Topics: Housing fund; JobSeeker

09:45AM ACST
31 July 2023


David Bevan: Welcome Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David. Good to be with you.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, lots happening in federal parliament in Canberra this week. Chief among them will be this renewed debate over housing. Now the Government is reintroducing its housing package that will give Anthony Albanese a trigger for a double dissolution election. Some people might be asking why? Why is the Coalition siding up with the Greens on the opposite end of the spectrum to argue over social housing?


Simon Birmingham: David, couple of things there. Firstly, we’ve made our own decision. We’ve been clear on this from the very moment the Government announced this policy quite some time ago that we thought it was bad policy. But what they’re proposing to do is to try to establish something like the Future Fund, which you’d remember the Howard and Costello governments established out of the surpluses that we had at the time and the zero debt that we had at the time.

This isn’t the same situation, though. They’re going to try to establish a $10 billion fund completely out of borrowed earnings. Completely out of borrowings, and then park it off to one side and pretend that it’s not really a budget expense. We don’t think that’s legitimate. We don’t think it’s good policy in the way they’re going about it. In terms of then what it will actually do, the policy does nothing to help with home ownership and will do nothing in terms of guaranteeing that you actually see any sort of reversal in the huge slump of dwelling approvals that we’ve seen quite recently and now has them at the lowest levels since the Gillard Government.


David Bevan: But if you can borrow at a low rate and then invest it in the market and hopefully there’ll be smart people running this fund, you will, you will have a net gain. And they’re saying that net gain will be used to provide housing for poor people. What’s wrong with that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, David, if that’s the case, why doesn’t the Government borrow $100 billion or $1 trillion? I mean, let’s be sensible here. Ultimately, the Government has a fixed budget that it needs to try to work within. If it wants to spend money, it should be up front and do it on budget, not play this time of budget trickery. Now, this is in no way analogous to the establishment of the Future Fund by the Howard Government. When we had zero government debt and surpluses that enabled the establishment of it. This fund they’re trying to establish is just completely additional borrowing that will go into putting it in place. But we also don’t think that it is good policy when it comes to the way the housing market operates. It does nothing to help with home ownership at all and doesn’t provide any guarantees in terms of providing any type of fix to the slump in dwelling approvals, which will only get worse as this government pursues their industrial relations and other reforms that hurt productivity and competitiveness in the housing market.


David Bevan: The other battle will be over welfare. Your leader, Peter Dutton, has said that rather than give unemployed people on jobseeker an extra $40 a fortnight, he would allow them to earn up to $300 more without losing their welfare. Now, just to be quite clear, is he saying, is your party saying that yet you can earn $300 and it wouldn’t affect your welfare, your JobSeeker, in any way?


Simon Birmingham: Correct. That is the proposal that we’re putting forward. This is a constructive alternative policy proposal that we urge the government to embrace. But the situation at present with record low unemployment, lowest levels in around 50 years that this government inherited and small and medium businesses still crying out for additional workers, that labour market shortages are adding to the type of inflationary pressures we’re seeing across the economy-


David Bevan:  Amanda Rishworth, we’ve just spoken to her and our listeners have heard this. She says, well, first of all, it’s uncosted. It would actually add $1.6 billion to the budget. Secondly, she says you would find 50,000 people would be re-eligible for JobSeeker. So they would say, oh, thanks, we’ll take the $300 that we’re currently earning and go back and get JobSeeker. So that’s going to be I mean, they will think this is a great idea, but and here’s the kicker she says 70% of JobSeeker people would not be able to get this extra money, would not be able to earn the extra $300, so they would go without the $40 a fortnight increase and they wouldn’t be able to have this capacity of earning $300. So the majority of people on JobSeeker would be worse off. What do you say to that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s a lot in there. So in terms of the claim, it’s uncosted, that’s wrong. The costings, indicate it would cost around $1.4 billion over the forward estimates. That’s inclusive of all of those who would be eligible to receive the opportunity to keep more of what they earn. And so yes, there are some people who earn a little at present and would be able to keep more of their JobSeeker. And there are many people, 800,000 currently receiving JobSeeker who would be eligible to go out into the workforce. Around 75% of them for the first time in terms of declaring earn a little bit and keep it rather than seeing their JobSeeker come off at that time. So we think this is a good policy to provide more incentive for people to work. It’s good to address shortages in small and medium sized businesses to get more people of those on JobSeeker willing to do a little bit of extra casual work, a little bit of extra part time work, and they don’t get penalised for doing so initially, but it actually provides that incentive for them. It’s good for business and it eases some of those inflation pressures across the economy as well.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, David. My pleasure.