Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Doorstop, Canberra – Housing industry, Australian Labor Party, instant asset tax write-off

Location: Canberra

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well I’ve just been talking to the Housing Industry Association about housing. It’s a very important sector of our economy, it employs many, many Australians and as people know, this Government invested in the housing sector during the global financial crisis to ensure that Australians kept their jobs, to ensure that small businesses continued to operate.

And today I was talking with the housing sector about what else needs to be done to ensure that sector grows. What we do know, of course, is that since the global financial crisis the housing sector has been dealing with some significant challenges. However, the Gillard Government has been investing in the housing sector. We’ve had almost 10,000 homes constructed under National Rental Affordability Scheme with 30,000 more homes still in the pipeline. We have the Housing Affordability Fund, which is reducing the cost of housing in areas across Australia. We have the Building Better Regional Cities program, which is building infrastructure and bringing forward housing construction and therefore housing supply to reduce the pressure of housing affordability. It is a critical issue in this country. But we will continue to work with the sector to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to make sure the sector is strong, that housing supply is provided to Australians so that they can afford to have a house they call home.

I’m happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: So what were some of the findings or some of the advice that you got in terms of trying to boost the sector?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, I think people understand and indeed the sector understands how important it is to our economy. It employs many, many Australians. It needs to ensure that it has the right settings, therefore we have to look at regulations at the local, state and federal level to make sure that we’re not having impediments to growth.

Now there’s no doubt as we announced the returning of the Budget to surplus that provided the Reserve Bank with the opportunity to cut the official cash rate. There’s no doubt, having seen the official cash rate reduced by 125 basis points in 12 months has provided greater opportunity for people to invest in housing. But there are still some significant challenges and what I was told today is that we need to work with the sector to find our way through those challenges so that we can ensure that we have sufficient housing supply for Australians so that we can ensure that Australians are able to afford a home. That’s what every Australian deserves to be able to do if they wish to do it, and the Government wants to work with the housing sector to make sure that we can realise that ambition.

JOURNALIST: How many more homes are needed over and above those that are being built or are in the pipeline?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, there’s some debate around the extent to which there might be housing shortage. Indeed the ABS data for 2011, the ABS data on housing, is still being fully analysed. The Housing Supply Council has said there is a significant shortage. I still want to see further analysis done.

But in the end, no-one’s disagreeing that we do need to ensure sufficient housing stock. And whilst we’ll continue to have a discussion and ultimately determine a more precise figure on the housing shortage, there’s no doubt we need to find ways to continue to increase housing stock.

Now, we had very good figures in May in terms of building approvals – it was the record figure for building approvals. That’s not yet a trend but it was a positive sign.

There’s no doubt as well that because there’s been contained inflation and there’s been the lowest mortgage rate for two years, we’re seeing I think an increased interest for people to enter the market and purchase homes.

So there are some very positive signs but there are some structural issues that we need to look to attend to and we need to do that in discussions with state and local government, and indeed the housing sector. And that’s the reason I’m here today, to listen to the concerns of the sector and to work our way through that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just on another issue, ministers said that July 1 would be a game changer. Nothing’s changed. Is it time to change the leader?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: I’m not sure who may have said that. My view has been since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister was that she would remain Prime Minister. She is embarking on significant historic reform. She has undertaken reform that has been too hard for others in the past. It’s very difficult reform, of course, therefore it’s challenging for the Government.

But my view is we need to continue to bring about the reforms that this country needs. That’s what’s important and we’ve seen a strength of character and a tenacity and a toughness of this Prime Minister to get the job done. We’ve seen that with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, we’ve seen it with pricing carbon, we’ll continue to see it with other issues including the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We’ll see that of course with further reforms to education, we’ll see that too.

So we’ll keep seeing this because we have a Prime Minister who leads, who doesn’t follow opinion polls but embarks upon reform that this country needs.

It’s much easier to do things that are simple or not do things at all. But this Government prides itself on wanting to reform this economy and bring about change for our future and we have in the Prime Minister someone who’s willing to do that, and she will be Prime Minister at the next election.

JOURNALIST: Are you not worried about a 28 per cent primary vote though?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Oh, look, if I spent my days and nights worrying about opinion polls I wouldn’t get my job done. My job is to ensure that we are doing everything we possibly can for millions of small businesses in this country. We just recently introduced the instant asset tax write-off which provides relief for small businesses, and the loss carry-back scheme – two great initiatives for small businesses that have been announced by the Prime Minister and myself as Minister.

Of course I’m talking to the housing sector today about what we need to do to help the housing sector continue to grow, increase housing stock so that we can ensure that people have an affordable home.

They’re the things that people worry about, they’re the things that I worry about as Minister. What I don’t do is continue to dwell on those other matters.

JOURNALIST: But it’s not great, is it? If you’re doing all this and trying to correct those things that people are worried about, why aren’t you higher in the polls?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: My point is that we will continue to do the things that are necessary. There’s no doubt that good reform is never easy but it must be done. You can hark back to the days when Hawke and Keating were bringing about significant changes. Well let me tell you, there’s been a bit of revisionism since then. In those days it wasn’t easy. In those days, that Government was attacked for the reforms it undertook but it did them because it was in the interests of this nation.

We’ll continue to do the same and ultimately the Australian people will of course make their decision. And they will look to either a Government that should be bringing about change in the nation’s interests, or an Opposition Leader who wants to continue to put himself first and put good public policy second. I think the Australian people are very wise and ultimately they’ll make the right decision come the next election, and Julia Gillard will lead us to that election.