MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Housing Minister Julie Collins joins us now in studio. Julie Collins, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. The concern here is now around the HomeBuilder program for people who can’t quite remember that was about, in summary, what was the purpose?
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND MINISTER FOR HOMELESSNESS: Well this was a good idea, and initially a program, to help the construction industry during COVID and post-COVID and it was about a grant, a grant for people who were building homes. Unfortunately, it was a good idea that seems to have been, again, not implemented well by the former government. We see this time and time again with a good idea implemented badly such as the JobKeeper wage subsidy for instance. And this is yet another one. It was a good idea and what has happened of course is the market has started to overheat, and we know there were other factors impacting the housing market such as supply chain and staffing shortages, but the government again was too slow to act. It didn't target it enough and this is repeatedly what happens with the former government's programs that we are finding. This was an independent review saying this. Not myself. This is an independent review of the former government's program.
DORAN: When you’re talking about it not being targeted enough, what are their key concerns there?
COLLINS: The government did not act soon enough once the market was overheating. We said initially when the program was announced that it would be better targeted into social and affordable homes and that is clearly what some of the commentary has been since that review has been made public. Some of the experts in this area are suggesting it should have been more focused, like our programs are that we took to the election. Focusing on social and affordable homes. Housing Australia future Fund, $10 billion and then the investment returns from that being invested in social and affordable homes right across the country. We expect that to build 30,000 new homes and add to supply. I think the point is if you have to invest taxpayer money we need to add to supply. We know there is a shortage, too many Australians are finding it difficult to be able to rent affordably and too many Australians are finding it difficult to purchase a home.
DORAN: There were sort of two different streams here, weren’t there? There was a new home builds as part of this Homebuilder scheme but also renovations. It seems as though renovations were pretty popular?
COLLINS: It does indeed seem that. Again, if you're going to target it, it needs to really be about increasing supply because what we have is a shortage of accommodation here in Australia. That is pretty apparent to people trying to find an affordable rental property at the moment. Vacancy rates are very low. We know that those Australians who are trying to purchase their own homes at the moment have been having difficulty. We know we need to add to supply and that is what we want to do. That is why we are collaborating. We are talking to other tiers of government. One of the other criticisms of the review is that the states and territories were not consulted. They were having to implement it in terms of the grants, to individuals. We have the Accord that was announced in the Budget which is collaboration between local government, State Government, Federal Government, the construction sector, capital such as superannuation, community housing providers. Everyone agreeing we want to work together to be able to increase affordable homes in Australia. It is about doing things in a considered, sustainable way, rather than responding and then realising there is a problem and not doing enough to actually deal with a problem.
DORAN: On the National Accord, the target that was put there for new homes is broadly in line with what the average home construction was before the pandemic. Considering the crisis we are currently seeing with housing across the country, is that ambitious enough?
COLLINS: It is an ambitious target, it’s an aspiration of 1 million homes between 2024 and 2029 over that five year period. What we know is that construction in 21-22, for instance, down to 174,000 homes in Australia being built and we know that with rising interest rates and the evidence before Estimates from Treasury today was we expect that to drop off. So we do think that will be difficult to meet. The construction sector tells us that it will be difficult to meet. But the only way that we will meet it is, and the only way that we will keep construction up in Australia in terms of homes is by all working together. What we need to stop is some of the stop start of the construction industry and have it more slowly increase in a sustainable way over time. That’s better for the sector, it’s better for people working in the sector, it’s better for apprenticeships, it’s better for jobs and importantly we’re continuing to add to supply in a sustainable way for Australians.
DORAN: Those COVID-19 associated supply chain pressures are still present in that system. Is this going to hamper the ambition there as well?
COLLINS: We are talking to the sector about that and the supply chain people about that, it is improving slightly but we do expect it to improve more as time goes on. We do know the construction sector is dipping a little bit now and we expect it to dip more in the second half of next year. We are talking and collaborating with the sector and industry to do everything we can to try and meet that gap in demand that will come, particularly as interest rates have been increasing, and we expect that demand to come off.
DORAN: Julie Collins it’s a mammoth task ahead of you.
COLLINS: It is indeed.
DORAN: Thank you for joining us today.