Doorstop Interview – Rockhampton – Saturday 15 May 2021




SUBJECTS: Reaction to Housing Australia Future Fund; homelessness; Labor’s candidate for Capricornia; Government taking action in the High Court to undermine wages and conditions; wages decline; campaigning across Capricornia; Australians stranded in India; Scott Morrison’s broken promise to bring stranded Australians home; skills shortages and apprentice/trainee numbers.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: It’s great to be back in Rockhampton on what is an absolute ripper sunny day. My grandmother was born and raised here in Rocky, so I feel like I’ve got a bit of Rocky blood in my veins.
It’s great to be here with Brittany and Barry. Murray Watt’s here as well, of course, Russell and Albo, the Leader of the Australian Labor Party. Can I also thank Hutchinson for showing us around on site today. We really appreciate it and seeing the sort of homes that we need to build more of right around Australia.
There aren’t many policies, when you announce them, that get the support of almost everybody. But that’s what’s happened over the last 24 hours or so, with the announcement of the Housing Australia Future Fund. Everybody from the Property Council, to Master Builders, right through to St. Vincent de Paul and Homelessness Australia have come out and backed this policy. The only people that have opposed it is the Liberal Party and the National Party. We shouldn’t be surprised. After eight long years in Government, housing affordability under the Liberal Party in the National Party has just got worse. And you see that most acutely in places like regional Queensland, where it’s harder to rent than ever before, and it’s harder to buy than ever before. Over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve seen rental vacancy rates in regional Queensland go through the floor and rental prices go through the roof. Why? Because over the last 12 months, a lot of people have moved from the cities to the regions. In 2019, 5,000 people moved to regional Queensland. Last year 16,000 people moved to regional Queensland, you know, triple what happened in 2019. This is a real and genuine housing crisis. That’s why in places like Rockhampton it’s almost impossible to find somewhere to rent and when you do, the prices are going up and up and up. It’s one of the reasons why we announced on Thursday night that if we win the next election we will establish the Housing Australia Future Fund because it will build more social housing and more affordable housing, just like the social housing that we see before us being built right now. It’ll build 20,000 social housing properties and 10,000 affordable housing properties.
Now, see, the Prime Minister was having a crack at it yesterday saying that this is all going to cost too much money. Well, just a reminder for the Prime Minister – his housing policy would cost taxpayers two and a half billion dollars over the forward estimates. This policy, the Housing Australia Future Fund, would cost taxpayers zero dollars over the forward estimates. This is a fund, $10 billion, that gets invested and makes money. And that money is used to build social and affordable housing. It makes money. It creates jobs. It builds homes like this, and it changes people’s lives. It builds homes for homeless veterans, the people that we train up send off to war and now desperately need our help. It builds homes for homeless older women. The fastest growing area of homelessness in Australia at the moment is in the area of older women, aged 65 to 74. People like our mums, our grandmothers, and our aunties. This also is going to build homes for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence. Last year, 10,000 mums and kids fleeing domestic violence got turned away from refuges because there wasn’t a bed. This fund builds homes for them as well. And it builds homes for the heroes of last year, the heroes of the pandemic, by building homes for people like childcare workers, aged care workers and cleaners, the frontline workers who put a uniform on every day and went out and kept us safe. This is a fund that will help people right across the country, but it will be particularly helpful in places like Rocky and regional Queensland where the rental vacancy rate at the moment is plummeting. This is the sort of thing that the Government should have announced on Tuesday night in their Budget. They’ve had eight long years to do it and they didn’t do it again this week. Frankly, I’m pretty sure they never will. Albo.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Jason, and it’s great to be back here in Rocky, once again, to back in our policy announcement, the centrepiece of our Budget Reply, the Housing Australia Future Fund. A vision for Australia that is inclusive. A vision for Australia where we have considered policy responses that boost our economy, whilst also providing good social policy outcomes. 
The fact is that the rental vacancy rate here in Rocky has gone from 2 per cent at the beginning of the pandemic to now 0.4 per cent. What that means is that there’s enormous pressure on here. We encouraged people, and they were encouraged by the pandemic, to move to the regions. But housing hasn’t kept up with that. And that’s placing real pressure on the housing market, it’s making it more difficult for people to find a place to rent. And this policy of building 20,000 new social housing dwellings, as well as 10,000, affordable housing units, with our $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund is a step towards addressing those issues.
The Commonwealth Government has splashed a fair bit of money around in recent times. They’ve got a trillion dollars of debt but couldn’t find a single dollar to put into additional spending for public housing, or community housing, or affordable housing, or dealing with the challenge of homelessness. Not a dollar in the two budgets that we’ve seen in the last six months. That is really short sighted. As Jason has said, one of the things about our policy is that by creating a Future Fund, using that investment vehicle to make money, make revenue, that then is channelled into construction and into support for housing affordability, what it does, what it does at no cost to the taxpayer, is to leverage up that investment to make a difference to people’s lives.
Now, a roof over someone’s head is about more than just what happens on a day to day basis. It can provide the security that you need in your life, to save for a deposit for your own home, to actually go out and look for a job, to think about what you’re going to do in terms of your family arrangements. Having a child requires you to think through your position and how you’ll be able to afford to look after your family. This Government, in terms of its housing policy, has found when it comes to any social housing policy, it’s withdrawn the Commonwealth further from this area. And we know when it comes to social housing and people who are in vulnerable situations the reason why we’re quarantined 4,000 of the dwellings for women and children escaping family violence is that we know that each and every night in Australia, women and their children will be turned away from shelters, because those existing shelters are full and because there’s no capacity to move them into more secure housing. They remain full. That has tragic consequences. It has an enormously negative effect on young child, who has to turn up to school the next day knowing that they’ve had to sleep in a car with Mum, knowing that they might have had to have gone back to an unsafe place for them. It’s very difficult for women as well. Being a mum knowing that you can’t give your child the protection and safety and security that you know your child needs. It’s heartbreaking. We need to do better as a society on these issues.
Our comprehensive plan that we have would also provide and connect up with making sure that jobs are created in construction while this occurs. Some 21,500 jobs as a result of this policy being put forward. That’s why we wanted to come, as well as being in Brisbane yesterday, come to a region like Rockhampton to make sure that we recognise that this will really help boost jobs in the regions.
We also wanted to very proudly announce our candidate for Capricornia in Robbo. Russell Robertson will make a great candidate for Capricornia. He was in the field last time. He’s got to know the entire electorate. But he knows the region because he was born here, because he’s from three generations of coal miners, right here in Capricornia. He works in Moranbah. He’s been involved in community organisations in that great city. He’s raising his kids here. He’s someone who’s passionate about making sure that people who are working in the mines get treated properly.
This Government is currently taking action in the High Court in support of a private organisation to undermine workers who work in the mines. We know that the issue of labour hire companies and the use of increased casualisation of labour is being used to undercut wages and conditions. That’s something you don’t hear the LNP talk about. They talk a lot about mines, but when they talk about it they’re really talking about mine owners, not mine workers. Labor is concerned about these issues. And Russell has championed the principle of same job, same pay. A very important principle, and one that we should just find basic, and just have agreement with across the board. But we don’t, which is why the LNP Government in Canberra is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money supporting the appeal to the High Court to undermine the decisions that are being made, saying that people who are permanent workers should be classified as such.
This Government produced a Budget on Tuesday night that will see real wages declining over the next four years in spite of the amount of money that’s been spent, $100 billion of new spending, a trillion dollars in debt, workers will not be better off. They aren’t even having their wages increased to the same level as inflation across the forward estimates. That’s not good enough. We need to come out of this pandemic by building back stronger. As it is, this Government oblivious to the issue of real wages, and how important that is for people to be able to pay their bills, and just get by on a day to day basis. The LNP are served in this area by people who are lions in the area, in Central Queensland, but they’re mice when it comes to Canberra. They just put up their hand and follow the LNP based in Sydney and Melbourne and whatever they want. I want a champion in Central Queensland and Russel Robertson will be just that.
RUSSELL ROBERTSON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CAPRICORNIA: Thanks Albo. Russell Robertson, Labor candidate for Capricornia. I want to thank Jason and Albo for coming up, Barry and Brittany and Murray Watt. It’s fantastic to become the Labor candidate for Capricornia and I’m looking forward to the work that you can do to make Capricornia a bigger and better place. We’ve seen eight years of lazy, stale LNP membership that does nothing for CQ. And this housing fund that Albo has just discussed and is announced in the Federal Budget Reply is exactly that.
We’ve seen the mantra of the local LNP member which is it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s always somebody else’s fault with this Morison Government. I want to be part of a team, led by Albo, with great players like Murray and Jason, that gets things fixed and done and not blame someone else. I’m waiting for Scott Morrison to say he doesn’t hold a hammer, no doubt that’ll be spat out at some stage. We want to get in, get it fixed, assist the vulnerable members of our community to make sure we can house them. 
Also, I want to tackle casualisation. This is a matter that wasn’t fixed last time. It was promised by the LNP again, promised and not delivered. We constantly see the LNP promise and then deliver nothing. So as a candidate, I’m going to be loud. And I’m going to be straight up-front to say I want that fixed. I’m not going to take no for an answer. I’ll be in and around communities constantly, something you don’t see from the local LNP member. That local LNP member hides out here and doesn’t travel through the rest of Capricornia. So, I’m out and about, and I continue to do that. I look forward to being part of Albo’s team and I look forward to taking on this next election battle. And with that, I’ll hand back to Albo on the specifics of the Housing Fund.
ALBANESE: Well, thanks very much, Robbo. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a bit about the project that’s surrounding us today?
ALBANESE: Well, the project here, we’ve been with Hutchinson. What we have is public housing, social housing, that is of different standards, some of it adaptable housing. So for people with disabilities and going through the ageing process, making sure that good social housing will last and will provide a quality of life for people here. We have here, a duplex, a standalone, and also a multiple dwelling building. Together this will be a community. This is what helps build a community, appropriate housing with open space in between. It’s a good example of providing quality housing that will lift the quality of life for people who are able to live here. Tragically, Australia has never had more homeless people than we have today. And just to use one of the groups who will be assisted by our housing policy, tonight, in the streets of our capital cities and in our regions, homeless people, about one in 10 will be a former veteran. We want to provide support for them. We want to make sure that whilst building the economy, building construction jobs, we can actually make a positive difference to people’s lives.
JOURNALIST: And how affordable will this housing be? And how do members of community go about accessing it?
ALBANESE: This will be one of the things about social housing, and I’m going to get Barry who’s had a considerable experience over a long period of time of dealing with housing to make some comments as well, as your local state member. One of the things that has happened over recent times under this Government is a withdrawal of support at the Commonwealth level. It means the states are doing all of, not just the heavy lifting, they’re doing all of the lifting. We have a Homelessness Minister who doesn’t speak about homelessness, who won’t meet with groups. 
It can make an enormous difference to people’s lives. I’m a product of public housing. I grew up in a public home that was council-owned with my mum. It made a difference to my life, having the security of that. As someone who grew up with my origins, you would not have got pretty good odds, frankly, of me putting myself forward as the alternative Prime Minister of this country. Part of the reason why I was able to do that was the secure roof over my head. It makes an enormous difference to people’s lives. I’d ask Barry to make some comments.
BARRY O’ROURKE, MEMBER FOR ROCKHAMPTON: G’day. People from Rockhampton and Central Queensland would know how passionate I am about public housing. I’ve worked the bulk of my career in providing services to our more vulnerable clients, people on low incomes, and helping them access social and affordable housing. The one thing I have noticed is over consecutive Liberal Governments, we’ve seen a continual cut in funding from the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. Now there’s remote indigenous housing cuts in that space. People forget that we actually have to have affordable income for working people as well, people who cannot afford the rental market that are then forced out of our community creates the job vacancies, businesses struggle to actually get someone to fill those positions. It’s just so vital. It’s the principle of life, you need shelter. So, I absolutely welcome this announcement. It is something that I’m absolutely passionate about, and it’ll be great to see. And having Robbo announced as the candidate, he will be an absolute champion for Capricornia down there in Canberra. At the current time, I believe that our Federal Member just votes with the South and forgets about our region.
JOURNALIST: It’s such a competitive market at the moment. So, when can we expect other projects like this one to start?
O’ROURKE: The Queensland Government has an investment of $1.6 billion in public housing, which is the second biggest building program to World War Two. So, it’s massive. We’ve also seen here in Rockhampton Regional Council boundary area, last financial year, there was $65 million in residential construction through to January this year, it’s 125 million. So, we will see some dwellings coming back onto the market or coming in to the market, which would make it a little bit more affordable. But under the current Federal Government, there is nothing. There is nothing there for affordable housing, not a cent. You know, we need to make sure that we create prosperous communities. And that’s about having affordable housing, where people are welcome, are able to get jobs have dignity in their lives. So important.
ALBANESE: Thanks Barry.
JOURNALIST: I’ve just got a few questions from our Canberra team. So, 72 Australian either tested positive for COVID, or are close contacts, have been left stranded in India, unable to board a flight that landed in Darwin a short time ago. Are you comfortable with leaving those Australian citizens in India?
ALBANESE: This is heartbreaking. And it’s a direct result of the Morrison Government breaking its commitment to bring Australians home by Christmas. We all remember Scott Morrison standing up saying he would bring Australians home by Christmas. We know that more than 30,000 Australians remain stranded. But, the fact that some of those Australians have contracted COVID as a direct result of them not being brought home to safety is an indictment of the Federal Government’s complacency and of Scott Morrison’s capacity to make an announcement and then forget about it and not worry about the delivery.
JOURNALIST: What is your message to those people currently stranded in India?
ALBANESE: I spoke by Zoom yesterday with many of those stranded Australians. I spoke to them with Penny Wong and with Michelle Rowland. My message to them is ‘stay safe’. Australians care about our fellow citizens an d the fact is that we will continue to advocate for their care. It was heartbreaking, yesterday, to talk to many of these Australian citizens. They’re people who’ve worked here, they contribute here. They are Australian citizens with other family members here. This is extremely distressing for those Australians who have loved ones who are trapped overseas, some of whom have been trapped over there for more than a year. Scott Morrison promised he would bring them home and he simply hasn’t. This is a terrible situation and it is particularly dire for those unaccompanied children of which we know there are more than 170 who don’t have family members there to look after them, their mums and dads are here in Australia. It is particularly distressing both for the children but also for the family members here that Scott Morrison has broken his very clear commitment to bring those Australians home by last Christmas.
JOURNALIST: Could we be bringing more Australians home from India ?
ALBANESE: Scott Morrison should have kept his commitment to bring Australians home by Christmas. That was a breach of a commitment. Another example of Scott Morrison’s obsession with announcement and his complacency over delivery. There have never been more aviation assets sitting idle in the desert than ever before and yet Scott Morrison hasn’t managed to fulfil that commitment. In spite of the fact that when this outbreak occurred at the beginning of 2020 we were able to bring Australians home from Wuhan at the centre of the outbreak during that period, safely, by chartering flights to bring them home to Australia. Why is it that these Australians have been stranded, as they had been in so many places around the world, and, in this case, threatened not only with them being locked out but that they would be locked up if they returned. A threat that the Prime Minister themselves walked away from having made just days earlier.
JOURNALIST: Australians in India with COVID right now are facing a crippled healthcare system, should that be dedicated flights back to Australia for people with, for COVID positive passengers?
ALBANESE: What we should do is take all of the appropriate medical advice. But quite clearly, we need to do better. We need to recognise that when the Prime Minister said he would have Australians home by Christmas that should have meant something other than just another empty announcement.
Thanks, I might just make one comment about skills because that is an important issue when we’re talking about construction at a site like this. The fact is that there are now 150,000 less apprentices and trainees in Australia than when this Government came to office. There are skill shortages throughout the country. And it’s in particular areas, we have the restaurants and catering industry really struggling because they can’t have enough chefs. Australia has relied for too long upon temporary migrant labour. When that hasn’t been possible, there’s been no one to fill that void. What this shows is that Labor’s policy of creating Jobs and Skills in Australia, to identify the jobs that will be needed in the future and to make sure that Australians are trained with those jobs is the right one. That’s how you actually build an economy that’s resilient, an economy that isn’t open to the sort of consequences when a shock happens, like this pandemic. Because we can’t be complacent about this. This Government continues to ignore the skills crisis and there are real consequences that we’re seeing flow through the economy at the moment.
Thanks very much.