Minister Collins doorstop interview, Canberra


TOPICS: The Albanese Labor Government’s ambitious housing agenda; a new partnership with the ACT Government to help more Canberran women into home ownership; the Housing Minister meeting and rental reforms.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Good afternoon, everyone. Can I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. It's great to be here with Minister Berry and also, of course, with people involved in this wonderful development that we are announcing today. Indeed, we are announcing as part of the $575 million from the National Housing Investment Facility, from the $575 million, that this first project here in the ACT. What we're talking about here is 22, affordable long-term rental homes with an option to buy. We're talking about for women, for women on low incomes, to be able to rent these properties below market rent. This is an investment from the federal government through the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation through a concessional loan, and of course through the ACT government - they're investing $4.5 million here.

This is the type of project that will be possible when we get the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill through the Senate. What we're talking about here is an innovative project, working with other tiers of government, working with people in the community housing sector, working with people in the private sector. This is an innovative project, and it's one that we're really pleased to support. I think it also shows what's possible when we're all working together, and it shows what would be possible under the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill once it gets through the Senate, when we start seeing returns coming in each and every year. If you can imagine, where we're able to have projects like this are coming through each and every year as that fund is there in perpetuity, with returns going into more social and affordable rental homes right across Australia. I hand over to Minister Berry to say a few words about the ACT Government's investment.

YVETTE BERRY, ACT MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Thanks very much, Julie. Thank you for coming along to this exciting announcement today. This is exactly the kind of thing that we want to be doing more of in Canberra, where we can support women on low incomes who are under the age of 45 to have the chance to purchase a home on their own by building equity in a rental property. This partnership shows what we can do when we work together with the Federal Government's NHFIC program, with the community housing - Canberra Community Housing organisation - and the ACT Government, through its partnership, joint venture partner Riverview, out here at Ginninderry.

We know this is going to make a significant difference to people's lives. And so whilst I understand that there are concerns around how much funding is always provided by the Federal Government in these spaces, this shows what we can do if we have the money flowing and we can get started building on these projects right now. And that's the priority for us in the ACT, because we want to get more people into homes of their own. Particularly we want to focus on young women who haven't had the chance to build that equity, to be able to have even thinking about purchasing a home of their own and living in a sustainable, safe, accessible environment like out here in Ginninderry, in this beautiful community that will be welcoming towards them as well. Again, it's about the partnerships - the Federal Government, the ACT Government and the community housing sector working together to bring this really right outcome to people within the ACT and across the country. So of course, from the ACT government's perspective, we are open to more of these kinds of partnerships. We've always talked to our community housing providers about having skin in the game, and this is an example of where they've had skin in the game and we've been able to get that support from the Federal Government as well. So we'd welcome the Housing Australia Future Fund. We obviously all want to see more funding in housing, all of us across the country. But again, as I say, this is an example of where we work in partnership together, where we can achieve really great things. I’ll invite Andrew Hannan from Community Housing Canberra to say a few words.

ANDREW HANNAN, COMMUNITY HOUSING CANBERRA: Thanks, Minister Berry. Ministers, project stakeholders, other special guests and CHC directors. Thanks very much for your interest, and coming out of here today on this lovely Canberra day. Thanks very much NHFIC and Nathan Dal Bon, the CEO, for conceiving this idea and working alongside CHC and other stakeholders to refine the model over the past year. Thanks to the Ginninderry joint venture, David Maxwell, Steve Hardy and team for making it available for CHC a suitable site and leading the design and planning approvals processes. We currently await DA approval for the subject site. Thanks very much to the Federal Government through NHFIC for making available debt financed through both the Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator and also the National Housing Infrastructure Facility - and at competitive rates – and also the ACT Government for the generous grant to unlock the ability to proceed with this project. Thanks very much to the CFC board also for its support of this project.

So just a little bit about CFC. So CFC has been developing and managing affordable rentals for 25 years, and we are the largest provider in the ACT. We've been readying ourselves over the last year and beyond, to deliver step growth in social and affordable rental supply, to be enabled by supportive federal and territory level policies. We look forward to the passage, hopefully, of the HAFF legislation in the very near future and also the delivery of the Housing Accord commitments and the territory component of those commitments. This passage is absolutely critical to unlock the ability of community housing providers, CHC included, to deliver scale growth in the supply of social affordable rentals, which all independent reports and our own experience clearly highlight is needed. And that's not only in the ACT, but indeed all around the country.

Now briefly onto the women's housing initiative. This project is about supporting financially vulnerable women that are employed, but are not currently or reasonably foreseeable to be in a position to purchase a home under traditional models. And also to support their homeownership aspirations. The unique aspect of this project is that it provides affordable rental housing with an inbuilt pathway into homeownership. In terms of what good looks like for this pilot, it's that eligible women enter the program, then for a period of five to 10 years benefit from safe, secure affordable rental accommodation, enabling their own savings to grow and then are able to exercise an option to purchase and are equipped to do so with a 20 per cent deposit. This deposit will comprise their own savings with a target of any gap to be met by the program through its design, which has occupied a lot of our time over the past 12 months. With success, this pilot we would hope could be replicated on other sites within the ACT by CHC or other community housing providers, and indeed around the whole country. Again, we really appreciate the support of all stakeholders and look forward to the upcoming challenge of delivering a successful pilot to assist an initial group of 22 women and their households into homeownership and unlocking a model to enable this to occur at scale Australia-wide. Thank you.

COLLINS: Questions for any of us?

JOURNALIST: So you mentioned that we’re waiting for the housing bill to go to the Senate. Is this project dependent on that bill passing?

COLLINS: No, this project is not. This project is from the $575 million that the Federal Government unlocked late last year for more social and affordable homes right across the country. That came out of the Jobs and Skills Summit, and that money was unlocked before the end of last year so that we can start to get projects on the ground while we wait of course for funding from the National Housing Accord and of course from the Housing Australia Future Fund. What we're doing is, of course, is we're meeting with ministers at the state and territory level – like we have been with Yvette - and we've been talking to them about projects. We're meeting with community housing providers right across the country. We're also importantly talking to institutional investors. What we want to be able to do with the Housing Australia Future Fund is leverage also institutional investment into more social and affordable homes right across the country. You saw more action from the Federal Government just last week, when we were able to announce an additional $2 billion in financing for the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation. We do hope it becomes Housing Australia soon, so we don't all have that mouthful. And so that will be part of the bills as well. That $2 billion will be available in additional cheap loans for community housing providers from 1 July.

So this is an example of the type of innovation that we are talking about being able to do right across the country. This is the type of project, more of these will be possible if we get the Housing Australia Future Fund bill through the Parliament. We're talking about $10 billion upfront. We're talking about the single biggest investment in social and affordable rental housing from a federal government in more than a decade. And as I've said, it is on top of all of the other things that we're doing, including with the state Commonwealth housing agreements. We've just offered the states and the territories an additional year of funding while we work on a new agreement. We are talking about the National Housing Accord that came out of the last budget, where we're talking about another 10,000 affordable rental apartments across the country that states and territories will match.

We saw more outcomes of the National Cabinet last week, where we're talking about the national consistency around renters’ rights. I'm meeting with state and territory colleagues, the Housing Ministers are meeting in Canberra tomorrow, where we're going to start work on that important work to make sure that for the 35 per cent of renters across the country that we do have some consistency. So that renters have some rights and some understanding of what they are right across the country. We're talking about what we can do as a federal government, working with states and territories, and with local governments in other jurisdictions, as well as the community housing providers about how do we get more supply on the ground more quickly. How do we get more social and affordable rentals on the ground more quickly. We've also of course got up the National Supply and Affordability Council, who is undertaking important work. We're going to hear from them at the Housing Ministers meeting tomorrow about the work that they're undertaking, identifying and looking at the data and the evidence about what works to get more supply on the ground more quickly.

JOURNALIST: Based on what the Greens want, particularly with the rent freeze, is there any possible way forward on the HAFF bill? Or do you regard it as blocked?

COLLINS: What I would like to see is both the Liberal senators and the Green senators, and the crossbenchers in the Senate, think about the $10 billion that's on the table for this bill. If they think about people who are struggling to afford rent in Australia today, we're talking about 30,000 social and affordable rental homes in the first five years of the fund. This is an ambitious policy, particularly when you're lining up against all of the other policies that the Federal Labor Government has announced since we came to office. At every opportunity we have added more in terms of our election commitment of a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund.

I would say to senators, people in Australia are relying on this bill getting through. We've just heard from community housing providers. I've heard from when I was at conferences last week about how important this bill is because it provides certainty. It provides certainty that that investment is there on an ongoing basis, which means that we can do long term projects, long term planning, so that we're not in a situation that we're in in Australia today where we've had a federal government that did very little for a decade and we’ve now got housing challenges right across the country.

JOURNALIST: Do they have to drop the rent freeze? Is it a no-go zone, or is that just the end of it?

COLLINS: What I would say is, is we have a $10 billion bill on the table. What I would say to people is that there are people in Australia today who need that bill to get through. We're talking about very significant investments from a federal government. We're talking about the single biggest investment from a federal government in social and affordable rental housing in more than a decade.

JOURNALIST: Is rent control on the agenda tomorrow, at the Housing Ministers meeting?

COLLINS: What we're talking about is more rights for renters. What we're talking about at the Housing Ministers tomorrow is starting the process of looking at what innovations, what interventions, what policies each state and territory has when it comes to renters’ rights. What we're going to look at is some states have done an amazing amount of work and are leading the country, about sharing that information and looking at what can be done so that we can have some national consistency, so that renters run across the country know what their rights are.

JOURNALIST: When we built tens of thousands of houses, you know, in the 40s and 50s, we had one sort of mode of doing that which is public housing. Why do we need more complex or different sort of rental arrangements like this one?

COLLINS: What we're talking about is about working with other sectors and other tiers of government. What we're talking about is working with the situation that we faced in Australia today. What we're also talking about, of course, is leveraging some of that capital that is available in terms of institutional investment. No one tier of government is going to solve this alone. No one sector is going to be able to solve this alone. What we need is all of us working together. What we as a federal government want to do is we want to line up the Housing Australian Future Fund. We want to line up the Housing Accord. We want to line that up with the National Housing and Homelessness Plan and the next Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. We want all of us heading in the same direction with the construction sector, talking to them along the way about what are the capacity constraints, what is achievable, what we can do.

We are being told that our agenda is ambitious, and it is because it needs to be. But it's also achievable. What we want to do is we want to get on with the job of getting more Australians a safe, affordable place to call home.

JOURNALIST: I suppose what is the difference between this, these houses that are going to be built and public housing, social houses in the modern era?

COLLINS: Well, different states and territories are at different places when it comes to the type of stock and what they have available. We're working with the systems in Australia that are there today. You know, in terms of we're talking about, social and affordable rental homes. There is of course capacity also through the Housing Australia Future Fund to provide direct grants to community housing providers, plus also to states and territories for other proposals. We want to make sure that every jurisdiction in Australia gets a fair share of the Housing Australia Future Fund investments. We want to make sure that all Australians no matter where they need to get access to a safe, affordable place to call home.

JOURNALIST: So why has Canberra been chosen specifically for this pilot?

COLLINS: Well, what we are trying to do is to make sure that everywhere in Australia gets access to $575 million that we’ve unlocked. This is the first project in the ACT that we have worked through the National Housing Investment Finance Corporation, to be able to get to this stage. In talking to the Minister here, Minister Berry, and talking to NHFIC, we know that there are other projects. This is the first one that we've been able to sign off on. I look forward to having many more announcements in the ACT, particularly if we get the Housing Australia Future Fund bill through the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: I haven't heard you outline the government's position on the national rent freeze. Is it remotely acceptable to the Albanese Government?

COLLINS: Well, I don't think that you're going to get eight different jurisdictions across the country to agree on a particular thing. What we want to do is work with states and territories in the way that I've already outlined. We want to work with them around what they are doing in each jurisdiction when it comes to rentals in Australia, particularly around renters’ rights, to get some sort of national consistency.

JOURNALIST: So is the HAFF blocked unless the Greens fold?

COLLINS: Well, there are a range of senators and a range of parties in the Senate. But I would say to all senators, particularly Liberal senators, Greens senators and crossbench senators, is this Housing Australia Future Fund bill is an election commitment. We took it to the last election. We have put it into the parliament at the earliest opportunity. We want to get moving on this. The faster we can get the bill through the Parliament, the faster the returns start to flow and the more projects like this one here today we get off the ground.

JOURNALIST: Everyone loves a budget preview. There was some announcements obviously on Friday, as you outlined. Are we going to see something else for housing on Tuesday?

COLLINS: I'm not going to talk about what in or what's out of the budget other than the announcements that we've already made. We made some significant announcements late last week in relation to the additional $2 billion financing component for the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation. We also made some announcements around build to rent, and about depreciation for build to rent, to try and get again some more institutional investment when it comes to large scale, particularly apartments, right across the country. What we want to do as the federal government is we want to work with everybody right across the housing spectrum to get more hands on the ground more quickly. But importantly, like here today, we need to make sure they're the right homes in the right places.

JOURNALIST: Are you gonna give people over 55 an increase in JobSeeker?

COLLINS: I'm not going to rule things in or out, or participate in budget speculation other than the announcements we’ve already made.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

BERRY: Well, I'm one of those people whose family lived in one of those houses back in the day. And I think we're in very different circumstances to where we are now. We're experiencing across the country a crisis which we need to manage in a multifaceted way. And in partnerships, strong partnerships, like the example that we're providing today out here at Ginninderry. And this initiative out here was really Community Housing Canberra and Ginninderry, our joint venture partner Riverview, coming up with this idea and then working with NHFIC to actually bring this program to life. Understanding that what we need is for young women who don't have the means to get into a home of their own, giving them a kickstart along the way to build that equity, rent in the meantime, and then be able to – long term if they stay in that housing - to be able to purchase a home for themselves. These are the kinds of different products and initiatives that we're working on, in partnership with other organisations and other governments that we've never been able to do previously. Definitely not in the last decade.

So we're excited about those opportunities because there was zero from the former government. And now we have 10 billion on the table, which we are desperate to get a hold of to continue those partnerships and do more of these kinds of projects. This will make, you know - to these 22 people and their families, this is a game changer and life changing housing opportunities for them and their families. We just want to get out the door and build more homes. But we have always said we couldn't do it on our own. Partnerships with community housing is important, but the federal government coming on board is absolutely vital.

JOURNALIST: Why this specific group of people?

BERRY: So I think what we've been doing over the years is focusing on those different groups of individuals who have had the most need. So we've our Common Ground build in Gungahlin, it was identified by the sector that women - particularly single women, families with young children, over the age of 55 - were desperately in need of housing, and we should prioritise housing for them. So that's what we did. We made sure that housing was built, so that single families, single parent families, women and their children could have an affordable rental and get that social housing support. Here out at Ginninderry, we've identified that for young women who are in a job, who getting the equity that they need to purchase a home is just beyond their means, particularly for the key workers who might not be getting the same kind of incomes that people need these days to get a decent loan, to get into a home and have that sort of fair crack at happiness. This gives them an opportunity that they've never been able to see before.

JOURNALIST: While it's a pilot, it's unfortunate that only 22 people can sign up for it. I mean, what is the line like to get something like this? How many women are out there in this position in the ACT?

BERRY: [inaudible] not just here in the ACT, but across the country, which is why we want to do it. But we can’t do it on our own.

JOURNALIST: You said that people like key workers, people like teachers, nurses. Obviously their wages are controlled in the public sector. Are wage increases for those people on the cards as well to give them an opportunity to get into their homes?

BERRY: We’ve been negotiating in the ACT over several months for wage increases for public sector workers, including teachers, public service, trains, transport Canberra city workers, building service officers in schools. Those negotiations are continuing, and almost complete. And we're looking forward to announcing or having those agreements agreed to by those with that workforce. And so there will be wage increases. However, a single woman on a sort of lower to moderate income, for them to be able to feel that equity, they need a hand up. And that's what this provides.

JOURNALIST: Is the intention, okay, so that you identify that this specific group of people in this area, or perhaps a different grouping, we're going to be turning up to another press conference, which is blokes between 20 and 30 who are unemployed in Tuggeranong that sort of thing? Aer you going around and doing that specific, to small groups?

BERRY: That's what we have to do. It has to be targeted. So we've built housing for older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people targeting that particular cohort. Here we have younger women under 45, who are in employment, but just don't have the means to get the equity that they need to purchase a home of their own. This gives them a hand up, single women and their families at Gungahlin. But we rely on the sector to inform us about where is the need, what's the priority, and then we respond to that. And again, these partnerships are so powerful in being able to achieve those outcomes.