Minister Collins interviewed by Rebecca Levingston on ABC Brisbane Mornings

SUBJECTS: Queensland Housing Summit; Albanese Government’s ambitious housing reform agenda.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: Julie Collins is the federal Minister for Housing and the Minister for Homelessness. And she’ll also be attending the summit in Queensland next week. Minister, good morning.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING, HOMELESSNESS AND SMALL BUSINESS: Good morning to you, Rebecca, and to your listeners.

LEVINGSTON: You have firsthand experience of this. Where did you grow up?

COLLINS: I grew up in broadacre public housing in my early childhood. So I do know firsthand how difficult it can be. But we’re hearing some harrowing stories from right around the country of too many Australians who are finding it too difficult to put a roof over their heads, and too many people that don’t have a safe and affordable place to call home. And it’s really quite distressing how this is impacting so many Australians at the moment.

LEVINGSTON: So we have you as the Housing and Minister for Homelessness who grew up in public housing. Same with Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister. Here in Queensland Leeanne Enoch, our own Housing Minister, also spent some time in public housing. I guess that really serves as a catalyst for people to say, “Well, come on. You know how important it is.” Just to understand the approach to the solution, who is responsible for housing and addressing homelessness? I’m just wondering how those responsibilities are split between state and federal government.

COLLINS: Well, obviously the states and the territories have primary responsibility, but what we’re talking about with the election of the Albanese Labor Government is the federal government stepping up to the plate. We don’t think any tier of government can solve this alone. We think that all three tiers of government, social housing providers, community service providers, homeless service providers, plus the building and construction industry all need to be working together to solve this issue. I don’t think any one tier of government is going to be able to solve this alone.

We took to the federal election a very broad housing agenda, and I’m busy trying to implement it. We’ve had two meetings already of housing ministers from across the country. When we had our meeting in July, it was the first meeting of housing ministers in Australia for almost five years. It was very significant to be able to get people around the table and have the discussions about what is happening in each state and territory.

LEVINGSTON: Well, what is happening? What’s the latest? What are the latest numbers on how many people are homeless in Australia?

COLLINS: Well, we’ve still got the ABS data that says 116,000, but we are expecting, sadly, that when we get updated ABS data – Bureau of Statistics data – next year that that will have increased unfortunately. And certainly we know from anecdotal evidence from services and the number of people accessing services that that number is likely to have increased.

What we need to do, of course, is to be working together to get more homes on the ground. There’s clearly a supply issue in terms of the number of homes required on the ground. We’re not keeping up with population growth. We need to do more. And that’s why we’ve got the Housing Australia Future Fund that we’ll be investing in. We’re talking about a $10 billion fund, building 30,000 social and affordable homes across the country in the first five years of the fund.

We also want to set up an affordability and supply council that will look at what are the barriers, build the evidence base around the data about what interventions, what innovations will actually work when it comes to improving housing affordability in Australia. We think we need to build the evidence base. There’s already a lot of data and evidence out there, but I think bringing it altogether and informing states, territories and the federal government and even local government about what needs to be done and holding people to account for that in terms of some short, medium and long-term targets I think is going to be critical.

We also want to build a National Housing and Homelessness Plan. That will mean working with housing providers, with homelessness service providers, with the building and construction industry, with local government, with state and territory governments and have short, medium and long-term plans and a strategy for housing in Australia. We think that if everybody’s heading in the same direction, we’ve got more chance of trying to solve this problem than having, you know, eight different states and territories across the country and local governments all doing different things. We need to be on the same page.

LEVINGSTON: You’re listening to Julie Collins, the federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness. She’ll be attending the housing summit next week. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My name’s Rebecca Livingston. Minister, just going back to those figures you have from the last census – 116,000 people on census night were homeless. And, as you say, you expect that to go up. Can you give us a sense of the breakdown of circumstances or perhaps even age? Like the youth demographic in there. I was speaking to Orange Sky Laundry earlier this week. They’re saying that they are seeing more and more women over the age of 55 experiencing homelessness.

COLLINS: Yeah, we know that that is a growing demographic – older women over the age of 50. We also know that women and children fleeing family violence, we also that veterans are growing cohorts, which is why we want to target some of the Housing Australia Future Fund at those people. We want to make sure that we are making – you know, giving those people I guess access to what they require – and that is a roof over their head, a safe, affordable place to call home.

So 4,000 of the 30,000, the 20,000 social homes, 4,000 of those will be for women and children fleeing family violence. We do also want to target older women who are over the age of 50 who are at risk of homelessness. So we are looking at who does need to be targeted in terms of the most at risk.

But we also, of course, just need to increase supply more generally. And we need to attract private investment, superannuation funds and get more homes on the ground of every type. I mean, we do need the right houses in the right places, but we definitely need a lot more homes.

LEVINGSTON: How quickly can you build them?

COLLINS: Well, we’re talking to states and territories, building and construction industry about how quickly we can do that. We also know obviously that investing the $10 billion and waiting for returns from that fund will take some time.

LEVINGSTON: So, sorry, Minister, just to jump in, when you talk to the building industry, what’s the answer to that question – how quickly can they be built?

COLLINS: Well, it depends. There are obviously some supply constraints at the moment in the market in terms of supply chains, and also in terms of shortage of staff. But what the building and construction industry tell me is that the construction work, residential construction work, that is brought forward by home builders, they expect completions in the sector to drop off slightly in the second half of next year. So what we need to do is be ready to have more homes built – ready to build by them.

But in the interim we also have unlocked the national infrastructure housing facility, which is up to $575 million, so that we can invest that quite quickly to get some homes on the ground more quickly in those areas where there is capacity in the construction market to be able to do so. So we’re also looking at other means of construction and different types of innovation to try and get more homes on the ground more quickly. We’re looking at every option possible.

LEVINGSTON: Yeah, because I just wonder, you know, how sort of out of the box you’re looking. I had a conversation with Scott Hutchinson from Hutchinson builders recently. We were talking about an array of things in the building industry, and one of the portions of their business is very fast prefabricated homes popped up for sort of fly in, fly out communities. Now that’s probably not a long-term solution, but it’s certainly a short-term opportunity. Would you consider something like that given that we have, as you say, 116,000 people on the last figures in Australia – a country like Australia – without a home?

COLLINS: Yeah, we’re looking at all options. One of the things that’s been raised with us is things like modular homes, things like 3D printing. All of those things and innovations could be looked at in terms of bids that we might get from state and territory governments, local governments, builders to access the Housing Australia Future Fund returns and to get more homes on the ground.


COLLINS: We’ll look at all options. The other thing we’re also doing obviously is trying to remove the barriers for people to get into purchasing their first home. We’ve got our Regional First Home Buyers Guarantee that started on the 1st of October. We brought that forward; that wasn’t supposed to start until 1 January. But we’ve brought forward, and that’s where people can purchase their first home for a little as 5 per cent deposit and the government guarantees the other 15 per cent, because obviously you normally need 20, and they don’t have to pay lenders mortgage insurance.

So we are looking at all different sectors of the housing markets and all the different things that we can do. And obviously getting people to purchase their first home takes more pressure off the rental market, which we know is also an issue at the moment. We’re looking at all of the different interventions and options, and we’ve got a broad suite of policies that we are implementing.

LEVINGSTON: Minister, just finally, do you support the Queensland Greens proposal of a vacancy tax?
COLLINS: Well obviously most of the levers in terms of those things do sit with states and territories. And short-stay accommodation and vacancy things have been raised by state and territory ministers and are sharing those innovations. But as I said before, we do need to build the evidence base about the impact of those to make sure that there’s no unintended consequences.

What we don’t want I suppose is a series of knee-jerk reactions or policies without looking at short and medium and long-term implications and building the evidence base about what interventions work. We need to make sure that we build that evidence base and we look at what happens when interventions occur in different places, because it can distort other parts of the housing market and impact affordability elsewhere.
So we need to be able to make sure that whatever we do is the best intervention and whatever we’re spending is the best spend of taxpayers’ dollars to get more Australians to have a safe, affordable place to call home.

LEVINGSTON: Minister, looking forward to solutions and time frames and some more concrete ideas from the housing summit next week. We’ll look forward to welcoming you.

COLLINS: I’m really looking forward to being in Brisbane next week.

LEVINGSTON: Julie Collins, the Minister for Housing and Homelessness.