Minister Collins doorstop interview regarding the Housing Australia Future Fund


TOPIC: The Housing Australia Future Fund.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Today what we've seen is the Parliament passed the Housing Australia Future Fund. The Future Fund is a $10 billion fund. It is the single biggest investment in social and affordable housing in more than a decade. This fund in its first five years, we anticipate, will build 30,000 social and affordable homes - 20,000 social homes, 10,000 affordable homes for key workers. 4000 of the homes will be for women and children fleeing family violence, and older women at risk of homelessness. We also will put in $200 million in the first five years into remote Indigenous housing for repairs, a $100 million for transitional accommodation for emergency housing, and $30 million for veterans who are at risk of homelessness for housing and services.

This is a significant win today for people. For those Australians who are currently waiting on social or public housing waiting lists. This means that there in perpetuity, there will be an ongoing pipeline of funding, in addition to all of the other things that the states and the federal government is doing in terms of housing. What this reliable source of funding means is that community housing providers, that states and institutional investors can with confidence invest in social and affordable housing. This will change the architecture of how social and affordable housing is funded in Australia for the better.

But this has always been about people. This has always been about those Australians who are doing it tough, that need a safe, affordable place to call home. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minster, today the ABS reported that 562,000 increase in the population over the last 12 months, the biggest ever. In the first three months of the year, 2000 people a day added to the population. Is enough housing being built? How much of a dent will this make, because it doesn't start till next year? And can the current rate of immigration continue?

COLLINS: Well, we've obviously said that we're focused on restoring the integrity of the migration system, and the Home Affairs Minister has been looking at some visas and reviewing some parts of the Migration Act in relation to that. But what I would say in terms of housing is that's why we brought National Cabinet together. That's why we have the $3 billion New Homes Bonus. That's why we've moved the target to 1.2 million homes right across the country. And we're talking about homes of every type here. We're talking about social and public housing, we're talking about rental housing, and we're talking about private housing. And we have policies right across the housing spectrum to address all of those, working with states and territories to meet that target. Importantly, part of the National Cabinet reforms allow for the states and territories to be incentivised to do planning and zoning reform to get more homes on the ground. You also saw in the last budget some significant changes from the Commonwealth in relation to build-to-rent, and some of the changes there that is estimated by the Property Council to add another 120 to 300,000 additional rental homes over the decade, so that is considerable by making some changes. We've obviously also had our interim Supply and Affordability Council - that I'm pleased to say will become the Supply and Affordability Council - provide recommendations to the government about how we get more institutional investment, particularly in large scale rental affordability. So we want to work with the sector and with investors to get that investment, so we can get more homes on the ground more quickly.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what sort of yardstick will you and the government be using to determine or oversee how these 30,000 homes, how quickly they'll be built over the next five years or so? How confident are you of that particular target being met? And also for the first houses being built as part of this scheme, is there any area of priority or demographic group that will be targeted first or an area of the country that will be started out?

COLLINS: Yeah, we obviously already have homes underway today because we unlocked the $575 million immediately. We also of course have provided the $2 billion Social Housing Accelerator to the states and territories. They're already doing preparatory work and have already put in some submissions on how they want to spend those funds. So what we're talking about with the Housing Australia Future Fund is in addition to that. We already have community housing providers who are telling us that they have properties ready to go. Properties that they have DAs already approved for, land they already own and they can get underway once the certainty of the Bill had passed - even before we get the returns that will be coming each year from the Housing Australia Future Fund. All they needed was the certainty that those funds were coming to get houses underway. So we have been talking to the community housing providers and to states, and they all have a pipeline of things ready to go. And that is the point of the fund being there in perpetuity. That's why we fought so hard to have the Housing Australia Future Fund, so that there can be a long-term pipeline of social and affordable housing on an ongoing basis in Australia.

JOURNALIST: The Greens have identified the Help to Buy scheme as the next pressure point to argue for rent caps and rent freezes. What's your message for them going into the next round of housing negotiations? And do you relish the prospect of more months of sitting opposite Max Chandler-Mather at the bargaining table?

COLLINS: We're obviously committed to our Help to Buy shared equity scheme, and what we saw out of National Cabinet was the states and territories agree that they would pass legislation to allow us to run a national scheme, which I think is important for Australians. What I would say is, is that we know the answer to those Australians who are doing it tough - and we understand that renters are doing it tough - is that the answer here is supply. That's also what the National Cabinet was about. It was about those planning and zoning reforms, it was about incentivising states and territories, it was about the 1.2 million homes target. Supply is the answer to putting downward pressure on rents. We also, of course, have the renters’ rights stuff that was on National Cabinet whereby we will be working with states and territories to have some national consistency around renters’ rights.

JOURNALIST: Minster, on Monday we saw Helen Haines indicate she would like to see the National Housing Infrastructure Facility mandate a certain percentage of their funds go to the regions to build enabling infrastructure. Are you confident that when building in the regions you won't encounter roadblocks, such as roads not being there or high costs of connecting new electricity?

COLLINS: Yeah, we've had some good conversations with the crossbench, including the Member for Indi. That's why at National Cabinet, of course, we had the $3 billion New Homes Bonus. We also have the $500 million, so half a billion dollars there, in terms of support for local and state governments to enable some of that construction to get underway in those local communities. We want homes, and rural and regional Australia to get their fair share of these homes. We want to make sure that the homes go to where they're needed, that they're well located. And we understand that particularly in some regional towns and centres in Australia, there is a serious issue because key workers have nowhere to live.

JOURNALIST: It's going to take some time for these houses to start being built. And I think earlier this week, you said that there has been a cost some of the delays in these negotiations playing out. You pointed there to an increase in supply being one of the most important factors in helping renters, but again that relief is not, that's not going to come into the system for some time. Renters that are doing it tough right now, what have you got to offer them?

COLLINS: Well, we've obviously made changes to the build-to-rent, to allow more construction of those types of dwellings to go on. We also, of course, have increased the Commonwealth rental assistance, for those that are eligible. It's the largest increase in more than 30 years - a 15 per cent increase to the maximum rate. And of course, the national renters’ rights - working with the states and territories to improve renters’ rights, to make sure that people have things like fair grounds for eviction. Making sure that people can only get a rental increase once a year. Making sure that people have more secure tenure. And we're working, of course, with institutional investors on the build-to-rent stuff to try and make sure that we can look at ways of encouraging longer term leases and making sure that people have more secure tenure when they rent.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you've just mentioned the renters’ rights work with the states and territories. You're handing states and territories billions of dollars to help build new housing, renovate old existing stock. Do you have hopeful timelines for when you actually see some agreement and some final plans there between the state and territory ministers and yourself?

COLLINS: Well, we've been talking to states and territory ministers coming out of National Cabinet. We obviously have another meeting of state and territory housing ministers before the end of the year. We'll be progressing it as quickly as we can. Obviously, states and territories have their own timeframes and their own priorities. But we all understand that renters have been doing it pretty tough in Australia, and we want to make sure that we move as quickly as we can. But we're obviously relying on eight different jurisdictions to move, and they obviously won't all move at the same time. But we do want to see some improvements in coming months.

JOURNALIST: Why did it take until June to offer the $2 billion social affordable housing accelerator and until this week to offer $1 billion for public and community housing?

COLLINS: We've been working with the crossbench, and we've also been working with states and territories and the construction sector. One of the things we've been really careful about is not to add to inflation, and not to add to the cost of construction, and how the sector is able to actually absorb the funds that are going in. We wanted to make sure that that was done in a careful and calibrated way. What we saw was particularly detached residential dwellings drop off faster than anticipated by the sector. So that was when we made a decision in relation to the Social Housing Accelerator. We want to make sure that as there's capacity in the sector that we can fill it with social and affordable housing. But we also have to be cognisant of what the states and territories are doing at the same time, and what the sector can deal with because we don't want to add considerably to inflation or construction costs. All right. Thanks very much.