25 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor’s Regional First Home Buyer Support Scheme; Federal election; Labor’s policy agenda; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; housing affordability; housing in regional Australia; national security; defence; Australia and Indo-Pacific relations; carbon offsets.
ALISON BYRNES, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CUNNINGHAM: Hi, my name is Alison Byrnes. I'm Labor's candidate for Cunningham. And I would like to welcome Jason and Anthony Albanese here today to talk about house prices in the Illawarra. House prices down here have skyrocketed over the past 12 months. They've gone up 30 per cent. Young people are finding it harder and harder to enter the market. And I'd also like to thank Narelle Clay and Southern Youth and Family Services for hosting us here today. Narelle's own staff who help vulnerable people into housing and employment are actually struggling themselves to enter the housing market. And it's great to have Jason and Anthony here today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Alison. And it's great to be with you. It's the first time we've been together since you were endorsed as Labor's candidate for Cunningham. And I look forward to working with you well into the future. You're a fantastic candidate for Cunningham. And congratulations on your preselection. And to Stephen Jones and Fiona, our fantastic candidates and members for Whitlam and Gilmore. And I'm joined as well by my friend and Shadow Minister, Jason Clare. And also, I do want to give a shout out to Narelle and her team here for the work that they do each and every day, to help vulnerable Australians here in the Illawarra, to help them out with a full suite of services, including getting people into housing, particularly into rental housing and looking after vulnerable people. I've known Narelle for a long period of time. We got to know each other when I was the Assistant Shadow Minister, as they're called these days, for Family and Community Services. And during that period, I've just seen the work that Narelle has done here in the Illawarra. Literally thousands of people have been helped by this service.
I do want to today say that the Illawarra is an appropriate place for this announcement. An announcement about our Regional First Home Buyer Support Scheme. It's got to be viewed in partnership with the already announcements we've made about our Housing Australia Future Fund. That is aimed at increasing the supply of social housing, increasing affordable housing, but also $100 million commitment for emergency housing. When we've looked at social housing, of that 30,000 social and affordable housing dwellings that we will create, 4,000 have been set aside as well for women and children escaping domestic violence, looking at particular areas of vulnerability. In addition to that, we've got funding for remote housing. We know that the conditions which Indigenous communities are living in are just not good enough. If we're going to close the gap in health and education and employment, you've got to fix housing. A roof over your head is so important. I grew up in public housing with a single mum. I had the security of knowing that I had that roof over my head. So, we didn't have much. I know the value of a dollar growing up. But we had that security that was so important. But too many younger Australians in particular simply can't access the housing market to get into it. Because they can't access that also, their rents are going up. They're just struggling to get by. We hear a lot from this Government, and we'll hear a lot in the Budget on Tuesday, about how successful they have been. Well, it doesn't relate to people's real experience on the ground in communities like here in the Illawarra, where people are really doing it tough, where their wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living, they are not keeping up with the cost of food and groceries, the cost of petrol, or the cost of rent, or let alone buying a home. What this is aimed at is enabling young people, but others as well, who have been saving for years to try to get into homeownership to access that homeownership. And what I want is for Australians, whether they be in Launceston, or Lithgow, or Mackay, Margaret River, or here in the Illawarra, to have access to buying a home in our great regions. Because what we've seen are housing prices increased by 21 per cent in our capital cities, in regional Australia, they increased by 26 per cent. By even more. So, if you're saving to buy a home, the savings that you're putting aside aren't keeping up with the increase in housing costs. So, you are getting further and further away from being able to buy a home, even though you're doing all the right things to try to access homeownership, which was always the great Australian dream.
What I say is that Labor wants the great Australian dream to stay alive. I want people to be able to access homeownership, whilst also supporting people by increasing the supply of housing, through social and affordable housing increase in terms of supply and stock. These things are connected. They will make a substantial difference. And our plan 10,000 first homebuyers, will save up to $32,000 in mortgage insurance, be able to secure a home with a deposit as low as five per cent with the Government guaranteeing up to 15 per cent of the purchase price. What this will do is target particularly regional Australia. There are conditions on it. It needs to be for homeownership, not for investment properties. There are income thresholds of $125,000 for an individual and $200,000 for a couple. People have to be living in the regions. And it needs to be, of course, they need to be over the age of 18 as well. These provisions will really assist people to get into homeownership and make a difference. The truth is that during the pandemic, many Australians discovered the benefits of living outside the capital cities, living in their region, working from home or working remotely, perhaps even still working in the city, but doing it in a way that provides for a better lifestyle. Our regions have so much to offer. We need to back them in. And I want to back in every region in Australia to be able to benefit from this program. And I'd ask Jason Clare to make some comments.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks very much, Albo. This is a scheme to help more Aussies who live in the regions to buy their first home in the regions and to buy it sooner. It's harder to buy a house today than ever before. And that's particularly the case in regional Australia. As Albo said, prices have skyrocketed right across the country in the last year. But they've jumped in regional Australia more than they have in the capital cities. In the capital cities, prices have jumped by 21 per cent on average in the last year. But in the regions, they've jumped by 26 per cent. And in some parts of regional Australia, they have jumped by even more than that. Almost 30 pe cent here in the Illawarra. 30 per cent in the Hunter, 31 per cent on the Central Coast. 32 per cent in the North Coast of New South Wales, which has just been ravaged by floods. And if you go down to Launceston in Tasmania, as much as 40 per cent. A 40 per cent jump in the cost of buying a house just in the last 12 months. That means that regional Aussies need more help to buy a home in regional Australia. The Government knows this. They've had reports that they've put out in the last couple of months that tell them that the biggest drop in housing affordability in the last year has happened here in regional Australia, and recommending to them that they provide more support with their existing schemes to help regional Aussies to buy their first home.
And that's exactly what we are doing today with the Regional First Home Buyer Support Scheme. That'll help 10,000 Australians who live in regional Australia to buy their first home and to buy it sooner. It will effectively triple the number of regional Aussies that we can help each and every year to buy their first home with as little as a five per cent deposit, avoiding having to pay mortgage insurance. That awful big bill that you get when you sign a mortgage that you don't expect, that sometimes costs as much as $20,000 or $30,000, that after you buy the house, you really can't afford to pay. This will avoid that. Now, this is the next part of our plan to tackle the housing crisis here in Australia. We've already announced the Housing Australia Future Fund to build houses for homeless Aussies. 30,000 homes, social housing homes and affordable housing homes for Australians who need it. This is about helping regional Aussies buy their first home and buy it sooner.
Albo, you talk about making sure that as part of our plan for a better future, no Aussie is held back, and no Australian is left behind. The Housing Australia Future Fund is about making sure that no Australian is left behind, that we build homes for the homeless, homes for Australians fleeing domestic violence, homes for homeless veterans, homes for nurses, aged care workers, cleaners, the heroes of the pandemic.
This policy is about making sure that no one's held back, no Australian, young person, living in the regions that aspires to own their own home is held back. To help them to buy their home sooner. We've met some of them today. Young families looking to buy their first home, to get out of the rental market and to start owning their own home and paying their own mortgage. They're struggling to do it. A scheme like this will help regional Aussies these here in the Illawarra and right across the country to buy their first home sooner. And it's one of the things we need to do if we're going to tackle the housing crisis here in Australia.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Jason. We're happy to take questions on this issue firstly, if we can do it in that order.
JOURNALIST: What is the capacity with the total spend and how will you fund it?
CLARE: 10,000 Australians will be supported through this scheme. The Government has a scheme at the moment, which is called the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, that helps 10,000 Australians across the country every year. About 7,000 of those guarantees go to people in the cities at the moment. About 3,000 to people in the regions. A standalone scheme reserved for Australians who live in the regions of 10,000 spots every year will effectively triple the amount of support that we can provide. Now, the cost on the Budget is relatively modest. It's only $12 million. That's the administration cost of operating this scheme. And I think that most Australians would say, 'If that's going to help thousands and thousands of extra Australians to get their first home sooner in the place where they grew up, in the place where they want to live, the place where mum and dad put down roots, where they went to school, where they got their first job, where they met the love of their life, then that's money well spent'.
JOURNALIST: Where do you find the stock for the 10,000 homes? The stock is the problem, isn't it?
CLARE: Well, this is a scheme that helps you to buy homes that are already on the market. It doesn't have to be a new home. And have a look at the prices of homes here in Warilla and you'll see there are properties that you can buy at the moment to meet the conditions of this scheme. But let me make this point. As prices go up, the caps that you set for a scheme like this need to go up as well. And let me make this promise. If we are fortunate enough to win the support of the Australian people and form a Government after the next election, the first thing I'll do is ask the Department to review the price caps on this scheme to make sure that the caps are set at the level that they need to be to help first home buyers here in the Illawarra and right across the country to buy the homes that they want to live in.
JOURNALIST: Do you have concerns there will be adverse effects and it will actually increase prices?
CLARE: It's a good question. There was a review of the existing scheme last year that said that's not the case. Remember, there's about 600,000 homes that are bought and sold in Australia each and every year. This is a targeted scheme for the regions. 10,000 for people who really need it. If anything, this helps to even the playing field for first home buyers in regional Australia. It means they don't have to pay 20 or 30 grand extra when they buy a home that other Australians don't.
JOURNALIST: The prices in Kiama are the most expensive in Australia. Will this make a dent? Will it really help young people buy in our region where prices are already so outrageous?
CLARE: Prices are astronomical. It's right that we set the salary cap at $125,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples. This is not a scheme for multimillionaires. The price caps do need to be set at the level to make it easy for Aussies to buy the home that they want to live in. More broadly, let me say this. There's no easy fix to the housing crisis in Australia. This has been years in the making. Anybody who tells you that they can just click their fingers and they can fix all of the mistakes that have been made with one policy in one year is not telling you the truth. But this will help. This will make a real difference for Aussies who live in regional Australia. So will the Housing Australia Future Fund. That will put a roof over the heads of Australians who desperately need it. We will also, if we're fortunate enough to win the next election, do what this Government refuses to do, and show a bit of real leadership and develop a national housing plan for the nation. And in addition to that, there'll be more policies that we will announce through the course of this campaign to help other Aussies who need help to buy a home, including in the suburbs and in our big cities.
ALBANESE: I will give Stephen and Fiona a chance to talk about the local impact for those questions too. But I'll make this point. We are the only party going to the election talking about supply of housing as well. Our Housing Australia Future Fund is about increasing volume of supply, which is a very important part of the equation. So, what we're doing here, and I thank Jason for his work in this policy area, we'll have more to say as well on other issues, but looking at a coherent approach across the board. As Jason says, you can't just have a magic wand after a decade, effectively, of neglect. This Government weren't sure where housing even fitted in terms of its bureaucratic structure at one stage. We had a Minister for Homelessness who never mentioned the word as well while our number of homeless are increasing, particularly concerning is the rise in the number of older women who find themselves homeless. But I might see if Stephen and Fiona want to make a comment now.
STEPHEN JONES, MEMBER FOR WHITLAM: Thanks, Anthony. And to your point, Kelly, Jason often uses the expression, 'This is an ecosystem'. So, we can't just do the affordable housing stuff on its own. We've got to be doing the social and community housing. Because in the Illawarra, in fact, just across the road here, areas that were once reserved as low-income rental housing are now being snapped up by families and individuals on higher incomes. And the rents are being pushed up. So, that sends a very clear message that we've got to increase the stock of social housing as well. And that's what the announcement, in fact, it was Anthony's first announcement in his first Budget speech and reply, where he made a commitment to ensuring that we put a roof over every head by increasing the amount of social housing and affordable housing in this country. So, it's an ecosystem. We've got to do both. And as Jason and Anthony have said, we've got more to come. I do want to make this point. And it is something that local businesses are telling us on a weekly basis. Our announcements today, which we're very excited about, is great social policy. But it's also critical economic policy. Businesses are telling us that they cannot get staff because their staff cannot get houses. It's critical in the hospitality industry. It's critical right across the caring sector. If you talk to Narelle Clay later today, she'll tell you that her staff who are performing essential front-role community services work are struggling in the rental market because of the increase in rental prices. So, what might sound like great social policy, and it is, is also great economic policy, and critical for the small businesses in the Illawarra and the South Coast.
JOURNALIST: We know it's a critical issue, possibly the number one issue for Gilmore. What difference do you think this will make for your community?
FIONA PHILLIPS, MEMBER FOR GILMORE: The Gilmore electorate has been hit so hard. I mean, we've only got to go back to the Black Summer bushfires. We've still got people living in temporary accommodation in caravans. I mean, it's dire. And then you mix that in with COVID, eight disaster declared floods, we've got properties that are flooding, when people are living in caravans. We've got thousands and thousands of people moving to the electorate to live here, as they would, it's a beautiful area. But that's placing immense pressure on our housing. And I, as the local Member, I'm seeing more and more people come through my office with nowhere to live. The houses they are in are being sold, they've got kids, and a lot of these people work. And they can't find a place. So, it is really critical. And I think I'm really buoyed. And I have to thank Jason and Albo. Because Jason's been visiting Gilmore so many times. So, he's very acutely aware of the dire issues that we have in the electorate. The Housing Australia Future Fund, we should be rejuvenating our social housing stock. Where once we had a three bedroom home that might lay vacant now, we should be investing in that and providing that stock. We've got a lot of older people where they're living by themselves that need a home. So, a three bedroom home is no longer suitable.
JOURNALIST: The stocks are just not there. Where would people buy their homes?
PHILLIPS: Well, it is about rejuvenating and investing in affordable and social housing. So, rejuvenating existing stock, but also adding to that stock. We've got many workers, as Stephen said, that are crying out for workers. But people can't move here for that, because they haven't got a home. So, this has now very much become a business issue as well. There's no easy fix. But I think with the announcement today, along with the Housing Australia Future Fund, I think it goes a long way to starting to fix the housing crisis that, quite honestly, the Morrison Government has completely vacated the scene on.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Fiona. Other questions?
JOURNALIST: Will Labor do anything to address the actual rising cost of housing?
ALBANESE: Jason might want to add to this. But one of the things that is a product of price is about supply. And by having greater supply, you have an impact on the housing market. Quite clearly, we need to work, as well, cooperatively with state governments. When I was the Minister, including Minister for Local Government and Regional Development, we were sitting down with state and territory governments, talking about supply of housing, talking about stock, talking about everything from that to design of housing so that it was appropriate and adaptable as we have an ageing of the population. All of that work has stopped under this Government. There's no coordination between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. And local governments have been sidelined completely. It's not around the table of the National Cabinet. Quite clearly, we need a whole-of-governments approach to address housing supply issues. Quite clearly, there are real issues with stock not keeping up. And that has an impact on price. What today's about is trying to put some equity back into the scheme so that the first homeowner who competes at an auction, or trying to buy their first home, isn't saddled with an additional cost that someone else who might be an investor doesn't have. They don't have the issue with mortgage insurance that a first home owner might have because of the level of deposit that was there. So, there aren't simple solutions, as we've said. What this is today, though, has to be viewed in conjunction with our Housing Australia Future Fund, our support for emergency housing, our cooperative relationship that I've foreshadowed and had discussions with state leaders about in terms of dealing with federal-state cooperation. Because one level of government can't just do this. There are different issues with regard to planning and supply and land issues. But we need to have a national Government that's prepared to involve itself in housing, and acknowledge that it's a major component of people's living standards. And it also is connected so much with people's health and with educational opportunities, as Jason has said.
CLARE: There's a couple of factors at play. Interest rates being at emergency level has encouraged a lot of people to borrow. That's just a fact. The pandemic has encouraged people to move from cities to the regions because you can have a job in Sydney, but you can work from the region. So, that's had an impact as well. No doubt, schemes like this will help regional Aussies here to make sure that they're not outbid by people coming from other parts of Australia. But supply is part of the solution as well. You're absolutely right. You asked that question a moment ago as well. So, more supply of affordable housing, more supply of social housing, is part of it. But as Albo said, working with state governments to release more land, so that we can develop more housing, so there is more supply, more to buy, is part of the solution as well. Believe it or not, the Federal Housing Minister doesn't even meet with the state Housing Ministers at the moment. How can that be the case? Whenever the Government gets asked about this issue, they say it's the state's problem or they blame the local government. If we're going to fix this, if we're really going to shift the dial, then it needs the Federal Government, and a Prime Minister who cares about this issue, to work with premiers and local governments to make sure that we're releasing more land and developing it in the places where people want to live. That's what the national housing plan will be about. And it'll be developed with premiers, it will be developed with local governments, it'll report progress to National Cabinet. You're only going to fix this problem if you get the Federal Government, state governments, local governments, community organisations, community housing organisations, superannuation funds, the property industry, all working together here. This is a crisis. Anybody who's tried to buy, or tried to rent, or is sleeping in a park because they can't find a place that they can afford to put a roof over their head, knows this is a crisis. And we need a Federal Government that's prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel to fix this.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, Australia needs to be a partner of choice in the Pacific. We were that for a long period of time. I think when this Government came to office and withdrew funding, in terms of its aid and its presence in the Pacific, that was an error of judgment. We have had the Pacific step up in terms of rhetoric. That's a good thing. We need to make sure that we engage with the region. Of course, these are decisions which the sovereign Government of the Solomons can make. But if the reports are correct, then this would have real implications for the region, and is of concern. I have sought briefings and have them scheduled with our appropriate agencies on Monday, when I'm in Canberra.
JOURNALIST: If you were elected the Leader of this country, what would you say to the Solomons?
ALBANESE: I will wait and see post the briefing. I think when it comes to these issues, it is important that you deal with the facts and that we have appropriate briefings. And I will be receiving those on Monday. But I would very much seek to have cooperative relationships with the Pacific. The last time we were in Government, we certainly did that. And there are a number of key people who would be present in my Government who have had such good relationships over a long period of time with the people of the Pacific, not the least of which is Penny Wong, who would be our Foreign Minister, and Richard Marles, of course, served as our person in the Pacific when we were last in Government. And he did an outstanding job and has really strong relationships. And as Deputy Prime Minister, that would also give him authority. And I know that he's very passionate about the Pacific in particular.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: It's a matter for the Prime Minister to determine. It certainly is an issue that has serious implications for Australia. And there is a need for the Government to, as always, make sure that Australia's interest is represented while, of course, respecting other sovereign nations and their right to make decisions. It's important that Australia be engaged on these issues, given there are implications for Australia.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: I think that we need to do more in terms of our foreign aid and our presence in the Indo-Pacific, in our region. We have said that repeatedly. This Government, from time to time, with members on it dismiss the issue of aid. The issue of aid is important for itself that we, as a relatively wealthy neighbour to our friends in the region, are prepared to acknowledge that and provide support. Let me say this also. There is an Australian national interest in us providing aid and support as well. An Australian national interest in us having a strong presence in the Pacific and in the region.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, I would have liked to have seen this Government not stop the arrangements that were put in place by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Prime Minister John Key. These arrangements have been in place for a long period of time. This Government rejected them. And they came out with all sorts of rhetoric of which, now that they have signed up in the dying days of their third term in office, show that once again, this is a Government that always looks to politics rather than looks to the national interest. There was no reason why they could have rejected the repeated offers of the New Zealand Governments, both Conservative and Labor, to assist with this process, to settle people who were on Nauru and Manus, which has had the human cost, but also an incredibly significant economic cost to Australia, and now just a week or so before an election is called, they backflip and change their mind and they say, ‘Well, it is not a problem now, it is not a security issue’. And what we know now is that some of these are related to an arrangement that was entered into with Senator Jacqui Lambie. And Senator Jacqui Lambie is the latest victim of Scott Morrison not telling the truth. And, indeed, of making some rather strong claims about what Scott Morrison said would be the consequences if Jacqui Lambie had actually made transparent the discussions and the arrangements that were put in place at that time. Surely, Australians have a right to know. And we made the point at the time. Australians have a right to know what deals are done to pass legislation. And that was kept quiet. And now, just before the election, we have a part of those arrangements that included everyone being off Nauru and Manus before the end of this term, which also, quite clearly, just simply has not been delivered. This is a Prime Minister who is prepared to say anything to get a short-term political approach and a short-term political hit. A Prime Minister who will say anything in the short-term and never does what is necessary for Australia's long-term national interest.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: I put forward, very clearly, that Labor has supported the New Zealand arrangements that were put in place, that were withdrawn. For what purpose now? The Government needs to explain why it is that for year after year after year, this arrangement has been rejected, which could have solved this issue many, many years ago.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: This is an appeal of an appeal. There are some people who have made decisions some time ago, they went to court. They lost. They then sought to arrange some costs. They lost. They then appealed that decision. They lost. Now, they are appealing before the High Court. We have a legal system where people are entitled to do that. People will make their own judgements about the merits of that. Up to this point in time, the courts have made a judgement on the merits of the cases and have been very clear in their decisions. It will be heard today. I obviously don't make any comments about the specific, given that, by definition, the court hearing is today.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Do you commit to overhauling it if elected to Government?
ALBANESE: Certainly. Carbon offsets can be an important component of dealing with climate change and reducing our emissions in a policy framework to drive down emissions, And it's a part of our Powering Australia Plan. A plan that will reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, will create 604,000 new jobs, five out of every six of them in regional Australia, a plan that will result in $52 billion of private sector investment. A plan that will enable clean energy to then be cheaper energy, which will drive manufacturing, that will work with our National Reconstruction Fund, to make sure that we make more things here. That will result in, through 465,000 free TAFE places, 20,000 new university places, that Australians fill the jobs that are created by the support for the private sector with the National Reconstruction Fund, driven by cheaper, cleaner energy. This is a coherent approach to productivity and economics going forward. And carbon offsets are a part of that. But we need to make sure, as well, there is integrity in the scheme. And that's why we've committed to have a review of the framework to ensure that there is integrity in the scheme. Because that's vital.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Look, I noticed, there was another announcement about an announcement. The Prime Minister, on a day in which I was, of course, was speaking at the Lowy Institute as well, the Prime Minister made an announcement that he will make an announcement down the track. Well, we received briefings from the Department of Defence. I think that, in general, people should, in the lead-up to this election, ask themselves this. This is a Government that has been there for almost a decade. They are asking for a second decade in office. People should ask themselves, ‘Is this as good as it gets?’ Australia is the greatest country on earth. But we need a better Government. We need a Government that makes announcements and then follows through with plans. The problem for this Government is that when an announcement is done, that's all that happens. It does not lead to action. It does not lead to anything being built. We know on subs, there have been announcements with the Japanese. Then there were announcements with the French. What we know is that there are now no contracts in place for any submarines. We will have to deal with these issues when we are in Government, if we are elected, in May. So, we will deal with all of those, including, obviously, the issue of location and all of those issues. But we announced some time ago as well, a Defence Force Posture Review. It will be the first time in a decade, since we were last in Government, and the time before that was under Kim Beazley as Defence Minister, whereby given the changing dynamic of regional security which we are dealing with in our region, we need to have an assessment about our defence capacity and our capability, including location and where those locations are. We have not done it for a long period of time. The Biden Administration has done that as well. And that's important. And the context in which we would consider it would be as part of an overall review of our defence positioning. Thanks very much.