Doorstop Interview – Warilla, Illawarra – Monday 17 May 2021





MONDAY, 17 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund.

STEPHEN JONES MP: Great to have Jason Clare, Labor’s housing spokesman, in the Illawarra today. Sharon and I invited Jason to come down to talk to our housing providers about the announcement that Anthony Albanese made on behalf of Labor in his Budget Reply speech last week. We’ve got a huge issue with housing affordability in the Illawarra. It’s affecting all areas of the market, whether you’re a first time buyer, whether you’re a renter, or whether you’re a student or somebody fleeing domestic violence, there are problems all throughout the market. It means people are going homeless, people are living in their families houses in crowded conditions; Labor’s got an answer to it, and we need to ensure we put in place the solutions that are going to get a roof over every head. Thanks, Jason.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks very much, Stephen. It’s harder to buy house now than ever before. It’s also harder to rent than ever before and there’s more homeless Australians today than ever before. You see that right here in the Illawarra. Over the course of the last 12 months, a lot of people have left capital cities and moved to regional Australia and what that’s meant in the Wollongong region is that the rental vacancy rate has dropped in the last 12 months from around about 2.6 per cent of places being free to rent, down 0.8 per cent. So rental vacancy rates have dropped. One of the consequences of that is rents are going up, it’s getting more and more expensive to find a place to rent. I heard the story just a moment ago of a family, mum and dad, both have a job, they’ve got three kids, they can afford a place for 700 bucks a week. And they can’t find a place for 700 bucks a week.  

One of the other big things that has happened over the last 12 months as people have been locked up at home is that we’ve seen domestic violence on the rise and more people having to flee their home for safety. Last year, right across the country, 10,000 mums and kids fled home, got to refuges and were turned away because there wasn’t a bed. Here in the Illawarra, I heard today that the refuge system has got a waiting list of 86 people, people that are waiting for help, but we don’t have the support that we need to help them now.  

These are just a couple of stories, but they’re part of the reason why we announced last week that if we win the next election, we’ll set up a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. That’s $10 billion invested that makes money to build more affordable housing and more social housing.  20,000 social housing properties across the country and 10,000 affordable housing properties for frontline workers. People like nurses, cleaners, aged care workers, childcare workers, the sort of people that have to put a uniform on and often travel long distances for work and don’t earn a lot of of money. This is a policy that will create thousands of jobs in the construction phase, but it will change thousands of lives forever, including here in the Illawarra. It’s a sort of thing that has got the backing of everybody from Master Builders Australia and the Property Council right through to St. Vincent De Paul, and all the organisations like Housing Trust that we met today. The only people against it are the Liberal Party and the National Party, who don’t seem to think it’s a good idea to invest any more money at all to reduce homelessness in Australia and reduce the stress that Aussies are feeling trying to pay the rent or buy their first home. 

JOURNALIST: If there has to be a government program to ensure that housing is affordable for people working full time and you know, in what are traditionally professions, is there something more systematic that’s a problem? 

CLARE: It shows you just how broken the system is. Anglicare put a report out a month ago about rental stress across the country and it showed what we’ve always known. Everybody on a pension that is renting is in rental stress. That report showed us that if you’re a mum and a dad on the minimum wage working full time with a couple of kids, then the amount of homes, the number of homes across Australia that are affordable to rent has dropped from around about 22 per cent down to about 12 per cent. That shows you over the last 12 months things have got worse. 

JOURNALIST: So does Labor have plans to bring the cost of housing back in line with people’s incomes? Or is there just this kind of stopgap solution of assisting people who again work full time? 

CLARE: There are lots of things we need to do. As I said, it’s getting harder to buy, harder to rent, there’s more homeless Aussies than ever before. That’s why I said, if we win the next election, the first thing we need to do is put in place a National Housing and Homelessness Strategy to tackle all of this, bringing in the advice and support, the expertise of the people we met today, as well as state governments, local governments, superannuation funds, everybody that’s involved in this space. Believe it or not, at the moment, the Federal Government Minister for Housing doesn’t meet with the state government ministers for housing, let alone local governments, or the people we met today. The Minister for Housing refuses to even meet with organisations that are focused on reducing homelessness in Australia. They wrote a letter to the Prime Minister lodging an official complaint about it the other day. If we’re serious about these problems, and I am, then the first thing you need to do is make sure that you’re meeting as a group and developing a national plan to tackle that. What we announced last week, a $10 million Housing Australia Future Fund, will be a key part of that but a lot more is needed. 

JOURNALIST: So have you spoken to Melinda Pavey? Have you any request to make of her to meet what you’ve put on the table? 

CLARE: I’ve spoken to a number of ministers and shadow ministers across the country. I’m sure that Melinda would welcome the opportunity to be meeting with Michael Sukkar, the Federal Minister. You only get things done in this country if you get all three levels of government, plus the private sector and NGOs, all working together. You see that at its best when the National Cabinet works well together. It’s just extraordinary that housing ministers don’t get the chance to do that. Which is why about a month ago, you saw that fight on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald where Rob Stokes was fighting with Michael Sukkar about who’s responsible for housing policy. 

JOURNALIST: We know this is about a sixth of the need. What the sector is telling us is that there’s still a great deal to be done. Could you have done more, and are you calling on New South Wales to meet your commitment? 

CLARE: Last year, at the height of the pandemic when the country was in recession, the housing industry, whether it was Master Builders, the HIA, or community housing organisations, all said we needed to invest now in social housing, to create jobs and change lives. They put forward a proposal called SHARP which was about building more social housing now, and that was about 30,000 homes. That’s exactly what this does as well. 30,000 social and affordable housing homes, it will make a big dent in it. But of course, there is always going to be more to do. What this policy is all about is building homes now, but also setting up a fund that makes money in perpetuity so we can continue to invest where it’s desperately needed. Whether that’s crisis accommodation, transitional accommodation, or permanent long term housing. 

JOURNALIST: Just in the Illawarra, how do you, as an example, how would you find the land to develop given the problems we heard from the group upstairs reference? And would you have a procurement policy that would keep it local as well and keep the cost in the community? 

CLARE: One of the problems that community housing providers have in the Illawarra and down on the South Coast is that they’re often managing properties that are owned by the state government. They’re often dilapidated and old. They want to develop those properties and build new state of the art properties. I think there is a real opportunity with a policy like this, to work with state governments that can bring land to the table and community housing organisations that manage those properties already, to build first class properties where there are dilapidated, old, rundown properties. 

JOURNALIST: Would you be opening up new land and would the states? 

CLARE: Whether it’s the Commonwealth government, state government or local governments, we should always be looking at how you can make the release of land and the planning to release that land easier than it is at the moment. It’s always a common complaint, it’s too slow and too hard and too difficult to release the land that’s needed. Whether it’s just the planning process or the water infrastructure that’s needed before you can open up land. 

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) 

CLARE: What we want to do is get as much local involvement as possible, and we also want to train up the next generation of Australian tradies. That’s why a key part of this is a commitment that one in 10 of the workers on site building these homes will be apprentices. 

MICHELLE ADAIR, CHAIR OF COMMUNITY HOUSING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION AND CEO OF HOUSING TRUST: The Housing Trust in the community housing sector, along with all of our homelessness peak bodies, is applauding this announcement by Labor federally. Ironically, if they were in a position to implement it, it would actually be the biggest investment in social and affordable housing since previous Liberal governments under Prime Minister Fraser and Prime Minister Menzies which has an extraordinary reality in relation to recognition of the fundamental human right for a safe, secure, affordable home. This problem isn’t going away. The government’s own projections on employment trends mean that in the future, seven of the 10 jobs or job categories that are going to grow the most are, in fact, in the lowest wage brackets at the moment in New South Wales. According to New South Wales Government guidelines, a couple with two children can be or, in fact, are, eligible for subsidised affordable rental housing if they earn $124,000 a year. These are good, full time semi professional or, indeed, professional wages. If a family on $124,000 a year cannot afford rent in New South Wales, that speaks to a fundamentally broken housing system, and one that needs to be reformed from top to bottom, quickly. 

JOURNALIST: Would you like grants handed to your associations? Is their land available for what Labor’s talking about? 

ADAIR: You can’t have a subsidised housing system without some form of subsidy. If it’s not a cash grant, than it needs to be land. But that land can also be retained by government authorities under long-term leasehold. The Housing Trust and colleagues, we’ve done the numbers, we know if you give us a long term lease, we can afford the design and construction costs, we just need to be able to look after that asset for about 20 years, or 35 years makes it much more affordable. That’s an extraordinarily positive and constructive policy that both the state and the local governments can announce immediately, and that would free up a lot of land. 

JOURNALIST: Given the announcement basically mirrors what the sector has been calling for, what kind of pressure will be on the Coalition to put this similar or mirror proposal on the table ahead of the election? 

ADAIR: We are certainly hopeful, but we remain hopeful. There is a domestic violence summit scheduled for a couple of months. But of course, women predominantly and children living in violent situations are not the only group of people in need. There’s still the largest group of people are in fact, families and they are the ones that are more complex. So again, as we see this crisis worsen, more and more overcrowding is happening and people that would otherwise quite appropriately be housed in two or three rooms are being squeezed into one or two or into, you know, households with multiple families. That disrupts education, it damages the opportunities for employment and growth at every level. You cannot educate your children and keep your job, or be able to manage your health or move on from abusive relationships unless you have a safe secure affordable roof over your head.