Doorstop Interview – Sydney – Thursday 20 May 2021




SUBJECTS: Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; homelessness; vaccine rollout; quarantine; Aussies stranded overseas.

BILL CREWS, EXODUS FOUNDATION: Hello, everybody. I’d like to welcome Anthony Albanese and Jason Clare out to us here at the Loaves and Fishes restaurant in Ashfield. As you know, we prepare and serve here 1000 meals a day, not just for the guests who come and eat in our restaurant but in other areas of Sydney through our mobile food vans. One of the biggest problems we find with homeless people and the people coming here is that they need somewhere to live, somewhere safe to live. There’s such a shortage of cheap, affordable public housing that it gums up our works every day. Just within walking distance of here will be single mums with their children in cars because they’ve got nowhere to sleep. They come to us, many of them are escaping domestic violence or issues like that. They come to us and often we struggle to find places for them. There’s a lady, a few years ago, we found who was living in her car at the base of a block of units. And she was on dialysis. So she would go from dialysis in a hospital to sleeping in a car. And a tenant in one of the apartments on the top would let her shower there. People like that, to me, it’s a national disgrace. And for me, this pandemic has highlighted the fact that we are all in this life together. We all are. The people who come and eat here, the single mums and their kids, they’re on the bottom of the list of getting the COVID vaccination. And these people are ones who are the most vulnerable in society. And for many of the homeless people we find, they wander all over Sydney, and just one of those people getting COVID would be kind of like an incubation period where they could spread it. And yet, people don’t look after that. So my whole thing in this is to welcome these guys here to say their program is really wonderful because there are so many people who need cheap, affordable public housing. Thank you very much. Thank you. And I’ll pass it over to Jason.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks very much, Bill. There aren’t many Australians who have done as much to help homeless Aussies as Bill Crews. He’s been doing it for decades, providing food for hungry bellies. A thousand meals produced here every day, about a quarter of a million meals produced every year. How many of us can say that? I feel blessed to call him a friend. It might not surprise you, but if you’re sleeping rough in Sydney or anywhere else in Australia, sleeping on the streets, you’re likely to die 20 or 30 years before most other Australians. What might surprise you, though, is that it costs the Government more to do nothing about homelessness than to do something to try and fix it. You do something to try and reduce homelessness, it saves the Government money, both in terms of health, hospitals and policing. And last year, it took a virus to show us this. But last year, we learned that if we want to do something about street homelessness, we can. Thousands and thousands of Aussies, many often forgotten by others in society, were scooped up off the street and put into empty hotel and motel rooms. Why? To keep us all safe. Because last year, having a roof over your head was more important than having a mask on your face. But as we stand here today, many of those Aussies are back on the street. And that’s why last week we said if we win the next election, we will establish a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. It’ll build 20,000 more social housing homes for desperate Aussies who desperately need it. And 10,000 more affordable homes for frontline workers like nurses, cleaners and aged care workers. But more than that, it’s not just about the bricks and mortar. It’s about the people who will live in these homes. It’s a future fund that will give more Aussies a future, give them a second chance, help to rebuild lives. You put a roof over someone’s head and it can change their life. Albo, your own story is proof of that. It changes lives. But when you build houses, you also create jobs, thousands and thousands of them. And that’s why everybody from the HIA to the Master Builders Association, to Reverend Bill Crews, are backing this idea. Because it’ll create jobs and change lives. There’s a report out today that shows that the housing construction industry’s really busy at the moment. But that work’s going to drop off over the next few years. Well, this fund, building these homes, can help to fill that gap. Albo?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Jason. And it’s good to be back here with Bill Crews, an inspirational Australian looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our community. I’ve volunteered here and I’ve seen what an act of love it is to feed a homeless person, to feed someone who’s in need, to look after someone in society. But if someone can get here for a meal, it doesn’t mean that they can get a roof over their head. And without that security of a roof over your head, it’s impossible for you to hold down a job, it’s impossible for you to look after your health, it’s impossible for you to turn your life around. And that’s why our Housing Australia Future Fund, $10 billion to produce 20,000 additional social housing dwellings, as well as 10,000 affordable housing dwellings, will make an enormous difference. It will come at no cost to the taxpayer. By creating a future fund in which the investment produces a return that is then put back into housing, it is a great way of making a difference. And on the way through, creating 21,500 jobs. The other thing we’ve done is make sure that this fund looks after particular sections of our society who are really vulnerable, women and children escaping domestic violence. 10,000 people last year who were turned away from shelter, had to sleep in their car, as Bill outlined the example, had to perhaps think about going back to a dangerous circumstance. I said in my Budget Reply, think about what it’s like for the child who slept in a car with mum overnight at school the next day. Think about how that makes the mum feel, whose main objective in life, like almost every mother, is to want the best for their children and to look after them. Think about that. And this, of course, can have an intergenerational impact as well. A lot of people who come through here who I’ve met are homeless. Not everyone, but many of them. The truth is that last night in Sydney, one in ten of homeless people who were sleeping on the streets was a veteran. They are men and women who’ve worn our uniform. They are men and women who are deserving of our thanks and our respect. But instead, they’re destitute, not given the support that they need. I will finish with this fact. The largest growing group of homelessness in this country is older women, older women who simply can’t get back into the housing market. Now, it’s good that the Government supports private homeownership. It’s a good thing. But the truth is that for so many people, that’s not an option. What they’re after is just a roof over their head to be safe and secure at night. That shouldn’t be too much to ask in 2021 after the pandemic, which is still going, of course, where we know we’re all in this together. Well, if we’re all in this together during a pandemic, I think we should be all in this together post-pandemic and look after some of the most vulnerable people in our society while creating jobs and building our economy. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Well, what the Government should be doing, of course, is to be reaching out to some of the most vulnerable in our community. They could, very easily, come right here, have a chat to Bill Crews, have a chat to people on the frontline who are delivering services about how they connect with people and ensure that they’re vaccinated. And yet, what we’ve seen in disabilities, we’ve seen under a thousand people out of the 26,000. They were supposed to be in the frontline, in the first group. We know at Sacred Heart I visited in St Kilda, a housing service providing services to people who’ve been homeless, people with issues of drug addiction, people who are vulnerable. And not a single one of those residents had been vaccinated. And that’s just not good enough. In addition, staff need to be vaccinated who are working with people. A centre such as this sees many thousands of people a week come through. And those people then go out and interact in the community. That’s why we need to make sure that the health messages are properly targeted. That’s what the Government said it would do, which is why they categorised people. But that hasn’t meant much, frankly. A thousand people with disabilities vaccinated, just a thousand out of 26,000. At the same time, we managed to vaccinate a thousand Olympians in a week.

JOURNALIST: What can the Government practically do to encourage more people to get vaccinated?

ALBANESE: Well, the Government should be having a serious advertising campaign. Why is it that, as Leigh Sales commented, there’s more ads for Hamilton the Musical than there are for getting people vaccinated. This Government had two key jobs this year: vaccinations and quarantine. On vaccinations, they have been giving different messages every day. And this morning, Greg Hunt was giving another different message saying, ‘Don’t worry if you think you’d prefer to get one of the mRNA vaccines, then you should wait, that’s ok’. Yesterday, Scott Morrison was out there saying there was no rush. The fact is that we’re vulnerable to an outbreak. Vaccination is essential. The Government needs to send that clear message rather than a different message every day. And of course, they need as well to fix up quarantine. We saw the Prime Minister this week dismiss the proposal at Wellcamp near Toowoomba by saying it didn’t have an airport. But it does. It’s right at the airport. That Toowoomba doesn’t have hospital services. And of course, it does have hospital services right near the proposed site. And then saying that it was in the middle of the desert. I think the people of Toowoomba deserve better than that. It’s good enough for the Prime Minister’s Boeing business jet, a major aircraft to land at Wellcamp. He should know is good enough for others as well. And yet he’s dismissed that completely.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Look, we should be rolling it out. If you look at the US, they are now looking at vaccinating young people as young as 12 because they are rolling it out far more effectively than Australia. We were told Australia was at the front of the queue. We are way, way, way behind. When you look at the graphs of how the vaccine rollout is going, we are behind all of the industrialised world, whether it be the United Kingdom, the United States, other countries in our region and in Europe. The Government has been complacent about this. We were saying last year that they needed to talk to Moderna, they need to put in place better systems. We’re now saying, and have been saying for some time, where’s the major advertising campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated? It simply doesn’t exist. This is a Government that has spent a billion dollars on government advertising since they came to office in 2013. They’ve advertised roads that haven’t been built, railway lines haven’t actually had a business case or been studied. They’re prepared to go out there and advertise big figures promoting themselves. And yet they’re not prepared to have a serious advertising campaign in the public interest.

JOURNALIST: Another Aussie has died in India. (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: The Government said it would have all Australians home by Christmas. Scott Morrison broke that promise. And since then, he, of course, has been complacent. We were able to bring Australians home from Wuhan at the very beginning of this outbreak. Why is it that more than a year later, this Government still has more than 30,000 stranded Australians overseas, and indeed has threatened them with jail if they try to come home, which, of course, is their right as Australian citizens? Thank you.