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Transcript of doorstop: Noarlunga: Adelaide: 9 July 2007: housing affordability; blame game; Indonesian travel warnings; screening of visa applications; skills training; airport security; Iraq; same-sex discrimination; seat of Kingston.

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Subjects: Housing Affordability; Blame Game; Indonesian Travel Warnings; Screening of Visa Applications; Skills Training; Airport Security; Iraq; Same-Sex Discrimination; Seat of Kingston

RUDD: It’s good to be here with Jay Weatherill, the State Housing Minister, as well as Amanda Rishworth, Labor’s candidate for Kingston, to talk about housing affordability. We have placed housing affordability on the national agenda over the last week through the release of Labor’s New Directions paper on options for the future.

After 11 years in power, Mr Howard’s Government has had nothing to say about housing affordability until just two months before a federal election is called. And just two months before a federal election is called, Mr Howard’s Government says they might do something about Commonwealth land - maybe. Well, our approach is simply this: the housing affordability crisis across Australia is real. The housing affordability crisis in South Australia is real. It requires a whole-of-government response from the Commonwealth. And the Commonwealth Government, under Mr Howard, does not even have a Housing Minister dedicated to this portfolio. And if they were serious about dealing with the affordability crisis, then we would’ve had a whole set of policies out there to deal with the supply side and the demand side of this total housing affordability crisis.

For working families in Australia, this is a real struggle. Mr Howard’s response to working families dealing with housing affordability is to tell them that working families have never been better off. That’s what Mr Howard said in Parliament not long ago. Well, while Mr Howard may say to working families that they’ve never been better off, Labor’s response is to say we need a national housing affordability strategy now.

Already we’ve put out there a range of possibilities. Let’s look at one of them. How do we deal with the overall integration of the nation’s development of approval processes in order to take some of the costs off development? Another

one is how do we assist local government, nationally in particular, with some of the local government infrastructure charging which goes into the cost of a development?

Number three: how do we partner more effectively with state governments, such as the one here in South Australia, and with local authorities such as that at the Onkaparinga City Council, to work out how you can do better projects like the one that we’ve examined just here this morning? How can you partner more

effectively as a Commonwealth Government with projects like this?

On top of that, we’ve looked at how we can assist individual aspirants to become first home owners in terms of taxation treatment of deposits, or deposit accounts, which could be treated, for example, like superannuation accounts. That’s another proposal we’ve got on the table.

Further, what I’d like to also mention today, is how can we assist with the rental crisis across Australia. Housing rents are going through the roof and it is preventing first home buyers from getting into the home ownership market.

Therefore, we’ve got a crisis when it comes to assisting those who are in the rental market, have access to more affordable rental accommodation.

One proposal that we’re putting out there is this: that the Commonwealth Government could establish a pool of tax credits for those who are proposing to invest in affordable rental accommodation, and once they’ve invested in affordable rental accommodation and offer cheaper prices for those renting that accommodation, they become eligible to apply for tax credits from the Australian Taxation Office.

This is the sort of proposal which has been practiced in the United States for some time. I’m surprised the Commonwealth Government, after 11 years in office, has not thought of doing something similar to assist with the housing affordability crisis in this country. It’s this sort of practical measure that we need to examine and test fully.

That’s why Labor has taken the decision on the 26th July to convene a National Housing Affordability Summit in Canberra. We are bringing together industry representatives, the peak bodies from the housing and construction sector. We’re also bringing together representatives of state and local government, as well as others from the community and public housing sector. You see, this requires a whole-of-government solution which deals with the private first home ownership market, deals with affordable housing when it comes to rental, deals with social and community housing, and also deals with emergency accommodation.

We’re told, from the national data, that there are 100,000 people, including 10,000 kids as we speak now, who are out there and classified as being homeless. This is a national housing affordability crisis. It requires creative solutions from our national government but after 11 years in office, Mr Howard’s Government has been effectively silent until just two months before an election and then the proposal they come up with is fairly well half-baked.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a problem, though, Mr Rudd, that it’s a band-aid solution? You’re, effectively, subsidising a landlord, and I presume that’s what you’re saying, that it doesn’t solve the problem overall.

RUDD: Well, you know, when you’re dealing with the problem overall you’ve got to deal with each part of the problem. And that goes to the private home ownership market, the private rental market, social and community

housing, as well as emergency accommodation. When it comes to the private rental market, rents are going through the roof. What can you do at the affordable end of that spectrum to help? We’ve put another practical proposal on the table which is this system of possible tax credits for those who would invest in affordable rental accommodation to increase the overall stock and, therefore, bring rentals down. That, I think, is part of the answer but it’s certainly not the total answer. That’s why we’re bringing a summit together to look at all elements of the problem and come up with an integrated set of policy responses.

JOURNALIST: Are you carrying out case studies as part of your investigation into this policy? Can you comment on those?

RUDD: We are looking at the way in which this has operated on the ground in the United States. And the reason we’re having this summit is to make sure that we get the best input possible from state governments, who, I understand, have looked at similar proposals in the past, as well as from the private development community.

As I’ve said before when it comes to our summit proposal, we don’t pretend to have all the answers but we believe that by getting the best brains in the country together on housing affordability, we can come up with some of the answers. Mr Howard’s response has been to say, ‘not my problem, blame the states, blame someone else’. I think the country wants practical, positive solutions.

JOURNALIST: What about encouraging state governments to cut land tax and stamp duty?

RUDD: When it comes to the whole impact of taxes and charges on development costs, we understand that that’s part of the overall affordability equation. One of the things that we’ll be discussing with state and local government representatives is how they intend to manage those charging regimes into the future.

Let me emphasise local government charges. Various parts of the country, local government charges are introducing costs of between $40,000, $50,000-plus into the costs of an overall development. The Commonwealth Government has,

effectively, abandoned the field when it comes to assisting local governments lay out infrastructure.

So, one of the things we want to debate at this Housing Summit is what future partnerships are possible between the Commonwealth Government and local governments to assist with the emerging infrastructure needs of communities, particularly in outer urban areas, but also in key regional centres as well.

JOURNALIST: We’re only a few months out from the election, what’s the process going to be in terms of this housing, you’ve got the Housing Summit coming up in, at the end of this month, can we rest assured there will be a housing policy settled and in the political marketplace well before the election.

RUDD: Absolutely, you obviously haven’t read my earlier statement on this. The process is this: one, we introduced, we released, in fact only a week ago in Brisbane, a New Directions paper on housing affordability. Two, we’re convening a housing summit on housing affordability in Parliament House in Canberra at the end of July, where the full set of supply and demand side measures, as canvassed in that paper, will form the basis for the agenda for the day. Three, once we’ve had the input from industry, including the finance sector as well, in the month or so following that you’ll have, from us an integrated affordable housing policy, an integrated national strategy on housing affordability which we’ll be putting to the people for the election.

JOURNALIST: Is this something that’ll look at the States release of land too, because surely that is part of the problem, as all these other things?

RUDD: Well, you know, I don’t believe in cost shift, blame shift, you know, everyone has got partial responsibility here. But what I do notice is that state governments are rolling up their sleeves to do what they can, like the state governments participation in this project here, as described to me, in which the local authority here in Onkaparinga has also been a participant, together with the developer. But I don’t see the Commonwealth with its sleeves rolled up, engaged in this level of effective local participation in the overall housing affordability challenge. So, what I’d say is local governments can do better. I’m sure state governments can do better but our national government has been doing practically nothing at all, and I draw your attention to the various public statements by the Housing Industry Association about their view of the national government’s role.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, what’s your reaction to the upgrading of the security situation in Indonesia and also the extra security screens on visa applications?

RUDD: I think when it comes to the travel warnings as it relates to Indonesia, the relevant national security officials will always be putting their submissions to the Government and I assume that those officials, be it through

ASIO or the other agencies have put together the right advice which underpins those assessments.

When it comes to the role of Jemaah Islamiyah in South-East Asia, can I say this: terrorists are still alive and well in South-East Asia. Jemaah Islamiyah is still alive and well in South-East Asia and this is a continuing challenge for Australia and the fact that we still have Australian combat forces in Iraq continues to make

Australia a bigger terrorist target that we would otherwise be. We have an exit strategy for our combat forces in Iraq. Mr Howard simply has a wing and a prayer for the future.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government might be trying to generate perhaps more fear than is necessary in the lead up an election?

RUDD: Oh, I have confidence in our national security officials, whether it’s ASIO and ASIS and the other agencies within the Government that they are doing a professional job as public servants and providing advice to the Government. The other question which was asked to me before was about, the, ah…

JOURNALIST: Extra security screening.

RUDD: Extra security screening. Can I just say this? The overall challenge for Australia, when it comes to security screening and people on work visas in particular, needs to be put into some context. Right now, Australia is taking in hundreds of thousands of people on work visas into the country. This surely must also raise a question about the overall national skills shortage. The skills shortage is also relevant to costs of housing. Part of the housing costs at present has been ballooned out because we have a shortage of tradesmen.

Why do we have a shortage of tradesmen? In part, because there’s been an absence of national skills planning in Australia. Look at the run down of our TAFEs over time. Look at the run down in terms of trades training within schools. But stepping back from that overall question, let’s just look at why we have this overall national skills shortage and, therefore, how that tunnels into the bringing in of skilled persons from overseas. Our companies at present don’t have much of an alternative. Our public health authorities don’t have an alternative.

Local hospitals are bringing in medical doctors from overseas and you can understand why they have to do that to deal with the current challenge. But when it comes to medical doctors, can I say this? What is it that has prevented Australia from planning effectively for the number of doctors it needs over the last decade or so? Why is it that we’ve not had enough planning and resourcing of medical faculties at Australia’s universities to produce enough doctors? That isn’t exclusively a federal government responsibility. What has been the problem here? Why aren’t we producing enough doctors for the future? Why do we have

to have tens of thousands of medical specialists brought in from overseas when, if there was proper planning in Australia, that demand from overseas would be less.

I have complete sympathy for medical institutions and hospitals having to deal with the crisis they currently face in terms of doctor shortages but the challenge for our national government is why has it got to this after 11 years in office? There’s been such poor planning by our national government on having enough

doctors trained in Australia.

JOURNALIST: So, the extra security screening is justified, do you think? I mean, does that put Australians into a heightened sense of fear of the terrorism threat?

RUDD: We always support practical measures on the ground when it comes to dealing with the current security challenges to Australia. Always have done, always will so because these are practical things which are expected of the government or of the alternative government. I’m also looking at the factors underpinning that, which is: why do we have this huge requirement to continue to import vast numbers of skilled workers from overseas. I understand why employers have to do that. I have no objection to it, in itself. But I ask the question: where has been the effective national planning for Australia’s future skills needs, including: doctors and nurses and others to make sure we’ve got enough being trained locally?

JOURNALIST: You spoke this morning about baggage screening and your frustration with the fact that that hasn’t been implemented thoroughly. What’s your concern there?

RUDD; Well, a couple of years ago, we had the Wheeler Inquiry into airport security in Australia. When it comes to practical national security measures, the Federal Government said that it would implement all the recommendations of the Wheeler Inquiry. One of those recommendations was that all air cargo which was being stored on passenger aircraft should be screened. We’ve found from a revelation from a transport security official, only a week or two ago, that that was not happening and that’s two years after this

Inquiry. If Mr Howard is serious about national security, my challenge to Mr Howard is to ask why is it that two years after this special Inquiry, we still don’t have the full screening of air cargo going onto passenger aircraft. As recommended by his Inquiry.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, on Iraq, Alexander Downer said on AM this morning that a withdrawal from Iraq could lead to widespread conflict in the Middle East but then went on to say that the war had nothing to do with oil. Is that a credible position?

RUDD: Oh, Mr Downer, Mr Nelson, Mr Howard, they make it up as they go along on Iraq and frankly I don’t think anyone believes them any more.

JOURNALIST: What’s your response to Kevin Harkin saying he’s going to kick the shit out of the Party to change it? Are you going to let him do that?

RUDD: Well, I haven’t seen the full detail of that report and I’ll look at it in due course.

JOURNALIST: The Human Rights Commissioner’s released a report on same-sex discrimination, apparently the details, something in the order of 58 different federal rules and regulations that directly discriminate against same sex couples. What do you think that says about Mr Howard and his Government’s approach?

RUDD: Again, I haven’t seen that report and I’d like to look at it more carefully. But when it comes to the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples, I think this is something on which there’s a bipartisan consensus in the country and it’s something where action needs to occur to make sure that all forms of discrimination of a practical nature are removed.

JOURNALIST: If I can just ask you a quick question about Kingston. The Party was surprised to lose Kingston in the last election. How confident are you in your chances of winning in this seat?

RUDD: Amanda Rishworth’s a great candidate. She’s working hard and I sense a mood for change in South Australia and today I’ll be both here in Kingston, later in the day in Boothby, also in Sturt. I believe the mood for change in South Australia is because after 11 years, people here feel that this Howard Government has gone stale. They feel that the Government has lost touch with the needs of working families and that’s evidenced in the Government’s response to the housing affordability crisis. Thanks for your time.