Interview with Lindsay McDougall – ABC Illawarra Drive – Monday 17 May 2021

MONDAY, 17 MAY 2021

SUBJECT: Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund.
LINDSAY MCDOUGALL, HOST: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness and the MP for Blaxland, and he was in town today spruiking Labor’s plans and he joins me now. Good afternoon, Mr. Clare. 
G’day, Lindsay. How you going? 
MCDOUGALL: I’m well. You spoke with local housing providers today, I believe. What did they tell you about the state of affordable and social housing around here? 
CLARE: Not good. It’s always been hard to buy a house, but it’s getting harder and harder, and it’s getting harder to rent as well. Before COVID, the vacancy rate, the number of properties available to rent, was at about 2.6 per cent in the Wollongong region, it’s now down to 0.8 per cent. Part of that is people who’ve left Sydney, left capital cities, and moved to the regions and so there’s less to rent and rents go up as a result. 
MCDOUGALL: So then, why is building new homes, the 20,000 the answer to this issue? 
CLARE: If you ask the locals, the people who are on the frontline working in the area of homelessness, helping people who are struggling to pay the rent, the common message back is that we need to build more social housing and we need to build more affordable housing. I heard the story of one family, a mum and a dad, they’ve both got a job, I think on the minimum wage, they’re looking for a place to rent in the Wollongong region for 700 bucks a week. They got two kids, and they can’t find a place at 700 bucks a week. I heard other stories where places were around about the five or six hundred dollar, and now they’re being asked to pay seven or eight hundred or more. This is not just the Illawarra. You see it all the way down the South Coast, you see it on the North Coast as well, where people have moved into the regions and there’s not enough housing. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to do to fix it, but one of the things you do need to do is you’ve got to build more housing, build more social housing, for people who are really struggling, and more affordable housing as well. 
MCDOUGALL: So why is this a job for the government and not the private sector and legislation that already exists to encourage, you know, people to include affordable housing in their new housing estates, for example? 
CLARE: It’s the both the private sector and the public sector, and what we’re doing at the moment isn’t enough, it’s not working. If it was, we wouldn’t have more homeless Australians than ever before. Albo made the point in his speech on Thursday night that last year in the middle of COVID, 10,000 mums with kids fled homes because of domestic violence and got turned away from refuges because there wasn’t a bed. The inn was full. There was a team at the meeting today who run a refuge here in the Illawarra and they told me they’ve got a waiting list of 86 mums, or 86 women, that they can’t fit in at the moment, so they either sleep in a car or they sleep at a friend’s house or they reluctantly end up going back to where the violence is happening. If that’s happening in the Illawarra, and that’s 86 people on that waiting list, you can times that by a lot more around the country and it tells you that governments are going to play a bigger role here. You can’t just leave it up to the state government. Federal Government is (interrupted) 
MCDOUGALL: Is this isn’t enough then, 20,000 affordable homes, 4000 of those for women and children fleeing domestic violence? He said there were 10,000 people, you know, fled, in what Albo said. 
CLARE: It was 20,000 social housing properties, as well as another 10,000 affordable housing properties, so 30,000 all up. This is what the industry, the community housing organisations have been calling for last year, when the recession hit when we were in the middle of the pandemic, organisations, as many and varied as the Master Builders Association and the HIA on the one hand, right through to homelessness organisations said, you need to build more social housing. It’ll get tradies working, but it’ll also build the housing that we desperately need. They were calling for 30,000 homes to be built so that’s what we’re saying we’d do. Make a major dent in some of those numbers. 
MCDOUGAL: 10,000 of those are for frontline workers, nurses, police, emergency service workers and cleaners. Also, we’ve heard stories of hospitality workers also being priced out of the market, restaurants, hotels and cafes without staff in the Shoalhaven and South Coast tourist areas where houses are too expensive to rent on their wages. Will they also be assisted? 
CLARE: They have to be. Down the South Coast, I was there recently, I heard stories of publicans who can’t get cooks because they can’t find a place to live. So this is a crisis that takes many different shapes and forms in different parts of the country. But down the South Coast, if you can’t find a cook, then you can’t open the restaurant. Over at Cooma, they’ve got a problem with not just people moving there because of COVID but, because of the Snowy 2.0 Project, Mission Australia told me there last week that they’ve got people who have got two jobs, Mum and Dad, one of them’s on 100 grand a year, and they’re going to Mission Australia asking for food vouchers because the rent is that expensive. We’ve got to do more here. The Federal Government’s view is that it’s not our role to help to reduce homelessness. I think most people listening would think that we’ve all got to pull together on this and that means federal government, state government, as well as the private sector. 
MCDOUGALL: 30,000 homes – what about the timber? HomeBuilder was one of the government stimulus plans last year. It closed, the applications closed, about a month ago. One of the issues people were saying, especially for smaller companies, is that they couldn’t find enough wood to build these homes. 
CLARE: You do need a lot of timber to build a house, all that framework. Because of the bushfires, as well as a shortage internationally because lots of homes are being built around the world, there’s a shortage of timber and it’s putting the price up. HomeBuilder has brought forward a lot of construction that would have taken place next year or the year after. What the industry saying is that after all of that’s finished, and that means next year and the year after that, there’s going to be a drop in the amount of houses and the amount of homes being constructed across the country. So, here’s an opportunity to fill that gap. If there’s going to be less work for tradies because all of that HomeBuilder work will be done over the course of the next 12 or 18 months, then let’s fill that gap by building the sort of homes that we desperately need – social housing and affordable housing. 
MCDOUGALL: And are they going to stay social housing and affordable housing or eventually become AirBnBs? 
CLARE: This is the thing. You want to make sure that you’re building these for the long term, not just for the short term. And that’s why the money that this fund makes will go to community housing organisations who have got an obligation to make sure that they’re providing this as social housing and affordable housing for the long term, not something that can just flog off to make a profit. 
MCDOUGALL: According to the Labor social housing plan, investment returns from the fund will go into a new National Housing, Finance and Investment Corporation to work with existing providers on affordable and social housing projects. What stops those private providers from charging whatever they want after the initial agreement period? And what keeps everyone honest? 
CLARE: It’s the way in which you set the contract up in the first place, and the New South Wales Government, to its credit, has something like this but it’s on a smaller scale. It’s called the Social and Affordable Housing Fund where they’ve got a billion dollars that they invest and the revenue from that investment helps to build social and affordable housing over the long term, and it’s the details you put in that contract that makes sure that people are honest, and that you don’t have people do the wrong thing. 
MCDOUGALL: I’m speaking to Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness. Tony is on the line from Wollongong with an issue about housing affordability. Tony, what do you have the shadow minister? 
TONY FROM WOLLONGONG (CALLER): I sort of don’t take so much issue with Jason Clare is saying, but I believe this is a structural problem in Australia. It’s not Wollongong, it’s not, you know. We’ve got housing which has become a commodity now in this country where it’s an investment tool. We don’t look at it as an essential. Now, you’re talking about affordable housing. There’s people earning 70 to $80,000 a year which ifyou’ve got a combined income of that, it’s not that bad money, but you’ll never afford a home or you won’t pay it off in your working life. There was a home recently sold in the northern suburbs of Wollongong for $6 million dollars, it was a nothing house, it was near the beach, big deal. But it equated to 105 years of average wages for a work person in Wollongong. Now this is a problem and we tinker around the edge if you think building social housing is going to fix the problem. Unless we move away from giving incentives for investment properties, and people (inaudible) two or three homes, people can’t afford one. That should be the goal of getting a person to try and to be able to afford to pay a house off in their working life with an average wage. If you can’t do that, you’ve failed society. 
MCDOUGALL: Mr Clare, what do you have to say to that? 
CLARE: I think Tony is on the money. It just reminds me of what my old man told me when I was young. He was always on my back when I was at school about the importance of saving up to buy a house. It wasn’t about retiring rich, it was about avoiding retiring poor. Because if you don’t have a home, or if you aren’t able to pay it off and you’re renting when you retire on the pension, then you’re going to really, really struggle and it’s getting harder for people right around the country. Tony’s right. It’s not just the Illawarra, it’s right around the country. So you’ve got to do a number of things. We’ve got to we got to look at ways to make it easier for people to buy but we also have to help people at the other end of the scale, people who don’t even have a roof over their head at the moment, and that’s what this fund is about. Helping people who are either sleeping rough, or people who are lining up for those domestic violence refuges and can’t get in, but also doing a little bit extra to help those people like aged care workers, childcare workers, the cooks we talked about down the South Coast, who need a little bit of help to get a place that’s affordable. 
MCDOUGALL: Tony, thanks for the call. Finally, what about the stage three tax cuts? Paying for this program would be easier if they were curtailed? Will Labor support stage three going ahead?
CLARE: Just in terms of how we pay for this, it’s important to make this point Lindsay: this is $10 billion that is invested and makes money. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything over the forward estimates. The fund makes money and then you use that money to build social housing and affordable housing. So that’s that’s a key difference and it’s important that people understand that.

MCDOUGALL: Alright, Jason Clare Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Lindsay.