SUBJECT: The Productivity Commission Review of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
THOMAS ORITI, HOST: Julie Collins is the Minister for Housing and Homelessness. She's spoken with ABC NewsRadio's Anna Pykett, saying the government would now consider the report's recommendations.
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING, HOMELESSNESS AND SMALL BUSINESS: We obviously thank the Productivity Commission for its important work into the review of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. It clearly shows that there were some shortcomings in the existing agreement, and we'll be looking at the recommendations in terms of developing our National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
ANNA PYKETT, JOURNALIST: Commissioner Malcolm Roberts has described the plan as ineffective. What's your response to that?
COLLINS: It clearly shows that there were shortcomings in the existing National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. What we're talking about here is moving forward as the new government. We want to work collaboratively with the other tiers of government. What we want to do is develop a new National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
PYKETT: Do you have any idea how many people right now are in need of homelessness or housing services across the country, or are on waiting lists?
COLLINS: We do know that there are thousands of Australians on social housing waiting lists right across the country. We also know that there are many Australians who are finding it difficult to meet their rental or mortgage payments at the moment. We do understand that this is a really serious challenge right across the country, which is why we went to the election with a very ambitious housing reform agenda. What we're focusing on at the moment is implementing our election commitments. Our Housing Australia Future Fund, for instance, is $10 billion to build 30,000 social and affordable homes in the first five years of the fund. We want to establish an affordability and supply council to work and look at the interventions that are occurring in the three tiers of government, and how they're impacting in terms of the housing spectrum right across the board. What we actually need to do is implement our election commitments as a matter of priority. And of course, we'll look at the recommendations of this study.
PYKETT: What's the timeframe on this?
COLLINS: Our National Housing and Homelessness Plan we’re looking at developing with states and territories, that is a longer term thing. In the short term, of course, what we've done is we're getting on our Regional First Home Guarantee - which starts this weekend, actually - to help 10,000 eligible Australians into homeownership that are living in regional Australia. We’ve also acted really quickly to unlock up to $575 million through our National Housing Infrastructure Facility, to invest early in social and affordable housing. What we want to do is work really closely with the other tiers of government to get as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can.
PYKETT: What are the major barriers or challenges for you as the Housing and Homelessness Minister, to act immediately and get help to the people who need it?
COLLINS: Obviously there are three tiers of government involved and no tier of government can solve this alone. What we know is that there has been no national leadership from the former federal government for the last nine years, which is why we're in this situation with a lot of challenges in terms of housing affordability right across the country.
PYKETT: The commission is recommending that all housing assistance be brought under the next intergovernmental agreement. Will you adopt the recommendations in this report in full?
COLLINS: We're going to have a look at the recommendations. We certainly can't make any commitments in relation to that. Our priority is of course implementing our election commitments that we took to the Australian people - the Housing Australia Future Fund that I talked, our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee that I've talked about, our Affordability and Supply Council, our National Housing and Homelessness Plan, but also our government equity scheme, our Help to Buy scheme. We did have a very ambitious agenda at the last election, and our priority is implementing those commitments to the Australian people.
PYKETT: So going forward, how can you better target funding for those who really, really need it? Those who are really struggling with various cost of living pressures, not just housing?
COLLINS: Obviously in the lead up to the budget we are looking at cost of living pressures. We made a number of commitments that will support that in terms of cheaper childcare, in terms of cheaper medicines, and of course cheaper TAFE fees. Because we know that we have a skill shortage at the moment, and we need to train more Australians for those skill shortages also. We are looking at that as we come into our first budget.
PYKETT: The Commission also noted there have been constraints on housing supply. Is there anything that could be done to free up more land to developers, because obviously off the back of the Job Summit, which you brought up just then, Australia needs an influx of migrants to support the job shortage. But where are they all going to live?
COLLINS: Obviously that's why we want to put in the national Housing Supply and Affordability Council, to work and look at the levers that the three tiers of government have, as I said before, to look at the interventions and the interactions between the three tiers of government to try and get more homes on the ground faster. And obviously, in terms of the Jobs and Skills Summit and the outcomes there, that's why we made a decision to unlock immediately up to $575 million through the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, to invest in social and affordable housing. What we want to do there is really leverage more private investment too into the sector, and work with social housing providers and private investors to get as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can.
PYKETT: The Greens have called for a nationwide rent freeze, followed by ongoing rent caps and an end to no grounds evictions. What do you make of these ideas?
COLLINS: Of course, as I said, the biggest issue here at the moment in terms of the challenge is supply. We need to get more hands on the ground more quickly, which is what our focus is. That's what we want to do. We want to work with the other levels of government to get as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can. We're talking to the building construction sector. We're talking to people on the ground, the service providers, the social housing providers. We want to get as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can to help as many Australians as quickly as we can.
PYKETT: Minister, it's not like you have a magic wand. Obviously, some of these issues are going to take time to address. What do you foresee happens in the meantime? We talked about cost of living pressures continuing for more families. Do you think problems are going to get worse in the weeks and months to come?
COLLINS: What we want to do is work as quickly as we can. We do understand that it's a challenge. We understand, of course, that this has developed over the last nine years. Under the former government, there was no national leadership. But we've got a federal government stepping up to the plate and wanting to work with the other tiers of government. The other tiers of government, particularly states and territories, are also lifting their efforts. They're going to be building over 15,000 social and affordable homes in the next two and a half years. We all need to be working together. We all need to be on the same page to deliver our ambitious housing reform.
PYKETT: Minister, thank you very much of your time.
COLLINS: Thank you very much.