: Because Scott Morrison, if you look at everything that characterises Scott Morrison’s lack of leadership, whether it’s the bushfire crisis, where he didn’t hold a hose, where he refused to act and said it was a matter the states for such a long period of time before he finally acted. Whether it be wage subsidies, which he described as dangerous when Labor, the business community and unions were putting it forward, but which eventually happened. Whether it be the vaccination rollout where he said, ‘No, it’s all under control. We’ve got this. We are the front of the queue’ and didn’t put in place deals with companies like Moderna that should have been in place last year. We should have been in a position of manufacturing our own vaccines here. Or whether it be the issue of quarantine. He has consistently as well, here in Queensland, visited Queensland during the Queensland state election campaign to do two things. To attend fundraisers and to tell Annastacia Palaszczuk and her Government to open up the borders. Now, he’s saying that the borders of Australia are likely to remain shut under his watch until mid-2022. And if anyone can work out what the timetable is for the vaccinations, please let us know. Because Josh Frydenberg said something, Simon Birmingham said something else, Scott Morrison’s contradicted both of them. The Government have to get its act together. But Scott Morrison is always characterised by the fact that he only responds when there’s a crisis, including on women’s issues, whereby we had a reported sexual assault in the Defence Minister’s office, ministers knew, staff members knew who work for him, the Defence Minister’s Chief of Staff transitioned to his own office. Other members of parliamentary staff knew about this. But he didn’t know. There was no action. We’re still waiting for the reports as to what his office knew about the events tragically surrounding Brittany Higgins. Why doesn’t he just ask his Chief of Staff?

JOURNALIST: You are clearly in election mode. You’ve talked to Sabra Lane this morning. You sounded pretty upbeat, you we’re talking about the new suit, you lost weight, you’re ready for the fight. What sort of analogies were you using about the fourth quarter of the game?

ALBANESE: I am ready for a campaign whenever it’s called. And I do that because I said at the beginning of my leadership, on the day I became Leader, I said that we needed to have more strategy, less worried about day to day. And I said we’d have a review of our election losses. We’d lost three elections in a row. We needed to do better. We did that. I said we’d have vision statements. And I did that, including here in Brisbane, I outlined in January of 2020 my aged care vision statement. I said we needed to do a platform. And we did that through the Party processes and had our national conference last month. And I said then that the fourth quarter, if you like, and we want to kick with the wind at our back, would begin with this Budget this week. So you’ll see more rollout of policies. Today, I’m very pleased that we have an outstanding candidate being announced in Madonna. Tomorrow, I’ll be in regional Queensland, announcing another candidate for the Labor Party. And on Monday, I’ll be announcing another candidate as well in another part of regional Queensland. We think that the Government essentially has put its hand up this week and they’ve said, ‘We don’t have a plan for the future. We don’t have a plan to grow the economy, to grow productivity, to grow wages. We just have political management of crisis, some of which are our own creation’. And that’s why Australia can do much better. I think we can build back stronger. I want to lead that. I want to outline, and there’ll be further outlines of our plan for the country, including, very much, housing policy. There’s more housing policy to come. But we’ll have a very clear story. And I said it’d be based on three things, three principles. The first is an economy that works for people, not the other way around. Second, is our plan to invest in Australia’s future, to build back manufacturing, to build back jobs, to use climate change as an opportunity to create jobs. And thirdly, that no one should be left behind and no one held back. This policy is about a couple of those things. It is about jobs and the economy and creating that. But it’s also about making sure that vulnerable women and children aren’t just left behind in a position whereby they can’t have secure housing. Because I know from my own personal experience, as someone who grew up in a household with a single mum on a disability pension, that one of the reasons why I’m here today as the Labor Party Leader is that I had a secure roof over my head.

JOURNALIST: You did say on Sabra’s show that the siren had gone in the third quarter and you were ready for the bounce. How do you describe that just in those footy terms that you mentioned this morning?

ALBANESE: Well, I think Budget Week is the siren sounding the bounce for the fourth quarter. And we’ve made sure that we’ll be kicking with the wind in the fourth quarter, making sure that our plan for Australia’s future is very clear. Because this Government only has a plan for 24-hour political management. It doesn’t have a plan for the country’s future. And they exposed that on Tuesday night. Thanks very much.