Minister Collins interview on ABC Newsradio Breakfast


SUBJECT: Reintroducing the Housing Australia Future Fund

THOMAS ORITI, HOST: We’re joined now by the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Julie Collins. Minister, good morning.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Good morning to you, Thomas, and to your listeners today.

ORITI: Thank you for your time. Can I just ask you, what makes you think that the Greens and the Coalition will come to the table this time around and support the bill? They haven't up until this stage and they've made their feelings pretty clear about it.

COLLINS: Look, I hope that they have been talking to some of the community housing providers, some of the homelessness services, some people in the construction sector. I mean, there is broad support for getting this bill through the Parliament. When you've got the construction sector, you've got the housing sector and you've got the homelessness peak bodies all saying that they want this bill through the Parliament and they want it through quickly, I would hope that people would listen. We, of course, already have the support of some of the crossbenchers and most of the crossbenchers in the lower house supported it, other than the Greens. We even had a Liberal cross the floor and support it. I think that there are a lot of people that understand the urgency of this bill. What we're doing in terms of reintroducing the bill is about making sure that we use every opportunity available to us to get this bill through the Parliament. Our focus is on getting homes on the ground for people that need them most.

ORITI: Yeah, but isn't the issue here sorry to interrupt, but you mentioned there that you're confident that the sector and advocacy groups, they all want this bill to pass, they want to solve the problem, they want to build more houses. Isn't the issue here how the government's going about it, though? There's a big difference between solving the urgency of the problem and your plan.

COLLINS: Well, I think that they are supporting our plan and they are supporting our plan because what they want is they want the fund there in perpetuity, adding to social and affordable housing each and every year. And we've guaranteed a minimum of half a billion dollars each and every year in perpetuity. When you talk to the community housing sector, they say this will be a game changer for them. It will allow them to plan, it will allow them to have a pipeline of work instead of the stop start work that they have had in the past. When you've got the sector saying this is a game changer and that they're very supportive of the concept of the bill, when you've got residents like I had the privilege of chatting to yesterday who talk about how it changes their lives. Some of the residents I spoke to yesterday in new social homes in North West Tasmania were telling me that they had spent two years, every day, thinking about how and working out where they were going to sleep that night, and how they were going to eat. So, we have to turn this around. I hope that the Senators are talking to people like I am on the ground, who this will make a massive difference to. The Housing Australia Future Fund is not the only thing we are doing, but it is going to be a game changer for the community housing providers and indeed the construction sector, because they will be able to work with the community housing sector to have that pipeline of work.

ORITI: Let's say that's not happening though. Sorry to interrupt you there. Well, let's say that's not happening though and the Senators aren't having those discussions and the Senate refuses to pass the legislation again in October. What are the chances Labor will prompt this double dissolution?

COLLINS: Look, the Prime Minister's been pretty clear we don't want an election, certainly this year and our focus is about getting the bill through the Parliament. Our focus is about using every avenue available to us to get this bill through the Parliament. We need the bill through the Parliament because it is a critical part of our broader overall reform, because it's there in perpetuity.

ORITI: Not guaranteed. If you prompt a double dissolution though voters don't always reward parties for calling general elections. You could end up with a whole lot of micro parties in Parliament. That could be a tricky road as well. Malcolm Turnbull could probably tell us about his lessons there. I mean, you are rolling the dice with this if you do that.

COLLINS: Well, this will be up to the Liberal, National and Green Senators. This is up to them because they need to support this bill, because the people on the ground need this bill supported. The sector are asking them to support this. I mean, the peak bodies of the homelessness services are asking for it. The Property Council, the HIA, the Master Builders, everybody supports getting this bill through the Parliament because it's there in perpetuity, which stops some of the stop start investments from Federal Government in social and affordable housing. It means it's there forever. They can rely on it, they can get the pipeline to work and importantly, we can also then get institutional investment into social housing and we can leverage more homes on the ground more quickly.

ORITI: Do you accept it's a gamble though? If you were to call a double dissolution that they do not budge on this, you call a double dissolution. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to work in your favour either. And this housing bill will pass. Could be a lot worse if you go down that road.

COLLINS: Our focus is about getting homes on the ground. What we want to do is get the houses on the ground. Our entire focus, and me as Housing Minister since we've been into government with the support of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, is about adding to our broad housing agenda at every opportunity because this is urgent, we need to turn this around, we need to add to supply. Everybody tells us the issues for whether it be renters or whether it be for people with mortgages or people trying to purchase their own home is to add to supply. We don't have enough homes in Australia. We need to build more and we need to build them quickly.

ORITI: No one's denying the urgency of the issue, but let's just look at okay, let's look at what the Greens want, right? They are steadfast in their demands. They want rent freezes in return for their support, as we have canvassed on this program, so on rent, those issues, they're a matter for the States. We've put that to the Greens. They're saying, well, hang on, sure, but Anthony Albanese can put his negotiating hat on and talk to the States about getting something like that across. I mean, let's look at that key demand from the Greens. Would Labor be open to negotiating that when the bill is retabled?

COLLINS: We've been very clear that we don't have the levers available for rent freezes. Some of the states and territories have already ruled them out. What we have done is put national renters rights sorry, renters' rights on the National Cabinet agenda. What we want to make sure is that both renters and landlords in Australia are clear about what renters' rights are. What the states and territories do in terms of other renters' rights on top of that is up to them. So, we want to make sure that no renters lose any rights. But we do want some national consistency so that renters do have some understanding of what their rights are. But what we also want to do is to add to supply. And what we know the issue in terms of rents is to add to supply. That is the answer. To add to supply. That's what the experts tell us the answer is. The experts are saying things like rent freezes don't work and indeed they could make things worse in terms of future supply.

ORITI: What about another issue, Minister, and you mentioned this is only one part of your government's attempts to fix this crisis, the one-off $2 billion investment in social housing Labour announced in June. That still wasn't enough to win the support of the Greens last time. I mean, could there be more of those standalone payments while the Senate debates the bill again?

COLLINS: Look, our Social Housing Accelerator payment was about us talking to the construction sector and to states and territories and the dwelling approvals coming off faster than anticipated. You've seen, obviously, some pressure in the construction sector and this is about us providing to the states and territories, because we don't have the Housing Australia Future Fund, direct money as a one off. The point about that is it's a direct grant, one off, and we're relying on states and territories to deliver it. And they will be telling us by the end of August how they're going to invest that money. They do need to have expended or contracted that money within two years, so we want to see those homes on the ground more quickly. The whole point of having the Housing Australia Future Fund, though, is that it's there in perpetuity and not at the whims of future governments, so that people can rely on it, such as the states and territories and the community housing sector.

ORITI: Minister, thank you for your time. Appreciate it.

COLLINS: Thanks very much.