Minister Collins radio interview, ABC Tasmania Mornings


TOPICS: Housing legislation; Albanese Government’s ambitious housing reform agenda; Tasmanian infrastructure; State Labor

LEON COMPTON, HOST: The Federal Government have a bill in front of Parliament right now to create something called a Housing Future Fund, and the idea is that they'll allocate $10 billion, invest it and then use the dividends to build housing in decades to come. Over the next five years, the promise is 30,000 houses nationally, as I say, between now and 2029. Julie Collins is Federal Member for Franklin and the Federal Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Small Business. Minister, good morning to you.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Good morning, Leon, and good morning to your listeners.

COMPTON: Minister, the ambition is 30,000 homes in the next five years. How many of those homes would be built in Tasmania?

COLLINS: Well, obviously, Leon, we do know that there's a situation in Tasmania around housing affordability, as you just outlined. Sadly, that situation is around the country, and we do have housing affordability challenges everywhere. So, we want to make sure that every state and territory gets their fair share of the returns of the fund. And I can assure Tasmanians, as a very proud Tasmanian, I'll be ensuring that that includes our home state of Tasmania.

We are talking about here what will be the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing from a Federal Government in over a decade with a $10 billion fund. And as you indicated, importantly, it'll be there in perpetuity with the funds going into social and affordable housing each and every year. So we don't find ourselves in the situation we're in. I mean, what we've had for almost a decade is a former Federal Government not interested in social and affordable housing and saying it's really up to the states, and what we're saying as the Federal Government is, there is no tier of government can do this alone. We need all three tiers of government. We need social housing providers, we need builders, we need the whole sector and the industry all working together and to get more homes on the ground as quickly as we can.

COMPTON: Did you see the story, Minister, on 7:30 report last week, that dealt with Kelly, who lives in North-Western Tasmania and lives in a tent. Is this policy going to help Kelly?

COLLINS: Yeah, that is really heartbreaking, Leon, and there are really difficult stories and people are making really difficult decisions every single day. And I would say to them, what we're doing is trying to get as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can and making sure they have the right homes in the right places. I was on the North West Coast just a week and a half ago to announce up to 181 homes on the North West Coast.

Some of those homes will be available from as early as April or May for those people who are waiting for homes in that area. We do need to work with other tiers of government. We need to do better. And that's why our program is ambitious. It is an ambitious policy, a $10 billion fund and those 30,000 social and affordable homes. But we do need to work together with other tiers of government. We do need to work together with the sector, which is why, of course, we also announced the Housing Accord in the last budget. More affordable homes.

COMPTON: How many of those 30,000 homes will be in Tasmania?

COLLINS: Well, that will depend. It will depend on how we work with local government, community housing providers and the state government to try and leverage to get more homes on the ground. It will depend on the propositions that go to Housing Australia, which is another bill that we have in the Parliament at the moment to create the entity, Housing Australia.

The other important bill that we also have before the Parliament is to recreate a Supply and Affordability Council, and that Council will actually provide independent advice to governments about what will get more homes on the ground more quickly, what levers of government has available, what level of government has that lever and how it's best implemented. What we need is better data and evidence about what works in the entire housing spectrum. I mean, we have a fundamental supply issue in Australia. We have less homes per thousand people than the normal in the OECD. We need to get more homes on the ground. This has not happened overnight - the situation. There's no silver bullet to try and fix it. But what we want to do is we want to work as quickly as we can to get these houses on the 

COMPTON: And yet, Minister, we have a housing system in Australia that prioritises investors over first and second home buyers. What if the Supply and Affordability Council recommend getting rid of negative gearing on already constructed houses and just having it for those that invest in new homes?

COLLINS: Well, we obviously want the Supply and Affordability Council to provide frank and fearless advice to government. Obviously we had that as our policy before, we went to two elections with it, we didn't win those elections. We won this election with a commitment to build the Housing Australia Future Fund, the $10 billion fund, and with the commitment that over the first 5 years of the fund, we anticipate it would build 30,000 social and affordable homes. We've added to that in the last budget with the Housing Accord - another 10,000 affordable homes, another $350 million from the Federal Government, to be matched by the states.

COMPTON: Okay Minister, but you're in power now. What if the Supply and Affordability Council recommend getting rid of this distorting tax system that prioritises investors over first and second home buyers. If they recommend that, will you follow it?

COLLINS: Well, Leon, we're focused on delivering on our election commitments at the moment. I mean, they're very significant commitments. We don't have the legislation through for the Housing Australia Future Fund. We don't yet have the legislation through for the Supply and Affordability Council. What we need, of course, is to focus on getting our election commitments through the Parliament, and that's what I'm focused on, and getting these homes on the ground as quickly as we can and delivering on those election commitments.

COMPTON: Okay, Minister, what have you learned since becoming the Federal Minister for Housing about the impact that short-stay accommodation is having on a lack of supply right around Tasmania?

COLLINS: Yeah, this has been raised. We've already had three meetings of Housing Ministers at the national level. You know, it was the first meeting when we had one last year in almost five years, can I say, Leon? And it is interesting talking to other states and territories about the impact of short-stay accommodation, particularly in regional tourism areas. There has been, I think, some data and evidence around it, but I think that's the idea of the Supply and Affordability Council - to get us that better evidence and data and look at the data gaps about what interventions would actually work and how do they impact the other parts of the housing supply and the housing spectrum. We need to make sure that whatever interventions are being recommended are actually going to work and have the impact that we hope they do and don't distort other areas in the market.

COMPTON: Minister we're already hearing on the ground in places like St. Helens, to pick an example, that's live and recent, where they're struggling to attract nurses because they can't find a house to live in. This is a consequence of the number of places being turned over to short-stay accommodation, in part. So why not step in and do something about that?

COLLINS: Well, obviously, the levers to be able to do that, Leon, are at the state and territory level. They're not ones that the Federal Government has available to it. But we are talking to our states and territories. We want to work with them. We are talking about and taking advice about where things have been tried in other states, what the impact has been. Some states and some local governments are doing things to try and collect that data and the evidence about how does this impact and is it doing what we anticipated it would do in other parts of the housing area. But in terms of key workers, that is a critical part of our commitment. When we talk about the 10,000 affordable homes in the first five years of the fund, we are talking about affordable rentals for key workers in good locations; close to transport, close to jobs, close to education institutions. We want to make sure that key workforce, such as teachers and nurses and doctors and police, are able to live near where they work.

COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania. Leon Compton with you. My guest this morning is the Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Small Business in Australia, Julie Collins. Minister, I want to play a little bit of Andrew Wilkie and Jacqui Lambie talking with us on Mornings last week, please.

ANDREW WILKIE: I have lobbied the Prime Minister and the Federal Infrastructure Minister personally and repeatedly, not to help fund the stadium at Macquarie Point.

JACQUI LAMBIE: Yeah, I'm going in there today to do the same thing. I'd like that redirected, please, into health, housing. You know, we've got the gateway to the Antarctic. We'll end up losing that to Chile the way we're going.

COMPTON: That was Jacqui Lambie and Andrew Wilkie talking to us with this last week. Minister, they're lobbying the Prime Minister not to fund the stadium at Macquarie Point. What are you saying to the PM?

COLLINS: Well, we're obviously having discussions now. We're also talking, obviously, to state Labor colleagues and to the state Liberal Government. What we want to do is obviously look at the proposals that's been put to us. As the Prime Minister has indicated, we're an adult government, we'll have a proper look at what's been put to us. But I think the thing that most people want is they want a proper precinct plan, they want a proper plan about what is happening to the entire area. What is the state government's proposal? But what we're talking about, and you and I just had a discussion about, is the Federal Government already trying to do a significant investment in housing in Tasmania.

We've already made some significant investments in terms of health and health reform. We're talking about the Medicare Taskforce and trying to put more money into the health system, understanding that we're trying to make up for a decade of cuts. So we are trying to do several things at once.

You know, we are concerned, as a Tasmanian Federal Labor team that there has been a condition on an AFL team of a stadium put on it. We don't think that should have happened. We are supportive of having a Tasmanian AFL team, but we don't believe it should have been on the condition of a stadium. But the state government have put a proposal to us. They've said that this is a priority for them and we're an adult government and we'll look at it in a mature way. But we do want to know what else does the state government- you know what are the other asks for the state government and what are the priorities from them?

COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania. A final question for you, Julie Collins. Would you like to see David O'Byrne return to Tasmania's Parliamentary Labor Party? He's been sitting outside of it on his own for a period of time now. Should he come back?

COLLINS: Look, that will be a decision for the state ALP. It's not one that I'm involved in, Leon. I think what we need to do is make sure that our representatives are representative of the people. I've always been of the view that the Parliament should be representative of the local community. David is a good Local Member in our local community, but that decision is really up to the state ALP.

COMPTON: He's also a Member in your electorate. You're the most senior Federal Minister from Tasmania in this government and the party is under Federal Administration at the moment. Do you have a view about when he should return or if he should return to the Parliamentary Labor Party?

COLLINS: Look, Leon, I'm focused on delivering more housing for Tasmanians and Australians. I'm focused on delivering better healthcare. I'm focused on the issues that really matter to the people of Tasmania. I mean, we've just had a really good discussion about how critical housing affordability is. That's what my focus remains on.

COMPTON: Julie Collins, when will the first of these houses, if you can pass this bill, start being constructed in Tasmania?

COLLINS: We've already got some underway, Leon, I'm glad you asked that question and I'm really pleased, as I said, that some houses will be available in just a few months for people. We are working as quickly as we can to deliver as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can, but we also understand there are constraints in the building sector, which is why we're working with them to be able to deliver on our ambitious housing agenda.

COMPTON: Appreciate you talking with us this morning.

COLLINS: Thanks, Leon.

COMPTON: Julie Collins, Federal Housing Minister.