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ABC RN Breakfast 4 May 2023

Housing, JobSeeker

KARVELAS: Welcome back to breakfast. 

POCOCK: Good morning, Patricia. 

KARVELAS:You heard the minister there. 1200 Homes is a floor for each state and territory under this agreement. Is that a good deal?

POCOCK: Yeah, I mean, they’re sort of shifting things around and guaranteeing everyone 1200. Sure, that's the deal they've done with the Jacqui Lambie Network. 

KARVELAS: And is it a good deal?

POCOCK: Well, I've been really frustrated dealing with the government on this, just trying to get them to listen to experts and the improvements that were put forward during the Senate inquiry into this bill. Primarily, indexing the fund, you know $500 million now is not the same as $500 million in 10 years time. And I think crucially allowing it to disperse more when it returns more. The minister has just told us that she expects or the future fund’s historically averaged 9%. Why would we not spend $900 million rather than $500 million if it does give us that 9% Currently, they can't do that and trying to get them to even do that doesn't seem possible. 

KARVELAS: Do you share the concerns of the Greens about how this fund is constructed and whether it could result in our homes being held up. I put that to the Minister, she said it was wrong.

POCOCK: Well, I mean, that is a concern. This is the model that the government has chosen to go with. Clearly, I think they're going to have to guarantee that amount if they are going along the lines of availability payments, where they've giving community housing providers X amount per year to maintain a social or affordable home, they've got to be able to guarantee those payments. So there's sort of an implicit acknowledgement that it has to be a floor but it’s just so frustrating to see this become political rather than about policy.

KARVELAS: You've said that your negotiations with the government over this have essentially stalled, you've been frustrated, you just told us, what do you want in exchange for your backing? Like how much further should they be going?

POCOCK: I've been saying to them, listen to the experts, the community housing providers, the future funds. We hear so much about how the government, sorry super funds, how the super funds are going to invest in social affordable housing. They're all saying you've got to index this fund for it to work. And the other thing I've been saying is, allow the Minister to spend more on housing when the fund returns more. If you're going along the Future Fund model, then simply allow that but they don't seem to want to budge really on anything and you know, here in the ACT, yeah, great, we'll get 1200 properties hopefully over five years. We're losing 1056 NRAS properties over the next few years. So this is not a huge net gain for us. And the starting point for me has been the scale. This $10 billion fund is not up to the scale of the housing challenge that we see. Our Medical Research Future Fund is $21 billion. Our National Reconstruction Fund to rebuild manufacturing capabilities is $15 billion. Housing is at crisis levels across the country. And I would urge the government to actually have a response that is up to scratch. I'm not going to stand in the way of a $10 billion fund. But I do expect a government to take on board advice from experts around indexing a fund or allowing it to disperse more when it returns more. And that isn't the case in this instance.

KARVELAS: Obviously the other big issue is rent assistance, JobSeeker. I know you've been critical saying even though the Coalition's ideas were stronger you argued in relation to JobSeeker. But if there's a suite of more support beyond just over 55’s getting a higher JobSeeker rate for instance, increasing rent assistance, would that satisfy you?

POCOCK: We’ll wait and see what's in the budget. It doesn't really make sense to me to have a whole range of complicated things when you can simply raise the rate which we know is inadequate. We know that people…

KARVELAS: The difference is that costs a bomb, right?

POCOCK: Well, we're seeing all sorts of spending commitments that seem to me to cost a bomb and we've got a government who says they're all about fairness, and yet won't revisit $250 billion of stage three tax cuts, half of which go to earners over $180,000 a year. Like that doesn't make sense to me when we've got people in our communities, living in poverty, kids turning up to school without having breakfast. There are now organisations here in Canberra doing school feeding programs that kids can at least have food at school.

KARVELAS: It's certainly a pretty dire situation for many, there's no doubt about it. You hold a key balance of power position in the Senate. Are you prepared to use that to try to force the government to agree to more substantial assistance for people on welfare?

POCOCK: I'll be pushing them at every turn. During the IR negotiations I pushed them really hard on JobSeeker they had zero interest in raising and committing to raising the rate. So set up the expert committee to give us advice and we're now having this conversation. And you know, Australians get to decide coming into the next election, will it be that we actually need more independents, we potentially need a minority government to see action on climate change, to see budget decisions that actually put Australians first.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning. 

POCOCK: Thank you Patricia. 


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