Television Interview with Greg Jennett – ABC Afternoon Briefing – Tuesday 15 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Housing crisis on the North Coast; Disaster payments; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; election commitments; Liberal Government rorts. 

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Jason Clare, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. You join a long line of federal politicians from both sides who’ve gone through flood affected areas of northern New South Wales. On your visit, some general observations, but also keen to hear what practical commitments you as Shadow Housing Minister are bringing to that region today.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: G’day Greg, thanks for having me on and g’day to all the viewers here. I’m up in Mullumbimby and it’s shocking what I’ve seen here. The community is still shell shocked. It’s been two weeks now since they were fighting for their lives. I got the opportunity today to talk to the people who hired the helicopters that plucked people to safety from some of the more remote parts here around town, who saved babies that was stuck in the mud. If it wasn’t for them, you can only think what would have happened here. Basically, the services that were on the ground were overcome. There were only two SES officers that were here on the ground that can help when the floods hit and one boat. So, you can only imagine what would have happened if you didn’t have all of the volunteer army that marshaled almost instantaneously and help to rescue people, dozens of people would have died. The water’s gone, but now you’ve got another flood, a flood of homelessness because homes have been damaged, homes have been destroyed. There’s a lot of people that are in motels and hotels, north of here, even in Queensland, and a lot of people who will never be able to go back into that home again.

JENNETT: And what federal assistance do you foresee, either commitments that should be made by the current government or commitments that an Albanese government could put on the table, before or after the election? Is there a role for federal support to get what is really I think overpriced housing materials and a shortage of labour factored in as well. It can get very expensive for properties to rebuild.

CLARE: There’s definitely a role for the federal government. The federal government constantly says it’s not their job. It’s the role of the state government and the local government. That’s rubbish. We need federal government leadership here. Nowhere more than the north coast of New South Wales needs it. There was already a housing crisis here before the floods. Before the floods there was basically nothing to rent here. And rents have gone up by 20 per cent. Now, with about 3000 homes that are uninhabitable, that’s just going to be even worse. So, there’s a couple of obvious things that the federal government can and should do. The first is what Justin Elliot, the local MP’s been calling for and that’s to match the disaster payments that they’ve got in Lismore to other parts of the north coast, like here in Mullumbimby.

JENNETT: Do you get the impression, Jason Clare, do you get the impression that that is coming? I know they’ve held out the possibility of further assessments review and then extension to LGAs, are you picking up anything there that says that’s on the way?

CLARE: Look, it’s just common sense. It’s got to happen. I don’t know whether it will or not, Greg, but the flood didn’t stop at one council boundary. It went right across the north coast. I was in Chindera yesterday, visiting people in their 70s and 80s who live in caravan parks, they’ve lost the caravan, they’ve lost the car, the car doesn’t work anymore but they’re sleeping in their cars. These are people who were told by the SES, when the water was up to their waiste, to get on the roof. They were only rescued again, because you had people in their 70s and 80s getting together and getting themselves onto kayaks. These people were as badly affected as people in Lismore and for the life of me, I can’t understand why Scott Morrison says we’re waiting for the data. It’s pretty bloody obvious what’s happened here. People are destitute, they’ve lost everything. The least he could do is provide the same sort of financial support that he’s providing to the people down the road here and if he doesn’t get it, then come here. Come here and see it for yourself.

JENNETT: Well you’re saying extend those cash payments. What’s the other thing n housing?

CLARE: Yeah, that’s the first thing. Second thing is we need more temporary housing. The state government have hired some mobile homes, they’re getting them up here to the region. The advice from the local council here is we’re going to need more of that. They’ve also called for the army to provide some of their temporary housing here, whether it’s pods or dongers. They’re going to need more temporary housing, whether it’s at a set location or on people’s individual homes, because their homes been demolished. 

Where there are homes that are uninhabitable, the federal government might have a role to play in helping to demolish them so people can rebuild. Remember, Greg, when the bushfires hit, we shamed the federal government into paying the cost of cleaning up people’s building sites, the remnants of what was left of their home. It’s a sort of thing that Commonwealth could do again here. The other thing that the council talked to me about today was lifting homes up. If you raise them up, and I think the Insurance Council talked about this the other day, then you can help save homes from going under. I was in Brisbane yesterday, some of the places that got smashed two weeks ago in Brisbane, homes were saved because they were lifted after the 2011 Brisbane floods. That’s the sort of thing that’s pretty practical that should be happening here as well. 

On top of that, there’s a role for the federal government in building more social housing, and building more affordable housing. We’ve said if Labor wins the federal election, we’ll set up a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund that will build 30,000 homes right across the country in the first five years. But it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re going to have to prioritise this area because there isn’t a part of the country that’s in more desperate need of affordable housing right now than the north coast of New South Wales.

JENNETT: Yeah, fair enough. And look, on the planning argument, I know there’s a lot to play out still on that front. We might set that idea to one side for this afternoon. While we’ve still got you, rumbling around behind you are military vehicles and rubbish trucks. Can I also ask you about a story that’s doing the rounds today in the Nine newspapers, suggesting Labor’s equally as guilty as the Coalition of marginal seat pork barreling. Sports clubs, roads, and swimming pools to name but a few. Is Labor in this up to its neck in exactly the same way that you accused the Morison Government?

CLARE: Greg, if gold medals were handed out for rotting taxpayer money, Scott Morrison look like Mr. T at the moment. I’m not going to take any lectures from the Liberal Party who allocated $65 million for four car parks in Josh Frydenberg’s electorate alone, and are now saying that they won’t build three of them. On top of that, mate, Estimates revealed a couple of weeks ago that there’s still $2.4 billion out of the funds that the Audit Office has found that were rorted by the government.

JENNETT: That makes $750 million of labour expenditure promises okay?

CLARE: No, there’s a difference here. Both parties make commitments in elections. What we’ve said is that with all of these commitments, we would have the Department of Infrastructure review them on their merits if we win the election. I bet the Liberal Government, the Liberal National Government, won’t commit to that. 

JENNETT: And if they don’t pass muster with that technical assessment, then null and void? Is that the clear information?

CLARE: That’s right, they’ve got they got to be assessed on their merits to see whether they meet the standards that the department expects. There’s a big difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party when it comes to all of this. Think of the debate about a National Anti-Corruption Commission. Scott Morrison promised that three years ago. It’s been more than 1000 days since he promised that. There is no chance in the world if he wins this election, that if he scrapes home, that he will ever set up a National Anti-Corruption Commission. If people care about cleaning up corruption in Canberra, the only way to do it is vote Labor at this election because we’re the only major party that’s committed to setting up a National Anti-Corruption Commission. 

JENNETT: Alright. Well, we’ll let that argument be prosecuted in the course of the campaign proper, which is soon upon us. Jason Clare, we’re going to leave it there. Thanks for joining us. Talk to you again soon.

CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Greg.