MEET THE PRESS by gabyion


4 APRIL 2010



to Meet The Press. While health and border protection have been dominating
the political debate, housing affordability and the pressures of an exploding
population are emerging as major issues. The government is aware of it -
Kevin Rudd talking the talk early in the week.

PRIME MINISTER KEVIN RUDD: Too many Australians are locked out of the
housing market. Our government is taking action to turn around this particular
challenge. Investing in infrastructure and reforming planning so we can build
more houses and there are more affordable houses for working families.

PAUL BONGIORNO: With the Reserve Bank warning interest rates are on the
rise adding to would-be home owners‟ misery, the Opposition says Kevin
Rudd has to wear the blame.

OPPOSITION LEADER TONY ABBOTT: He wants them to think he is the
economic genius who saved Australia. In fact, he saddled us with years of
higher interest rates, higher taxes and higher debt.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But Tony Abbott had his own reality check with the
latest Newspoll showing the Coalition is back to where it was when he
became leader.

TONY ABBOTT: Running for government is tougher than running an ironman.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister for Housing and the Status of Women Tanya
Plibersek is a guest. And later, ACOS takes aim at welfare reforms – Clare
Martin joins us. But first, what the nation's papers are reporting this Sunday
April 4. The „Sunday Age‟ reports „Rudd Flips on „Big Australia‟. Just months
after declaring himself in favour of growing population, the Prime Minister will
consider slashing Australia‟s annual migrant intake to help tackle concerns
about housing, traffic congestion and the environment. The „Sunday
Telegraph‟ has „Foreign Property Buyers Probed‟. A foreign investment
watchdog has started 50 investigations into suspicious residential property
purchases by foreigners as part of a crackdown. The „Sunday Herald Sun‟
reports „Refugee On Smuggling Charge‟. An Afghan who worked as an
interpreter at Christmas Island has been charged with illegal people
smuggling from Indonesia. The „Sunday Mail‟ says „Coal Carrier Runs
Aground East of Great Keppel Island‟. Maritime emergency authorities are
scrambling to deal with a Chinese-registered carrier that‟s run aground off the
Queensland coast. There‟s a hole in the lower hull of the vessel. And it‟s
welcome to the program, Tanya Plibersek. Good morning, Minister.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Good morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, that crackdown on foreign property investors - why
has it become necessary now?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, the rules for foreign property investment
essentially have not changed in recent years. The rule is that if you are a
foreign investor, you can buy a new property so you‟re adding to housing
stock. If you are a temporary resident, you can buy one property but you have
to live in it. However, we have heard recent stories of increased activity in this
area so we are interested to ensure that people are following these rules and
following them properly.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There is a view…

TANYA PLIBERSEK: There is the capacity…sorry, go on, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, there is a view, especially in Melbourne, that
Chinese investors are pushing up prices. There was a report in yesterday's
papers that a student bid $1.8 million for a house.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, that‟s why we have to make sure that people are
following the rules properly. If they are not following the rules, the penalties
are that the property can be confiscated and people can be fined and even
jailed if they‟re not following the rules. We need to make sure that they are.
There is not lot of statistical evidence that this is a problem but we are hearing
a lot of stories, anecdotes that this is the case. So we are investigating this
area to make sure that people are following the rules properly.

PAUL BONGIORNO: In the figures that I saw reported in the papers, there‟s
only 1.5% of property ownership is in fact owned by foreigners. This does
seem to be right at the margins, doesn‟t it, despite the appearances?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Look, it is - statistically - a relatively very small amount.
We think that the most recent figures in January were about 1.6%-1.7% of
new property was going to foreign owners and that‟s well within the historical
range. It is usually between 1.5 and 2%. So it seems that the figures aren‟t
changing a lot, but, Paul, you said earlier that people are talking about
overseas investors bidding up particularly high-end property prices. We need
to make sure that this is within the rules and we‟re asking the Foreign
Investment Review Board and Treasury to ensure that‟s happening - that
people are within the rules.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, isn‟t it a fact that in this country, due to our tax
laws, that basically property is a tax haven? For example, we have negative
gearing which encourages investors into property and, of course, we exempt
the principal place of residence from capital-gains tax. Until we take this
head-on, we‟re going to see property prices continue to boom, aren‟t we?
That is the real problem.

TANTA PLIBERSEK: Well, it has been traditional in Australia that we exempt
the family home from capital-gains tax because we‟ve always wanted to
encourage home ownership in Australia. We see that there is an economic as
well as a social benefit for ordinary people being able to afford an ordinary
home in Australia. With negative gearing, we do have a shortage currently of
rental properties right around Australia. A comfortable level of rental vacancy
is around 3%. In most capital cities, we are well below that 3%. In plenty of
places, we are below 2%. So we do have other measures in place to increase
the stock of rental properties – our national Rental Affordability Scheme.
50,000 new affordable rental properties across Australia. But whenever we
are talking about tax changes, as we are with Henry, we need to look at the
social effects of any proposed changes and we do think encouraging home
ownership, not over investment in property, but home ownership and
investment in affordable rental are both good social and economic aims for
the long-term.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, the Reserve Bank governor had some timely
warnings during the week. Here is what he said.

interest rates to what we call „emergency settings‟ when we had an
emergency, when we thought we really were going to face a big downturn. I
think it is a mistake to assume that a riskless, easy guaranteed way to
prosperity is just to be leveraged up into property.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So, Minister, do you accept that interest rates are on the
way up and this will make housing even less affordable for especially first-time
buyers, won‟t it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, look - interest rates at the moment are the same
as they were in the 1970s. They are still at those emergency lows that the
governor was talking about. It is likely over time that they will increase, of
course. And when people are considering buying property - or borrowing
money for property - they really do need to do their sums very carefully. I am
not a financial adviser but I think a common-sense approach is to leave quite
a bit of fat in the family budget and anticipate interest-rate increases. I think
that‟s just a common-sense approach.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are you keeping your fingers crossed for next Tuesday
when the Board meets?
TANYA PLIBERSEK: Oh, look, we never like to see interest rates go up
because we know that every time they do, it is a bit more stress on the family
budget. But it is worth remembering that interest rates are at 1970s lows right
now. On a $300,000 mortgage, people are paying about $6,500 less now than
they were 18 months ago - per annum, obviously. So given that they are at
such low settings at the moment, people should expect over time – I‟m not
saying next Tuesday – but should expect over time that they will increase and
people who are thinking about buying do need to factor that into their

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the panel – we‟re
struggling to house 22 million people - how about 40 million? And trouble
seems to follow Barnaby Joyce, whatever portfolio he‟s in. Tony Abbott forced
to mop up after this effort on Tuesday.

BARNABY JOYCE: (Tuesday) Maybe that is how they‟re going to reboot the
economy. If they burn down enough houses, we can reboot the economy by
building them again. These people do actually read the Productivity
Commission Reports. I don‟t know – I use them when I run out of toilet paper.

TONY ABBOTT: (Wednesday) I think it was, er…sort of a joke.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You‟re on Meet The Press with Housing Minister Tanya
Plibersek. And welcome to the panel, Sandra O'Malley from Australian
Associated Press, and Marius Benson from ABC News Radio. Good morning,
Sandra and Marius.

BOTH: Morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Australia leads the developed world in population
growth and domestically Queensland leads the way. State Premier Anna Bligh
is worried enough to have held a summit on it.

QUEENSLAND PREMIER ANNA BLIGH: A city the size of Darwin moves to
Queensland every year and 70% of it arrives in the south-east corner.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The summit was told 10,000 people equals 3,600
houses. There are other economic benefits and challenges but yesterday the
Prime Minister announced a new Population Minister to devise a policy into
the future – the Opposition unimpressed.

TONY ABBOTT: (Saturday) And it‟s very hard to have a population policy if
you haven‟t got a border-protection policy.

MARIUS BENSON: Minister, does Tony Abbott have a point? It‟s one he often
hammers. If you can‟t determine how many people are coming into Australia,
how can you have a policy about the number here?
TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, I‟m not surprised Tony Abbott is being negative
about this – he‟s pretty much negative about everything. But we do think it‟s
very important to plan our population in the future. There are a number of
things that we need to take into account when we‟re considering population
growth. Housing – my area – is obviously one of them. But the other social
and hard infrastructure that supports that population growth - roads, railway
lines, new town centres and how we distribute our population across the
country, whether we extend the urban-growth boundaries of our cities,
whether we increase urban density in our cities, whether we develop new
satellite towns – whether we concentrate our population in those growing
regional centres that have so much to offer. All of these things are very
important considerations - the type of immigration that we have, the skills that
we focus on and whether we need increased or decreased migration over
time - how our environment copes. These are all the sort of issues that Tony
Burke will be discussing with State and Territory colleagues and other
ministers within the Commonwealth and I‟m sure local government that deal in
a lot of these distributions as well.

MARIUS BENSON: On that central point of pure numbers, it‟s been reported
the government‟s considering cutting the immigration intake. Is that right?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, the Prime Minister yesterday said that we expect
lower population growth over the coming 40 years than we‟ve had over the
past 40 years. But I believe – and the government position is - that migration
should be determined by what is in the best interest of Australia year-on-year.
And there are some years that we have needed, particularly in recent times,
to see people migrating for skills-shortage reasons, particularly during the
time of the mining boom when the Howard Government had invested so little
in training Australians and we had emerging skills shortages. When we don't
have those requirements, it makes sense to moderate immigration intake. But
those decisions have to be made on a year-by-year basis determined by what
is in the best interests of our nation.

MARIUS BENSON: Can I just quickly return to housing just for a moment?
When Paul asked you about capital gains and the negative gearing, they have
always been sacrosanct. You mentioned them in the context of the Henry
Review. Are they in the mix for change in the Henry tax review or are they

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, the Henry review is pretty broad-ranging and it
does include housing, taxes… I obviously won‟t be pre-empting any release of
the Henry Review or mentioning any response that the Government makes.
But we understand that housing supply and they way that tax influences
housing supply is the absolutely critical issue here. I mean, the key to
affordability in Australia is we haven‟t been building enough houses for a
decade now. We need probably around 180,000 homes each year just to
keep up with demand, and we‟ve been building - in a good year -150,000-
160,000. We‟ve been falling short each year. Our measures - our National
Rental Affordability Scheme to build new rental housing, our Housing
Affordability Fund to bring down the cost of construction of new homes by
paying for some infrastructure or helping with development-assessment times
and thereby reducing holding costs. I mean, these are the measures that are
going to help us contain housing affordability in Australia. It is increasing
supply that‟s going to be the key to making sure that an ordinary Australian
family can afford an ordinary Australian home into the future.

SANDRA O‟MALLEY: Minister, a lot of these problems surrounding population
have been with us for a very long time. The Prime Minister only announced
the new Minister yesterday. Why has it taken so long to get to this point? Is
the government just trying to keep this issue of the radar until after the
election, given that a strategy will not come out until a year away?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, this is something that the Cabinet has been
discussing for some time. You‟ve got to remember this Australian government
is the first government for many years to invest in Australian cities. We have
been prepared to come to the table for things like urban-rail infrastructure and
other public-transport measures and other measures that make our cities
more liveable places. I mean, there‟s been an indication from day one of the
Rudd Government that we are interested in how people live together in this
country. Not just how many people, but where they live - how they are
dispersed across the country. A lot of our work in the infrastructure portfolio –
a lot of Anthony Albanese‟s work in the infrastructure portfolio has gone
directly to that. I know that this decision to appoint Tony Burke as Population
Minister is one that‟s been considered by Cabinet for some time now and it
comes out of a history of work that we have been doing in this area.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Moving into the area of status of women, your other
interest - Tony Abbott now believes he has brought the Coalition from behind
the field to be in the box seat on work and family policy.

TONY ABBOTT: The Coalition's paid and parental-leave policy disconcerted
the Labor Party because they did not expect it. On this issue, at least, the
Coalition is driving the political agenda from opposition.

SANDRA O‟MALLEY: Minister, the Coalition is offering women 26 weeks' paid
parental leave and Labor only 18. How do you sell this to women as a better
option than what the Coalition is offering? And is the policy that the
Government‟s currently got what it will take to the election? Is there any room
to extend it when it comes to the Senate?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, look, I think the idea that Tony Abbott will even
deliver a policy in this area is a long shot. He is the man who said during the
time of the Howard Government that paid parental leave would happen over
this government's dead body. I think people are rightly very sceptical. This is a
policy that came just weeks after Tony Abott said no new taxes and it slugs
very substantial taxes on the companies that are already most likely the ones
to have their own paid parental-leave schemes. I think that there is a lot of
scepticism amongst Australian women and in the business community
generally that this will ever happen and happen in the form that Tony Abbott
has said it will happen in. I think that the reason there has been so much
support for the Labor policy is that it has comes out of a year of work of the
Productivity Commission, hundreds of submissions – very considered
submissions - that people have made. It is a guarantee to start next year

SANDRA O‟MALLEY: Will the Government move to improve the Scheme if
that is what it takes to get it through the Senate?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, we don‟t expect that there‟ll be opposition from the
Liberals and the Greens and the minor parties in the Senate. This is a
guaranteed laid-on-the-table… People can see a scheme that has been
fought for for decades by Australian women and men. It can start on 1st
January and people are making decisions right now about whether to have a
family next year. That is the option that is available to the Australian Senate.
Are they going to back the scheme or stand in the way of a scheme that will
deliver what Australian families have been fighting for decades - a paid
parental-leave scheme?

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK - thank you very much for being with us today,
Tanya Plibersek and have a good Easter Sunday.


PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up, Clare Martin from ACOSS takes issue with
the Rudd Government‟s tough-love policies, while syndicated cartoonist
Zanetti links the housing shortage to boat people. (READS) “Lucky for us we
got into the housing market before the boom.”

PAUL BONGIORNO: You‟re on Meet The Press. The Rudd Government has
disappointed many of Australia‟s welfare agencies by maintaining the
previous government's income-management policies and now proposing to
extend them beyond the Northern Territory. But Minister Jenny Macklin says
families – and especially mothers - have urged her to keep the regime which
quarantines payments from alcohol. She won strong support from Cape York
indigenous leader Noel Pearson.

NOEL PEARSON: (Wednesday) When you see community-store sales of
vegetables and food, clothing, shoes and so on – when you see those sales
double and triple, you know that you are on the right path.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Welcome back to the program, ACO…Chief Executive
of ACOSS, Clare Martin. I‟m swallowing my tonsils today.

CLARE MARTIN: Paul, good morning. Happy Easter.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, it‟s very hard to argue with Noel Pearson, isn‟t it?

CLARE MARTIN: Noel Pearson‟s talking about a quite different scheme. It‟s
actually a scheme that targets those who are at risk, who may be sending
their children to school and it‟s one that you work with that individual through a
number of processes before anything like income management comes into
place. The one that Jenny Macklin is talking about is quite different. It is a
mandatory scheme and it works in a very different way from the one that Noel
Pearson‟s talking about.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But I understood that Mr Pearson and the Minister
indeed were talking about extending the Northern Territory income-
management scheme. It‟s the same scheme?

CLARE MARTIN: It is a different scheme in North Queensland – it‟s a very
different scheme. The one in the Northern Territory will apply if you are on
youth allowance, unemployment benefit or if you‟re a single parent. It will
apply regardless of whether you are considered a person-at-risk or your
family‟s at risk. It applies across the board. That is the big argument that
you‟re hearing from the sector that I represent. It‟s not just the sector I
represent. It is a very heavy-handed and broad-brush approach and what we
would support is a much, kind of, targeted approach where you identify people
who are at risk and put the effort there.

SANDRA O‟MALLEY: Ms Martin, as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory,
you would have seen first-hand a lot of the dysfunction that goes on in some
of these families - children going to school without meals because the family
budget‟s going on alcohol or gambling. Isn't it impossible to argue against a
program that could actually help these children? And with a voluntary scheme,
isn't there a risk that the people who most need it would fall through the

CLARE MARTIN: What we‟re arguing is that those who are at risk – that‟s
where our effort should go. If you look at the services provided by the non-
government sector by government, it is, I think, fairly easy – or it can be done
- to target those who are at risk. This is a scheme that targets everybody
regardless of risk, regardless of how well you‟re managing your money. If you
are on unemployment benefit, do you know what you get, Paul?

PAUL BOMGIORNO: Well, it is around $230 per week, isn‟t it?

CLARE MARTIN: It just went up. So $230 a week - just managing on that, I
think you deserve an award for managing on that. You don't need to have the
Government come in on top of that to manage what you‟re going to do with
the funds you have got.

MARIUS BENSON: But when you look at unemployment, you say there
should be an increase in unemployment. But when the Government looks at
the electorate, it sees the taxpayers that are providing the money for that
unemployment and they talk about a policy of „tough love‟ perhaps - and
taxpayers want governments to be tough about giving out the taxes they are

CLARE MARTIN: Well, currently, if you look at the requirements if you are on
unemployment benefits like Newstart, we have some of the toughest
requirements on those who are on Newstart, Youth Allowance and single-
parent allowances of the OECD. So it‟s not as though people who are getting
those benefits can simply just sit around doing what they want. They have to
apply for jobs, there are compliance requirements and they can be breached
– they can lose those payments. If you go to the heart of what this is about,
it‟s very expensive. I mean, we're talking taxpayers dollars, Marius. In the
Northern Territory, when it starts to apply from July, it will cost $4,400 per
head to put this in place. That compares with the $500 that is spent to help
someone unemployed each year get a job. So why spend all that money? It is
a waste of money to me. It is not targeted. Let‟s use those funds – is they‟re
available - to really assist those Australians who are in need.

MARIUS BENSON: But aren‟t you ignoring a very strong view put by Noel
Pearson and others that this is the way to go? That this sort of guidance, this
sort of quarantining is the best way – not just in terms of using the public
purse but in terms of benefiting the communities?

CLARE MARTIN: As I said, the scheme in far-north Queensland is a very
different one to the one that‟s being applied in an income-management sense
in the Northern Territory. And then possibly applied right throughout Australia
to areas that the Minister decides are disadvantaged. So let's look at where
we‟re spending money, how we‟re spending money and really target those
kind of dollars to Australians who are at risk, who have families that are at

SANDRA O‟MALLEY: Ms Martin, as an organisation that target‟s the poorest
of the poor, are you at all bothered by some of the debate around asylum
seekers and refugees? Tony Abbott said he will do whatever it takes to keep
them out of Australia. Are we just demonising these people who are simply
seeking a better life?

CLARE MARTIN: I think it is one of the most alarming debates or potentially
alarming debates we have in this country. We have seen how divisive issues
like this can be in the past. I think it‟s very important that we have to recognise
the reality. We do have asylum seekers and I think it is very important for our
political leaders to keep the debate at a reasonable level, to not be emotive.
They must manage asylum seekers coming to Australia in a both effective
and humane way.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just briefly before we go, do you feel that if they do lift
the unemployment rate, that some people will see it as a signal that we don't
mind dole bludgers any more?

CLARE MARTIN: Oh, Paul, the rate has gone up from $228 to $232. And
certainly, it‟s way below, if you‟re on an aged pension. And when you talk to
people who are on an unemployment benefit, they are poor – they are really
struggling. And if they‟re in private housing, then often two-thirds of that
income will just go on a roof over their heads. They have got maybe $20 or
$30 each week to spend on food.
PAUL BONGIORNO: OK. Thank you very much, Clare Martin.

CLARE MARTIN: Thanks, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And thanks to our panel, Marius Benson and Sandra
O'Malley. A transcript and a replay of this program will be on our website.
Next week you will be more interested in Tiger Woods than politics, so until
the following week, goodbye.

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