TOPICS: The Albanese Government’s ambitious housing agenda and the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund.
GREG JENNET, HOST: Julie Collins, great to have you back in the studio with us. It does look like you've got a bit of a fight on your hands regarding the Housing Australia Future Fund. I want to take you to the way it will work in a moment. But in knocking off their support, the Coalition through Sussan Ley has said Australia's housing problems won't be solved by spending which pushes up inflation and interest rates. Have you done any assessment on whether this fund and its spending would be inflationary?
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Well, of course, this fund was part of the budget, but it was also an election commitment we took to the Australian people. We announced it back in 2021. We're talking about here the single biggest investment by a Federal Government in social and affordable housing in more than a decade. A $10 billion fund with the returns every year being invested in social and affordable housing right across the country. We know that there's a housing affordability challenge out there and we know we need to provide more social and affordable homes. We also know that one tier of government isn’t going to solve the housing issues alone, and we need all tiers of government stepping up to the plate and working together. And that’s what we want to do with this fund.
JENNET: Let's talk about the returns from the fund. It's a pot of money, but it's the earnings that come from the pot that will be spent. The phrase you've been using is up to $500 million a year. That is no guarantee though, is it, that anywhere near $500 million would be spent in any given year?
COLLINS: We have obviously sought advice from the guardians of the future fund. What we know is with the other future funds that are managed on behalf of the taxpayers of Australia, is over the long term they have returned significantly for the taxpayer. That is what we would expect of this fund and that is the advice we've received. And it’s based on advice. We’ve also of course talked to the community housing sector, the building and construction sector about what is achievable. There's currently some constraints in the market. We have unlocked up to $575 million from the National Infrastructure Facility to get to work on the ground now while we wait for returns from the fund, so that the fund is in a position to be able to deliver those returns. The important point here is it provides a pipeline of continuity for the community housing providers and for other providers of social housing across the country over the long-term, so that we have less stop-start of housing construction. Less changes of government changing the program. That it’s there in perpetuity to provide certainty so that the community housing providers can grow, so they can see more social housing over time.
JENNET: Sure. But there will be variability year to year. I think this is the point the Greens are making and will make in their negotiations with you. They say the up to $500 million is effectively a cap, but there's no floor. So in a bad earnings year for the future fund, you could for argument's sake have $20 million. The question is are you prepared to put a floor in and say even in a bad year for the fund, we would invest off budget - or from the budget, if you like - x amount of money?
COLLINS: As I said, we have already unlocked up to $575 million immediately for investment in more social and affordable housing. We’ve also of course announced in the last Budget the Housing Accord, where we're talking about additional $350 million for another 10,000 affordable homes, that we’ve got the states and territories to agree to that. We have a very broad housing agenda. Yes, it’s ambitious, but based on the best advice. It's done after consultation with the sector, with industry, with community housing providers, with homeless service providers. What we want to do is get more homes on the ground more quickly, but we need to make sure they are homes in the right place and that our policy is based on evidence and based on consultation, and that's what we've done.
JENNET: I assume you're able to read the play and factor the Coalition out now. So that does mean all roads will lead to the Greens and perhaps one or two others in the Senate. Where are you at in negotiations with Max Chandler-Mather in particular?
COLLINS: We’ve obviously been talking to members of parliament right across the political spectrum. I have briefed of course the Opposition and I’ve briefed other members of Parliament. I've been talking to members of Parliament over the last seven months about our Housing Australia Future Fund. I’ve been talking to them about the Government's intention. I've been incredibly up front. But this is what the Australian people voted for. This is what we took to the election-
JENNET: There is a mandate.
COLLINS: We had a $10 billion fund on the table at the election, and it's part of a broad housing suite of policies that includes things like the Supply and Affordability Council. That includes things like Housing Australia. That includes things like a new Housing and Homelessness Plan. And we've done it carefully and in a considered way. We're talking about housing here for some of the most vulnerable in our community, people who need it most - women and children fleeing family violence, older women at risk of homelessness, veterans who are at risk of homelessness. I would be really surprised if the Parliament doesn't agree to providing additional housing, social and affordable housing, for those people that need it most.
JENNET: That's the test, isn't it, and I guess that will arrive soon enough. Is there room to move though in negotiations? As you said, there's no surprise that this was the Government's position. You said so before the election. But when we hear Max Chandler-Mather saying that $5 billion should be guaranteed each and every year, that Commonwealth Rent Assistance should be doubled, it indicates that you're probably not going to meet his demands, but is there room to meet somewhere?
COLLINS: Like I said, we've been talking to people right across the Parliament. What we want is more social and affordable homes on the ground as quickly as we can get them, based on the best advice. They need to be the right homes in the right places. But we had a clear election commitment. We had a clear mandate for a $10 billion social and affordable housing fund, the Future Fund. That's what I'm focused on delivering. I'll continue having discussions right across the Parliament with anybody that wants to engage, to be honest. We want to get this done. We want to deliver on our election commitment to the Australian people. We've brought the bill into the House at the earliest opportunity. We’ve taken immediate measures to supply more social and affordable housing in the meantime, knowing this will take some time and that it will take time for some of the returns to come through. We have been really mature about this. We've been up front with everybody that we've briefed and spoken to, and been incredibly respectful of other members of parliament about this entire process. I look forward to the Parliament's support for this important measure.
JENNET: That task certainly falls to you, and you have places to be, Julie Collins. So we'll let you go on a very busy day for you. Thanks for finding some time to join us today.
COLLINS: Thanks very much, and to your viewers today.