Doorstop Interview – Mullumbimby – Tuesday 15 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Disaster payments; Housing crisis on the North Coast; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; cost of living.
JUSTINE ELLIOT, MEMBER FOR RICHMOND: I’m Justine Elliot, the member for Richmond and I’m here today in Mullumbimby with Jason Clare who’s our Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness. I invited Jason to come to the North Coast and see firsthand the devastation that our community has faced. Yesterday we were in Chinderah, talking to people in caravan parks whose lives have been destroyed. Today in Mullumbimby we’ve been out in the community and talking to locals hearing firsthand also how their lives, their homes and their livelihoods have been destroyed by this flood. And we’ve been calling on the government to do more. Our community has been amazing during this flood crisis. But we’re facing a humanitarian crisis. People have nowhere to live, they have often no food or no cash. It is an absolute crisis.
And of course, just last week, we heard Scott Morrison announcing an extension of those disaster relief payments for areas down south. It was an extension of two weeks of those $1,000 payments. He didn’t do it for people in those local government areas of Tweed, Bryon, Ballina, or Kyogle. Quite frankly, this is disgusting, and we have been treated so unfairly by Scott Morrison. And I’ve been repeatedly calling upon him to extend those disaster relief payments for our region, it is vitally important. And of course one of the many big issues we face moving forward is the extreme crisis in homelessness and housing. We already had a huge challenge here and this flooding disaster has made it so much worse. So I’m pleased that Jason could be here on the ground hearing firsthand, from locals and also today from Byron council as well about the issues that our whole community are facing moving forward. Thanks Jason

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks Justine and thank you for the work that you’re doing fighting for this local community that desperately needs your leadership in this critical hour, I know that you’ve been here each and every day. These communities have been through hell and back. Two weeks ago, people here on the ground were fighting for their own lives and fighting to save the lives of local residents here. I met some of the people who helped save those lives, hiring eight helicopters to pluck people who were isolated to safety, pick up little babies, sitting in the mud. As the father of a six-month-old, that affects me. I really get how dangerous, serious, and deadly what happened here two weeks ago was and how people would have died in their dozens if it wasn’t for the heroes of this local community. And as it starts to rain here again today, I can only guess how re-traumatizing that must be for the local community. They told me that the official services were just overwhelmed, that the SES had two people on the ground on the day who were here and able to help with one boat. Thank God, the local community was here to stand up, to reach out, to raise money, to help their fellow citizens and save people’s lives. If it wasn’t for them, you can only imagine what would have happened to that little baby, let alone everybody else.
Justine talked about housing. If we didn’t have a housing crisis here before the floods, we certainly do now. There isn’t another part of the country that has a more severe housing crisis at the moment than the North Coast of New South Wales. Before the floods there was almost nothing to rent. Before the floods in the last 12 months, the cost to rent here has jumped by 20%. So for a lot of people here, even before the floods they couldn’t find a place to rent, they couldn’t afford a place to rent. Now that’s even worse, because you got 1000s of homes right across the North Coast that have been obliterated or are unliveable. So, it’s getting harder and harder. 

Now, there’s a couple of obvious things that the Federal Government should do. The first is to provide that emergency disaster payment for the people here on the ground in this local community. Down the road in Lismore they’ve provided that extra $2,000. The least Scott Morrison can do is provide the same amount of emergency support for the people here. People here are being treated like second class citizens. We just went to the recovery centre, there’s a line of people asking for help from the Salvos. For vouchers, to pay for food, to get the essentials – the desperate basic things that they need to survive. And you’ve got Scott Morrison saying, “well we need to wait for the data from the local council before we can provide this community with extra disaster payments”. You don’t need the extra data. Come here, talk to the people that are at the recovery centre. Stop treating this local community like second class citizens. The flood didn’t stop at the boundary of one federal seat to another, it washed through both, and everybody here needs that help.
Second thing, we need more temporary housing. I know the state government has offered up some mobile homes, we need more of them. We need the Federal Government to talk to the army and see whether they can provide temporary housing as well. Whether it’s dongas or pods, I spoke to the Council today, they tell me that they need more temporary housing. And there are homes here that are going to need to be demolished because they’re unliveable. Some of them have been washed away, others won’t be fit to have people back in because they’re either full of mould or because the whole house is unstable, it’s unliveable, full of asbestos that’s been opened up by the floods, they’re going to need to be demolished. Now when the bushfires hit two years ago, we managed to shame the Federal Government into providing funding to cover the demolition costs. The Federal Government should look about doing the same sort of thing here now after these floods. And while they’re at it, have a look at how they help to build back better here. The State Government has a fund to help lift-up homes, raise homes so they’re out of harm’s way. Council told me today that’s the sort of thing they need more of here to help make sure that when the floods come again; as inevitably they will, that people are safe. So have a look at that as well.
And just finally, I said we had a housing crisis just before the floods hit and it’s even worse now. We need more social housing; we need more affordable housing. Now Labor has already committed if we win the federal election to a $10B Housing Australia Future Fund that will build 30,000 homes over the first five years right across the country. Now I have said before that that would be allocated to places in need. But let me make it very clear today that if we win the federal election, we will prioritize that for the North Coast of New South Wales. Because I cannot think of a part of Australia that desperately needs the Federal Government to put its hand in its pocket and start building the housing that is desperately needed for the people in an area like this, where we have a housing and homelessness crisis unlike anywhere else in the country. 
Before I take questions, can I just say something about the cost-of-living debate that’s taking off at the moment. We’ve got less than 50 days to go now until people start voting and suddenly it’s dawned on the Prime Minister that people are having trouble paying the bills. I’ve got to tell the Prime Minister, people in Australia didn’t start having trouble paying the bills when Russia invaded Ukraine. Petrol didn’t start going up when Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s been going up for the last 12 months. For the average family with the average car, they’re paying about $1000 a year more in petrol this year than they were last year. And it’s not just petrol, childcare now costs about $800 a year more this year than it did last year. And then on top of that, the biggest bill that 2 million Aussies pay every week is rent. For the average Australian who rents they’re paying about $2000 a year more this year than they were last year. And if you live here on the North Coast of New South Wales, it’s more like $3000 or $4000 or $5,000 a year more in rent this year than last year. So my message to Scott Morrison is, this is not new. We’ve been banging on about this for years, you haven’t said a peep about it until now 50 days before the election is due. And if you are for real, you’ll take action to help people who are struggling to pay the bills here and right across the country. And you could start by giving the disaster emergency payment to the people here who desperately need it. 
REPORTER: Just starting with, could you just explain what that trigger is for those additional payments and why people here have missed out?

CLARE: It’s a good question to ask the Prime Minister. What does he say? 
REPORTER: We haven’t got an answer.

CLARE: I was in Chinderah yesterday. I went through the caravan parks there and saw homes that don’t have a roof anymore. I saw people who they’ve lost their car, the engine is gone, but they are sleeping in the car because they can’t sleep in the caravan anymore. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who are pensioners, they’re not rich, they’ve lost everything, and the Prime Minister says that they don’t meet the criteria for an extra $2000. Come on if that doesn’t show how out of touch this Prime Minister, I’ll give it away.

REPORTER: But do you know what the trigger is?
CLARE: We don’t know what the trigger is. I’ll tell you what the trigger should be. There’s been a disaster here, people have lost their homes, they’re lining up at the salvos asking for a bit of money to buy food at Woolies. They need this help. They need it in Lismore, they need it here well.
REPORTER: Another question, just in terms of social affordable housing policy and the commitments that you’re making, if elected for federal Labor. In terms of you saying that the North Coast is a priority. Given the situation we’re faced with, how many houses are you committing to the North Coast?
CLARE: What we’re saying is 30,000 homes built over five years. I’ll direct the National Housing body NHFIC to direct that funding to the places of greatest need. Now, I cannot think of an area in greater need than the North Coast. There’s a lot of places that are seriously struggling. Tasmania is a good example of that, the crisis in Tasmania is huge. But up here, it’s been multiplied by losing 2000 or 3000 homes in the space in the last two weeks. So I won’t put a number on it, but what I will do is tell the National Housing body to prioritize construction here and make sure that we get the housing that is needed here, because there is no part of Australia that needs it more than the North Coast at the moment.

REPORTER: We know about Lismore, and more than 3000 homes there that are basically uninhabitable currently and they’re going through the process as mentioned. But in speaking about these areas that you’re visiting here with Justine in terms of the Byron Shire, Tweed Shire and Ballina Shire, have you got to figure in terms of the houses in those particular areas?
CLARE: I was told today that it was about 3000. When you look at Lismore, Byron Shire, and Ballina Shire – all up the advice from council today is about 3000 homes that are unliveable. We suspect and council suspects that a lot of people might move back into houses that are just plain unliveable. Because they don’t have insurance, they can’t afford to rebuild and so they move into a house which is unsafe. The Council for example, is concerned not just about unsafe houses they’re also concerned about landslips, unsafe land because of everything that’s happened in the last two weeks. 

So recovery is going to take a long time, and it’s going to require the Federal Government, the State Government and Local Government working with this community to help to provide the physical infrastructure that’s needed. Fixing roads, not just fixing them, but building them back better to deal with the crisis that we’ve just seen, which inevitably will happen again, helping people to rebuild their homes in a safe way, but also to deal with the invisible damage that’s here in the local community. The other point that got made to me today is there’s damage here you can’t see. It’s the mental health damage. The volunteers who are out there seeing dead bodies, rescuing kids in the mud, they need help as well and there’s a bit of that coming. But one of the other points that was emphasized to me is it’s not good enough just to have someone on the other end of the phone, what’s important is that we have more face-to-face medical support.
REPORTER: So the elephant in the room you’re talking about is this going to happen again, floods are going to happen again. The elephant in the room is this is part of the climate crisis, so what is the Labor Party going to do about emissions, about sponsoring coal companies, about loving up to gas companies? What have you got for us? 
CLARE: It’s chalk and cheese between Labor and Liberal. If Labor wins the election, we will cut emissions to net-zero by 2050 and cut emissions by 43% by 2030. There’s only one party that is serious about doing something on climate change, that’s the Labor Party. Scott Morrison, the Liberal Party, and the National Party, they think climate change is what happens when you go to Hawaii for a holiday. There’s only one party that will take this seriously. And you’re right, you’ve got to do two things. You’ve got to cut emissions, and you’ve got to deal with what will inevitably come again. 
So let me give you a good example of what we will do and what they government refuses to do. There’s a national disaster fund. It’s got $4 billion in it. It was set up after the bushfires to help to build the sort of emergency centres, cyclones shelters, flood levees that are going to be going to be needed to protect people when inevitably, a flood or a cyclone or bushfires come again. That $4 billion fund was set up three years ago. It’s made $800 million worth of interest in the last three years. So it’s now $4.8 billion. Not one cent has been allocated to actually build something that could have helped on the ground here when the floods hit. If Labor wins the election, $200 million out of that fund will be allocated each and every year to build the sort of levees, shelters, and emergency evacuation centres that we’re desperately going to need. I was talking to the council about this as well. They made the point to me that they’ve got a flood plan here to help to deal with the consequences of what inevitably will happen again. One of those things was an evacuation centre. People scrambled here into town; they were they were lucky to be able to sleep on the floor in the ex-services club. We were lucky the ex-services club didn’t go underwater. It was underwater everywhere else outside. So that’s not necessarily going to be a safe place in the future when the floods come again. You need a plan; you need money to back the plan. You’ve only got one major party at this election that is prepared to do that.
REPORTER: What will a Labor government do about support and tax breaks for fossil fuel mining companies?
CLARE: Our policy on this is very clear. Cut emissions to net-zero by 2050. Cut emissions by 43% by 2030. There’s only one party that is serious here about tackling climate change and that’s the Labor party.
REPORTER: Does that mean that you will stop giving tax breaks and support to fossil fuel mining companies? 
CLARE: It is what I just said.
REPORTER: Just in terms of flood mitigation, you touched on it there. But what is federal Labor’s priority in terms of trying to stop flood events like this?
CLARE: The best way to approach this is to sit down with the people at the local council, who’ve developed plans to help to address those issues. The council has got a flood plan here, they walked me through the basics of it today. They made the point that you need an evacuation centre in a safe place. They also made the point that there are homes here that wouldn’t have gone underwater if they were raised. But there’s a hell of a lot else in that plan. I said there’s about 26 recommendations in it. They haven’t been able to implement anything but one of those recommendations. Now what should happen is we should have the Federal Government and the State Government sitting down with Local Government here and going through those recommendations and working out how they can be implemented. That said, the council to their credit also said we’re going to have to go back and have a look at this, because it may not be enough. 
REPORTER: Well in Lismore the houses that were raised a story after the 2017 flood are flooded after actually going through that plan. 
CLARE: That’s exactly right. But I was on the south side of Brisbane yesterday, looking at some of the places that were flooded two weeks ago, a lot of homes that have been raised there after the 2011 flood. And a lot of people told me that doing that helped save them this time around. So what happened in Lismore is not going to not going to be fixed by that. But the best way to approach this is you develop a flood plan, you do it with the experts here on the ground and you get the Federal Government and the State Government hopefully working together to help implement it. 

Can I just make just one last point on a comment that the Prime Minister made on TV last night, and this was about people pretending to be somebody else. It’s a bit rich coming from Scott Morrison who pretends to be everyone else. Whether it’s a hairdresser, or a welder, or a carpenter or a floor cleaner. This bloke is the village people Prime Minister of Australia. And I just ask him, instead of attacking somebody else’s credibility, do your job. Do your job, provide money to people who don’t have a cent in their pocket here on the North Coast because of the floods and actually turn up when your needed, not a week or two afterwards. It happened on the bushfires, it happened with vaccines, it’s happening with the floods as well. This bloke never learns, always turns up too late. Always blames somebody else and never takes responsibility for anything. So Prime Minister, please just do your job.
REPORTER: Just touching a point you raised in terms of where that disaster extension funding went to and the demarcation between party lines. Are you going to put this plainly that this is pork barrelling? 
CLARE: I just think this is utter stupidity. Really. Does anybody in Australia seriously think that what’s happening here isn’t a disaster? Does anybody in Australia seriously think that the people here who’ve lost everything, their home, their car, who’ve got nothing left, don’t deserve an extra $2,000 from the Federal Government to help them just get back on their feet in some small way. Seriously, it’s just common sense. You don’t need a spreadsheet, you don’t need data, you some bureaucrat telling you to do it. Just do it.

This is the problem with Scott Morrison, always waiting too long and then when he does help, it’s all too little. It happened with the bushfires. It was only because we shamed him that he came back from Hawaii. It happened with vaccines. All of Sydney and Melbourne had to get locked down before he brought enough vaccines. It happened with rapid antigen tests as well. We had to have Coles and Woolies running out of meat, fruit and vegetables before he ordered enough of them. And now you’ve got people begging the salvos for money here because he doesn’t get it that you actually need to provide this disaster support to the people here as well as the people in Lismore. It’s not hard.