Doorstop Interview – Mount Warrigal- Wednesday 19 January 2022






SUBJECTS: Housing crisis in the Illawarra; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: There’s just over 100 days till the election, and housing is going to be a massive issue at this election. We’ve got a housing crisis here in the Illawarra and right across the country. It’s harder to buy a house today than ever before, but it’s also harder to rent than ever before. Here in the Illawarra, the cost of buying a house has jumped by a massive 27 per cent just in the last 12 months, and we’ve seen rents go through the roof as well. In Wollongong, the average place to rent has jumped by about 1500 bucks just in the last 12 months. In Coniston, it’s even more than that, it’s about three and a half grand. In Mangerton, it’s almost five grand. If you’re one of the thousands of people in the Illawarra who are renting, you know this is real because you’re being forced to put your hand in your pocket and pay more for rent this year than you were last year. That means there’s less money to pay for food, to pay for entertainment, to buy school shoes for the kids going back to school in a couple of weeks. 

One of the groups of people here in the Illawarra that are going to get hit hard by this are students coming back to university. A lot of university students have been studying remotely from home, sometimes outside the Illawarra, over the last two years, but face to face learning is starting again. O-Week is in two weekstime and one of the awful surprises that’s going to greet students coming back to the ‘gong is going to be the massive increase in the cost of rent. If you’re forced to pay thousands of extra dollars a year in rent, then that really hurts. And Jye will tell you the story about his own experience, copying a $2,000 increase in the cost of rent from what it was last time. 

There’s no easy fix to this, anybody that tells you that they can fix this with a click of the fingers is lying to you. We’re not going to do what Scott Morrison does and just lie to people, flat out lie to people. But what a federal government can do to make a difference here is build more affordable housing. That’s what Labor has promised to do if we win the next election; build more affordable housing and build more social housing with a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. It’s just one of the things that we’ll do that will help to make a difference here in the Illawarra for people that are struggling to pay the rent, and people right across the country.

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: When we often think about the rental affordability crisis, we think that’s a problem for those poor, unfortunate people who are trying to find an affordable house. And it’s true, it is if you’re on a low or middle income and you’re trying to find a house to rent, you’re seeing well over half of your weekly income go in rental costs. But it’s not just a problem for those people. Hospitality employers, retail employers are crying out for staff, but staff can’t afford to work here because they can’t afford the cost of rental accommodation. So, this is a crisis for people looking for housing but it’s an economic crisis affecting small businesses. This is something that affects everyone, which is why we need a plan to fix it. Labor’s plan to build over 30,000 new social and affordable housing houses is a part of the solution. We need a lot more as well.

SHARON BIRD, MEMBER FOR CUNNINGHAM: One of the really important things about our town is the fact that we have such an engagement with people coming in, as Jason’s talked about, students coming in with international students but of course, we also have a big cohort of regional students from across New South Wales, indeed, Australia, who come to study in our university. We all know why, it’s a fabulous university. If you go over and talk to any group of students, you’ll find students from regional and even remote areas who have come to study here. Now, they’re already carrying a big cost burden for relocating away from family. Now to have this rental increase imposed on top of that is really going to be tough for the into a market where housing providers already for the homeless and the vulnerable are telling us they’re struggling to find accommodation and rental accommodation at an affordable price for their clients. So, all of these things are coming together. Partly also a reflection of the fact that the markets meant that for a lot of investors, they’ve looked and gone you know what, I can get a big capital gain here, and they’ve sold so there’s just not the supply in the market and it’s such an important issue that needs some long term thinking and Labor’s doing that. And that’s what we need to see going forward.

JYE LANGLEY, PRESIDENT OF WOLLONGONG UNIVERSITY STUDENT ASSOCIATION: I’ve personally experienced the impacts of these rental increases firsthand. Just recently, my own lease has gone up an extra $80 per fortnight, which might not sound like a lot, but it is $2,000 extra per year and for broke uni student, that can be quite unachievable. But also, as WUSA President, I’ve been hearing from lots of students, one of the most common stories is not being able to afford rapid antigen tests when wanting to visit immunocompromised friends and family. As well that, I’ve heard reports of students skipping meals in order to make rent day money which is pretty unfortunate. I have a personal friend as well, who is struggling from the dual impact of major reducement in their hours of work from the Omicron surge, as well as an increased rental payment now, and I can already see firsthand the stress that that is having on them and the impact on their health that is having.

JOURNALIST: And I would imagine it would have an impact on their studies, too.

LANGLEY: Yeah, definitely. Particularly when University goes back, financial stress is one of the major contributors to student’s stress. And that is one of the main things that stops academic performance.

JOURNALIST: Okay. Stephen, I just wanted to ask, more specifically with the policy, with these houses being created, can you paint maybe a bit of a more specific picture, or even Jason, if you’d like to paint a bit more of a specific picture about what that will look like in the Illawarra? I guess in terms of public housing, too, but affordable housing, or more specifically about these issues?

CLARE: What we’ve committed to doing is setting up a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund that will build 30,000 homes over the next five years. That’s 20,000 social housing homes and 10,000 affordable homes. The 20,000 social housing homes for some of the poorest Aussies in Australia, some of whom don’t even have a roof over their head at the moment. The 10,000 affordable homes are targeted specifically, at our frontline workers: nurses, cleaners, supermarket workers, aged care workers, people who often have to live a long way away from where they work. Of the 20,000 social housing homes, 4000 of them will be dedicated for women and kids fleeing domestic violence. The biggest group of homeless Aussies at the moment are mums and kids and many of them are fleeing domestic violence. Our refuges are full at the moment because there isn’t the long-term housing for them to go to. We’ll make sure that these homes are allocated to the places in Australia who need them the most. And when you look at the housing waiting list here, and the surge in prices, you can see the Illawarra is one of those places that desperately needs this housing. 

Rents have gone through the roof, the cost of buying homes gone through the roof. It’s hard to even find a place to rent. It’s easier to get a rapid antigen test in the Illawarra than it is to find a place to rent, believe it or not. The rental vacancy rate is point six per cent. Covid has exposed the incompetence of this government. We saw that with the failure to buy enough vaccines, we see it with the failure to buy the rapid antigen tests as well. And you see it in housing as well. Housing has gone through the roof, in part because Covid encouraged people to move from Sydney to the regions and that’s pushed prices up. You would think a government that’s competent would respond to that by helping to make sure that you build the housing that’s needed in the regions. Scott Morrison hasn’t done that and as a result, you’ve got more and more people here in the Illawarra struggling to make ends meet.

JOURNALIST: On interest rates, under Labor would would you like to say lower interest rates?

CLARE: I’ll let Stephen deal with that, but I’ll just make the general point, of course, that low interest rates have encouraged a lot of people to invest in property and we’ve seen those prices go up. Those decisions are made independently by the Reserve Bank, not by government. But I’ll defer to Stephen to make some more remarks.

JONES: For well over 30 years now, we’ve had independent Reserve Bank Board making decisions about the level of the interest rate. They’re determined by the bank’s assessment of the state of the economy, government’s handling of the state of the economy and what’s going on internationally as well. You’d have to say with interest rates at the lowest level and a long, long, long, long time, that’s not a very good assessment of the way the reserve bank thinks the government’s handling the economy.