Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Radio Melbourne

Prime Minister

Anthony Albanese is the Prime Minister of Australia and he joins us this morning. Good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Raf. Good to be with you.

EPSTEIN: I do want to talk about your Budget, but first, what would you say to your tenant? He says he’s got nowhere to go.

PRIME MINISTER: Raf I’ve had changes in my personal life. The tenant, in his own words, has been living in the property, his personal life and arrangements have changed as well. There were other people in the property. I have, I think, been a good owner of the property. He’s paid around about half what the market rental is. I kept that situation there post COVID when the rent was substantially reduced. I’ve had changes in my life and because of that made a decision to sell the property. He’s a small business owner, runs a bar in the electorate up the road. I’m very sympathetic, I wish him well. But I am allowed to make changes which are a direct result of the changes that have happened in my life from where I was 10 years ago, with my former wife and family.

EPSTEIN: I appreciate that, PM. And, you know, of course you can sell it. But it highlights the problem, right? Renters feel like they’ve got nowhere to go when people like you make a, you say it’s a reasonable decision, fine, but the renter’s got nowhere to go because there’s nothing affordable to go to. That’s the problem.

PRIME MINISTER: Well not everyone who’s an owner of a property has a situation whereby the people living in there are paying half the market rent. That’s true. Why he’s responded in this way is really –

EPSTEIN: But he’s not the only renter to say they don’t have somewhere to go, PM. Like you know that.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I know there’s issues. That’s why we put in place, again a 10 per cent increase in rent assistance in the Budget, on top of the 15 per cent increase that we did last year. That’s why we’re putting $32 billion into housing. That’s why we came to an agreement on housing and homelessness with state and territory governments just last week of $9.3 billion. But in additional money as well, including a billion dollars for emergency housing for women and children escaping domestic violence.

EPSTEIN: PM, a lot of those things you’ve listed, I might have spoken to you about, or spoken to the Treasurer about it. People have said they are part of the solution. Someone came to fix my heating last night, guy called Matt. Lovely guy. He heard that I was going to be having a chat to you and he just looked at me and said, can you get him to do something about rent? My rent went up 40 per cent at the end of last year. I don’t think any of those initiatives you mentioned are going to help this bloke who came to help fix my heating. A lot of renters feel like there is no attention on them and they face a 40 per cent rate hike. Why is what you are doing not helping them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you need to deal with housing supply, and you can’t undo 10 years of neglect in a couple of years because it takes time to do that. We’re working with state and territory governments in order to do that. I think this gentleman’s own statements indicate that on a personal level, I’ve done something on his behalf to assist him and his former partner when they were there –

EPSTEIN: So, you’re talking about your tenant there?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, and I’ve kept that situation. So you know, I’m very conscious of it. It’s something that we’re very focused on. No Federal Government in history has done more on housing than we have done in two years. None. And that is because we understand –

EPSTEIN: I’m going to stop you there PM, only because if no one’s done more than you, why is the number of houses and flats that we build, why has that shrunk? It’s getting smaller. The number we’re building is getting smaller. It’s not getting bigger.

PRIME MINISTER: It’s taking time to turn around. One of the things we had in the Budget as well was support for apprentices when it comes to training people in the construction sector, because skill shortages have been one of the issues. The other issue is migration as well, where we’re targeting people who can assist in the construction sector. We know there’s a range of issues. Historically, federal governments have said, ‘That’s not our problem, that’s something for the states and territories’. That hasn’t been our approach. Our approach has been to lean in, to do what we can to provide that increased support for renters, increased funding for social housing, tax changes that have encouraged Build to Rent in the private sector. Increased support for emergency housing through the billion dollar fund, which is there. Increased support for remote housing. We have a $4 billion program in the Northern Territory to assist in remote housing. We are trying to repair 10 years of neglect from Commonwealth governments. You can’t do it overnight. What we can do though, is to lean in, to work with the private sector, to work with state and territory governments to alleviate these issues. But it won’t, the truth is it won’t happen overnight because you can’t build a house or a block of units overnight as well.

EPSTEIN: What about rent caps? Your tenant, I mean, that’s kind of a rent cap if you gave them cheap rent. The guy who came to fix my heating, a rent cap would help them. Is that, could you entertain that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, how do you do it, Raf? The Federal Government doesn’t have the power to cap rents. You know, some of these things, what we actually need is real solutions rather than slogans. Slogans won’t house people. No one can live on a media release or on a slogan. What they need is a home with a roof, and a floor, and walls. And that won’t be done through just sloganeering.

EPSTEIN: You can change negative gearing.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that as well. There’s an argument there, as you know full well Raf, that a change there will result in less housing being built, not more. So, you know, that is a debate which is there, very much out there. That immediately won’t solve the problem for the person who came to fix, do repairs at your house.

EPSTEIN: No, but you could restrict it to new builds. That would incentivise new builds, maybe?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that was put to the Australian people and rejected frankly, Raf. What we are doing is concentrating on increasing supply. That is what we are doing.

EPSTEIN: Just one more related to this, but on the electricity bill bonus that everybody receives. People who own a holiday home will get the electricity bonus twice – $600 not $300. Again, that’s pretty hard to hear if you’re renting and struggling.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, energy bill relief for every household, tax cuts for every taxpayer, that’s what we’re doing. There are other measures in the Budget that are very targeted –

EPSTEIN: But do people need it on a holiday home?

PRIME MINISTER: Because it’s possible to target them. And you know, we are providing the energy bill relief in a way that is structured to deliver for every household. Previously, the energy bill relief was targeted to people who were on welfare or on Commonwealth payments, right, you can do that. Once you say we are going to move to provide support to middle Australia, because there are a whole lot of working families out there who are doing it tough, who need that support. Once you do that, because of the way that it is designed to be done through the energy companies by being a rebate, so it takes pressure off inflation, rather than cash payments, which would add to inflationary pressures. Once you do that, you have to make the decision to do it to all households because otherwise you’re in a situation one by one, going through what people’s tax arrangements are, what their incomes are, what their primary residence is, all of these issues –

EPSTEIN: It’s not worth doing that to make it fairer? Not worth doing that to make it fairer?

PRIME MINISTER: It will end up with, sometimes bureaucracy and making things more complex ends up being so inefficient it ends up costing you more. What we are doing here, unashamedly, we understand that not just people who are on Commonwealth payments, but many people who are working, your listeners driving to work today, mum and dads are under financial pressure and we were determined to provide them with support. Just as we were determined to provide tax cuts for every taxpayer, including people like you and I, Raf, will get $4500 of tax cuts. We very consciously, right throughout the entire system, every taxpayer getting a tax cut, every household getting energy bill relief, and then a series of targeted measures as well that we have on top of that.

EPSTEIN: Forgive me, PM, but we are having a chat about rent next Tuesday at 10:00 with people from VCAT, David Whiting and others. So tune in next week at 10:00. PM, just on –

PRIME MINISTER: Good on you. An ad on ABC, fair enough.

EPSTEIN: Thank you. Well, if we don’t advertise us, no one else will, PM.

PRIME MINISTER: I give you a big rap, and we have of course, provided increased funding for the ABC since we’re in government. So thank you for that seamless segue.

EPSTEIN: Parliamentary standards. Pauline Hanson stopped from wearing a scarf with the Israeli flag on it. In Victoria in the parliament, you can no longer wear a Palestinian keffiyeh. I just wonder if we are policing this too much. Like what if a Jewish MP decided to suddenly start wearing a Kippah, a skullcap because they’re concerned about Israel? Like, would that be okay?

PRIME MINISTER: Look Raf, I’m not the Speaker of a House of Parliament.

EPSTEIN: Are we policing it too much?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m not a Speaker. I will make this point that what we need in this country is to dial down the temperature, not dial it up. There are many people who are distressed, as you’d be very conscious of –

EPSTEIN: Oh yeah, they ring and text.

PRIME MINISTER: People in the Jewish community who are distressed because of the rise in anti-Semitism. People who have relatives in Gaza who are traumatised by what they’re seeing taking place there. What we need from political leaders is bringing people together, not seeking to advance conflict here or to convey that somehow we in Australia can control, are in charge of what is happening in the Middle East. So I have been very concerned about social harmony and I just say that it’s up to leaders to promote social harmony. We have a multicultural society where everyone is deserving of respect. By all means people have differences, but let’s debate them respectfully in a way that adds to social cohesion, doesn’t break it down.

EPSTEIN: Aren’t you struggling for harmony in your own party? I mean, you’ve got one MP, one Senator, sorry, Fatima Payman, Muslim. She says Israel is committing genocide. You’ve got another MP, Josh Burns, who’s Jewish, really upset with your government for voting with Palestine at the UN. I mean, if you can’t unite your party and have harmony in your party, how are we supposed to get harmony outside of the Labor party?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we have a very clear position, Raf. Our position has been to oppose the terrorist atrocity that occurred from Hamas on October 7. To call for the release of hostages. To express concern at the killing of any innocent life, be it Israeli or Palestinian. To support humanitarian ceasefire. To support humanitarian aid going into Gaza. To support a two state solution, which is the long term position that needs to be reached, Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in peace and security with prosperity.

EPSTEIN: I hear that PM, but genuine question. You’ve sort of listed a whole lot of things that you see as even handed, but that doesn’t satisfy the really concerned people in your own party. Like that’s, how do you bring harmony to the rest of us if you can’t unite your own team?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we are united behind those positions. We are united as a government behind all of those positions. And indeed in the parliament, if you go back and look at the resolution that was carried with the support of the Liberals and the Nationals, it put in place those principles immediately in the aftermath of the October 7 atrocity. So I think that was a significant achievement. From time to time there will be people who seek to either for genuine reasons, and that is certainly the case of people putting forward some differences of opinion. I respect that. Respectfully though, my job is to bring together in a coherent fashion a way forward for us as a nation.

EPSTEIN: So brief final question then, PM. Have you spoken to both of them? So Josh Burns is concerned about the vote. Fatima Payman is concerned about what she sees as Australia’s support for Israel. Have you spoken to both of them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I spoke to, I certainly spoke to Josh about the vote. I haven’t spoken to Fatima since she made that statement because I wasn’t aware that she’d made that statement.

EPSTEIN: Are you going to?

PRIME MINISTER: I talk to all of my caucus colleagues all of the time. I certainly have discussed this issue with Fatima.

EPSTEIN: Do you need to speak to her?

PRIME MINISTER: I need to speak to everyone all of the time, Raf. That’s what I do. I’m someone who’s committed to bringing people together because I think overwhelmingly of the people listening to this program, there will be some who have very strong views in two different directions. But you know what overwhelmingly your listeners would want by, I think, a considerable majority. They want Australia to continue to be a harmonious, multicultural nation that respects people of all faiths, that respects our Australian culture here, and they don’t want conflict brought here in a way from overseas. Whether it be on this issue or on many of the other international issues which are out there. There are conflicts in Africa, in Yemen, in Europe.

EPSTEIN: And a lot of people feel very strongly about them. If I can just bring you back to one final thing, PM.

PRIME MINISTER: Sure.

EPSTEIN: You said you weren’t aware Fatima Payman was going to make that statement, so she said something in parliament, spoke to SBS. Should she have given your office a heads up before she spoke?

PRIME MINISTER: That’s a matter for her.

EPSTEIN: But I’m just asking you, are you concerned about that at all or not?

PRIME MINISTER: Well she’s an adult, people take responsibility for the statements that they make. You know, people will make those judgments. I certainly have discussed the issue with Fatima, as I’ve discussed it with everyone in our Caucus. This was an issue as well that was discussed in our Caucus on Tuesday, and not a single Caucus member raised issues with the vote that Australia cast on Friday night in the UN. That was consistent with a way forward, consistent with the 1967 boundaries, consistent with opposition to settlements, and consistent with, it must be said, one of the things that’s forgotten here is that in 1948, the state of Israel, of course, was created. It was created through a resolution passed in November 1947 that called for two states, not one. Israel and Palestine.

EPSTEIN: I appreciate your time this morning, PM. You said you spend your time talking to people, thanks for spending some of that time talking to us.

PRIME MINISTER: Always good to chat with you, Raf.

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