TOPICS: The Housing Australia Future Fund; Karen Andrews.
EMMA REBELLATO, HOST: Housing Minister Julie Collins joins us now from Parliament. Housing Minister, good morning to you.
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Good morning, Emma. How are you this morning?
REBELLATO: Very well, thank you. Well, let's start with the extra $1 billion that the Greens have secured on public and community housing. So, how will this be spent? How quickly will it be spent?
COLLINS: What we've done, of course, to get our $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund Bill through the Parliament is we have negotiated right across the Parliament with a range of crossbenchers in the Senate and in the House to make sure that we can improve our bill, and to make sure that we get homes on the ground as quickly as possible. What we've been very careful about is making sure that we time this well, that we get homes under construction as fast as possible, and we have homes under construction today. What we wanted to do was make sure that we didn't add to inflation or add to construction costs.
REBELLATO: So, you want these homes to be built quickly. We know at the moment people are sleeping in tents, they're sleeping in cars, they're couch surfing. What do you say to those people? Are we going to be seeing new homes that they can move into in six months, one year? What's the timeline here?
COLLINS: We're obviously very concerned about the number of people who are dealing with homelessness or at risk of homelessness, which is why we're so determined to get our $10 billion Fund through the Parliament. But as I said, we do have homes under construction today because of the $575 million that we unlocked late last year and the $2 billion in extra financing that we've given our National Housing Finance Investment Corporation, that will become Housing Australia. So, we've done that already and we have homes under construction today. What this allows us to do, of course, is to set up the Fund and to have the returns going into more social housing each and every year. So, what this will do is allow people to have a pipeline of construction, both the community housing providers and the states and territories, so that we're not in this position again where we haven't had any investment in social and public housing in a very long time. We've been completely upfront with the Australian people. We have ambitious housing policies - 1.2 million homes over five years, from 1 July 2024. We want homes of every type. We want more social housing and public housing. We want more private housing, more rentals. We need to build houses of every type, but obviously the government doesn't build all of those. We need to have incentives and systems in place, and work with the states and territories who have a lot of the levers to get more houses on the ground.
REBELLATO: Well, you said it. These are ambitious goals and included in that is the target of 30,000 new and affordable social homes to be built in the first five years. Can you guarantee that that will happen in that time frame?
COLLINS: Look, we're confident we can meet the 30,000 in the first five years of the Fund working with Housing Australia. As I said, we already have homes under construction today. We also, of course, understand that this is not the only thing. We also have already given and provided the states with the $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator. They are providing plans now. That money needs to be out the door within two years. We are starting to build homes across Australia from various measures that the government has already taken. The Housing Australia Future Fund is an important part of that, but it is not the only thing. And it's important because it is there forever, with returns going into the sector each and every year over the long term.
REBELLATO: What do you say to young people, people in their 20s who are living through this housing crisis? Should they give up on their dream of owning their own home? Will this help them?
COLLINS: Absolutely not. As I said, we're building and working with the sector and with states and territories for homes of every type to get on the ground. We know that Australians, and particularly young Australians, have been doing it tough. We also have helped more than 67,000 people into their own homes through changes we've made to the Home Guarantee Scheme. We, of course, have our Help to Buy shared equity scheme coming up next year. We've just had the states and territories agree that they will legislate to allow us to do a national scheme next year. This is whereby the government has some equity and helps people purchase houses, needing less deposit and less of a mortgage. So, we're working right across the housing spectrum to help Australians into a safe, affordable place to call home. But we know that ultimately, the answer to putting downward pressure on rents and downward pressure on house prices is more supply. And that's what we're focused on.
REBELLATO: Well, speaking of rentals, the Greens say they are not going to be giving up on their demands for a rent freeze and a cap. Are they wasting their time?
COLLINS: Look, we've been very clear from the outset, we don't have the levers the states and territories do. What we have done with the states and territories is we're having some national consistency and improving renters’ rights right across the country because we know renters have been doing it tough. But as I said, we know that the answer for putting downward pressure on rent is more supply of rental properties. The 30,000 homes in the first five years of the Housing Australia Future Fund, we're talking rental homes - social and affordable rental homes. I'm in Sydney this morning talking to the private sector about trying to get more superannuation funds to invest in more build-to-rent rentals here in Australia, like they already do overseas. We are working right across the housing spectrum to get more rentals and more homes for Australians on the ground.
REBELLATO: Minister, we've heard from this morning, the former Coalition Cabinet Minister Karen Andrews speaking to Annabel Crabb. She revealed she endured sustained harassment inside the House of Representatives. A male colleague regularly breathed on the back of her neck. Were you aware of this? What's your reaction? Is this still happening in Parliament?
COLLINS: That is appalling. I was not aware of it, and I am very sorry that that has happened. It shouldn't happen to anybody in any Australian workplace, and the Australian Parliament should be setting the standard. We need better from everybody that works in that building, and that's why we're so determined to improve the conditions for the people that work in the Parliament House. But we shouldn't have that type of behaviour. That is just appalling.
REBELLATO: And will the Government be following this up today in Parliament?
COLLINS: Well, obviously, we're all about lifting the standard. We had the Kate Jenkins inquiry, we're implementing those recommendations. There's currently legislation in the Parliament to try and deal with some of the issues in terms of making the workplace safer. This is just extraordinary and it should not happen in any workplace, let alone Parliament House.
REBELLATO: House Housing Minister Julie Collins. Thank you for joining us from Sydney this morning.
COLLINS: Thanks very much, Emma.