TUESDAY, 28 APRIL 2020
SUBJECT/S: Risk of job losses in thehousing construction industry, Company tax cuts, China
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare and also New South Wales resident. Jason, good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. So these restrictions, the easing of these restrictions involves you as a New South Wales resident. So is this the start of things to come in your opinion?
JASON CLARE: I hope so. We’re not grizzly bears. We’re not used to hibernating. The sooner life can go back to a little bit of what it was like before, the better. But we have got to be cautious because I think all Aussies don’t want to see happen here what’s happened overseas. Think about America for a moment. Only, I think, five or six weeks ago about 41 people had died. Now, I think it’s more than 50,000. So this is a virus which, if we’re not careful, can kill tens of thousands of people. And that’s why the app is important. That’s why I’ve downloaded it but it’s also why the actions the Premiers are taking following the advice of the Chief Medical Officers is really important as well.
STEFANOVIC: Just on the New South Wales Premier, there is an announcement that thousands of new homes will be built, Jason, and new industrial complexes, six schools as well. What are your thoughts on this announcement?
CLARE: Well if it’s true, it’s a good thing. Think about this for a sec, Pete. Over the last month or so, not a lot of people have been signing contracts to buy new homes. It makes sense when you think about it. If you’ve lost your job or lost confidence, why would you sign a contract for hundreds of thousands of dollars - the biggest investment in your life. Now, before the virus hit, we were thinking that the housing industry would build about 160,000 homes this year. Now, it could be as low as 100,000. If that happens, it’ll mean lots of job losses for tradies and small mum and dad businesses who work in the housing game. That’s why last week Albo and I said we need the National Cabinet – Federal,State and Territory Governments - to come up with a plan to look after these people, many of whom could lose their job in the second half of this year after the JobKeeper program has ended. So if the State Governments around the country are starting to think of ideas to make sure these tradies keep their jobs, and these mum and dad businesses don’t hit the wall then that’s a good thing.
STEFANOVIC: Well, numbers for tradies and apprentices had already low before prior to COVID-19 striking. So, would you be all for a plan of, you know perhaps, ramping up social housing construction?
CLARE: Well look, that could be one of the ways we could do it. I think the New South Wales Government has brought forward the maintenance of some public housing to keep tradies on. Up in the Northern Territory, they’re providing of vouchers to residents who do renovations, to encourage them to get tradies in to do work around the house. I think what the New South Wales Government is talking about today is potentially buying apartments or houses off the plan to encourage that investment to happen where otherwise it might not be happening because you don’t have people buying those apartments off the plan.
The bottom line is we’ve got hundreds of thousands of tradies who could lose their job if we don’t take action. The housing industry employs about 1 million people. Everything from electricians, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, tilers all the way through to the businesses that produce cement, the timber, the plasterboard – the whole box and dice. And whenever we’ve had a big crisis, think about after World War two, it involved building houses to build the recovery. The US did it after the Great Depression as well. So we need to be thinking now about recovery and a strong housing industry with tradies not losing their jobs is a big part of that.
STEFANOVIC: The government would say that you’ve got the JobKeeper allowance and they’ve also got the 50 per cent of wages that will be guaranteed for apprentices and trainees. That was the second stimulus package that was announced a couple of weeks ago. So are you saying above all of that?
CLARE: Well the JobKeper package is a good one that’s why we backed it. But keep in mind that it starts in March and finishes in September. What the housing industry is telling me is that the real problems are going to emerge after that. If someone was to buy a new home today and sign a contract, then the concrete slab would be poured in about four, five or six months time. So there’s a real risk that the pipeline of new projects will run dry - or is already running dry. That means that after the JobKeeper program ends in the second half of this year, we might find a lot of tradies out of work.
STEFANOVIC: Right. There’s an old saying ‘never waste a crisis’. There are so many calls for reform, economic reform. What’s your idea of economic reform? How do you think this could be achieved in this moment of crisis?
CLARE: I see talk about cutting the company tax rate. I’ve got to think most Australians at the moment, if you ask them how do you crawl out of this economic mess, they wouldn’t put at the top of that list cutting company taxes or increasing the GST. The fact is at the moment, a lot of big companies don’t pay company tax. I think it’s 1 in 3. And a lot of big companies won’t be paying tax for the next few years. They will bring forward some of those accrued losses. What we said before the last election was create incentives for businesses to invest here in Australia. If we want to stimulate the economy and aid recovery, then a better way than cutting company taxes where a lot of the benefits of that go overseas to overseas shareholders, would be to encourage more investment by big companies right here in Australia. And the Investment Guarantee like the one we proposed before the election could be a way to do that.
STEFANOVIC: So Labor opposed to company tax cuts last time so will they oppose them this time for that reason?
CLARE: Well we supported company tax cuts for small and medium-size businesses.
STEFANOVIC: But for all businesses?
CLARE: Most Australian companies got tax cuts. That’s important. But for the bigger companies, keep in mind here that 1 in 3 big Australian companies don’t pay company tax at the moment. I think there are bigger priorities here and better ways to make sure companies invest here in Australia to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
STEFANOVIC: Would it be your view that you know, businesses and unions have to come together, well they have to come together, in the way that they came together during the Hawke and Keating years?
CLARE: When businesses and unions work together, we get a better outcome. We saw that under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. You’re seeing a lot of that now. And I congratulate the business community, the ACTU, and the union movement, and governments around the country for working together. People don’t want to see politics at the moment. They don’t want to see squabbling, whether it’s Labor Party versus Liberal Party or businesses versus unions. They want to make sure that the leaders in this country are working on solutions to get them out of this mess to get them back to work and to keep Australians safe. So if we learn anything out of this crisis, let’s hope that we see a little bit more cooperation and collaboration between unions and businesses.
STEFANOVIC: Alright, and just finally a closing thought on the stoush, the war of words between Australia and China at the moment. Do you support the DFAT secretary reportedly giving the Chinese ambassador a what for this morning?
CLARE: Think about it, Pete. A virus has shut down the planet. I think it’s fair enough that we should find out how it happened. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again and so it’s important to do an independent inquiry like this. We’ve got a big, important economic relationship with China and that’s based on mutual interest, but it’s also in the interest of the whole world to make sure we find out how this started and how it happened to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, all sides of politics agree on that one. Jason Clare, good to get your thoughts on that this morning. Thank you so much for joining us.
CLARE: Good on you mate.