Jun 5, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s announcement of HomeBuilder scheme; US protests; social housing; protests during coronavirus; JobKeeper.


MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader. He joins us on the program. Hello, mate. How are you?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I’m very well. And always happy to talk to you, Marcus, as I am happy to talk to all the media.


PAUL: I am cranky. And I will tell you why.


ALBANESE: I picked that out.


PAUL: For a couple of reasons. First of all, and before we get to the announcement yesterday by Scott Morrison, or ‘Get off the grass’ ScoMo, these protests that are taking place, that have been almost endorsed, if you like, by governments, in particular in New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian is allowing this protest to go ahead. I have literally reams of emails and correspondence from people, Anthony, who are so upset by the Premier because they believe she is placing the New South Wales public health at risk by allowing these protests to continue. I just wanted to get some feedback from you on this and your thoughts on it.


ALBANESE: I notice that the Victorian Premier has a very different position and has urged people to stay at home and protest in different ways, by writing a letter, by communicating their concern. I am terribly concerned about the ongoing tragedy that is the treatment of Indigenous people in this country, the incarceration rates, the health and education gaps which are there, the infant mortality rates which are just a huge difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I understand people’s desire to protest and to make their voice heard. But we are still in a pandemic and we need to be extremely cautious about the way that we behave and to keep those social distancing rules in operation.


PAUL: No one is suggesting for a minute, and I certainly never would suggest, that we don’t have a right to protest. I mean, that is one of the fundamental rights we have in a democratic country such as ours. And it is what makes this nation of ours so wonderful. However, it just, I guess, irks them. It irks them to small business owners who have lost everything, to people who haven’t been able to open up their cafes, restaurants, over a series of months, the people who’ve lost their work, people that haven’t been able to visit family members or friends, because we’re told we can’t gather in groups of more than 10 or for businesses now, it’s changed obviously up to 50 people. But I mean, they’re talking about more than 10, maybe 20,000 people getting together in Sydney, in one space over the weekend, Anthony. And that’s against medical advice. I just cannot understand how it’s being endorsed by the Premier of New South Wales.


ALBANESE: Well, that is a matter for her to explain. But certainly, in terms of the way that we have come through this coronavirus crisis is because we are all in this together. And it is ordinary Australians who have made a sacrifice. Grandparents who didn’t see their grandkids for such a long period of time. People who weren’t able to gather at the pub or gather with friends. And the whole of society has made a sacrifice. And that’s one of the reasons why we have been, it is the primary reason, why we are in a much better position than many of the countries overseas. Over 100,000 deaths in the United States. And the difference is here, we’ve had better coordination between all levels of government. We’ve had clearer messages from leaders. And people have followed it. It has been a great example of the Australian spirit of looking after each other.


PAUL: Alright. Look, we’ve had eight days now of zero community derived COVID-19 cases across New South Wales. I think people are just fearful that’s all going to go out the window this weekend if we allow a mass gathering. But let’s move on to this important announcement that was made yesterday by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. This $668 million HomeBuilder package whereby homeowners can receive a $25,000 taxpayer funded grant. It’s part of the Federal Government’s plan, as we know, for tradies to lead us out of the induced economic downturn. We know we’re in a recession. Josh Frydenberg reluctantly admitted that earlier this week. The feedback that I’m getting, Anthony, is that the amount required for a renovation is simply too high, the minimum amount of $175,000. And the minimum amount, if you like, or the maximum amount allowed for a new home is too low. So, in other words for renos, the amount is too high. And for building a new home, it’s too low. It’s $750,000. You’d be hard pressed buying anything in Sydney for that price.


ALBANESE: Well, you certainly couldn’t buy anything in my electorate. The average price for a home now, the median price, is approaching 1.5 million. And for a unit, if it’s a two-bedroom unit, then it’s pretty close to a million dollars as well. And the real concern here is just I don’t know who put together this package in the Government. But it seems to me that there were some obvious things that they could do; support for social housing, and there’s not a dollar in this package for social housing. You could even renovate social housing, which is one of the things we do during the Global Financial Crisis so that old run-down places, there was a section in Lilyfield that was replaced by renovated housing. The people in there now are really, really proud to live there. It, of course, also remains an asset of government. So, it’s not expenditure that is out with nothing coming back. Now, I’m certainly not against supporting private housing either, but this isn’t very well targeted at all. If you get a new bathroom, it might cost you 30, or $40,000. Perhaps it could cost a bit more. But to cost $150,000 you’re really talking about a substantial renovation. And the idea that people will hear this announcement because what it should be encouraging is additional investment, not investment that was going to happen anyway, that you hear this in the current circumstances of economic uncertainty and go, ‘Oh, I will just put another level of my house or an extension out the back’. It’s a substantial renovation and not too many people in the current circumstance have a lazy $150,000 set aside.


PAUL: Well, that is right. I got that figure wrong. I think I said 175. So, let’s go through it here. The grants are available for building new homes valued up to $750,000. And again, that certainly doesn’t include a number of people that maybe want to buy in Sydney. I mean, you might be okay maybe at the back of Campbelltown somewhere or out the back of Camden. So, it may work in some areas. But the other issue, and I’ve received calls on this week already, yesterday since the announcement was made, Anthony. And that is the $150,000 for renovations up to $750,000. Now, in regional New South Wales, a number of people have rung me saying, ‘Look, I can basically almost rebuild my home for $150,000 of renovation’. So, and I understand the reasoning behind it. I mean, they don’t want people to put in pools with this grant, and they don’t want people to extend the pergolas with this grant. I get that from that point of view, but I simply think it’s just too high.


ALBANESE: Well, it is. And I understand not wanting a pool or tennis courts. They are excluded anyway. They’re excluded explicitly. But why would you have something that excludes the potential of someone who wants to renovate the kitchen or renovate their bathroom or to put on a room out the back, $150,000 is a very high figure, indeed. This figure only goes from June to December. And there’s the other issue that we’d raise which is investment in affordable housing for essential workers. One of the problems in cities like Sydney is that a lot of the people who we have relied upon during this crisis; our nurses our supermarket workers, our police and emergency service workers, they can’t afford to live close to where they work. So, I did a video just last week with the Inner West Police Commander and we went to Henson Park, we did a video encouraging police to apply to work in this community because they’re really struggling. And the reason why is because of the cost of housing. And there are a range of superannuation funds who are already investing in programs like this because it produces an asset that produces a return. And the Government could have been sitting down with the superannuation funds and working through a way in which they could encourage more of this investment. There are a range of positive initiatives the Government could have done, and they’ve ignored them in favour of what is a very narrow plan that is targeted in all the wrong way.


PAUL: Ultimately, you are suggesting that the criteria are obviously far too strict, and many people won’t be able to access this $25,000 grant and the targeting of the package probably won’t achieve what it’s trying to do. I mean, yesterday in fairness, we spoke to the Master Builders Association, the housing industry association. They have welcomed the news. Look, if it does at least provide some work for tradies, is there not one bit of positive we can take out of this?


ALBANESE: Look, it is better than not doing anything at all. And any measure, we have said throughout this crisis we have raised issues, superannuation we were concerned about fraud and, unfortunately, that has occurred. We’ve raised a range of concerns about JobKeeper and people missing out. But we haven’t allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We have been prepared to engage in a constructive way. And that’s what we’re doing here is if we’re going to have a program like this, make sure that we get it right.


PAUL: Just quickly, before I let you go, Anthony. JobKeeper, would you like to see that extended beyond the, I know it was supposed to finish up around September, would you like to see it extended?


ALBANESE: What I don’t want to happen is just snap-back, so it ends on one day. That would produce a massive shock in the economy. And it’s just untenable for that to do so. I also remain concerned about people who are missing out. People like the dnata workers who used to work for Qantas Catering, it got sold with this Government’s approval to a foreign entity. The workers are doing exactly the same job that some of them have done for 30 years. And they’re not getting any support.


PAUL: All right. Good to talk to you, Anthony. We’ll catch up again soon. I appreciate your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Marcus.