Doorstop Interview – Cairns – Friday 11 June 2021




FRIDAY, 11 JUNE 2021

SUBJECTS: Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; travel bubble with Singapore; China.

ELIDA FAITH, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: My name is Elida Faith, Labor’s candidate for Leichhardt and it’s lovely to be here today with Senator Nita Green, our Far North Queensland Senator, and of course our guest, Shadow Minister for Homelessness and Housing, Jason Clare. Far North Queenslanders are finding it harder and harder to put a roof over their head. We have thousands of Australians facing homelessness or who are homeless. No Far North Queensland family should be left at the end of the day wondering where they’re going to sleep that night. I’m going to hand over now to Jason Clare who’s going to tell you a little bit more about Labor’s plan. Thank you.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks a lot. It’s great to be here in Cairns and thanks Nita for inviting me to come up to where it’s a little bit warmer than other parts of the country. We had a great meeting this morning talking to Ian and the team from Anglicare, and also people from Mission Australia, the Salvos and other organisations that are helping homeless Aussies here in Cairns and helping Australians who are having problems paying the rent, problems putting a roof over their head. 

There’s not much that’s more important than having a roof over your head apart from your own health, and often the two go hand in hand. Over the last few months, we’ve found people finding it harder and harder to do that. The price of houses is going up, the cost of rent is going up, more and more Australians are finding themselves on the streets homeless. This isn’t just a problem for big cities. If anything, we’re seeing the problem is worse, the problems tougher, in regional parts of Australia. The price of property here in Cairns has gone up by more than it has in places like Sydney. The cost to rent is through the roof as well, and rental vacancy rates are through the floor. I was told today the rental vacancy rate here in Cairns is now below one per cent. It’s at 0.8 per cent. It means people who come to town looking for a place to rent thinking I’ve got a full time job, I’ve got a great rental record, just don’t get a look in, they can’t find a place to rent. Now think about how much harder it is for somebody who’s trying to rent for the first time. 

I also heard today about refuges for women and kids fleeing domestic violence being full to overflowing. I’ve seen that all around the country, it’s true here as well. Extraordinarily I heard today that instead of people spending six days or six weeks in refuges in town, they’re having people stay there for six months. Why? Because there’s no long-term housing for people to go to. 

There’s lots of things we need to do if we’re going to fix the housing crisis that you see here and right across the country. One of those things is we need to build more social housing, and we need to build more affordable housing. And that’s exactly what Labor will do if we win the next election. We promised, in our Budget Reply speech a couple of weeks ago, a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. $10 billion invested by the Future Fund that would produce a dividend every year that helps to build more social housing and build more affordable housing. In the first five years, it would build 30,000 social and affordable homes for people right across the country and 4000 of them would be dedicated for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence, the biggest group of homeless Aussies in Australia. After last year when we saw 10,000 mums and kids turned away from refugees, because there wasn’t a bed, if you ever needed evidence that there’s a desperate need for more long term housing for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence it’s that, and that’s what we will deliver if we win the next election. I’m happy to take some questions. 

JOURNALIST: How many of those times will be built in Far North Queensland? 

CLARE: We’re looking at that now. We’ll have more to say about that before the next election but I think it’s fair to say that we need to make sure that the North gets its fair share. We need to make sure that these houses, these homes, are built where they’re needed and there’s a chronic need for more social and affordable housing here in the north. That was proven to me today by the conversations that I’ve had.

JOURNALIST: The federal government say they’re giving money to the state governments, state governments just aren’t allocating (inaudible) 

CLARE: That’s just another cop out by the federal government. If we’re really going to move the dial here, if we’re really going to make a difference, you need a bit of national leadership. We need the federal government to step up and build more social and affordable housing. There’s money the feds give now, but usually the answer from the federal government is ‘it’s not our job. It’s the job of the states’. Ever since John Curtin and Ben Chifley and that big housing reconstruction after World War Two, the federal government has played a role in building more housing for people who need it. Think about what Whitlam did, think, about the big investments that happened during the GFC. We need to do that again. The amount of social and affordable housing is going like this over the last decade or two, things are getting worse not better. I think there’s an obvious need for the federal government to play a bigger role this Future Fund can do it.

JOURNALIST: These are all investments in some of, these particular housing investments, but there’s still an overall sort of systemic issue with affordable housing that putting a bit of money into building these couple of, I mean, it’s 1000s of houses, but it’s still only a couple of thousands of houses spread right across the country. What are you going to do to address some of these systemic issues that are affecting housing affordability?

CLARE: You’re right, this is one part of a bigger challenge. You need to put a roof over people’s head, but for a lot of people who don’t have a roof over their head now, they need more than just a roof. They need all of the support services that come with that. A good example of that are the Common Ground facilities that you’ll see in big cities.  Mission run them here in Cairns as well. That provides a roof over the head of chronic long term homeless Aussies but also provides doctors and dentists, pharmacy support, psychology support as well. They’re the same sorts of facilities that could be built with this fund, as well. But I’m under no illusion that we need to do more than just this. We need to make it easier for people to buy a house, we need to make it easier for people to rent a house, we also need to make sure that people have a roof over their head if they don’t have one now. In addition to this, I’ve also committed that if we win the next election, we would develop a comprehensive Housing and Homelessness Strategy for the nation. That involves working with the state governments, the local governments, I was talking to Bob Manning the Mayor about this today, as well as non government organisations like the one that Ian leads here. 

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) What do you believe that says about state management? 

CLARE: I won’t say this specifically for that property because I don’t know any of the detail but what we know right across the country is that usually about one in four social housing properties across the country need basic maintenance and repairs. Whether it’s a place that has the roof caving in, or whether it’s infested with mold, rot, leaks or other problems. State governments are doing what they can, the federal government can do more to lend a helping hand. That’s why last year, we committed to a half a billion dollar fund invested in fixing some of these homes. If you’ve got a housing crisis, where there’s people who can’t find a safe place to live, and there’s a house that’s vacant, that should tell you that there’s something wrong. If you fix it, then there’s another family with a roof over their head. 

JOURNALIST: Earlier Ian said there are 2000 people waiting for social housing, just in the Cairns area. Is that one of the highest in Australia? (inaudible) 

CLARE: To be frank, this is a crisis right around the country and it’s getting worse. We’ve got more homeless Australians today than ever before. I was asking some of the guys at Mission today about whether they’re seeing an increase in street homelessness. They said that’s what they’re expecting to see next. At the moment, they’re seeing more multiple families in the one home where you might have a one bedroom apartment and you’ve got 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 in that place, people couchsurfing. Overcrowding is becoming a bigger and bigger problem according to the experts that I was talking to today and one that we need to be cognisant of as we design policies to try and fix it.

FAITH: I’d like to add to that if that’s okay. We’ve talked a lot about, and something that we heard this morning, was about the fact that there is just not enough houses in Cairns in Far North Queensland, and it comes down to affordability. We were told that one in 10 homes in Cairnes is under $500 to rent. So one thing that the Housing Australia Future Fund is going to do is create is full time jobs, it’s going to create more than 20,000 full time jobs for five years and they’re are jobs that you can raise your family on. So not only is this housing fund going to put a roof over people’s heads, but will create those full time jobs, that’s going to put more money in the back pocket of our Far North Queenslanders.

CLARE: That’s a good point and maybe I can add on to that as well. As I’ve been driving around town, you see lots of utes, lots of tradies that are busy with housing construction work at the moment. Bob Manning made the point to me today that development applications for new housing are at record levels. But, according to the Housing Industry Association, they’re expecting to see that peak drop off over the course of the rest of this year, and there will be fewer homes built next year and the year after that, than being built this year and the number of homes not getting back to the current levels until the borders open up in immigration returns. So this program, of building more affordable homes and social housing over the next few years, can also help to fill that gap and create work for tradies who are going to need it next year and the year after that and the year after that. Thousands of jobs over a five year period in building housing, but also something that will change the lives of tens of thousands of people here and around the country forever. 

JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, with the opening up of the potentially the national borders and some of the people who we are going to be trying to letting in first, under some of the suggestions that’s been suggested, students being prioritised under a Singapore Australian travel bubble. Do you think that’s a good idea?

CLARE: I saw a mention of a potential travel bubble in Singapore overnight. If that happens, that’s a good thing. We’d like to see that happen. But there’s no timetable set for when it might happen. I think the Singapore Prime Minister made the point that it can only happen once the majority of people are vaccinated and we’re a long way from that at the moment. I think only two or three per cent of Australians have now been fully vaccinated, so we’re a long way from more than 50 per cent of Aussies being vaccinated. To be honest, this vaccination rollout has been bungled pretty badly. It’s not a rollout, it’s a stroll out. We need to speed it up. Think about the United States where about 50 per cent of Americans have now been vaccinated, fully vaccinated. If we were at that point, we could be talking about implementing a bubble like this in the next few weeks instead of in the next few months. 

JOURNALIST: Singapore being one example, do you think that that’s an attitude that a lot of other countries are having in terms of opening up travel bubbles (inaudible). 

CLARE: It’s got to speed up. You’re not going to see these sorts of bubbles open up unless we increase vaccination rates here, but also around the world. I was encouraged to see President Biden talking about the purchase of more vaccines to vaccinate countries around the world that don’t have the capacity to purchase the vaccines themselves. We’re not going to get life back to normal and better than it was before until we’re all vaccinated here in Australia and around the world. 

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Prime Minister Lee who said we need to get better with China quote “You don’t have to become like them, neither can you hope to make them become like you and you have to be able to work with them”. What do you make of that comment? 

CLARE: There’s a lot of common sense there. The Prime Minister of Singapore is a smart man, a very experienced leader, and what he says is right. China’s changing, China’s becoming more assertive, it’s becoming more difficult to work with. But the fact is, we need to work with China. China is our biggest trading partner. The people of Cairns know this better than most. One in three dollars that we make from trade, we make from China so the idea that you can just turn your back on that is short sighted and naive. We do need to be able to diversify our trade. We need to be doing everything we can to make sure that Australian businesses can sell their products and services not just in China, but to Indonesia, to India, and other countries around the world. That’s just smart. But instead of talking about war, we should be talking about jobs. That’s what Aussies want us to be doing. Thanks very much.