Minister Collins interviewed by Mel Bush on ABC Tasmania Mornings


TOPICS: Housing Accord, Albanese Government’s ambitious housing reform agenda, Budget

MEL BUSH, HOST: A cornerstone of the document is Labor’s National Housing Accord. Now, that aims to build one million homes – that’s a lot of homes – over five years from 2024. It’s been kickstarted with $350 million in funding. Julie Collins is the Federal Housing Minister. Julie Collins, welcome to the program.

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Good morning, Mel, and to your listeners this morning.

BUSH: That initial funding to build 10,000 homes, when will that kick-off? What’s the time frame for that?

COLLINS: The million homes and the 10,000 homes from the Federal Government is from 2024, but we also expect the 10,000 affordable homes will be matched by States and Territories across the country. And, of course, the whole idea with the Accord is to get the three tiers of Government working together, but importantly working with community housing providers, with of course, property developers, the building and construction sector, and also to try to get more private capital into the market. Things such as institutional investors like superannuation, for example. What we want to do here is we want to provide some certainty, and what we want to do here is provide some leadership that’s been missing in the last decade while we’ve seen housing affordability get worse in this country. This is a Federal Government stepping up to the plate.

And this, of course, is in addition to our election commitments, which I have spoken to your listeners to before including our Housing Australia Future Fund, which is $10 billion. And, of course, that is about 30,000 social and affordable homes over the first five years of that fund. And then, of course, there’s the Housing Infrastructure Facility - that’s $575 million and that money will become available very quickly to get more homes on the ground more quickly. So, all together, what you’re seeing is one of the most ambitious housing reform packages in a generation. This is a real opportunity here to make a big difference and it is about a Federal Government playing a role, working with the entire sector and other tiers of Government.

BUSH: So, that initial Federal Government pledge of 10,000 homes, the shovel won’t be in the ground until 2024. Tasmania has come onboard with 10,000 homes, a promise of that here. How many of the 10,000 homes that the Federal Government is promising, how many of those will be allocated in Tasmania?

COLLINS: We, of course, want to make sure that all States and Territories get more than their fair share or get their fair share and, being a Tasmanian, obviously I’m pretty loyal to my home state. And we do know that the housing situation in Tasmania has been incredibly difficult, but it is, of course, right across the country too. We want to make sure that all Australians get an opportunity to have a safe and affordable place to call home. That is the aim of it, and obviously it is about those three things working together as well as, of course, our affordability and supply council and our National Housing and Homelessness Plan. This is a very integrated reform package. What we announced last night with the Accord and the 1 million homes is on top of our very ambitious housing reform agenda that we took to the last election. So, you shouldn’t see one thing in isolation here, Mel, and nor should your listeners. This is a project that will deliver more social and affordable homes across Australia, starting from next year and right through for five years post-2024.

BUSH: So, when you talk about affordable homes in this current climate, what does affordable mean?

COLLINS: Well, what it means is that homes that people will be able to purchase or people would be able to rent below the ordinary market value and the average. What we want to do is make sure that more Australians can be able to afford to rent and more Australians can be able to afford to get into their own home. And, of course, we also as part of the package brought forward our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee which started on 1 October. That’s 10,000 eligible Australians across the country to try to remove that barrier of a large deposit to get into home ownership. What we, of course, have done there is that people can get into their first home with as little as five per cent deposit if they’re eligible and the Government guarantees the rest. So, we’re trying to look right across the housing spectrum to try to take pressure off and make it easier for people.

BUSH: So, in terms of that affordability, what are you thinking of, Julie Collins, in terms of proportion of income?

COLLINS: That depends on where you are in the country, Mel. We are working with States and Territories about what is that and what does that look like. This is about, though, essentially trying to get more properties on the market sooner in a range that most Australians could afford and what we want to do in terms of the affordable bit is some of those would be rentals, and those would be rented below normal market rents.

BUSH: So, you mentioned before too that you would like to see the private sector playing a role in terms of these one million homes to be built, super funds being involved as well. What role would superannuation funds have to play?

COLLINS: Well, obviously, they could invest capital and that would be critical. Essentially, what we want to do is have it where it’s good for their members but also good for investors, which are also the members of superannuation funds over the long term. So, you get the short term benefit obviously more affordable homes for members with that capital investment and then you get the long-term returns on that property investment that superannuation funds would make. So, the Treasurer has got a Ministers roundtable where he’s talking to superannuation funds and to other capital providers to try to get more private equity into the market here in Australia.

BUSH: Will there be incentives for them to get involved?

COLLINS: We are obviously talking to them about what is required and obviously this is an incentive in terms of what we’re talking about here is support with that $350 million to get those homes on the ground more quickly.

BUSH: It is a lot of homes and there’s a lot that goes into this, not to mention tradesmen. I mean, where are they coming from? We know now that we have a lack of tradespeople right around, particularly in Tasmania, but right around the country. Where are these tradespeople coming from to build these homes?

COLLINS: We realise, of course, that there are constraints in the construction sector. We have just spoken to the sector. We are working with them on what does that that look like. We’ve obviously got fee free TAFE. We’ve got additional university places. We’re obviously also increasing skilled migration in the short term while we train more Australians. We also, of course, as part of the Accord want to have more apprentices working on the construction of the homes. That will be funded through the State and the Territories and the Federal Government, and we’re working right across the spectrum here to make sure that this is achievable. This is a well-thought-through staged plan. The $575 million is available as quickly as we can get it available is then the Housing Australia Future Fund, invest it, waiting on returns on that and then the million homes. This is a really comprehensive reform package.

BUSH: So, on that comprehensive package, Julie Collins, have you done an audit of supply chains, because that has long been an issue in the building sector?

COLLINS: That’s correct, and we’ve got an affordability and supply council that we will be setting up as quickly as we can. What we want them to do is: What are the constraints? What are the impediments to getting more homes on the ground more quickly? And to look at that and to provide advice to Federal Government and State Governments about what else we need to do to get more homes on the ground more quickly.

BUSH: And even just locally, Julie Collins, we’ve had John who’s on the east coast saying that the current wait time for window components from the major supplier in Tasmania is 300 days. So, that challenge is very real, isn’t it?

COLLINS: It is indeed, and we’ve also, of course, got our National Reconstruction Fund, which is also about looking at what we can do more here in Australia, what more value adding we can do here in our own country, rather than shipping raw product off overseas and then importing it back. Can we do more here on Australian soil? Can we do more here locally because, you know, that’s good for jobs in Australia, but it’s also good for the environment.

BUSH: And on that investment from the private sector from superannuation, the Budget paper does talk about changing policy settings to allow super funds to invest. So, what needs to change there?

COLLINS: Well, we’re obviously talking to them about what does that look like. And that’s why we’ve got the $350 million on the table to have a look at what does that look like, how do we work with them, what is the additional incentive that we need to make this work. 

BUSH: And Julie Collins of those homes that are to be built, those million homes, what will they look like? Is this the great Australian dream of the standalone property, medium-density accommodation?

COLLINS: It will be a mixture of all of those. We’re talking about well-located homes. What we do need to make sure is – we do have a skills shortage as you talked about, Mel, is that when workers get jobs, that they are living close to where they work. That’s what we want to try to do. We want more key workers to be able to afford to live closer to where they work. That’s the whole idea of it. So, we talk about well located homes. We do need to make sure that there’s the right homes in the right places.

BUSH: And will these new homes in Tasmania have an energy efficiency or be required to have an energy efficiency rating of seven?

COLLINS: Certainly we’re talking to people about that. That is our intention in terms of the 10,000 under the Housing Accord. We understand in Tasmania that most of the social and affordable homes built to date are around six stars. So, we are talking to them about what does that look like. We do want to make sure that what we do here is productivity lifting but also is really good for people who are going to live in those homes.

BUSH: Julie Collins, I really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks very much.

COLLINS: Thanks very much, Mel.

BUSH: Federal Housing Minister there, Julie Collins.