Minister Collins interview on The Project


HOST: Julie Collins is the National Housing Minister and is with us now. Minister, so as I said there, you're planning to build 1.2 million new homes over five years. It's an increase of 200,000 above previous plans. But immigration is meant to be at record levels too. We're on track to see 300,000 people this year alone. So, will this be enough?

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Look, what we have heard from experts is that we need to do more than the million homes. This is about us doing more. It's about working with the states and territories, working with the construction sector, about what's possible in terms of adding to supply. What we're talking about today is some of the most significant planning reforms that will occur in Australia. All states and territories. You're talking about here, Premiers and Chief Ministers, eight different jurisdictions, all agreeing to do planning reforms to get more homes on the ground.

HOST: But do the numbers add up? I suppose is what I'm asking. The increase that you're proposing here doesn't seem to match the increase just from immigration alone.

COLLINS: Look, this is what we're told will actually increase the numbers of homes. We know that the answer here is supply. We know that our million homes was ambitious but achievable. So, asking the states and territories to overshoot that by another 200,000 is very significant indeed.

HOST: So, New Zealand is encouraging medium density development across their major cities. This proposal seems to involve something similar. How much approval power will it involve taking away from the councils?

COLLINS: Well, we want to make sure that we have improved community consultation, but also that we have better time frames for getting what are reasonable developments up and medium density and higher density where it's appropriate. This is about making sure that zoning changes occur, planning changes occur, and that we get more uplift in particularly well located areas around things like public transport, schools, health care, and where people actually want to live and work.

HOST: Minister, have the states committed to this? You mentioned transport, schools, health care. There's a lot of work to be done. It's not just building 1.2 million houses.

COLLINS: That's right. And that's why we're talking here about some significant incentive payments from the Commonwealth. We're talking here about $3 billion at the end of the five years for states and territories that overshoot their target. We're talking about having $500 million on the table early to allow local governments and state governments to deal with some of the infrastructure constraints. For instance, if you want to do medium density in the middle of an inner city sometimes you've got to increase the size of the water pipes or the sewage pipes. We're talking about making sure that we have better precinct planning and that we have that community infrastructure.

HOST: So, can you hand on heart, say to people who are living in these areas that they're not going to be overrun by traffic, that there will be enough schools for people who are already there?

COLLINS: What we can say is that we're working with states and territories to make significant improvements. We've been pretty clear also that this isn't going to happen overnight. We can't click our fingers and fix everything straight away, but what we can do is move as quickly as we can and all head in the same direction.

HOST: Now, renters rights have been a big sticking point. Personally, I was a renter for 17 years, and some of the places you're in, the owners are terrible. The places aren't great. The rental standards aren't as strong as they are in some other parts of the world. And you've agreed to harmonise those rental standards, but how do you enforce them?

COLLINS: What we obviously want is states and territories to use the levers that they have available to them. We're talking about nine different reforms to improve renters rights. We're talking about things like minimum standards, making sure, for instance, that everybody has things like hot and cold running water, a working stove, but also importantly, making sure that we have things like reasonable grounds for evictions so that tenants can get things maintained, get things improved without any risk of eviction.

HOST: How in a country like Australia in 2023, can hot and cold water still be a thing that's up for debate?

COLLINS: Well, clearly the states and territories say that it shouldn't be, and we agree with them. And we're going to make sure that we have minimum standards for rentals.

HOST: Meanwhile, we have a lot of vacant dwellings in Australia. We've got a lot of short term rentals. So, these are people putting their properties on things like AirBnB. That seems like a lot of housing stock that could be ready to go now if you applied the appropriate policies to them. Does the government have any plan to address that?

COLLINS: Well, one of the nine things we're talking about in terms of the renters' rights is states and territories agreeing to look at short stay accommodation and what can be done. We know that the data and the evidence is showing that in some markets it's having a very significant impact, with what were properties that were previously available for long term leases now being for short term accommodation. So, it's about what levers do state governments, and indeed local governments have available to them and what actually works. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of evidence around what actually works with those interventions. But this is about states and territories agreeing to do more work to deal with this situation because it clearly is having an impact.

HOST: Would you consider something like a vacancy tax?

COLLINS: Well, federally we already have one. That would be states and territories to look at that. The information and the data that they have available to them about what these properties are and where they are is one of the challenges. So, we need to get better data and evidence as well. We do know that some local governments and some state governments have already moved. So, it's also about getting people like our Interim Supply and Affordability Council to look at that data and evidence about does this change behaviour? Is this improving things?

HOST: All right, so more to keep an eye on. I've got a feeling this story is not going anywhere in a hurry. We appreciate your time, Minister. Thank you.

COLLINS: Thanks very much Waleed.