TOPICS: Hamas-Israel conflict, Housing Australia Future Fund legislation and the Albanese Government’s ambitious housing agenda, the Voice.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: On that front, let's bring in the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Julie Collins. Minister, good morning to you.
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Good morning, Michael, and to your viewers today.
ROWLAND: Great to have you on board. I want to get to the housing crisis in just a moment, but back to the Middle East. Can you confirm reports that a Sydney grandmother has died in the fighting there in Israel?
COLLINS: Look, I'm advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that we do hold grave concerns for particularly one Australian. I'm not in a position to make any confirmation. We obviously have to go through official processes, as I'm sure you understand, particularly given privacy of individuals. But we are concerned for all Australians who are currently in Israel, and we're doing everything we can do. And the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is working around the clock to keep as many Australians safe as we can.
ROWLAND: Okay, we spoke to one Australian in Israel on the show earlier, Keanu Vicente. He is quite worried about getting out of Israel. Minister, here's what he told us.
KEANU VICENTE: Absolutely. I feel a bit stranded, especially when I'm seeing constant other repatriation flights coming from other countries. So, it would feel a lot safer and a lot more guaranteed to have the Australian Government doing those flights for all of the Australians here.
ROWLAND: Julie Collins. Will Australia put on repatriation flights to Israel?
COLLINS: Well, what we would say to Australians currently in Israel is leave if you can commercially, as quickly as you can. We're obviously looking at what other options are available, and we're looking at all options to keep as many Australians safe as we can. I understand there's around 10,000 Australians currently in Israel, so it is a significant number and we're looking at what options are available.
ROWLAND: Do those options include repatriation flights?
COLLINS: We're looking at all options available, Michael. We want to make sure that we do the very best we can do to keep Australians safe.
ROWLAND: Do you echo your colleague Penny Wong's plea for restraint on all sides to protect civilian lives?
COLLINS: Yeah, we obviously want to make sure that innocent Israelis, that innocent people, are not hurt in this conflict, as much as possible. I mean, what we've seen really is quite devastating. I think that all Australians are concerned by what they've seen in recent days,and are very concerned that innocent lives are being destroyed here. It is heartbreaking.
ROWLAND: Okay, let's move on to the housing crisis. You're giving a key speech on that front later today. Now, the Government has got through Parliament its Housing Australia Future Fund, but still concerns around that the promised houses, promised social and affordable houses are simply a drop in the bucket. What do you say to those concerns?
COLLINS: Well, obviously what we're doing as a Federal Government is that for the first time in a long time is we've got a Federal Government stepping up to the plate. The Housing Australia Future Fund is an important part of that. It means that there'll be funding there ongoing in perpetuity that will allow the community housing sector, and indeed state and territory governments, to build a pipeline of homes ongoing so that we don't have this stop start in terms of social and public housing in Australia. We want to see a continuous pipeline. That's what the Housing Australia Future Fund is about. We do anticipate that we'll be able to build around 30,000 social and affordable homes in the first five years of the fund. We're in the process of getting that up and running. But in the meantime, of course, we're already adding to supply. We've already unlocked the $575 million that we did late last year and there are homes under construction today. We, of course, have another 10,000 homes as part of the National Housing Accord that will start on 1 July next year. We've already provided the states with $2 billion in terms of the Social Housing Accelerator. I was in Queensland yesterday, as you said, and I've already announced with the Queensland Government that the funding that we're providing to Queensland – it’s $398 million – will build another 600 social homes in Queensland, on top of what the state government is doing. We, of course, through National Cabinet, have an aspirational target of 1.2 million homes from 1 July 2024. That's homes of all types. We're working right across the housing spectrum. We're also trying to help Australians into their own home with changes to the Home Guarantee Scheme and, of course, the Help to Buy home equity scheme that we will be introducing as states and territories legislate for that. So, we are working with states and territories, with the sector. We want to get as many homes on the ground as fast as we can, Michael. You cannot turn around a decade of very little investment in just a year. But we're working hard every day to get as many houses on the ground as quickly as we can. And we're working with states and territories and with the sector to do that.
ROWLAND: You talk about the pipeline of funding which is in place, but one of the big concerns is a lack of a pipeline of workers, tradies to build these houses. The federal government's got its scheme. Various states and territories have their own housing schemes. What do you say to concerns from within the industry that you might have these aspirations, but there simply are not enough workers to help you achieve your goals?
COLLINS: We're obviously working closely with the construction sector and talking with them. They anticipate that they'll have more capacity in the second half of this year, later this year, and early next year. We hope to fill that with more social and affordable homes. But in the meantime, of course, we have fee free TAFE for those trades that are in demand. We're working with the sector about that. That pipeline of funding is also critical to training workers into the future, Michael. So, that is what we're trying to do, work with the states and territories and work with the sector to make sure that we have the workers available to build these homes. We know it's going to be difficult, but we have to be ambitious. We have to try and turn around the housing challenges in Australia and we're not going to do it without any ambition.
ROWLAND: And finally, we are in the last few days campaigning for The Voice referendum. Julie Collins, I know you've been in politics for a long time. Given that, are you prepared for a disappointing night on Saturday?
COLLINS: Well, I'm out campaigning for a Yes vote for The Voice on the weekend. I certainly know, as Housing Minister and my discussions with Indigenous Australians, how important this will be to dealing with some of the housing challenges, listening to Indigenous organisations about solutions for them in housing. And we'll of course continue to do that, but I'm out every day campaigning for a Yes vote. I'll be back in my electorate later this week doing just that, and I'll be doing it all the way up to 6pm on Saturday.
ROWLAND: Do you believe the Yes vote can succeed?
COLLINS: I think that without a Yes vote that we will struggle. We'll continue to have the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and we will not be able to progress closing the gap effectively without a Yes vote on Saturday. I'm advocating a Yes vote and I'll continue to work hard for that.
ROWLAND: Minister, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
COLLINS: Thank you, Michael.