Minister Collins interviewed on Tasmania Talks with Mike O’Loughlin.

SUBJECTS: The Albanese Government’s ambitious housing agenda and the Housing Australia Future Fund; flooding in Tasmania. 

Catching up now with the Minister for Housing, Minister for Homelessness, Minister for Small Business, Julie Collins, to discuss the Federal Government’s plans to increase social and affordable housing through what they call the Housing Australia Future Fund. I was touching on the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee. Thanks for joining me, Minister. Good morning.
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING, HOMELESSNESS AND SMALL BUSINESS: Good morning, and to your listeners. How are you today?
O’LOUGHLIN: Hopefully better than we have been over the last 96 or so hours with floods et cetera.
Yeah, it’s been a really tough time for people in Northern Tasmania in those areas impacted by floods. Obviously our hearts go out to them but, obviously, a big thank you to all the volunteers out there working 24 hours around the clock to try to keep people safe.
Absolutely correct. They’ve been doing a wonderful job. Now, listen, let’s start. Is this supposedly going to be a quick fix or something, that’s obviously if you’re going to bring this out – we’re talking about affordable, social housing through the Housing Australia Future Fund. Obviously, people need roofs over their heads now.
COLLINS: We’re doing several things at the moment. So, first of all is our Housing Australia Future Fund. We’re talking about investing over the long term. We’re talking about a fund that sits there in perpetuity forever and [indistinct] social and affordable homes right across the country, and the returns of that fund being invested every year in new social and affordable housing across the country. It’s the biggest significant investment from a Federal Government in more than a decade into public and social housing in Australia. It’s incredibly significant, but you’re right - it will take time. We’ll need to legislate the fund and then we’ll need to wait for returns from the fund.
We would expect the first returns from the fund to come through in the second half of next year, and we’re talking about building 30,000 social and affordable homes in the first five years of the fund and that would be in addition to what State Governments are doing around the country. So, when the State Government talks about what it’s doing, we’re talking about additional homes in addition to that being funded through this fund across the country.
We’re knowing obviously that there is a crisis now as well. What we have also done is we’ve unlocked up to $575 million from our National Housing Infrastructure Facility that can be used almost immediately really. We’re hoping to get that money on the ground early next year, late this year, in terms of trying to get more social and affordable homes on the ground more quickly, but also to help unlock more private capital. So things like superannuation fund investments to try and get more homes on the ground more quickly as well.
We’ve also, of course, got our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee, which is about dealing with getting people into their first home, to get them also to take pressure off the rental market, which we know is the really difficult thing at the moment. So, we’re trying to do a whole range of things and have policies across the board to try and make housing more affordable in Australia, in the short term and in the medium and long term.
O’LOUGHLIN: Well, you’ve said the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, building 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties in the first five years – what’s the break up by states? I mean, how will Tasmania benefit?
COLLINS: Well, Tasmania will benefit like every other state and territory will in terms of making sure that we get the best possible bids. What we want to allow for in this fund is a lot of innovation and exciting projects. So, it will be things like where social housing providers can partner with state governments or with a local government area and they can put in a bid to the fund, and it’s the best bids that will get funding first. Because we also need to make sure of course, that we get the right house in the right places, which is also critical. So, they need to be the types of houses that need to be built and they need to be available in the right places.
So, you know, we’re talking about homes to support women and children fleeing family violence. We’re talking about homes to support older women who are homeless. We are talking about key worker homes in affordable areas close to their jobs. So, there’s quite a criteria on it I guess, but we expect it will be well accessed by particularly states, territories, but also social housing providers and even local governments working with state governments or social housing providers. We expect that – there’s a lot of interest and a lot of states and territories already working on long lists of possible projects, I understand, so I’m sure that Tasmania will get our fair share.
What about the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee? It came in from the 1st of October, I believe. But you’re saying – and I also believe Albanese Government put it in three months earlier when I was reading that press release.
COLLINS: That is right.
O’LOUGHLIN: But the delivery will mean 10,000 places will be available each financial year and you’re saying – well, when will these houses actually be built and when do they apply and how many have applied so far from Tasmania for this particular Regional Home Buyer Guarantee?
COLLINS: Well, the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee is a new program that started on 1 October. What it means is that people can get into their home with a five per cent deposit, rather than needing the 20 per cent deposit, because what the Federal Government does is it basically goes guarantor for that extra 15 per cent and it means that borrowers don’t have to pay lenders’ mortgage insurance. So, for instance, it would save well over $10,000 in insurances if you were to purchase a home in Tasmania. What it does is it actually allows people to get over that hurdle of having a larger deposit and get into their first home. And obviously, you know, when it comes to rentals - particularly in tight markets right across Tasmania and indeed across the country - getting people into their first home also helps in terms of putting downward pressure on the rental market as well, by getting people into their own home. We know that many Australians are servicing large rents that could also service a mortgage, but that deposit is a big hurdle, so this is about trying to overcome that for them.
O’LOUGHLIN: I’m speaking with Julie Collins, Minister for Housing and more. Now, how do the people become – how are they eligible, if you like, for this particular grant, guarantee?
There are income thresholds and there are obviously price cap thresholds, because obviously what we want to do is target it well because we don’t want to increase property prices. So, we’ve designed it to target those low and middle-income earners who have that issue with that deposit and getting over that threshold. That’s why we’ve also limited it to 10,000 places across the country each year, because we don’t want to do anything that will also drive up property prices any further than they have been. So, in Tasmania, in regional Tasmania the price cap is $450,000, and the income cap is for an individual is $125,000 and for a family it’s $200,000. So, they are significant thresholds. So, they mean that most people should be able to access this program.
I hope so, and I hope more people go to you. I note on your Facebook page something interesting from a Grant; I won’t mention his surname. He says, “There’s 350,000 Aussie homes that mostly used to be rentals that are now Airbnbs. Airbnbs being banned in many cities worldwide, with more than two in 50 homes in your home state now short stay accommodation. It’s doing massive social harm and needs to go”, says Grant. What are your thoughts there?
COLLINS: Yeah, the short stay accommodation, you know - otherwise known as Airbnbs but also a whole range of other types of online short stay accommodation - really, the levers for that and dealing with that sit with local and state governments. I can’t speak for them obviously, but we have had a discussion about it at the Housing Ministers meeting, and certainly the states are talking to each other about what sort of interventions that they’re doing in each state and territory and how they’re working and whether they’re having an impact.
One of the things that we need to do obviously is that we need to make sure that when we do interventions or we change things in one part of the housing spectrum, there’s not an adverse impact in other areas. So, what we’re also going to do is we’re going to set up an affordability and supply council to look at what are the stoppages of getting more homes onto the ground more quickly, but also to build that evidence base about what types of innovations and interventions work well and how we might replicate them around the country.
It is. Look, it’s a situation that is dire in Tasmania, as I’m sure you well know the figures; over 4,000 that need a roof over their heads. So it’s an incredible situation and yet – it’s great to see the publicity saying that Labor is unlocking up to $570 million to invest in social and affordable housing, but we need boots on the ground.
O’LOUGHLIN: That’s the thing that needs to occur right now to help these people out. They need to see something happening.
COLLINS: Absolutely, they do and that’s why we’re moving as quickly as we can. We’ve only been in Government a few months and the first time in a very long time that the Federal Government has stepped up to the plate here. We’re talking about a very significant investment with a $10 billion fund, but importantly, as I said, we’re talking about a fund that will sit there forever to invest in public and social housing. So, it will no longer be at the whims of the different Federal Governments of different colours about whether or not they invest in social housing. It will be there to invest in social housing and public housing for the long term. What we know in Australia is that there hasn’t been enough investment over the last decade in social and affordable housing in this country. Indeed, state and territory and federal governments have invested, but what’s happened is housing affordability has got worse. So, we need to make sure that the investments we’re making are the best investments for taxpayers, but importantly they’re not adding to making things unaffordable for Australians.
O’LOUGHLIN: Speaking with Julie Collins, Minister for Housing. If I can, what about – they’re so short of workers in businesses. I mean, there’s more jobs going than there are people to fill them, which is an unusual situation at the best of times, but they’re looking to bring more migration et cetera, hiring more people, to clear the visa backlog. All that’s well and good, but it’s where are they going to live? You’ve got some local mayors thinking, “Well, we haven’t got a house to put someone that we want to employ in our council?”
COLLINS: Well, that is true. Housing, particularly in regional areas, is difficult and we are hearing from a lot of businesses who are having trouble housing workers. What we need to do is look at innovative different ways of doing that. But the important thing to remember is that we also need workers to work in the construction industry itself. The industry has supply constraints at the moment. There aren’t enough people working in the sector. We need to encourage more Australians to train in the sector and we’re doing that with our fee-free TAFE, but we also need to in the short term bring in some labour from overseas to work in the sector.
We also have some supply chain issues, which are slowing down completions, which are leaving people in the rental market for longer as well. It used to take about nine months to complete an average residential home; it’s now taking about 12, depending on where you live in the country. So, we do have some serious constraint issues, but what we want to do as a Government is make sure as soon as those constraints are lifted and as soon as the sector has capacity, we want to fill it with more social and affordable homes.
O’LOUGHLIN: Now, I realise you’ve got to go, but if people need to find out more information, Minister, where can they go, especially for these First Home Buyer Guarantees et cetera?
COLLINS: Well, if they go to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, on their website - it’s known as NHFIC -, they will actually have in there the whole range of various Government programs to help people get into their first homes. And also importantly there’s other information there about some of the information for social housing providers and others who want to invest in social and affordable homes.
Well, more boots on the ground and more roofs over heads can’t be a bad thing at all.
COLLINS: Just before I go, though, I just do want to say to those people who have been impacted by the floods there that the Government did announce from 2pm yesterday afternoon that there are payments available in the LGAs of Central Coast, Kentish and Meander Valley, for those who suffered a significant loss from the floods, including those that have had their homes destroyed from floods or have had a serious injury, and that’s on top of the Disaster Recovery Allowance. There are now two Government payments available for people, depending on the impacts. I just wanted to let people know that. And they can go to Services Australia or their myGov to apply for those.
Indeed. Services Australia or myGov. Well done for that for those people that are suffering. Julie Collins, thank you for your time. I look forward to our next chat.
COLLINS: Thank you very much. Take care.
O’LOUGHLIN: You too. Thank you for your time. Julie Collins, Minister for Housing, Homelessness, Small Business et cetera.