June 04, 2020


SUBJECT: HomeBuilder scheme.

PAUL TURTON, HOST: Labor has said the package is lacking and the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Pat Conroy is the Federal Member for Shortland and joins me now. G’day Pat, how are you going?


TURTON: Yeah, fantastic thank you. So, what don’t you like about this?

CONROY: Well first off, it’s too little, it’s not enough, and it’s not well targeted. We’ve been calling for urgent stimulus to really rebuild the housing sector that’s facing a drop in housing construction of almost a third, so we are saying more money needs to be spent constructing more social housing, repairing and maintaining the existing social housing stock, constructing more rental accommodation – affordable rental accommodation – for frontline workers, and looking at expanding the first home owner deposit scheme. So they’re areas that I think are better targeted that will drive more demand in the housing sector and also really help people who need the help, so particularly social housing and affordable rentals for frontline workers such as nurses, police people and ambos.

TURTON: Pat, the industry likes it. The Executive Director of the Hunter Branch of the Housing Industry Association Craig Jennion says that the package will give confidence to business owners helping them to hold on to staff. This is what he told us earlier today:

GRAB FROM CRAIG JENNION: It is all about jobs, this is unashamedly a jobs, jobs, jobs package, and what this is about is getting as many major projects up and ready in the back half of this year to keep tradesmen employed. There’ll certainly be some opportunities to look at broadening programs, looking at other elements such as social and affordable housing, but at this time this project is all about major activity.

TURTON: Do you agree with that?

CONROY: Well it’s better than nothing, and I am trying to be positive by saying it’s better than nothing. But to give you an idea of the scale, the industry predicts that instead of building 160,000 homes this year, we’ll only build 100,000 homes. This package at best will only drive 10,000 more homes, so we’re still looking at a massive drop in housing construction which will lead to big drops in employment in that sector which will obviously make the recession worse. So, this is not enough.

And to give you an idea of the scale of what’s been done in the past: this is a $680 million project. During the Global Financial Crisis, the Labor Government put in place a $6.6 billion package to build social housing units and Defence housing units - $6.6 billion versus $680 million – so that’s, I think, a significant criticism. 

And the other one quite frankly is around the renovation side. The conditions on this mean that a lot of this money isn’t going to be spent – you have to be in contract by the end of the year, you have to start building and have your first payment by March next year, so this means that this grant is really only going to be available for people who were probably going to do the renovation already because the smallest renovation is $150,000. So not many people have a lazy $150,000 lying around that they haven’t already decided to spend on a renovation.

TURTON: Well they only need $125,000 of course.

CONROY: Yes, but I don’t think it will make that much of a difference Paul.

TURTON: Pat Conroy, what’s the problem with social housing? If $6.6 billion couldn’t fix the problem last time, why have we got such a massive social housing problem?

CONROY: Well that made a very significant dent. So that money built 28,000 social housing units, but at the moment we’ve got 150,000 people on the waiting list for social housing including 1,700 in the Lake Macquarie/Newcastle area. So there’s a huge waiting list, and what’s occurred is governments over the years have not funded it enough, particularly the Federal Government under Mr Howard and then again under Mr Abbott really withdrew from that sector, whereas governments previously for example the Hawke Government and to be fair the Fraser Government – so governments from both sides of politics – chose to work with the States to invest in social housing. But the Federal Government has withdrawn which means it’s left to the States and the States don’t have the money. So that’s why we’ve got this 150,000 person waiting list, and that’s why we’ve been saying that this is a great way of stimulating the building sector, building these social housing units so that we can tackle homelessness. We’ve got a lot of homeless people at the moment and people living in their cars, people escaping domestic violence, Defence veterans are homeless, so we will have a huge social dividend while driving the economy. It’s a very fair way of approaching this issue I think.

TURTON: Pat Conroy, a lot of people see their local member as being the catalyst for solving social problems, and we do know that you get all sorts of enquiries day-to-day about the issues. People not being able to pay their electricity bill for example will often go to their local member. What kinds of stories are you hearing at the moment as the Federal Member for Shortland?

CONROY: I’ve been working with local foodbanks and community organisations because we are seeing a real spike in people facing really tough economic circumstances. So we’ve been working with community organisations such as the Swansea Community Cottage, the Belmont North Neighbourhood Centre, the San Remo Neighbourhood Centre who have resources to provide food packages or gift cards for supermarkets. We’ve been operating as a clearing house, letting people know about it, providing those links to them, and also advertising other services people aren’t aware of. 

We’re in desperate need of more volunteers because a lot of the volunteers for these local organisations are in high-risk categories themselves because they’re older Australians, so we’ve got shortages of volunteers. For example, I’ve started doing a Meals on Wheels run for Swansea Meals on Wheels because a lot of their volunteers have had to self-isolate, and I was with Charlestown Meals on Wheels today and they were telling me they’ve had a significant drop there, so I’ve been putting out appeals on Facebook for young people who might not have all of the employment opportunities they want at the moment to maybe think about volunteering and helping some of our isolated seniors.

TURTON: Yeah it would be a wonderful thing to do wouldn’t it. Pat Conroy, thanks for coming on today.

CONROY: Thanks for the opportunity, take care.