SUBJECTS: Housing Affordability: Enegry Crisis; Gas Exports; Liberal's Citizenship Chaos


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hi everybody. My name is Tanya Plibersek. I am going to ask Clare Burns to start us off and then later, we will hear from Kathleen and Franco if you're interested as well.

CLARE BURNS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR STATE SEAT OF NORTHCOTE: Hi everybody. I am Clare Burns; I am the Labor candidate for the upcoming Northcote by-election. I'd like to thank Tanya so much for coming to visit our community today while she is in Melbourne. And I'd like to thank Kathleen and Franco for having us around to their house for a cup of tea as well.

40 per cent of this electorate rents their home; I am part of that and so are Kathleen and Franco and we heard from them today about some of the challenges that they're facing renting, including some of the difficulties that they are having with their landlord and their agent in getting the hole in their roof fixed; that's leaking water, that sends smells from the upstairs neighbour's dinner coming down. And also the challenges that they face in saving for a deposit and saving to buy their first home.

Housing Affordability is a real concern. I've been having a lot of conversations with people in this electorate about that. It's fantastic that the Daniel Andrews Labor Government are making real steps towards changing this and making housing fairer for people; removing stamp duty for first home buyers on homes up to $600,000, placing a tax on vacant properties that have been vacant for up to 6 months, making longer term leases so that life can be fairer for people who are renting. 

And so, I am really honoured to be here with Tanya today who is also part of the Federal Labor Party which are really gunning to do things for first home buyers and making sure that people who love living in these communities have a fair crack at staying here and being able to buy their first home. So I'll hand over to Tanya now and she can say a few words.

PLIBERSEK: Well, thanks very much Clare. It's such a pleasure to be here campaigning with you even though the circumstances of this by-election are very sad. Fiona Richardson was a fantastic local member and a great contributor to the Andrews Government. And a great voice for women and children, in particular, who are facing family violence and domestic violence. 

It is wonderful though to be able to campaign with Clare who would be such a worthy replacement for Fiona; someone who is absolutely connected to her local community, has lived here for almost two decades - who really knows what it is like to be Northcote local. 

We know that the Andrews Labor Government here in Victoria is making some really important investments in housing affordability; for long-term renters, for people who want to buy their first home, for Victorians who are homeless or facing the threat of homelessness. But it is not much use having a terrific progressive Labor government, even with a strong local representative like Clare, if you have got a federal government doing everything it can to undermine housing affordability.

So I am here today to say that people should vote for Clare so they've got a strong voice within the Daniel Andrews Labor Government who can speak up about housing affordability issues in the inner city, and also that the Andrews Government should be commended for the efforts that they have made around housing affordability and homelessness. What I would like say is that the Federal Government ought to actually do something about housing affordability as well. All we've seen from the Federal Government is a Prime Minister who says 'get rich parents', a former treasurer who says 'get a better job' and a Deputy Prime Minister who says 'move to the country' when you raise the issues of housing affordability. 

In the meanwhile, Labor has proposed changing the tax regime around negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax. At the moment, most people who are trying to buy their first home get less help than someone buying their 7th or 10th home from the taxpayer.

We want to see first home buyers actually able to compete on a more level playing field with investors who currently receive very substantial government benefits for buying multiple homes in some cases.

50 per cent of the benefit of negative gearing goes to the top 10 per cent of earners. And against that, we have people like Kathleen and Franco, who are a teacher and a barber who are on ordinary incomes trying to save a deposit. And the whole time, housing is becoming out of reach because investors are being supported to compete with first home buyers in the market.

We also have a government federally that's cut new building money for homelessness services, cut the national rental affordability scheme, which was providing affordable long term rental, has cut the homelessness council, the housing supply council, got rid of first home saver accounts. And as I say, perhaps most critically, absolutely refuses to do anything about negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax; really supercharging housing unaffordability in inner city areas like this.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: I have a question for Ms Burns. So, the Greens have been eating away at Labor's inner Melbourne vote for quite some time now. How worried are you that they are going to take this, take the Northcote seat for their own?

BURNS: I have been talking to hundreds of people over the last few weeks about their thoughts and feelings on this upcoming by-election and their thoughts and feelings about living in this community. And they are all saying the same things to me. They are really concerned about their ability to stay here, about their ability to afford to live here, and about the fairness in the housing market. And they see the Labor Party as the being the party that can form government and they can actually do something about this. The Greens can pay lip service, but they can't change anything through legislation, and so I'm not concerned at all. The people of Northcote are very smart, and they know what needs to be done to actually make real change on these issues. 

JOURNALIST: I just have some federal politics questions for you if that's alright? 

PLIBERSEK: Do you mind if I add, on the issue of the Greens - I represent an inner-city electorate a lot like this in Sydney, and what I see, again and again, are the Greens campaigning to undermine progressive Labor Governments. So instead of having a government that can actually do something about housing affordability, in the case of the Andrews Government already investing more in homelessness services, social housing, long-term rentals, and helping first home buyers into the market, instead of supporting a government like that, they're trying to undermine it. Wouldn't it be much better to have a strong local voice inside a progressive government than one more whinger on the cross benches complaining about stuff? 

JOURNALIST: Will Labor more broadly be looking to the results and the performance here in the by-election in terms of its implications across areas like you've mentioned in Sydney? 

PLIBERSEK: I think we've got an excellent strong local candidate here, and I'm confident that what we'll see is a good result on election night that retains this seat for Labor, so we'll be taking comfort from the fact that people are smart, and they vote for strong progressive Labor governments, not people who can't really effect change, can only complain about stuff. 

JOURNALIST: You say that when you're in Opposition though. 

PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry, I don't understand your question. 

JOURNALIST: You said people vote for Labor governments, but you guys are in Opposition, so it doesn't necessarily go your way and there is a good possibility that the Greens could take Northcote.

PLIBERSEK: Well that would be a very disappointing result for the people of Northcote to not be represented in a Labor Government. It would be a real loss going from having a strong voice inside a progressive government to having someone whining from the sidelines. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think if Northcote falls to the Greens, then other inner-city Northern seats like Richmond and Brunswick are gone? 

PLIBERSEK: No, I’m not going to come down and make far distant projections about what might happen in Victorian politics in the distant future. We're talking about this by-election right now, and we're talking about a strong progressive Labor Government that is actually delivering on the issue that matters to the people of Northcote, housing affordability, with measures including as Clare has reminded you, removing Stamp Duty from homes under $600,000, reducing it from homes up to $750,000, building new social housing, 6,000 new dwellings, renovating 2,500 new dwellings, working to permanently house homeless Victorians, so covering the whole span of investment in housing, from homeless Australians to long-term renters, to prospective first home buyers, and instead of that, you can have people making all sorts of claims that really make no difference to anybody’s life - I know which I'd choose. As a resident of Northcote, it's no contest. 

JOURNALIST: So Federal matters if I may, the Prime Minister is negotiating with gas exporters today, to try and secure more gas, would you support a permanent retention mechanism in law to ensure enough gas is retained for domestic use?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm not sure that the Prime Minister is actually negotiating. I think he's invited the heads of gas companies to Canberra for a nice cup of tea again. It is very disappointing that the Prime Minister has one really strong bargaining chip to use with the gas companies, and he's absolutely refusing to use it. When we say we want the Prime Minister to pull the gas trigger, what we mean, is we need the Prime Minister to say formally, what he has said informally. Next year, Australia risks gas shortages. He's not prepared to use that emergency power, which is the only thing that will actually make the gas companies sit up and take notice. Being brought to Canberra for a bit more finger waving from the Prime Minister is not going to make them keep Australian gas in Australia. Since this Government was elected, seven coal-fired power stations closed down in the five years of the Liberal Government, and nothing to replace that base-load power generation. So having taken 4,000 megawatts out of the system, the equivalent power you would need to power 6 million homes, the Prime Minister is now saying: someone ought to do something - perhaps someone should act. He has the power the act, he's refusing to use it, we need to have more Australian gas kept in Australia so that our factories and our homes can have an affordable power supply. We need to invest more in renewables because we know that renewables are now cheaper than coal. We need to invest more in storage, because yes it's true, that the sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow, but battery storage is becoming cheaper all the time. And fourthly, we need security in our energy policy, predictability and certainty. While ever there is a civil war inside the Liberal and National Parties, with some people's adherence to coal blinding them to the fact that the whole world is pursuing a decarbonised energy economy, we're not going to get that security for investors who would line up to invest in new power generation if they had some certainty and predictability. 

JOURNALIST: Part of that question you didn't quite answer though, but do you support a permanent retention mechanism in law?

PLIBERSEK: At the last National Conference, more than two years ago, we said we should reserve Australian gas, more Australian gas to meet Australia's national interests, to make sure that we've got enough gas to power our factories and homes. We said that two years ago and the Liberals accused us of being economic vandals. 

What we'd like to see is a mechanism to keep more Australian gas at home, in Australia's national interest. We know what the mechanism is, the Prime Minister has the ability to declare that next year we are likely to see gas shortages and he has the ability to tell the gas companies to keep more gas in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: Lot of gas in Victoria that's locked up at the moment, will you pressure Daniel Andrews to open some of that up?

PLIBERSEK: You could throw open, you could throw out every environmental protection tomorrow and the gas that you'd find in Victoria wouldn't be online in time to avert the blackouts predicted for this Christmas, this summer. So I think it's a bit of a red herring for the Prime Minister, yesterday to start looking to blame the Victorian Government, the Northern Territory Government, and perhaps most surprisingly of all his own Liberal friends in New South Wales, and urge them to ignore their own environmental protection legislations to bring on more gas more quickly. 

If you bring on more gas more quickly it wouldn't be ready for Christmas and frankly, you could bring on more gas more quickly and the gas companies could export it if they're going to get better prices for it overseas. That doesn't actually fix our problem. We need to invest more in renewables, invest more in storage, promote investment certainty so that companies are prepared to make these investments and we need to make sure that we're keeping Australian gas for Australian businesses and for Australian homes. 

Just on the issue of reservations, we've been arguing in favour of these for many years now. If we had actually acted when Labor first raised the issue that gas prices were too high, we were running out of Australian gas to use domestically, then perhaps we would have averted this situation. Instead, we've had a Prime Minister who is prepared to blame everyone but himself. This Government has been in power for five years and now we have a crisis and he's looking for other people to blame.

 So we've got, as you said the potential for blackouts this summer a lot of things that you addressed are long term, medium term fixes so what can we do in the immediate future?

PLIBERSEK: Keep more Australian gas in Australia. I mean, the Prime Minister's meeting with the gas companies today, if they walk out of this meeting without an agreement to keep more Australian gas in Australia, the Prime Minister's meeting has failed. He's brought them to Canberra before, he wags his finger at them, he offers them a cup of tea and a Monte Carlo and they go back to doing whatever they were doing before. 

The Prime Minister has to use the authority that he has to insist that more Australian gas is kept in Australia for our businesses and for our homes, and to avert the potential blackouts this summer.

JOURNALIST: Just moving on to a slightly different issue, what do you make of the Government’s submission that only Malcolm Roberts and Scott Ludlum were invalidly elected?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, I am no Constitutional legal expert but I am told that this is a very brave interpretation of Section 44 of the Constitution and a lot of the lawyers that are advising on this case are suggesting that that is a pretty ambit claim from the Government. We'll see what happens though. What the Government haven't explained is why, if they think that Barnaby Joyce is okay and Fiona Nash is okay and Senator Canavan is also okay, why Senator Canavan had to resign from the front bench and Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce could stay on the front bench. Why the different treatment of people that the Government itself claims are in the same circumstances?

JOURNALIST: Does Labor welcome the first group of refugees heading to the US and the second part of that is would you want that to happen to those still left on Nauru and Manus?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course, we welcome the refugee resettlement arrangement with the United States and I would say that from the very beginning that these people have been on Manus Island and Nauru for much too long. It is a profound failure of Peter Dutton as Immigration Minister that it has taken so long and the Government should explain first of all why they haven't found third country resettlement before now and secondly why they rejected Labor's proposal to have an arrangement with Malaysia that would have seen refugees living in the community, with work rights, their children attending school, health care available and instead saw these people languishing on Manus Island and Nauru for years longer than they should have, so yes, we welcome the fact that the first group are making their way to the United States but it is up to the Government to answer immediately: what will happen to the other people who are left on Manus and Nauru, what arrangements have they made?

Thanks, everyone.