Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Doorstop, Austins Ferry, Tasmania

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Thanks very much. Thanks for coming because this is a fantastic initiative and of course you’ve just heard from Carleen Jacobson, someone who’s been a beneficiary of what is a very important scheme initiated by the Gillard Government. This is about building 50,000 homes across the country to ensure that there’s affordable rent for people who deserve it. And Carleen is one of those people who deserves to have a decent home, and as she’s just outlined she has that.

I’m here today with the Labor candidate for Denison Jane Austin. We’re here to really underline the importance of investment in housing. It’s important for jobs, it’s important for people who need affordable homes. The Federal Government has invested in building 50,000 homes under the National Rental Affordability Scheme. We’ve built 20,000 homes under the Social Housing Initiative.

There’ve been 500 homes built in Tasmania under Social Housing, 500 renovated. That means people that are having difficulty finding homes have found homes as a result. We’ve built 500 homes under the National Rental Affordability Scheme with 1500 still to build. That’s great for builders, that’s great for the housing sector. Most importantly, it’s people like Carleen who deserve a decent place to live.

And we’re very proud of our housing investment. The previous Government ripped $3 billion out of housing, we’ve invested unprecedented amounts of money to ensure that our housing sector’s strong, that we came through the global financial crisis in a way that made us the strongest economy in the developed world, and we did so to ensure that we were helping people that needed help, and helped businesses that needed work.

I want to thank the Mali Group who have been involved in this particular part of the NRAS scheme. They’ve shown themselves to be very capable in delivering the homes under this scheme.

And I’ve mentioned already but I’ll say again, we’re announcing the fifth round under the NRAS scheme, a further 10,000 to be allocated to ensure that we have more houses in Tasmania, more houses in Australia generally.

Happy to take some questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the scheme cost?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: This scheme costs approximately $4.5 billion to build 50,000 homes, is to ensure that we provide support for those investors. And what this has done is attracted private investment to build these homes. We’ve had a shortage of housing in this country; that’s why rents are so high.

And it’s been very difficult for pensioners and others to ensure that they can stay in a home because of the rental costs. This investment has been great for jobs, it’s been great for the housing sector, most importantly it’s been great for people who’ve had – who’ve been under enormous pressure paying rent.

QUESTION: Of, though, that total, how far into the scheme are you?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: We’ve completed over 10,000 homes, with 30,000 currently under construction and we’ve got 10,000 further to allocate to organisations and companies to deliver those homes. So we’re quite way through this initiative – a very important one. It’s an innovative approach, never been used before in this country, but it’s been well received. It took some time for people to really comprehend its benefits early on, but now there’s a great interest amongst developers and builders and mums and dads who want to invest in homes, and indeed most importantly for those people who are looking to find a home for themselves.

QUESTION: No doubt you see this as a feather in the cap for the Gillard Government?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Absolutely. Look, we are proudly supporters of the housing sector. The housing sector is a huge employer, it employs thousands of small businesses. If we hadn’t invested, for example, in social housing or NRAS during the global financial crisis, we would’ve had very high unemployment.

If you look at – look around the world and compare us with other first world nations we have low unemployment, we have very low debt – one tenth the mean average of debt as compared to GDP than any other developed nation. We have a very strong economy, that’s important but that’s partly due to the fact that we made the right decisions at the right time when confronted with the biggest economic shock the international economy has seen since the Great Depression. And this scheme, as well as the Social Housing Initiative, were part of the solution to that problem.

QUESTION: Do you know how many of those 50,000 homes will actually be in Tasmania?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Two thousand in all, in the end. Five hundred are already complete – Carleen has one and there’s 499 others or thereabouts, and 1500 yet to finish.

So 2000 homes built under NRAS, 500 built under the Social Housing Initiative, 500 renovated under Social Housing Initiative as well. So, I mean, total, you could say we have 3000 homes. That has been a direct investment by the Federal Government in partnership and relation to the NRAS with the State Government. A really great boom for the housing sector, a great opportunity for people to not only maintain work but find employment. And again, important for Tasmanians who have been struggling to find accommodation.

QUESTION: How do Tasmanians qualify for this sort of assistance?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: They need only look to see if they want to find a place. Under NRAS you can apply to rent. This is a scheme that reduces the commercial rent to approximately 80 per cent; it has to be at least 80 per cent or less than the market value of the rent.

And people – of course most people who are entitled to occupy these homes are pensioners, are people in many cases who have worked all their lives or have contributed in so many ways to their community who just deserve to have a decent home. But also not only for pensioners, families who’ve been struggling. Families with children who have been in great difficulty or have found great difficulty in finding accommodation that can also apply here.

So people should – if they have an interest – they should of course seek out whether they’re eligible and do so.

QUESTION: It must be great for you personally to be able to hear these stories first hand now that this is making a difference?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well in talking to Carleen today, it’s just a reminder of how important this scheme is. Often when you’re sitting behind a desk in Canberra, you’re looking at the figures, you know it’s a good thing, but you don’t really get a sense of it in the – in a real sort of palpable way until you speak directly to people who have benefited from this scheme.

And so I’m very happy to be here with Jane Austin, talking to Carleen Jacobson about what it’s meant to her and – meant for her and meant for others like her. And so again, it’s a great thing and I’m very happy to be here.

QUESTION: Can we just talk about the election date for a moment? Were you given the heads up by the Prime Minister that this announcement was coming?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well the Prime Minister made the decision, as is always the case with Prime Ministers. The only difference in this case is it’s really called the election and really foreshadowed when it will be, providing, I think, an opportunity now for the media not to focus their entire attention on when it will be, but instead let’s focus on the respective policies of the Government and the alternative government.

And I think what that does allow is proper examination of what is the – what I would say is the paucity of policies that have – that are within the coalition’s supposed policy pamphlet.

They do not have any policies on education, no detailed costings on education, health. They don’t have a formal position on the NDIS, they don’t have, I don’t believe, answers to maintain our strong economy. And I think that provides therefore an opportunity for Australians to have seriously looked at Tony Abbott and see whether they believe he could well be the Prime Minister of this country.

QUESTION: Her decision makes – paints a very different picture for the next seven and a half months for you, though. Would it have been nice to have been given the heads up that this was coming?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well as I say, if you think former Prime Ministers sat around talking to their ministers about the election date you’re wrong. Whether it was Bob Hawke or John Howard, or Paul Keating, or others, it has always been the decision of a Prime Minister to make, it’s not one that sits around and is consulted by government generally. This is – there’s nothing new in that.

And what might be new is that we’ve had a Prime Minister who has stopped the needless speculation on the date, and made this decision so that there’ll be certainty for business, certainty for consumers, and I think that’s a good thing. There’s a strong argument as to why we should have fixed terms, this has certainly allowed for people now to get on with focusing on the real issues rather than the game playing on when the election date will be.

QUESTION: Do you think that this announcement yesterday has really set the parameters and the climate for the next few months? And do you think it will be a campaign driven one? Is this day one of the campaign?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: No, I don’t think that. I think the danger of not setting the election date would’ve been an endless speculation as to whether the election was going to be called early or whether it was going to be called late. Every month of this year has been speculated upon – I think other than June.

I think this allows us now to get on with the real issues, so rather than the media and others focusing on when the election might be, more importantly the media and others will focus on what policies there are by both major parties as we go towards the election.

QUESTION: Isn’t it unavoidable, though, that we are talking about the start of the election campaign today?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well the announcement was yesterday, so of course that will happen. But I think over a few days we’ll start to talk about what the Government’s plans are. We have of course, I think, very considerable plans. We have a strong economy because of the decisions we’ve made, we have strong economic growth, we have low debt, we have low unemployment, we have low inflation.

We have – as I say, we have the settings for a very strong future. And they’re because of the decisions we made. We are investing in education, we want to implement the Gonski Reforms, we want to implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme. These are things that the Gillard Government has set out.

By contrast, we have yet to hear in any way Tony Abbott’s plans for the future. He has only been – over the last three years – over relentlessly and aggressively negative. So this now provides him an opportunity to put forward his plan because to date there’s been nothing.

QUESTION: Just one last one for me if that’s alright. You’re with Jane Austin today who’s your candidate for Denison. What sort of endorsement can you give for Jane?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Jane’s a magnificent member of the community. She’s a great representative. She has of course a strong passion and interest in mental health, and I think she’s going to be a magnificent representative for this area.