Minister Collins interview on ABC RN Drive with Andy Park


ANDY PARK, HOST: Well, joining me now is Julie Collins, she’s the Federal Housing Minister. Welcome back to RN Drive, Minister.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Good afternoon, Andy, and to your listeners today.

PARK: So, what now? Is it back to the drawing board?

COLLINS: Well, we’re continuing to have discussions. We’re acting in good faith with our discussions. I mean, it’s disappointing that the Greens haven’t taken an opportunity to debate this bill in the Senate when we put a motion to them late today to deal with some of the other bills. We would prefer to debate the bill, and vulnerable people across the country really need us to get this bill through so that we can start to get some returns from the Housing Australia Future Fund.

We took the $10 billion fund to the election. It’s the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing from a federal government in more than a decade. It’s very substantial, and I actually would say the 30,000 social and affordable homes that we’re talking about in the first five years of the fund, 20,000 of those are social, affordable – sorry, social rentals, and the other 10,000 are affordable rentals. So we’re talking here about affordable rental properties being funded from this fund and the returns from this fund.

When it comes to affordable rentals, we, of course, have the National Housing Accord where we are talking about there an agreement that we have with the states and territories and with the construction sector to build another 10,000 affordable rentals that the states and territories have actually agreed to match to make it 20,000 affordable rentals on top of the 30,000 social and affordable homes that we’re talking about from the fund.

PARK: So if this fund is so good for our society’s most vulnerable and fulfils the need that we certainly have read about over weeks and months in terms of housing shortage, why are the Greens in your way over this?

COLLINS: Well, you know, there are organisations that today have come out that actually have – organisations that represent workers on the ground dealing with some of the most vulnerable in our community who are saying this bill is urgent, we need to bring it on and get it done.

PARK: So why are the Greens delaying it?

COLLINS: That’s a question for them.

PARK: Surely – and I will ask, but what kinds of negotiations could you offer them to expedite this?

COLLINS: Well, we, of course, have been in discussions with them, as we have with people right across the parliament. We are talking to them about getting this fund up and running because vulnerable people need it. We have, of course, acted in good faith discussions. I’m not going to go into negotiations with you through the media that we’re having with people across the parliament, but what I would say is that we are taking this discussion seriously. We want to get this bill through the parliament. But, importantly, organisations that represent workers who are dealing with vulnerable people day in, day out say that these bills are urgent.

Of the 30,000 homes we’re talking about 4,000 of them for women and children fleeing family violence. We’re talking about for older women at risk of homelessness, for veterans who are at risk of homelessness. I mean, that’s the sort of thing that we want to do with this bill. But also, importantly, the point of the fund is it’s there in perpetuity and provides certainty and allows us to have levers to work with other tiers of government, with institutional investment to actually leverage more homes on the ground more quickly. That is what the fund is about.

PARK: But, Minister, there is no guarantee of future returns. How can you be sure you’ll have the funding you need?

COLLINS: Well, what we have done at every opportunity since we came to government is to invest in social and affordable housing. We immediately unlocked $575 million to get work started, to get houses on the ground more quickly. We then in our first budget did that National Housing Accord which I’ve just talked about, which is $350 million for 10,000 affordable homes from the federal government, affordable rental homes, to be matched by states and territories with another 10,000 rental affordable homes.

We, of course, had an election commitment for a $10 billion fund, which is what we need to deliver so that vulnerable people in Australia get access to more homes on the ground. That is what we’re talking about here.

PARK: Okay.

COLLINS: With other future funds they have had across the decade an average return of 9 per cent. What we want to do is deliver on our election commitment and get the fund up and running so we can start to get some returns to get more homes on the ground. And, as I said, it’s not just about the returns to the fund and getting homes on the ground; this is about providing leverage to get more institutional investors, to get states, territories and local government, to get us all working together. I’ve been very clear in the past that no one tier of government is going to solve this alone. We need all three tiers working together.

PARK: Okay, Minister, I have to interrupt you there because the Greens pointed out the future fund lost 1.2 per cent last year, which would mean a $120 million loss for the fund. Is Labor considering offering a guaranteed minimum spend to address concerns the fund may not make returns?

COLLINS: What I would say to that is that what we want to do is make sure that there are returns and investments in social and affordable housing. We have done it at every step of the way since we came to government. We are serious about our entire housing agenda. It is not just about the fund; the fund is a central piece and will help us change the architecture. But it’s also about the National Housing Accord. It’s also about the National Housing and Homelessness Plan. It’s also about other bills that are tied to the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill that are also in the Senate that they are not debating. That’s a supply and affordability council who will actually look at data and evidence that will work to see how many – see how quickly we can get more homes on the ground.

We’re talking about changing – creating Housing Australia to actually do some of the work with the Supply and Affordability Council to implement the national housing and homelessness plan together with the government. We’re also talking about, of course, just last week we actually offered the states some additional homelessness funding to have a 12-month extension for the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. We’re talking about $1.7 billion as part of that agreement for 12 months with the states and the territories.

PARK: Your government also promised to spend $368 billion on submarines. You know, people are going to point out that Labor can afford those submarines – or apparently – and stage 3 tax cuts. So why isn’t there more to help fix this housing crisis you say is so urgent?

COLLINS: Well, we’re already spending billions each year on housing and homelessness services. What I’m saying is that this is not for one tier of government to solve alone; it’s to work with other tiers of government. When you are talking about other investments that have been announced, some of them you’re talking about are over, you know, 20, 30 years. What we’re talking about here is the National Housing Australia Future Fund, which is $10 billion initial investment on top of all of the other things that we are doing.

This is the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing from a federal government in more than a decade. You know, we want to build tens of thousands of homes for vulnerable Australians that need them. The whole point of the fund is it’s there in perpetuity and cannot be undone by future governments and that the institutional investors and the community housing providers have long-term certainty so that they, too, can invest.

PARK: Speaking of future governments, Anthony Albanese said he’d be happy to pursue this issue at the next election if the fund was rejected. I mean, that doesn’t sound like the words of a man who views this as a priority.

COLLINS: We, of course, are focused at getting homes on the ground more quickly for vulnerable people. As I’ve said, we have at every opportunity invested when it comes to social and affordable housing. We did it out of the Jobs and Skills Summit.

PARK: Wouldn’t that Minister – wouldn’t that constitute a broken promise to the electorate?

COLLINS: Well, this is not us – we want to deliver on our commitments.

PARK: Who is it then?

COLLINS: This is about the Greens basically saying that they don’t want to take the opportunity to debate this very important bill. Now there’s a division I need to run to.

PARK: Yeah, I heard the bells. Housing Minister Julie Collins, thanks very much for your time this afternoon.

COLLINS: Thank you.

PARK: You’re with Andy Park. This is RN Drive.