TOPICS: Energy Savings Package; Housing Australia Future Fund legislation.
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Hi, everyone. I'm Julie Collins. I’m the Federal Minister for Housing, Minister for Homelessness and Minister for Small Business. And it's great to be here with Assistant Minister Jenny McAllister, the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and particularly to be here with Jane from BRIC Housing. What we've been doing here today is talking to residents about how important it is that we improve the energy efficiency of social housing here in Australia, and particularly here in Bowen Hills. What we announced in the Budget was $300 million towards improving energy efficiency in social and public housing across the country. What we want to do is partner with state and territory governments. We know that the outcomes are better for tenants, and they're better for the environment. And this is a great initiative as part of our Budget and adds to the other things that we did in our budget in terms of housing: our changes to Build-to Rent, our changes to depreciation for Build-to-Rent, our additional $2 billion in financing for the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation, and, of course, our largest increase in more than 30 years to the Commonwealth Rental Assistance. We know that all of these things make a big difference. But I'll hand over now to Jenny to talk about today's announcement.
JENNY McALLISTER, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Well, it is terrific to be here. And I'm so very grateful Jane to you and all of your team, and most importantly to your residents for hosting us here today. The Albanese Government wants to make every watt count. For 10 years, the issue of energy performance was ignored and overlooked by the previous government. And the consequence of that is that Australians are literally paying for energy that is leaking out of cooler constructed homes will be wasted on inefficient appliance. Many Australian homes operating at just two stars out of ten. And the truth is Australians deserve better than that. That's what our Save Energy Save on Bills package in the Budget was all about. Giving as many Australians as possible the opportunity to access the technologies and the upgrades that will help them make their homes more comfortable and more affordable to run. It's a $1.6 billion package and, crucially, it includes specific funding for public and community housing. We know that many of the tenants in properties like these are the people who can least afford to pursue these technologies, but will benefit most. And that was the feedback of course today. This is a set of apartments where BRIC Housing has made a series of really important investments - upgrading the units to install split cycle, a commissioning and critically putting solar on the roof. Now the tenants have told us this morning what this has meant for them. It’s meant a save in their energy costs. And that has meant critically increased expenditure on food and the other essentials of life. It's meant an improvement to their health. Because all of the evidence tells us, particularly in hot climates like Queensland, that being able to get into a cool environment at night makes a great deal of difference. And as a flow on from that it makes a difference for employment. Because if you get a good night's sleep, you are far more likely to be able to get up the following morning and take shifts that’s offered to you. And they are three areas of improvement that the tenants that we spoke to this morning explicitly named as a consequence of living at these premises. Solar on the roof, and air conditioning in their rooms, it's a really important initiative. And it's why our Budget does include $300 million put aside, expressly for social housing. We're looking to partner with states and territories for them to put in money as well, to roll this out. We want to make sure that every watt counts and as many Australians as possible has the opportunity.
JANE WEST, BRIC HOUSING: Thank you, Ministers. You've stolen my lines, actually. So I did want to talk to you about the difference that this has made to our tenants here. Tenants on low incomes, who are renting their properties in social housing, we have been able to achieve through the solar here, a substantial weekly reduction in their energy bills and as you say that, that has given them the ability to be able to afford food, and to have the energy to secure employment. So we're very proud of what we've been able to do here as a community housing provider, we have been able to provide a really place based response where we've improved the amenity of the dwellings. We worked with the builder, who actually donated a solar system here pro bono as part of the refurbishment contracts. And we have also been able to put a staff, more of a staff presence on site. And what that has done, those things in combination have allowed us to create a second community here, where tenants are able to afford, they’re more able to afford the basic necessities and to create the conditions for themselves where they can progress with their lives. So we're proud of what we've been able to do. And we thank you Ministers for coming here today.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask how far the programs have stretched for your tenants? How many complexes have been able to be fit out with this?
WEST: This was a specific project. So we've got we've got one unit complex under construction, where we've received funding from the State Government to put a different state of the art unit sharing technology in. So that's, that's a second project. We have plans for a whole range of our unit complexes, and our tenants are telling us loud and clear what a huge difference that would make to them. So we're ready. And we're absolutely delighted that this funding is now going to be available to do these important things.
JOURNALIST: Have you seen an increase in demand for your services?
WEST: Generally speaking? Yes, I think there's obviously a big demand for social and affordable housing right across Australia, and Brisbane is not different from that.
JOURNALIST: Can you put it into context in terms of numbers?
WEST: So we're a community housing provider. So obviously, we would probably better to talk to a homelessness service, probably around the numbers in terms of homelessness. But I don't think any of us could not be aware that there's a big demand for social and affordable housing.
JOURNALIST: What is BRIC planning to do about increasing the supply of housing? Community housing?
WEST: Yes, so we have a strategy in place to grow, the number of units that we provide. So we provide 900 at the moment across Brisbane. And we've got strategy to do doing double that over the next five years. Obviously we will be doing that in partnership with federal government, the state government and the sooner we've got our plans ready. So the sooner we can get on with that, the better from our point of view.
JOURNALIST: There is a request to see housing targets put into place and then incentives or penalties for states and territories if they do or don't meet. Is that something that you consider?
COLLINS: It's already something that we're doing under the National Housing Accord. We already have an agreement with state and local government, the construction sector and indeed superannuation funds. And we have an aspirational target of a million homes over five years from 1 July 2024. We're talking, of course, about 30,000 social and affordable homes to be built in the first five years of the Housing Australia Future Fund that is currently unfortunately being held up in the Senate. And I put my call out today, like I have every day, for the Liberal senators and the Green senators to pass the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill. What we've seen and heard today, and what I hear every day, is this Fund is greatly needed. It's needed for the 4000 women and children who are fleeing family violence. It's needed for the older women at risk of homelessness. It's needed for veterans at risk of homelessness. And I would say to the senators, they need to get out of the way. We need to get on with building these homes. And we've heard today for BRIC housing about how important that partnership with other governments is going to be in terms of them doubling the number of apartments or units here in Queensland. We know how critical it is that we get this Bill through. The Bill has been supported by the community housing sector, it’s been supported by the HIA, by the Master Builders, by the homelessness services. Everybody knows it's critical we get this Bill through without further delay.
JOURNALIST: What’s the Government’s plan to get that Bill through?
COLLINS: We're obviously continuing conversations right across the Parliament. We have made some headway. We've obviously had Senators from the Jacqui Lambie Network and Senator Pocock, who supported bringing on the bill for a vote just last week. What I would say to those Liberal Senators and to the Greens Senators is they need to get on with it. They need to get out of our way and allow us to start building more homes right across Australia. We obviously already have homes underway right across the countries from the $575 million that we made available immediately. Our Housing Accord, which I just spoke to you about, we added to that in the October budget last year - another $350 million for another 10,000 affordable rentals, which the states and territories have said they'll match. We had more in the Budget just last week as I’ve outlined - changes to Build-to-Rent tax incentives, increase in the Commonwealth Rental Assistance. We are doing everything we can at every opportunity to get more homes on the ground more quickly. But central to that is the Housing Australia Future Fund, that is critical for unleashing institutional investment to social housing and affordable housing in Australia. We need to show people that this can be done and get those 30,000 homes on the ground as quickly as we can.
JOURNALIST: Why won't you negotiate with the Greens on this bill?
COLLINS: We have been negotiating with people right across the parliament. We had correspondence from the crossbench that outlined eight or nine different things that they wanted to see us working on. We have moved on every single element of those. We’re continuing discussions in good faith right across the parliament. But I would say to the Liberals and the Greens senators, this is dragging out. We need to get on, we need to get those homes on the ground.
JOURNALIST: So would the Federal Government penalise states and territories if they weren’t to pull their weight on building?
COLLINS: What we want to do is work with the states and territories. We've been doing that in a collaborative way. We’ve already had four meetings with the Housing Ministers. To give you an idea, under the former government they had one meeting in five years. We are working in collaboration with the states and territories, and the states and territories are lifting. They are also increasing their build programs for social and affordable housing. Only by working together will we be able to turn this around. No tier of government can solve this alone. We all need to be working together. We need to be working with the community housing providers, working with the construction sector, working with superannuation funds and institutional investments we need to leverage everything we can to get homes on the ground as quickly as we can.
JOURNALIST: Why won’t you agree to a floor for the Fund?
COLLINS: We are having in good faith conversations and discussions right across the Parliament about the Housing Australia Future Fund. We have made some amendments already in the House of Representatives, some of them suggested by the Crossbench. We got every crossbencher except for the Greens party and the Liberals. We even got one Liberal to cross the floor in the House of Representatives. We're engaging constructively right across the parliament.