10 June 2015
Transcript - #2015034, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Media conference, Malvern Special Needs Playgroup

Joint media conference with
The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Social Services

SUBJECTS: Malvern Special Needs Playgroup, New Way of Working for Grants scheme, housing affordability

KELLY O’DWYER:

It is wonderful to be here at the Malvern Special Needs Playgroup and to welcome the very, very special guest we have with us today, Scott Morrison, who is the Minister responsible for Social Services. The Malvern Special Needs Playgroup is a particularly important organisation in our local community. It has been going for more than 35 years. It has been providing care to families in the local area and in surrounding suburbs, making sure that children with special needs who either have genetic disorders, might be on the autism spectrum, who need that extra special care with physiotherapists and also with speech therapists get that one-on-one attention. As I said, it has been going for more than 35 years and I'm delighted that the Minister is able to be here for a very, very special announcement. I'm also particularly keen to welcome the Mayor of Stonnington who is also with us today and the CEO of Stonnington. We are here in Stonington and this is one of the important local community areas that people can gather and can come together; Meredith Biggs, who is the coordinator of the Malvern Special Needs Playgroup and all the wonderful parents who are here such as Kathleen and her son Austin who were part of a forum that we ran not long ago with Scott Morrison when he was in town to talk about childcare. Scott, welcome, thank you very much for being here, it is wonderful to have you here and we are very keen on the announcement.

MINISTER MORRISON:

Thank you very much Kelly. It is great to be with you here in Higgins with all the families and everyone here working at the Malvern Special Needs Playgroup, particularly the kids. It is great to be here also with Kathleen and Austin who I met some weeks ago and for me really demonstrate why we need to do what we are doing today.

Today we are announcing that the funding for the Malvern Special Needs Playgroup will be continued, $120,000 over two years and it will ensure this important community service continues to operate here in the heart of Higgins. Not just that, today we are announcing the extension of funding of some $40 million to around 100 organisations all around the country. Not just here at Malvern but the Bumblebee Special Playgroup in North Queensland, Karralika and the services there for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in the ACT, the Men's Shed in Shoalhaven on the NSW South Coast, around 100 organisations performing very vital frontline community services that have been doing so in many cases for many years. At the end of last year there was the completion of a Department of Social Services grants round. I came into the job as Minister for Social Services at that time and announced that we needed to do further work on looking at where the gaps may have arisen on the continuation of vital services in communities like the one we are in here today in Malvern. We undertook to extend the funding for those frontline services for six months, three months for those involved in emergency relief. Over the last three to six months we have been working at identifying those gaps. I want to thank those local members all around the country who when I offered them to come and see me where they believe there might be gaps, where we could work together to fill those gaps and ensure important and vital frontline community services were able to continue. That's the process we have been involved in, whether it was Mirabel which has a strong support in Victoria and Michael Danby who raised that matter with me but also Zed Seselja in the ACT and Gai Brodtmann, both sides of the political fence, coming and raising issues and we have been able to work with those over the last six months. There is still the opportunity for us to further identify various programs that may need support and we will continue to work through that process. But the bottom line here is we want to support the frontline community based social services that make a difference in the community. Here in Malvern, we have that on great display. I want to commend everyone who has been involved with the project here over a very long period of time and we have one volunteer here today who is now getting 21st birthday invitation from the children she was supporting all those years ago when she first began. I think that says a lot about the community spirit and the community nature of these organisations. I particularly want to commend Kelly, she really took this issue to me very quickly and to be able to be part of the forum some weeks ago and to meet Kathleen and to meet Austin and to be here with them again today for this good news is a great thrill. Thank you to all involved. Any questions?

QUESTION:

Minister Morrison who are the losers from this announcement?

MINISTER MORRISON:

There are only winners from this announcement today. $40 million, around 100 organisations based on representations made to me by local community members and we have gone through and been able to identify the funding through the Budget process which we were able to secure in this year's Budget to ensure that frontline community service where there were clear gaps could continue to be funded. It is good news.

QUESTION:

Are there more with clear gaps that you expect will need funding?

MINISTER MORRISON:

As I said in my opening remarks where there are other gaps where we need to work through, we will make the announcements in due course. But the lion's share of those announcements we are

making today. I should stress that earlier in the year at the end of March we made some decisions in relation to ongoing arrangements for emergency relief funding and that was a similar process and it was a similar outcome.

QUESTION:

Do you agree with Joe Hockey house prices….

MINISTER MORRISON:

Why don't we stay on the issue of the day and if we want to go to other issues we can do that. If there any other issues on the grant process or the work being done in Malvern I am sure Kelly would be happy to talk about that she is a passionate supporter.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I'm ready for other questions if you want?

MINISTER MORRISON:

Ok, appreciate the strong interest.

QUESTION:

Do you agree with Joe Hockey that house prices are simply a case of cost and demand?

MINISTER MORRISON:

I might ask Kelly to also comment on this as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. But there is no doubt, and I think the Treasurer this morning again identified with the difficult task that many Australians face in being able to buy their first home and be in the housing market, whether it is Sydney in my home town or Kelly here in Melbourne her home town or otherwise around the country. I mean we have seen house prices rise in Sydney by I think around about over 14 per cent. We have seen strong rises here in Victoria. But in the rest of the country it has been around 2.5 per cent. The good news as the Minister for Social Services is what we have seen a much lower increase in rents around the country. The proportion of income which is being spent on rent is still around about 25 per cent. For those who are owning their own home, paying mortgages it is around 31.5 per cent. Which is a bit over what is the sort of comfortable level on those issues which is said to be around 30 per cent. Once you get above 30 per cent there is a bit of stress - there is stress that is related to that. The best way to address that, I believe, is to ensure that you have a strong and efficient housing market where the supply can match demand. In my home state of NSW, one of the things that has been occurring under the NSW Liberal Coalition Government there is they've been addressing housing supply issues. Now that's going to take some while to flow through into the market. But what they've done is put the infrastructure in place, they’ve released the land, they've been seeking to reform processes. We need to build more houses in this country. That's how you address housing affordability principally for the vast majority of Australian families trying to buy a house. That's what the Treasurer is talking about. The biggest impact on unaffordability of housing in Sydney came from the lockup policy of Bob Carr when he was the State Premier. He basically shut the city down on infrastructure and land release and that’s what forced prices up. I'm concerned that the policies of the Victorian State Government and the Queensland State Government now which has turned their back on increased infrastructure spending as a result of the decisions of the last election and you have a State like NSW going ahead with infrastructure spending in the way they are, that will improve housing affordability for millions of NSW families but sadly in Victoria and Queensland, they may well pay the price for the lack of infrastructure investment here. I ask Kelly to comment.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Look, I completely agree with the comments that the Minister has made. I'd also make this further point; the Treasurer has already taken action on this issue of land supply. We know that this is predominantly a State Government issue and the Treasurer has called on all of the State Treasurers to come together to actually report back to the Federal Government on what action they can take to increase the supply of land to build more homes. We know that there is an undersupply of homes in the country by around 200,000 a year. That principally goes to why it does cost so much to be able to purchase a home. We know that this is a very real issue for so many families, for so many parents who are worried about their children, grandparents who are worried about their grandchildren. It is a serious issue. There is no one silver bullet to this issue but the States need to get on board, release more land so that more people can afford to own their own home.

QUESTION:

So would you agree buying a home is as simple as getting a good job and having a good wage?

MINISTER MORRISON:

I don't think that is a fair characterisation of what the Treasurer said. I think, in my own discussions with the Treasurer over many years, not just recently, he has always demonstrated I think a deep concern about the challenges faced by Australian families not just in my home town of Sydney but right across the country. At the moment we are seeing the reverse of the situation in places like Perth and in Darwin. Some years ago, those were hot housing markets and housing markets can be cyclical, as we all know. What we need to do at all times is pull every lever we can, whether it's creating strong job growth – I mean one of the reasons why families have to go back to work, both parents, is to pay the mortgage. In this Budget, through our Jobs for Families package, we are making it easier for families to have the choice to go back to work, to support what are increases in cost of living, whether it is on the mortgage or whether it is on the rent or whether it is on other things. So you've got to pull every lever you can. The Federal Government, the Commonwealth Government, is doing that. We are challenging also the States and I must commend the NSW State Government and Mike Baird for not just land release but working right across the board on infrastructure provision, upon planning reforms, all of these things to ensure we get more houses built.

QUESTION:

Are you concerned your children won't ever be able to afford a house in Sydney?

MINISTER MORRISON:

Of course you want to ensure that every family has the opportunity to realise the choices they want to make. Whether that's to buy their own home or to pursue a particular career path or realise whatever dreams and visions they have for their family. Today we are hopefully realising the visions and dreams of families here in Malvern who want to ensure that their children continue to get the great support they've had in this special playgroup. Whether it is doing that or the economic policies of this government which are driving growth and putting people into work and giving families choice so they can go back to work. They are the sorts of outcomes that I believe will give our children better opportunities in the future.

QUESTION:

But is that a concern for you – for your own children that they wouldn't be able to afford a house?

MINISTER MORRISON:

Well my children are now five and seven and….

KELLY O’DWYER:

My child is three weeks…

MINISTER MORRISON:

It is every parent, I think it is every Australian's concern to want to be able to be in a position for their children to be able to realise their hopes and dreams, whether that's buying a house or the job they want to be in, or the education they want to pursue. We are working across all those're areas.

QUESTION:

I will just quote here directly from what Joe Hockey directly "If you’ve got a good job and it pays good money and you have security in relation to the job, you can go to the bank and borrow money, that's readily affordable". Do you agree with that?

MINISTER MORRISON:

All of what Joe Hockey just said in terms of gaining access to housing finance is true. The issue is how you can continue to keep up with the rising costs of being able to get into the market. The reason those prices are going up is because there is an insufficient supply to meet the demand. That is the driving problem of housing affordability, particularly in Sydney but more broadly across the country where that issue presents itself. So it is a multi-facetted response. I think to confine it in the way that the commentary on the comments have been done, I think, is unfair to I think the Treasurer's real appreciation of the issues here and his real concern for the families who are trying to get into the housing market.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think that's absolutely right. I think we are also - we also have to appreciate that there are some State Governments that are making it more difficult for people to be able to afford their own home because they are increasing the cost of construction of housing. Here in the state of Victoria, the Andrew government, one of the very first things they did, was abolish the compliance code. That abolition of the compliance code is going to mean that it is going to cost an extra $200 million over the next three years in added additional construction costs. That gets passed on to the person who is ultimately going to be purchasing those homes. It is going to be passed on to the people who are going to be renting those homes. It is not right to create more barriers and there are some State Governments doing a good job, like the NSW Government and there are some Governments who are actually making it more difficult for people such as the Andrews Government.

QUESTION:

Just back to Joe Hockey's question – sorry comments yesterday, with unemployment - this is something under your portfolio - at around six per cent, isn't all of what he said easier said than done?

MINISTER MORRISON:

It is important we try and encourage all Australians, young Australians, those in families raising children, those who are older Australians, where it's possible to get them into work and encourage them to be in work and stay in work. That's exactly what this Budget does; that what Joe Hockey’s Budget does. It tries to support the choices of Australians to be in work and to stay in work and to get in work. People who are in that position are going to be in a better position to be able to realise their aspirations of home ownership. Home ownership is something that is embedded in the psyche I think of Australians and has been for a long time. This is a good thing. This is a very good thing. We are doing everything we can to ensure that housing is more affordable and, as Kelly has said, that involves a strong partnership with the States and the removal of barriers, not putting barriers in place. I think it is important to understand the broad breadth of issues that are associated with housing affordability in the country.

QUESTION:

Just on a separate topic, do Australian authorities pay the captain and crew of people smuggling boats to turn them back?

MINISTER MORRISON:

That's a matter you'd have to put for the Minister for Immigration. I no longer have responsibility for those matters. I wouldn’t be in a position - I understand that the Minister himself has made a comment about that in the last 24 hours and I’d refer you to that comment.

Thank you.