Interview with Piia Wirsu – ABC Northern Tasmania Drive – Friday 4 June 2021

SUBJECTS: Housing crisis in Tasmania; Housing Australia Future Fund; Family Home Guarantee. 
PIIA WIRSU, HOST: It’s not news to you, I’m sure, that the waitlist for social housing is over 3000. Demand for emergency shelter is the highest it’s been according to some providers, and there are dozens of people turning up for house inspections that are try to get a roof over their head. In fact, the housing situation in Tasmania has been at a critical point for years now. With a federal election in the wind sometime in the next year, Tasmania is already seeing an uptick of in visits from federal politicians. Jason Clare is Shadow Minister for Housing and he’s been in Launceston today. Jason Clare, good afternoon. What’s Labor’s priority when it comes to easing Tasmania’s housing pressures? 
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: We’ve got to do three things, Piia. We’ve got to make it easier for people to buy a house. You’re seeing in Launceston, prices go up by astronomical levels, 18 per cent in the last 12 months alone, but we’ve got to make it easier for people to rent as well. We’ve got a situation in Australia where there’s more homeless Aussies than ever before. We’ve got to do something to put a roof over the head of people who desperately need it. There’s three big challenges there. The government doesn’t like to talk about it but I think we’ve got a crisis on all three fronts. 
WIRSU: Certainly people trying to do any of those things at the moment in Tasmania might agree with you. In terms of, we look at it’s something about easier to buy, we have seen and you just spoke about it, the house prices shooting up in Tasmania. Labor went to the last election with a policy to curb negative gearing, which study show would bring down prices, is this something we can expect to see in Labor policy platform next election? 
CLARE: We’re certainly we’re not going to take the exact same policy that we took to the last election to the next election. We’re working through the details of what the policies will take to the next election, but there’s no doubt that the problem still exists. The problem we were trying to tackle over the last few years was the fact that it’s getting harder and harder for people to buy a house. That problem still exists. There’s a number of different ways that you can tackle it. 
WIRSU: What ways? 
CLARE: I remember last time we spoke Piia, we talked about social housing in December, and I promised you that we would come forward with a policy in 12 months. We’ve done that, we put that in our Budget-in-Reply speech. I make you the same promise now. We’re working on policies here to help make it easier for people to buy a house. I’ll come back to you with the details of that when we announced it. 
WIRSU: In terms of some of the pressures in Tasmania, particularly I guess, the pressures around renting, there’s been discussion about the role AirBNB and similar short-stay accommodation services play in taking stock out off the market. Is that something that you think needs to be targeted? 
CLARE: It’s not just a problem in Tasmania. I know it’s it’s a serious problem in Tasmania, particularly Hobart, but up the north coast of New South Wales, I see the same problem in places like Byron Bay and Tweed Heads. There’s a big debate happening in WA about this as well. I think you’ve got to get the balance right. People who own properties, who want to be able to rent out their places for short stays, they’ve got to be able to do that. But you also want to make sure that there’s enough stock out there for people who want to rent long term. Some state governments have taken a lead here in trying to put in place better regulations. There might be a useful role for the Commonwealth to try and coordinate better regulation across the country. Part of the problem we’ve got at the moment is the Federal Housing Minister doesn’t even meet with State Housing Ministers. One of the things that we would do if we win the next election is get together the Housing Ministers across the country, so we can look at what’s best practices right across the country. 
WIRSU: Are you having those meetings now in Opposition to formulate formulate your policy platform to take to the next election? 
CLARE: I’m talking talking to Labor ministers and Labor shadow ministers across the country. We’re a big country where there’s different rules in place and different laws in place. 
WIRSU: It is a Liberal government that’s in power in Tasmania. So would those conversations be better had with the government that’s currently in? 
CLARE: I’ll be happy to have that with them. It’s not that easy for a federal opposition to pick up the phone and talk to a Liberal state government. But I’m keen to pick the brains of everybody that’s got some good ideas here. I’ve been talking to Pattie Chugg from Shelter Tas today, somebody who knows what she’s talking about, been working in this sector for a very, very long time. Right across the country, I seek out people who know a lot more about this than I do, and get their ideas about what will help tackle these big problems of making it easier to buy and easy to rent and build more shelter for homeless Australians. 
WIRSU: If you’ve just tuned in Jason Clare is who you are you hearing from, Shadow Minister for Housing. He’s been in the state today. In Anthony Albanese’s Budget reply speech, he made a promise to establish a $10 billion future fund to build 30,000 low cost houses. How many of those would be in Tasmania? 
CLARE: It’s important that Tasmania gets its fair share. 
WIRSU: What is it’s fair share? 
CLARE: That’s something that we’ll work on in government if we get the chance after the next election. Let me just give you the background to it, and how it would work. It’s a $10 billion fund that would be invested by the future fund and the dividend from that fund is used to build 20,000 social housing homes over the first five years and 10,000 affordable homes for key workers. When you think about the fact that there’s only 3000 social housing homes built every year nationwide, this would be a massive injection of more social housing and at a time when it’s desperately needed, when there’s more people who are homeless than ever before. I make this commitment to you, Piia. It’s important that Tasmania, it’s important that Launceston, gets its fair share of that. 
WIRSU: How do you determine what its fair share is? 
CLARE: It needs to be based on need and that’s based on an assessment talking to state governments and local governments, based on social housing waiting lists, levels of homelessness, to assess where the need is greatest. It certainly exists in Tasmania, but it’s a problem everywhere around the country. 
WIRSU: Jason Clare, as you’ve been in Launceston today, you’ve been criticising the federal government’s Family Home Guarantee, which helps single parents buy a home with a deposit of two per cent. That has a price cap of 300,000 for homes in northeast Tasmania. You’re saying that’s not high enough, people need to be able to buy more expensive homes with that guarantee. Given the recent data shows that more than half of Tasmanians are in mortgage stress, is responsible to let people access bigger mortgages with a two deposit that they might struggle to pay back? 
CLARE: The real problem with this scheme is that with a cap of $300,000, there is nothing that a single parent family can buy in Launceston, no three bedroom home than a single parent family can buy in Launceston, and access the scheme. The scheme’s a good idea. It’s a small scheme, it’ll only help about two and a half thousand single parent families around the country every year. But what it does mean is that you can get a mortgage without having to pay mortgage insurance. Ultimately, the bank has to decide whether you or somebody they want to lend money to. But what I don’t want to happen is that all those two and a half thousand people who will get access to the scheme every year, that none of them come from Launceston. The problem Launceston has at the moment is that with a price cap of $300,000, a mum and two kids, only have three places that they can purchase in Launceston and access scheme at the moment. One of them, which I visited today, in Lawrence Vale Road in South Launceston, is a house that has a sign on it that says “renovate or detonate”. It doesn’t have walls on it. It’s a site for a knock down rebuild, not the sort of place that a mum and two kids can move into today. 
WIRSU: In terms of setting people up to succeed, the median house price in Launceston is over $500,000 or almost $400,000 for a unit. If we’re looking at opening up this price guaranteed to people for that kind of mortgage, given that half of Tasmanians are already in mortgage stress, we have record low interest rates, is that a responsible policy to increase the cap? 
CLARE:  You’re making an argument that Launceston shouldn’t get access to the scheme at all. 
WIRSU: No, I’m asking whether you think that it’s responsible. 
CLARE: The cap for this scheme in Sydney is 700,000. The cap for the scheme in Hobart is 400,000. The cap in Launceston is 300,000. That means there’s only three places that you can buy under the scheme. If you make an increase to the cap, it’ll mean that more single parent families, and there’s 5000 of them in Launceston, will be able to purchase a home using that scheme without the added cost of mortgage insurance as long as they can satisfy the bank that they can repay the loan. I think that’s fair enough. If the changes aren’t made, all that means is that the only single parent families that will get the benefit of the scheme won’t be living in Launceston. 
WIRSU: Jason Clare, appreciate you joining the program. 
CLARE: Good on you.