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Source: Australian Treasurer

BEN CANTWELL:

Good morning everyone and welcome. My name is Ben Cantwell, General Manager for Stockland. Firstly, I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Birrarung Wiradjuri people of the Kulin nation on the land we gather here today. We’ve got people here from Master Builders, HIA, obviously Stockland, Burbank, but we’re also welcoming Minister Josh Frydenberg and Michael Sukkar.

Welcome and great to be here and have you at Waterlea, Stockland’s flagship project here in the eastern suburb of Rowville. It’s great to be able to celebrate the extension of the HomeBuilder grant. It’s made such a big difference to our customers and the community who rely on the construction sector for their employment. Stockland alone has been able to accelerate over $1.5 billion worth of infrastructure and housing delivery as a result of this extension, it’s something we’re very proud to be a part of. In terms of the homes that we deliver here at Waterlea, we’re delivering a very high level of sustainability and focused on the costs of living that’s very important to our customers. An average home here saves $1,000 to $2,000 per annum in living costs, which is also an important aspect of our decision making and our approach to development. I’d now like to hand over to Minister Josh Frydenberg for his words. Thank you.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well thank you very much Ben and to Stockland for the invitation to join you here today. It’s a great pleasure to be with my good friend and Parliamentary colleague, Michael Sukkar, the Housing Minister, with representatives of the Master Builders, from the Housing Industry, Property Council, real partners in this exciting program, the HomeBuilder program. Well today, we are announcing the extension of the HomeBuilder program. This is going to keep tradies on the tools, it’s going to keep Australians in jobs and it’s going to get families into their first home.

This has been an extremely successful program, it has been the spark for the construction sector which contributes $100 billion a year to our economy, around five per cent of GDP. And today’s announcement is going to create jobs, it’s going to create jobs right across the country. From here in Rowville to Rockhampton in our north, from Parramatta and Penrith to Perth, from Hobart to [inaudible] and everywhere else in between. What we’re announcing today with the extension of HomeBuilder is that we are going to extend it for another three months to the end of March. This will bring the program to nearly $1 billion. And it will help support the construction and improvements to more than 42,000 dwellings, that’s more jobs. And not only are we extending the program out for another three months, we’re also providing a cash grant of $15,000 which is a taper down from the $25,000 currently and represents the maturing nature of this program, the fact that jobs are coming back in the construction sector. We’re also extending the date for which the commencement, the turning of the sod can take place, from three to six months, which is an important change to the program. As well as lifting the price caps from $750,000 here in Victoria to $850,000 and extending the price cap in New South Wales from $750,000 to $950,000 and this reflects also the changes and caps that we’ve seen in our First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. So this is a vitally important announcement from the Morrison Government.

The construction sector, the property sector is incredibly important to jobs and the economy overall. And the Australian economy is fighting back. The jobs are coming back, we are seeing the economic recovery really gaining pace. We saw 178,000 jobs being created in the last month alone and the effective unemployment rate coming down from 9.3 to 7.4 per cent and 80 per cent of those Australians who either lost their jobs or saw their working hours reduced to zero at the start of the pandemic are now back at work.

So I’d like to hand over to the Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, who’s done a fantastic job working so closely with the industry to ensure that this HomeBuilder program does what the industry needs, creates jobs and helps people into their own homes. Michael.

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

Thanks Josh. Well good morning, thank you Treasurer and can I also just thank Ben and the team here at Stockland for hosting us today for this very important announcement and of course, the people standing behind me, Denita Warn from the Master Builders Association, Graham Wolfe from the Housing Industry Association and Mike Zorbas from the Property Council of Australia.

The HomeBuilder program which we’d announced in June, was announced at a time when there were genuine fears for the industry of hundreds of thousands of jobs being under threat as a result of the pandemic. The HomeBuilder program thankfully has done exactly what we wanted it to achieve. We’ve seen nearly 25,000 projects, whether they be new homes or substantial rebuilds, applying through our state revenue offices for our HomeBuilder Programmes, been a huge success, we have seen detached housing approvals up by over 30 per cent, we have seen detached housing approvals at 10 years highs. When we put the HomeBuilder program in place, in all honestly, we were hoping to sustain the industry, not in our wildest dreams did we think that we would see an industry accelerating to even greater heights than it was pre-pandemic. But to continue that momentum, today’s announcement, by extending the HomeBuilder program to 31 March at a $15,000 grant will ensure that pipeline of jobs that have been accelerated continue for the rest of this year.

As the Treasurer rightfully pointed out, we’ve also increased the house price caps here in Victoria to $850,000, to $950,000 in New South Wales to align them with the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme but also in recognition of the fact that both of those state governments in Victoria and New South Wales have also put in place other incentives including tapering their stamp duty up to $1 million in both instances. So working together with the state governments to ensure that we’re all pushing in the same direction.

In the end, it’s not just the tradies on site who benefit from this, it’s not even the families that the Treasurer spoke about who benefit from this, there’s an entire supply chain, hundreds of thousands of people, whether it’s the timber mill workers who make the frames and the trusses. Whether it’s the manufacturing workers who make the bricks and the glass and the tiles, whether it’s the people who sell them, whether it’s the people on site of course who pour the slabs, the carpenters, the plumbers, the electricians. This is going to support hundreds of thousands of jobs, it’s a remarkable program that’s done an amazing job so far and we think this very important announcement today ensures that the jobs-led recovery from this industry continues into 2021.

I might ask Denita Warn from the Master Builders Association to now to say a few words.

DENITA WARN:

Thank you Michael and thank you Treasurer, when we first talked to the Government about the need to support the residential building sector we were staring down the abyss. The word such as the valley of death were used but it was no exaggeration. The industry was in all sorts of trouble. And it wasn’t just about the industry, but it was the hundreds of thousands of jobs we support from the apprentice right through to those throughout the entire building chain and those that support them. Including things like the restaurants and the cafes around building communities such as these that we’re standing on today. The building industry for every dollar you spend in residential building, $3 is returned in economic activity around the country. This has been extraordinarily successful. Our forecasts our now significant turnaround for detached housing. But we are concerned about furthering construction, medium density and high rise density and from a Master Builders perspective, we believe the announcement today really will support those who are still struggling within the industry, but also maintain the momentum for economic recovery and we believe this will ensure that the residential building industry is in good form until 2022. And that is significant given the concern we had in June of this year. So on behalf of the industry, Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer, thank you so much for your support. This is not just about the building and construction industry but it’s for economic recovery as a whole. Thank you.

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

And I might ask Graham Wolfe, from the Housing Industry Association to say a few words.

GRAHAM WOLFE:

Thank you Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer. The HomeBuilder Scheme has already proven to be incredibly successful and valuable to the national economy. It has supported over $15 billion worth of economic activity around the country as the Treasurer said, from Hobart to South Australia, it has supported economic activity across the country and it has done so at a very important time in our history as we traverse COVID-19 and the issues that it was causing. But it has done so much more than just the national economic recovery, it has put people in the homes, it has helped people find their home of their dreams. It has given them that security that we will support them now and into the future. And it’s got a very strong Menzies touch to it because it does go to the concept of home ownership and Australians still support home ownership. It’s what they want. So the HomeBuilder program has been really incredibly supportive of the industry and we thank the Government for all that.

The extension is going to generate another $6 billion or more into the national economy. It’s going to keep hundreds of thousands of workers engaged over the next six to 12 months and further. I was in a taxi from the airport, if I can, come into here from Sydney where it was 43 degrees yesterday.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

It will probably be 43 degrees in a few hours’ time here! Four seasons in one day.

GRAHAM WOLFE:

If I can be indulgent for a moment. I hopped in the taxi and Elthie was the taxi driver, and we had hardly gone onto the Tullamarine Freeway and he’s telling me with excitement about his new home. And he’s up in Craigieburn way and $564,000 was the cost and he spent $25,000 on it and he’s telling me the slab’s down. And I said, did you get the HomeBuilder and he said, yes I did and I’m going to buy furniture and landscaping and I looked at him and I said, that’s more jobs in this mile. And this is a taxi driver out of the blue. So it’s been incredibly supportive, it’s been important. Extending it for a further three months is a sensible and pragmatic approach, we support the Government in doing that and we look forward to working with consumers around the country as they design their new homes, they build their new homes, they get into their new homes, the live their lives in their new homes knowing that they’ve got the security of that investment behind them now and for the future.  Thank you very much.

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

Well last but not least, Mike Zorbas from the Property Council. 

MIKE ZORBAS:

Well when your surname starts with z, you are used to being last. Thank you, Treasurer.  Thank you, Assistant Treasurer.  This is a tremendous initiative.  It has been a great program from the get-go.  In particular, it is a helping hand for high-vis jobs and it’s a helping hand for homeowners.  The Property Council is massively supportive of the work that the Government is doing in this area and in particular, this will allow for a very strong economic bridge into 2021 and to give real confidence out there for job creation and for the community who are looking to move into housing so I want to thank the Government very much for this announcement this morning.  Thank you. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well we’re happy to take some questions on the program first and if there are other questions on other matters then Michael and I will deal with that.  Any questions on the program itself. 

QUESTION:

How many applicants have been approved to this point? You said having applied, how many have been approved?

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

Well when you apply…so there have been about 24,000 applications to the state revenue offices so far and as part of the applications process, you get paid when you commence construction so in most cases, that’s when you start your earthworks.  And about 2,500 of those have reached that point thus far. But of the 24,000 so far that are already in the process with the state revenue offices, those will all progress to that stage over this month and coming months and obviously today’s announcement provides those people additional time.  One of the key drivers behind this extension is that the HomeBuilder program has been so successful, that builders were saying to us that we might have to close-off our books because there are so many customers and we can’t guarantee them that we can start in that three month period.  So, this extension today obviously gives those builders additional time which means that they are going to be able to take on more contracts, put more people into homes, so a phenomenally successful scheme thus far. I must say that the numbers are running ahead of where we originally thought and I think that again, augured well for this extension because HomeBuilder has been so successful that it made sense to continue that economic recovery. 

QUESTION:

Labor has been calling for this program to be extended. What’s holding you back from going ahead with their other push for the extension of broader building stimulus into social housing?

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

Well Labor have not supported the HomeBuilder program. Labor have called it ‘home blunder’.  [inaudible]…have very loudly, not just today, but throughout the time that HomeBuilder has been in place, about how important this program have been. As Graham Wolfe just said, it has engendered $15 billion, so far, of additional construction and economic activity, another $6 billion with this extension. It’s a phenomenal program and it’s doing exactly what we want it to do.  We also make ongoing investments into social and affordable housing every year. Over $8 billion, the Federal Government invests every single year in social and affordable housing and in this year’s Budget, on Budget night, the Treasurer in his speech, spoke about the additional $1 billion, through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, of low concessional loans to community housing providers that will deliver – according to NHFIC – about another 2,500, and support 2,500, social and affordable homes. So, we are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in this space. We congratulate states like New South Wales and Victoria, who quite rightly are also making investments. This is state public housing, state social housing, we’re happy to partner with them, we are happy to continue making these ongoing investments but of course, today’s announcement supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry and that’s important for so many Australians. 

QUESTION:

Treasurer, from an economic perspective, isn’t next year going to be much harder when all these support and stimulus measures are taken away?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well the economy is in transition, Fiona. That’s very, very clear and as you know, the income support that we have provided, has always been temporary in nature. It’s been proportionate to the challenge that we face, we’ve used existing systems but like with JobKeeper and JobSeeker, they have tapered down over time.  This program being extended for three months out to the end of March is also coming at the same time that we allow the first slab to be turned in the first six months from the signing of the contract as opposed to three months and as you heard from Denita, this is going to keep that pipeline of work going into 2022.  The program has been enormously successful and just picking up on the last question, the Federal Government has done the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to the COVID recovery, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve committed around $257 billion in direct economic support and we welcome the initiatives from the various state governments in their budgets, including the social housing commitment here in Victoria. But this is not the only housing initiative that the Federal Government has. We also put additional places in the Frist Home Loan Deposit Scheme in this year’s Budget.  We also have our First Home Super Saver Scheme and as Michael rightly pointed out, it is doing its bit as well and we provide billions through Commonwealth Rent Assistance as well. So, this is one piece of a broader play from the Federal Government in supporting jobs across the economy. We’ll have more to say about other initiatives tomorrow and in days coming. But what I can say to you very clearly, Fiona, is that the jobs are coming back. You saw 178,000 jobs being created across the country over the last month. You’ve seen consumer confidence up in eleven of the last twelve weeks, you’ve seen Australia’s Triple-A credit rating being reaffirmed, you’ve heard from the Governor of the Reserve Bank that the Morrison Government’s fiscal response is on the right track and has been the right policy. So, all these pieces are coming together in a much broader play from the Morrison Government to create jobs and ensure that we build that bridge to the other side of this crisis. 

QUESTION:

A question for the Treasurer. Just on China…

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Olivia, just before we get to other matters, are there any other questions for our industry representatives or for Michael or I about the HomeBuilder program?

QUESTION:

The only other thing, and this could have been asked, I couldn’t really hear before, is there any room to extend this scheme beyond March?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

This program is being extended to the end of March. Again, it’s not the only housing initiative that the Morrison Government has but with the ability to start the build within six months of the signing of the contract, this will mean that three will be a pipeline of work going through not just 2021 but also 2022. 

Happy to take some questions on other matters of the day.

QUESTION:

Thank you. Simon Birmingham suggested this morning that Australia will take China to the World Trade Organisation over its tariffs on Australia’s barley exports. Could we see further retaliation from China and how significant is the impact on our economy from these trade restrictions?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well I thought that Simon Birmingham made a very valid point today that Australia hasn’t changed. We’re absolutely committed to free trade and we have been a very reliable and important trading partner for China. Our resources, our iron ore, has helped their economic growth. Our agricultural produce is among the best in the world. The services that we provide, whether its tourism or education, is of wonderful benefit to the people in China. Likewise, being a great market for Australian exports, China has helped economic growth here in Australia.  So, we haven’t changed our position. China has become more assertive and obviously this has created real challenges on the trade front, but we will continue to make our case to the Chinese Government about the importance of this two-way trading relationship. We’re always ready to engage in a respectful and mutually beneficial dialogue, the Prime Minister has made that point, the trade and foreign ministers have made that point, I’ve made that point continuously. But we’re Australia’s national interest needs to be defended, we will and we make no apologies for the various action that we’ve taken on a number of fronts including having a foreign investment framework that ensures that the national interest is protected. 

QUESTION:

Treasurer, do you regard these wine tariffs as economic coercion?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well again, we’re not going to escalate this trade challenge from where it already is. What we will do is engage, as best we can, to make our case for why this trade should continue with China – whether it’s wine, whether it’s barley, whether it’s beef, whether it’s coal – there have been a number of disputes that are well known, and we would like to see that trade relationship come back to where it was, which was a mutually beneficial one, both in the interests of China and of course, Australia.

QUESTION:

I’ve got a question for Michael Sukkar, please?  Michael, have you been approached to co-operate with the KordaMentha investigation into allegations of branch stacking in the Liberal Party?

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

No is the answer but those are matters for the Liberal Party obviously. 

QUESTION:

Have you agreed to co-operate?

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

The answer to your first question was no. 

QUESTION:

Will you agree to co-operate?

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

I haven’t been asked.

QUESTION:

If you’re asked will you agree to co-operate?

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

These are matters for the Liberal Party. Today is about HomeBuilder. These are not matters that are the focus of my attention. 

QUESTION:

Is the Government going to go ahead with the Brereton recommendations to strip diggers of their medals or will that only apply to those found to have done the wrong thig?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Again, obviously the Government takes very seriously, those allegations. We’ve set up and established a process to deal with those matters and the CDF has talked extensively about the next steps. The Government will continue to work with our defence force leadership about those issues. 

QUESTION:

And on exports, just a further question, so what do you say to exporters who are increasingly worried about a further deterioration of the relationship with China?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Again, our Tourism Minister, our Trade Minister, our Agriculture Minister, will continue to work very closely with those relevant sectors, to give them as much support as we can through what is a pretty challenging time. 

MIL OSI News