Jun 4, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s announcement of HomeBuilder scheme; US protests; delay of Budget update; social housing; Australia in recession.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins us now. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: Today we’ll get the details more details, of the $688 million scheme to boost the construction sector. A lifeline for 1.2 million construction workers is what the Treasurer’s told us. Is this money well spent?


ALBANESE: Well, this is the worst adding up since Josh Frydenberg’s $60 billion mistake if he suggests this will support over a million jobs. Because it won’t. It is something and that’s a good thing, but it’s quite restrictive. Any renovations have to be to a value of above $150,000 and a range of projects within that have been excluded like swimming pools. It also is means tested so high-income earners won’t be eligible but the $150,000 of contracts have to be signed this year. There’s nothing in this package for social housing, nothing to provide affordable housing for essential workers. This is a very narrow package. And the idea that it will support a million jobs flies in the face also of the fact that there’s nothing in this package to support apprenticeships. And we know that today the prediction is a loss of a further 100,000 apprentices on top of the 140,000 apprentices and trainees that have been lost under this Government’s watch.


KELLY: The grants, as you mentioned, will be means tested and targeted to some degree, only available to people who, if we’re talking about the renovations, for instance, undertake renovations nevertheless of some pretty significant size valued between $150,000 to $750,000 popular with a lot of people I’m sure, but should we be funding people’s renovations? Pretty high-end renovations at that sort of cost.


ALBANESE: Well, the question for this Government is why it refuses to spend a single dollar additional on social housing.


KELLY: But even before we get to social housing, Anthony Albanese, and we’ll get to that, what about the size of these renovations? I’ve had a lot of listeners write in this morning saying things like, the Government didn’t give much thought to stimulating regional economies when they drew this up. A minimum spend of $150,000 over-capitalises most regional homes. Others pointing out that a lot of pensioners could do with a $20,000 renovation to their kitchen, but they won’t be eligible under this. I mean, have you had a look at the targeting of this and are you happy with it and will you support it?


ALBANESE: Well, look, it seems to me, we will await the Government’s final detail today and we’ll examine the package. But it seems to me to be very restrictive, to not be particularly well-targeted because there’s also a cap on the value of the home to begin with, of, I think it’s $1.5 million. But $150,000 is indeed a very substantial renovation indeed. And most people don’t have $150,000 in the current climate, people are concerned about their economic security. We’ve just gone into a recession after 29 years of growth. And so, the idea that people have $150,000 sitting around, we will wait and see how many people this applies to. But certainly, Josh Frydenberg’s bold prediction of supporting a million jobs is, quite frankly, just doesn’t add up, like most of what Josh Frydenberg has come up with in recent times.


KELLY: Let’s go to social housing. Labor has been calling for money to be spent on social housing to stimulate the construction industry. Now, there’s a lot of support for that too, but it would be a lot more expensive. One plan proposed was a $7.7 billion taxpayer funded plan to build community housing. Are you suggesting the Government should have another stimulus package for social housing in the order of billions? And will that be part of your negotiations if Labor is going to pass this HomeBuilder scheme?


ALBANESE: Well, Fran, one of the things I’ve got to say is that when you look at what the Government hasn’t done, the arts, social housing, you are lead to the conclusion that in some areas, this Government looks at people who are living in social housing or people who work in the arts and entertainment sector and says, ‘Well, we don’t think they are our voters so we won’t do anything for them’. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. For example, you could do modest programs of renovating social housing. One of the things that we did to get Australia through the Global Financial Crisis was 20,000 new social housing units and renovating existing social housing units. We know there’s a massive need out there and we know that during the coronavirus crisis, we had to put homeless people up in hotels, because there just simply wasn’t an availability of social housing. And the difference is, as well, investment in social housing produces a capital asset for government. And I would have thought that’s something that could be looked at whereas this scheme, and I’m not saying we’re opposed to this scheme, but this is putting Government money to increase the value of private capital rather than government ownership.


KELLY: But will you support this scheme, will it be predicated on the Government spending something on social housing?


ALBANESE: We’ll have a look at the detail. And we will look at this scheme on its own merits. Labor has supported the three stimulus packages. So, we’re likely to support. We’re not the Government. We are likely to support projects that stimulate the economy, because that is what is needed to maintain employment. But we will look at this and it looks to be a very flawed proposal at first glance.


KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. We are in recession, the Government’s conceded that. In turn, do you concede that we would be in much worse shape if the Morrison Government hadn’t done such a good job in controlling this pandemic?


ALBANESE: Well, we of course, have supported all of the stimulus packages. And we also have called for actions to deal with the pandemic to deal with the health issues. Labor was calling for strong restrictions. We were concerned about the fact that people were just flowing through our airports without even so much as a temperature check. And we were raising that. We have been constructive throughout this crisis. And we’ll continue to be so.


KELLY: So, you share the Government’s hopes and the Reserve Bank Governor’s hopes, Phillip Lowe, when he said things will not be as severe as earlier thought. Are you optimistic about that, and do you give the Government credit for that?


ALBANESE: I’m always optimistic. The people I give credit for are the Australians who have observed the health restrictions from the experts. This is an example of whereby we’ve come through this together, because people have listened to the experts, we have followed the science. And I give credit as well to those working people, the nurses, the cleaners, the supermarket workers, the bus drivers, the truck drivers, who have continued to work at risk for themselves. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve argued, to go back to the housing issue, an affordable housing package for essential workers, such as what superannuation companies, many of them are doing right now, should be supported by the Government so that people who are essential workers can actually get housing options closer to where they work.


KELLY: On JobKeeper, the Government’s looking at changing JobKeeper to stop overpayments. The scheme was out in a rush that the money could get into people’s pockets and there are anomalies and Labor has been pointing those out. You’ve been calling that for a while. You also want JobKeeper extended to some workers currently excluded. The JobKeeper review and the Budget update now won’t be released until July the 23rd. Should we wait that long for the Government to act on things like overpayments of JobKeeper, people getting more money through JobKeeper than they might have been earning in their permanent casual jobs for instance?


ALBANESE: Well, this is red hot, Fran. The Treasurer yesterday in amongst all this bad news that he was putting out delayed the Budget update until after the Eden-Monaro by-election. I can’t see any reason why there can’t be a Budget update, frankly, right now. The Treasurer and Finance do these details. They certainly were proposing to do it in the usual way in May, they would have had those details. And the Treasurer isn’t releasing them. And I can’t see any reason for the delay other than the fact that the Eden-Monaro by-election is on July the fourth.


KELLY: Do you think the Government’s deliberately holding it back for the by-election?


ALBANESE: Absolutely.


KELLY: Just finally, can I get your views on the situation in the United States it’s more than a week now of civil unrest there. Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, as you watch on, what is your comment?


ALBANESE: Well, it is just tragic, Fran. This great democracy that has been a beacon for the world. People look at what’s occurred, and it is tragic, certainly. The idea that the US is great again, as the slogan was put is anything but. And one of the problems that the US has, of course, is that they don’t have a safety net like Australia. So, their response to the coronavirus has been a lack of coordination and leadership from the national government and coordination to make mistakes. And that differs very much from the way that we’ve handled the crisis whereby people from different levels of government, from the private sector, have all tried to be constructive and work together. And the result is that there are millions of Americans citizens who have been thrown on to the unemployment queues with no support. You have on top of that, a divided society. And what you need from leadership is someone who unites the country not who seeks to divide for political purposes. And it is just tragic what we’re witnessing occur in the United States.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fran.