Minister Collins interview with Mike O’Loughlin on Tasmania Talks


MIKE O’LOUGHLIN, HOST: Joining me now to tell us more is Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Tassie’s own Julie Collins. Minister good morning. Thanks for your time. Welcome back to Tasmania Talks.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Thank you, Mike, and good morning to your listeners.

O’LOUGHLIN: First of all, tell us a little bit about National Homelessness Week this year, what it means to you.

COLLINS: Well, obviously there are far too many Australians who are doing it tough who don’t have a safe place to call home. And what we need I think and what the country certainly voted for in May was for some national leadership on housing and housing affordability, and that’s what we want to do. We’ve got a suite of policies around improving housing affordability generally across the country. Now we know there’s no silver bullet, but what we want to do is we want to work with states and territories and with the community housing sector, with the private sector, and with the building and construction industry, to make sure that we are all heading in the same direction so that we actually have a plan to address housing and homelessness across the country.

O’LOUGHLIN: You must admit, though, having a theme that says “To end homelessness we need a plan” – well, yeah, we need a plan. I think we have for some years.

COLLINS: Absolutely, and I think that what that means is that, you know, under the former Government, after nine years there was not the national leadership shown that was required. And when we had our first meeting of Housing Ministers in almost five years just a few weeks ago, Housing Ministers around the country were pleased to see a Federal Government stepping up. They were pleased to see some national leadership and we also had a lot of enthusiasm and agreement about working together on a National Plan for Housing and Homelessness. How are we all going with work together? How are we going to, you know, improve effort by working together, rather than everyone working in silos.

O’LOUGHLIN: What’s the situation at the moment? I mean, how many Australians – let’s go over the, you know, federally, if you will, experiencing homelessness, Minister, at this stage?

COLLINS: So, it’s 116,000 according to the 2016 census. What we expect next year is the latest census data and, sadly, I think that that would show an increase. Previously, it showed an increase, so the numbers aren’t getting any better. So, we certainly need a really serious plan. The other thing we need, Mike, is we need data and evidence about what is working. We need to make sure that when we are investing taxpayers’ money, that we’re getting the best possible return and housing as many people as possible with that.

O’LOUGHLIN: The Albanese Government has committed to delivering – look it really does read as a very ambitious housing reform agenda, but it includes a new National Housing and Homelessness Plan. Can you talk us through that?

COLLINS: So, with our National Housing and Homelessness Plan, what we want to do is, as I said, work with the States and Territories, with the community housing providers, with the sector and the building and construction industry around a national plan. We want to have some short‑term implementation things that we can do, some medium term and some longer term. As I said, we know there’s no silver bullet, but we do want to work as quickly as we can. We know that States and Territories have been stepping up and they’re all putting in a bit more effort, but what we need is to make sure is we’re all heading in the same direction, and we’re agreed on what that direction is about how we’re going to deal with this. We also need to share the data and the evidence about what programs are working best and how we’re getting the best value return for the taxpayer in terms of the investment.

O’LOUGHLIN: That’s where you’ll need the data because one of the key goals is, as you’ve touched on, to identify ways to improve outcomes for Australians at risk of or experiencing homelessness. I mean, so “at risk of”. So obviously, you’re looking at, okay, we just want to get them before they actually do experience it as such.

COLLINS: That’s exactly right. We also obviously have the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with states and territories, which we’ll also offer the states an additional year of funding of that to provide certainty to providers of services, particularly homelessness services, while we work on the national plan. And that’s for Tasmania a significant amount of money under that agreement. It’s $35 million a year going to the state of Tasmania.

O’LOUGHLIN: And the State of Tasmania says thank you very much, but it’s probably never enough, as you know yourself.

COLLINS: We’ve also got our Housing Australia Future Fund, Mike, which is a $10 billion fund, which is going to build across the country 30,000 social and affordable houses in the first five years. And some of the first returns from that fund we will be investing in repair and maintenance and improvements of housing in remote indigenous communities; $100 million of it we want to put to crisis accommodation, particularly for women and children fleeing family violence and for older woman who are at risk on low incomes of homelessness; and we also want to invest in veterans and veterans services in terms of those that are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. So, we have said that they will be some investments that we’ll make early in terms of the fund.

O’LOUGHLIN: Tell me, though – I’m speaking with Julie Collins by the way, Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness. Minister, that’s a fairly grandiose plan, 30,000 social and affordable homes within the first five years. Everybody’s saying we can build this, but there seems to be at the moment shortage of, well, places to put the homes, shortage of building requirements, as you need timber et cetera, and then you’ve got the tradies. So, tell us, if they’re based all over Australia, how many will we actually get in Tassie? Is there a number?

COLLINS: So, there isn’t at this stage. What we’re trying to do is work with the states and territories, with local government and with housing providers about how do we get as many homes on the ground as quickly as possible, how do we make sure they’re the right types of homes in the right places for the people who need them. So, we’re working on that at the moment. We’ve got lots of ideas and submissions from not‑for‑profit organisations, from states and territories, about what the opportunities are. We do understand that there are issues around workforce and there are issues around supply chains, but that’s also why we’ve got other policies in terms of fee‑free TAFE for areas of workforce shortage, and why we’re having a Jobs Summit on 1 and 2 September to try to deal with some of these workforce shortages. And in terms of the supply chains, we’ve obviously also made election commitments that we’re delivering on in relation to actually manufacturing and doing more here in Australia to deal with some of those supply chains. And we’ve got a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund that we’ll start to deal with that and some other supply chains. But we do accept they are all issues. Talking to the building and construction sector, they tell me this can be done, and certainly the social housing providers tell me that this can be done. And other thing we want to do is make sure that the 30,000 nationally is on top of the efforts that are happening by states and territories at the moment. So, we estimate that the States and Territories are building around 15,000 over the next two years collectively between them right across the country, so we want our affordable and social housing to be on top of that.

O’LOUGHLIN: I know social housing in Australia, I believe, I was reading has shrunk from 4.8 per cent of all homes in 2011 to 4.2 per cent in 2021. And one in seven people coming to homelessness services this is Australia are young people on their own. There’s a – you’ve probably heard of Everybody’s Home. It’s a national campaign to fix the housing crisis in Australia. They are asking for supporters to seek a meeting with your local MP and ask with them sign the social housing pledge to support investment in more social housing. Have you seen that?

COLLINS: Yeah, I have seen it and certainly some of my colleagues have signed it, and that’s what we want to do. We want to invest in more social and affordable houses across the country. The social and affordable houses from 2014 to 2021 in Australia increased only slightly. There’s about 440,000 social houses across the country, we understand, at the moment. So, we want to make sure that we grow that.

O’LOUGHLIN: I know there’s as you also touched on that funding for transitional housing options for women and children fleeing family and domestic violence. I mean that’s a crucial, crucial commitment. Tell me more about that.

COLLINS: Yeah, so we’ve been talking to some of the shelters in terms of state governments around how we can support that. So, as soon as we create the Housing Australia Future Fund and we start to get some dividends from it, which we expect to be in the second half of next year, we can start investing in some of that. We’re also trying to look at ways we can do some of that sooner knowing that there are immediate needs out there in our local community and we want to work with states, territories and providers around what can be done immediately and longer term. We’re trying to be ambitious. We think that this situation and the housing affordability actually needs ambition, to be honest, Mike. So, we want to work really hard with people and, you know, we’ve been trying really hard, and we’ve started with the meeting with the Ministers, as I said, the first in almost five years. And we’re working hard on also the program to get people into the private market our Help to Buy Scheme and our Regional First Home Buyers Support Scheme that we’re working on at the moment.

O’LOUGHLIN: Ambition is great, but immediacy is greater, isn’t it?

COLLINS: Absolutely it is, yes. But, I mean, we can’t fix nine years of neglect in nine weeks, but we’re certainly doing our very best to try to get on top of it as a government.

O’LOUGHLIN: As well as funding for older women on low incomes, I believe, who are facing homelessness, I mean, this is really quite a dreadful situation and it’s big in Tasmania, isn’t it? You touched on that as well. I mean, low incomes and the cost of living – ridiculous. High rents – ridiculous.

COLLINS: We know that people are doing it really tough and I have to say, as a local member, I’ve had more people coming into my office in the last 12 months at risk of homelessness than I have had before in them last, you know, decade or so as being a local member; I’ve not seen anything like it and it’s really critical out there and so many Tasmanians and Australians out there are doing it really tough with increased inflation, you know increased interest rates for those who have a mortgage, and then there’s those who are trying to get into the rental market whose leases have come up, people are finding it really difficult. We want to do what we can as quickly as we can.

O’LOUGHLIN: I know Tasmania’s Housing Minister says it’s not acceptable. Priority applicants – priority applicants, they’re waiting up to 67 weeks to be placed into social housing and according to the latest Communities Tasmania Housing Dashboard report, there are 4,453 outstanding applications for social housing, which is an increase of 100 since January and priority applicants are waiting, as I said, 67 weeks for placement.

COLLINS: Yes. We absolutely need to do better. But, as I said, you know, we’ve come to Federal Government. We’ve been here for nine weeks. We haven’t been there for nine years or decade. We’re trying to address it as quickly as we can. We’re stepping up and showing some national leadership and we want to work with the states and territories to turn some of this around.

O’LOUGHLIN: I know Shelter Tas chief executive Pattie Chugg said the organisation is going to lobby for an increase in the proportion of affordable and social housing from the current six per cent to 10 per cent. Would you back that?

COLLINS: Well, we’re obviously backing more investment in social and affordable housing with our Housing Australia Future Fund. We do think the Federal Government has a role to play in providing social and affordable housing. We did do that last time we were in Federal Government, and we want to do again this time. And we’ve been pretty upfront with Australians that we’ve got a very significant commitment.

O’LOUGHLIN: I notice you’ve touched on also help for veterans, and I think that’s just incredibly important as well as older people. You’ve got, what, $30 million for specialist services?

COLLINS: That’s correct, yeah, for veterans who are at risk of homelessness or who are homeless to provide them with the support they need to be able to secure housing and then to be able to stay in housing. You know, we know that some people, veterans particularly with some of the issues that they have coming out of the Defence Force, that we need to look after them better.

O’LOUGHLIN: And $250 million for repairs, I believe, repairs, maintenance and improvements of housing in remote Indigenous communities. You also touched on that. When will we see these things rolled out?

COLLINS: Well, we hope to, as I said, once the fund is established, start to see some funding going towards the end of next year. We know that overcrowding in remote Indigenous communities and some of the maintenance really needs to be improved. But, you know, we also are working as I said on some of the other programs that we announced prior to the election, the Help to Buy and Regional First Home Buyers Support Scheme, which we also hope to get up quite quickly. I’m hoping we can get those programs up and running by early next year. And that’s a Government equity scheme, the Help to Buy. So that would be where people who can’t afford to take out large mortgages to get into the market, the Government will go as an equity partner in purchasing the home so the Government for existing homes will be up to 30 per cent and for new homes up to 40 per cent.

O’LOUGHLIN: And I know we have to go shortly. I believe with National Homelessness Week “To end homelessness we need a plan”, as it states, but do you think your plan will be able to do this, end homelessness in what particular time frame are you looking at?

COLLINS: Well, we haven’t made a declaration around that, Mike. You know, as I said we want to be ambitious, but we also want to under‑promise and over‑deliver in terms of what we’re saying to the Australian people. We want to do as much as we possibly can do, and we want to show national leadership. To have a Prime Minister put housing and homelessness back in the Cabinet, to have a Prime Minister who has a really, deep personal connection to providing social housing, as you would have heard from his story, I think shows there’s national leadership at this level, and we’ve got a whole fleet of policies and we’re investing significantly by a Federal Government for the first time in a long time.

O’LOUGHLIN: Minister, I’ve got Sharon from South Launceston wanting to ask you a quick question. Have we time? Can you allow that for me?

COLLINS: I can do a very quick question, yes. I’ve got to be in a meeting in less than five minutes.

O’LOUGHLIN: Okay. Well, hang on. Stay where you are. Sharon. Good morning to you. You’re in South Lonnie. What’s your question for Minister Julie Collins? How are you?

SHARON: Well, to make it – I’m good, thank you. To make it quick then, is she aware that the retirement villages that house affordable living for retirees have just put their rent up 32 per cent and taken away some meals?

O’LOUGHLIN: Right. I’ll ask that question. Well done. Thank you, Sharon, from [indistinct]. Minister, did you hear that – retirement homes?

COLLINS: I did hear that. I wasn’t aware that some retirement homes – I’m not aware that retirement homes have put up rent and reducing meals. I am aware that obviously rents are increasing significantly across the board, and we are very concerned about that and the way to deal with rent increases, of course, is to increase housing supply, which is what we’re talking about. And we want to, as I said, work as quickly as we can to do that. And certainly, you know, those sorts of rental increases are very difficult for people to absorb at the moment when they’re already under pressure with other inflationary issues around groceries and, you know, electricity prices and other things that are going up.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well, I appreciate your time, Julie Collins, Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness. You need to get to another meeting. Thank you for your time this morning.

COLLINS: Thank you for having me on, and good morning to your listeners again.