Doorstop – Officer, VIC

Source: Prime Minister of Australia

THE HON. JASON WOOD MP, MEMBER FOR LA TROBE: Thanks very much everyone for coming out here to La Trobe and in particular to Officer today. It’s fantastic to have the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. He’s been a regular visitor to La Trobe and also my good friend, Michael Sukkar, the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing. Now, it’s kind of ironic here in this location, Officer, because three years ago there were no houses here. La Trobe is now the fastest growing electorate in the country and that means we’re having so many first homeowners moving into Latrobe and this scheme today, which Minister Sukkar will talk about, is just so important for local people of La Trobe trying to buy their first house. Locally too, though, the great news coming up is Monash stage two will kick off shortly. That’s an extra lane on the freeway from Clyde Road to Cardini Road. Extra funding for roads in Racecourse Road and McGregor Road in Packham where the Prime Minister has been. Also in Clyde Road and also upgrading Kangan Drive, where we have Casey Hospital. We will be $50 million upgrading the children’s emergency department. So everything is happening out here and also supporting local sporting and community clubs. The simple reason is we have so many people moving into this area, especially so many multicultural people, buying homes for the first time in La Trobe. So thank you very much for coming out here today to La Trobe. I’ll pass on Minister Sukkar, or the PM.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Woody. It’s great to be here with you again. Before I make some comments about the reason for us being here today, just to update you that later today I’ll be convening again the National Security Committee and we’ll be accepting further medical advice in relation to the Diamond Princess and the Australians who were aboard that ship currently. And so we’ll have further updates to provide to you on that later today. 

Also elsewhere in Victoria today, in fact, in East Gippsland, Minister Tudge is announcing that we’ll be expanding the working holiday visa maker program to ensure that we’re recognising volunteer work done by backpackers coming to Australia to support with the recovery efforts on the bushfire recovery. This is another practical step that we’re taking to support the recovery effort. It’s a very practical thing we can do, getting more people out there, supporting that effort, something that we talked to BlazeAid about early on. And we’re very pleased to be able to be making those changes to ensure that we can do further support to the recovery efforts and those recovery efforts, as you know, $2 billion additional  initial committed to the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which is getting on with the work. Over $115 million in recovery payments have already gone out right across the country into bushfire affected areas and we’re continuing to roll out the support. 

But talking of building back better, that’s what we’re seeing right here. We’re seeing communities built. We’re seeing first home owners get into their first homes. Before the election, I promised that we would put this scheme in place to help young first homeowners get ahead of the game and be able to get themselves into their first home. I talked about if you have a go, you get a go, and that’s exactly what this program is delivering. I promised we’d get it in place by January and that’s been done. And now we’re seeing over 5,000 people already accessing the scheme. We’ve got about half of that, in fact, more than half of that who have already got their hunting licence, if you’d like, to be out there with that pre-approval, to be out there going and finding that home. We’ve got over 700 people who have already got to that process of finding their home and in the process now of settlement and some have settled already indeed, since the program started back in January. So this is all about ensuring that Australians can get that opportunity to get ahead, to be able to where they’re making big commitments, where they’re working hard, where they want to make investments for their families, making it just that little bit easier economically to be able to make what is one of the biggest decisions of their lives. For Australians these are big goals – to buy your first home, to be able to ensure that you can support your kids as they grow up in communities and help fulfil their ambitions and ultimately in retirement to be able to support yourselves in retirement. These are big economic goals, and our Government’s economic plan is about supporting Australians who are having a go to ensure that they get a go. And this first home buyers scheme is delivering on that promise. We said we’d do it, we’re getting it done just as we are by delivering tax relief to Australians so it is already in their hands. And our plan, which will see 94 per cent of Australians pay a marginal tax rate no higher than 30 cents in the dollar. We promised we’d get that legislated and we’ve got it legislated. Our plan is delivering, whether it’s on trade, on small business, in supporting skills development and the apprentices that you’ve seen at these very building sites. So it’s important we keep rolling out this economic plan because as we know, we’re facing some serious headwinds, whether it’s the coronavirus, whether it’s been the drought in Australia and of course, the bushfires and the floods up in north Queensland and we’ve seen flooding in other parts of the country. So there are certainly challenges, but the strength and the resilience of the economic plan that our Government has been rolling out is putting Australians in a stronger position to fulfil their own dreams, to get ahead, to have that go and ensure they get a go. I’m going to ask Michael to talk a bit more about the program.

THE HON. MICHAEL SUKKAR MP, ASSISTANT TREASURER AND MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Well, thank you, PM. It’s wonderful to be here in Officer with our local member, Jason Wood, and of course, yourself, Prime Minister, to reflect on the first six weeks of the first time loan deposit scheme. This scheme recognises that one of the single biggest issues for first home buyers getting into the market is getting that deposit together. And by issuing government guarantees, we will help 10,000 people each year to access their home earlier by enabling them to do so with a deposit of as little as 5 per cent. We know banks are requiring up to 20 per cent, which obviously is extraordinarily difficult for so many people. We met some first time buyers here today who confirmed to us that the scheme is absolutely targeting those people that this scheme is really designed for. People who would otherwise be saving for many years to get that deposit together, have been able to do so now many years in advance and that’s changing their lives. As the PM said, being out in a new estate like this I think gives you that great confidence for the future. These are people who, of course, are feeling confident about their own future. Confident enough to commit to buying a home and building out here in what is going to be a wonderful suburb for them. As the PM also said, 6,000 first home buyers within the first six weeks. There are over 3,000 people, as the PM said, with a hunting licence who are now out there. They’ve got the government guarantee. They’ve got their pre-approval from the bank and they’re out there trying to find their first time. So we’re going to see literally thousands of these people over the next few weeks converting those into first home purchases. And this is really what the Morrison Government is all about, helping first home buyers into the market and the first home loan deposit scheme will add another 10000 places available for the 1st of July. This is a scheme that we are really invested in and one that we know is going to support so many thousands of people getting into their first home. And it’s wonderful to see living proof of it here just six weeks into the scheme. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Michael. The other thing which is great about this is it’s really helping those people who need it most. More than half of those who are accessing the scheme are under 30, but also it’s well within those income target ranges that we’ve really been trying to help people. I think the average income for those who are single are accessing this program was about…

THE HON. MICHAEL SUKKAR MP, ASSISTANT TREASURER AND MINISTER FOR HOUSING: 67,000.

PRIME MINISTER: $67,000 and the combined income is just over $100,000. So this is helping the people who need that help most to get in their first home. Happy to take questions on the program and other matters. 

JOURNALIST: The program has been found that in Sydney people under the age of 30 aren’t accessing it as much as in other demographics. Why do you think that is and when are you going to make it easier for young people to access the scheme in Sydney?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I just said, more than half of those who were involved in the scheme are under 30, and the other thing we’re seeing is the purchasing of the properties that is being made is actually within the target range. And so, look, this program is six weeks old and I’m really pleased with the great success we’re having so far. The take-up has been fabulous and what’s exciting about the program going forward is smaller banks are going to be getting a much bigger piece of this. we wanted to ensure that this wasn’t only being run by the big banks. It’s shared with the non-big banks, the non-big four. And we’ll see those smaller banks, I think, getting out and about amongst those clients into the future. We’ll see more of them coming in. But Michael will keep his ear close to the ground. We’ll work closely with the industry. And we are seeing people in Sydney take this on. We’re seeing people in Melbourne take it on. I’m particularly pleased to see it here because it was in Melbourne I promised this scheme. It was at our campaign launch here in Melbourne where I said we’re going to do this and we were going to get it done and we are getting it done. I mean, this is what it’s all about at the end of the day. People being able to get jobs and buy homes and then save for their retirement. That’s the big issue. That’s the stuff that matters most and ensuring they can get to work and home safely and more rapidly. And that’s why we’re investing in the infrastructure that Jason ran through here, particularly for this part of suburban Melbourne. These are the things that make a big difference. Costs of living, I mean, electricity prices down 3.5 per cent in the past year. Childcare costs are down just over 4 per cent. Getting control of cost of living. But importantly, backing Australians to go out there and be able to do things like buying a home. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what I’m focused on. 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] in Melbourne at the moment of $600,000. We’ve seen prices rise dramatically in the past three months. Should that cap be lifted?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll constantly review those things. But what I’m pleased about is we are seeing some confidence returning to the housing market in Melbourne and also in Sydney and other parts of the country, in the western and so on. The housing markets have been quite suppressed and we saw that in Melbourne. So it is a sign of growing confidence that we’re seeing the housing market improve. It’s a sign that people can see forward and that they are backing themselves and they’re backing our economy. And we welcome that growing confidence that people are expressing by going out there and buying homes.

JOURNALIST: After the first home guarantees are actually provided, will there be a review on how successful it has been?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re always looking at the success of our programs and so far, after six weeks, it’s very early on but I’m very pleased with the take up and not surprised by it.

JOURNALIST: There are calls to abolish stamp duty and replace it with annual land tax. What do you think of that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s a matter for states. But what I’m not for is increasing the GST. So when states want dress reform up as asking the Commonwealth Government to increase the GST, well, I’m afraid my answer is no. If states want to increase the GST, that’s a matter for them. But we’ve got no interest in increasing the GST and however people might want to dress that up, the answer to an increased GST is no. 

JOURNALIST: On the coronavirus, if I can, how many people will be leaving Christmas Island today?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, today, over 200 will be leaving Christmas Island today and that first two weeks of that quarantine period has worked incredibly well. And I want to thank all of those who have been involved in making that happen. First of all, the Qantas team that actually brought them home, then the teams from our medical department who’ve been able to be up there supporting them and they’re very disciplined and very professional. All those at the facility who have provided such wonderful care to people. And I want to thank those who’ve been patient and gone through that quarantine period. Some of the letters we’ve seen come out of there in recent days have just been lovely. And they are, of course, having to go into a quarantine period for 14 days is an inconvenience. But they understood why and I thought they took that in good faith and they were well-supported in their time. And I’m sure they’re looking forward to coming home and being with their families.

JOURNALIST: Will they be tested again once they get to our shores?

PRIME MINISTER: No, they’ve already passed the quarantine period. They’ve already gone through that exercise up in Christmas Island.

JOURNALIST: Economists have warned of a mass exodus from rural communities because of the bushfires…

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I couldn’t quite hear you.

JOURNALIST: Economists have warned of a mass exodus from rural communities because of the bushfires. I know you’ve announced the backpacker visa but that’s probably not going to be enough to bring life back into these communities. What other plans do you have for rural communities to prevent them from becoming ghost towns?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have a $2 million rebuild plan for communities affected by the bushfires. That $2 billion rebuild plan includes, first of all, clearing the debris, working with the state governments to clear the debris on the sites. It’s put tens of millions of dollars into local councils to restore vital infrastructure and services. It’s ensured that we’re investing in wildlife recovery in these areas. It includes $75,000 grants to primary producers. And last I saw over $16 million has gone out the door supporting those rural producers, the farmers and graziers, as they rebuild their sheds and they get their dairy equipment going again. I mean, so vital to these rural and regional communities impacted by the fires are the industries that underpin them. I mean, for example, we had the defence forces down there putting the roof back on the Mogo Zoo. We had the military down at the Eden Mill actually clearing the site so it could get back to operations. Part of the $2 billion investment will be supporting local economic recovery plans developed by the local economies themselves. One that’s being advanced right now is out in Tumbarumba and through to Batlow. Now, that’s an orchardist community and there needs to be a considered plan as to how you can get the orchardists back on their feet for the next 10 and 20 years. So there’s a combination of immediate relief payments, the immediate reparations and rebuild work that needs to be done. There’s the disaster support payments and the other support payments to deal with the immediate needs and the grants. There is the concessional loans that provide businesses for two years working capital, nothing to pay, zero interest and then concessional rates for another eight years beyond that, as they work to get back up on their feet. That concessional loan program is worth over $100,000 in real money to people who are affected by those fires to rebuild their businesses. There’s the Disaster Recovery Allowance, which is supporting people on the ground who found themselves out of employment. And there’s the normal other income supports that apply when people find themselves out of work. So we’re working with the states and territories, we’re working with local government. Andrew Colvin, who heads up the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which we stood up well over a month ago, is working closely with those communities. It’s a big plan to get the bushfire affected areas back on their feet and the announcement we’ve made today about extending the working holiday visa concessions means that BlazeAid can get more volunteers to put in what is a mammoth task of rebuilding these fences. I mean, it’s a very practical thing, putting fences back up so stock do not just roam everywhere. This is a big problem and it’s a very practical problem. And it’s at the heart of what our decision is today to help them get those fences rebuilt as quickly as possible. But it’s a huge task and it’s going to take some time.

JOURNALIST: We’ve had the Federal Court dismiss the ABC’s case about the AFP raids. What do you make of this?

PRIME MINISTER: I make of it that the court case has been run and it’s had a finding.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] stab at you last night at the bushfire relief concert, what do you make of that?

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

JOURNALIST: Celeste Barber’s jab at you last night at the bushfire relief concert, what do you make of that?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’ve got a thick skin, and I understand that over the period of the summer, you know, that people felt really raw about things. But what I do know is what the government has done and what the government has done is put in place the first compulsory call-out to put our Defence Force reservists on the ground, boots on the ground that provided incredible relief to Australians affected by bushfire communities. We put $2 billion into a National Bushfire Recovery Agency and more than half of that has already been committed in a matter of less than two months. And we’re delivering that funding through the state governments and in some cases directly. What the government has done has responded. What the government has done is to support those who are doing things on the ground, and the government will continue to be there as we rebuild these communities over the next decade. That’s my response. My response is just to do things and get things done.

JOURNALIST: Christmas Island, will that be used for any other future evacuations such as from the Japanese cruise ship?

PRIME MINISTER: We have no other… well, with the cruise ship, as the Health Minister noted this morning, it’ll take my advice is up to a week to ready that facility again. And there are quite specific needs that we wouldn’t be able to accommodate at Christmas Island for the more elderly group of people who are associated with that. So that’s not an option we’re considering for this operation and we don’t have any other operations envisaged at this time.

JOURNALIST: Following the Black Saturday bushfires there were a lot of recovery efforts that communities and residents have still been unable to, you know, have confidence to be able to live in those communities. And with the unprecedented bushfire seasons that we are experiencing, how do you give confidence to people to move out into regional and rural communities that are experiencing, you know, fires that are worse? 

PRIME MINISTER: This is a very good point that you’re raising, and for those who didn’t pick it up, giving people confidence to go and live in rural and regional parts of the country that have been affected by bushfires. And the way you do that is you got to build back better with resilience. You know, I’ve talked a lot about the climate we are going to live in over the next decade and beyond. And we’ve got to build for that climate and we’ve got to prepare for that climate. That’s why the Royal Commission that I’ll be announcing, and we’ve been going through the process of consultation with the states, is not just going to focus on the preparations for future disasters and what role the Commonwealth could more effectively play in the future. But it’s going to focus on the resilience that is needed in these communities. Everything about what building standards, the roads, all of these things that are necessary to ensure that when people live in these areas, they can live there more safely. And I think there’s some very real issues there. That’s why I’ve talked about hazard reduction for keeping people safe as, frankly, as important as emissions reduction when it comes to addressing these climate issues. And we’ve got to be given the confidence that the resilience and the preparedness is being done. And that’s why the Royal Commission will look back at what earlier royal commissions have recommended and whether that’s been put in place. And we’ve got to ensure that there’s an accountability, that what’s being built and the resilience that’s been placed in these communities is there so people living there can feel safer. And that’s what my focus is. That’s what my Government’s focus is. And in rural and regional Australia, as the Deputy Prime Minister said on the weekend, a great place to be. I mean, it’s been so, so relieving to see some of those rains falling in some places right across Australia, which is desperately needed. It’s not enough yet, but I’ve been seeing the photos of places that I’ve been to which were just absolutely decimated by drought and I’m seeing water in dams again. And, you know, rural and regional Australia is tough. They’re resilient. And it’s a great place to be. Whether you want to buy a first home or have your first apprenticeship or live your life out in a wonderful way as you can only in rural and regional Australia.

JOURNALIST: Volunteer firefighter Paul Parker says he was sacked by the RFS after heckling you. Did they make the right call there with firing him or would you like him to have his job back?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, there should never be any question about whether he should have been fired or not, of course he shouldn’t. But the RFS confirmed this morning that he wasn’t, by the way, and I’m pleased about that. Look, to Paul, I’d say this. I understand Paul was feeling incredibly exhausted and incredibly drained by those events and he was working his tail off, defending his community. The other thing is, as I’ve seen it said that what he was responding to and the truth is what I said at that time, I never said, never said, that firefighters enjoyed doing this. What I said – and this was misreported at the time, misrepresented, I should say – what I said is that firefighters would be out there defending their communities. They’d want to be out there defending their communities when their communities were at risk. And all firefighters I’ve met, as hard as it is, of course, you don’t want to be out there. You don’t want to have to be in that position. But if your community is at risk… I was at Wingello on Thursday- Friday afternoon, and I met with a very brave Brigade there who saved their town. Now, of course, they would prefer not to be having to save their town. But on that night, that was their job and you couldn’t have stopped them from being out there and defending their community. And so that’s what I said at the time. It was completely misrepresented. There was a lot of things that were misrepresented over the summer. There was a bit of a pile on. But I’ve got thick skin and I’ve got work to do. I’ve got a job to do. We’re going to rebuild these bushfire affected areas and we’re going to get people in the homes and we’re going to keep growing our economy, despite the threats of Coronavirus or the many other things that we have to get over the top of, the drought and all of these challenges. But as Australians, we will get over them, because I said at the election, if you have a go, you’re going to get a go. And what this program demonstrates is we’re staying true to our word on that. What we took to the election, we’re staying true to our word on that. We’re delivering the tax cuts. We’re getting people in their first homes. We’re putting the money and building the infrastructure. We’re expanding our trade deals. We’re putting the money into skills. These are the things that matter. These are the real things that change people’s lives. And it’s great to see that we’ve changed some lives here today with this program. Thank you all very much for your attention.