ABC Weekend Breakfast – Repatriating Indian Australians, Housing Announcements

Saturday, 08 May 2021

HOST: Now let’s bring in our politician panel. We are joined by Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who is chair of the Standing Committee on Economics. We also are joined by Amanda Rishworth who is the Shadow Minister for Youth and Early Childhood. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. I want to talk about the repatriation flights that are coming into Australia. The government has said that they will be doubling these repatriation flights as of next Saturday. Amanda Rishworth, you know the fact that these flights were suspended initially because there was a fear that the in-coming travellers may actually overwhelm the quarantine system, but wouldn’t doubling the repatriation flights do just that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Look, it is hard for me to get a line of sight on what the government is thinking is on this. What we know, though, is that we have had the government very ill-prepared for the surge in India. The government would have known that we had thousands of citizens in India and, indeed in other places around the world. Really, we should have been prepared. We should have had our quarantine system prepared so that we could take Australians home, repatriate Australians from anywhere in the world if they were in an upsurge of COVID-19. Unfortunately, we have seen the government really not take responsibility when it comes to the quarantine system. We have still not had purpose-built facilities. We are still relying on hotel quarantine, which had it’s place early in the pandemic, but really was never meant to be a long-term solution according to the experts. So really, it’s been disappointing. I’m pleased that these Australians are able to start getting back home. But we shouldn’t have come to this, where we were not prepared for a country having a surge and not having planned to get our citizens home in a safe way. Not only to keep our citizens home here safe, but to get our citizens abroad out of harm’s way.

HOST: Tim Wilson, if people test positive for COVID-19, they won’t be able to get that flight home. Given that we know what the situation is like in India, with the health system completely overrun, how does that sit with you?

TIM WILSON, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: (inaudible) measure that’s been taken throughout this pandemic. We’ve all had difficulties at different times. You know, in Victoria, we had mass lockdowns for long periods of times, we’ve had constraints on the number of people who’ve been able to come back, we’ve had obligations around quarantine domestically, as well as international. So I’m not going to say I’m comfortable with every single measure, but some measures are also necessary because the potential health impact on the Australian population could be disproportionately larger. One of the critical things we’re doing in terms of increasing our quarantine capacity and have in addition to hotel quarantine, of course, we have the expansion of the Howard Springs facility. But it has its own limitations on the number of people that come home. And of course, we’re very concerned about the cross infection, not just the people in quarantine, but then the cross infection that potentially could impact the entire Australian population. So at every step governments have taken measures that they see as proportionate. And part of the challenge is watching them as they’re implemented and sometimes learning as we’re going along too.

HOST: Making these measures proportionate, I want to take you up on that particular point Tim Wilson. There are reports today of an Australian permanent resident who died while waiting for a flight back into Australia. Now, the death has not been formally linked to coronavirus. If, however, it does come out that this person’s death was linked to COVID-19, can the government be held responsible for this?

WILSON: Well, the government is not responsible for the global pandemic and the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world. Now, I don’t know the details of this case, you don’t know the details of this case. And I think frankly, turning a tragedy where someone has lost their life into a discussion around political point scoring isn’t very constructive. The focus should be on what we can do to get Australians back who are overseas in a safe way, that’s safe for them and safe for the rest of the Australian community. And we’ve been repatriating people from all over the world and will continue to do so. But at any given time, there are hundreds of thousands of Australians that have been overseas. We’ve exceeded our targets on the number we’ve been aiming to get back. But of course, peoples circumstances have changed when they’ve gone overseas, both in country and their own personal circumstances. Many people at the start of the pandemic chose not to return to Australia because they thought they were fine, their circumstances have changed and we’ve had to adapt to that along the way.

HOST: Amanda Rishworth is that fair enough what Tim Wilson is saying there? And also in regards to the advice from the health authorities that the government’s responding to.

RISHWORTH: Look you’ve always got to respond to the health advice, and certainly I think we need to make sure we keep Australians safe here and overseas. I guess what I’m disappointed in is this lack of forward planning from the government. We had the Halton review, which was released mid last year, that talked about the Federal Government taking responsibility around building some purpose built facilities, a national standard of PPE, and a range of other measures, and there just hasn’t been any action on it. And I was particularly concerned when in Greg Hunt’s media release there was this threat of jail time from coming back from India. I just think less time focused on that sort of thing – I don’t know what they were trying to do there – and more time actually on problem solving here would be much more reassuring to our citizens. Yes circumstances change, there are people that chose not to come back and now do want to come back. Of course, we need to work really hard to make sure we’re able to support them to get back home and not threaten them with jail time, which I think was an ill advised move.

HOST: Tim Wilson, I had been speaking earlier to epidemiologist Marylouise Mclaws this morning who suggested that perhaps in order to mitigate the risk of spreading coronavirus within hotel quarantine with these repatriation flights, that perhaps the government puts on two separate flights to try to get these Australians home – one flight for people who test negative, and other flights for people who test positive. Is this an idea, proposal that perhaps the government will entertain and implement?

WILSON: I think the government’s consistently looked at the evidence and proposals that have come up and state governments have done the same. And whether they’re Liberal or Labor, when you make decisions informed by evidence, and people have proposals, then there’ll be considered. But I can’t as I’ve only just heard about this, I can’t give you clarity. But of course, ideas will be considered if they’re effective, if they keep Australians safe, and of course, they enable us to get more Australians returning home. But one of the challenges we’ve had with this virus every step of the way, has been its latency. Where people may not be showing symptoms, they might even test negative initially, and then progressively symptoms emerge, and they may test positive. So there’s no bullet proof solutions to addressing the challenge of COVID-19, which is why responsible and proportionate measures with caution has been the mode of governments around the country.

HOST: We want to move on to look ahead to the budget which is course is coming up on Tuesday. And we’ve got news this morning about some help for first time buyers to get into the housing markets and further help involving your superannuation. So first time buyers will be able to release $50,000 from specials accounts within their super to buy their first home. Tim Wilson, we had an economist on the program earlier in the morning, Brian Park, and he was saying that this will just boost demand for houses in an already overheated market, and prices will go higher as a result. He also raised the question as to whether we need to fundamentally decide what super is for, whether it’s for getting into the housing market or whether it’s as part of your retirement nest egg. He raised those two issues, what do you say to those two issues?

WILSON: Well firstly, our biggest concern as a government and certainly my concern as a Member of Parliament is to make sure that young Australians can get their foothold into the market and buy their first home. And prioritising superannuation, the second biggest financial decision you’ll makie your life, over the biggest which is homeownership, has a distortionary and perverse effect of making it harder for young Australians to buy their own home and has seen a decline in homeownership rates. In 1980, the first home somebody purchased was average age of 24, today it is 36. That means they’re not just paying 12 more years of rent, it means that they are more likely with a 30 year mortgage to pay it only just before they retire, if not have to use their super to pay off the remaining balance of their mortgage. And that’s only the first home, which can often be people go on and buy other ones, because they need to upgrade for children. Now when it comes to financial decisions, as I’ve already outlined, people’s life financial decisions should be made consistent with their life priorities. And that’s why it should be home first, super second, because you can save for your retirement once you own a home, you cannot save for a home in retirement.

HOST: Amanda Rishworth I want to put that same question to you, should super be used for home first and then retirement second?

RISHWORTH: Well, I think there is great concern about what those people’s retirement life is like. Of course superannuation has been designed to support people to save for their retirement. And if they retire with without a nest egg, then they rely on the pension. And I hear, as I’m sure Tim does all the time, those people that rely on the pension find it very, very hard to make ends meet, they feel they go without a lot. So I think superannuation is a really important part of our system. And if what’s Tim is saying is right, then why do we even have superannuation? Why not just get rid of it? Well, Labor’s really committed to supporting people to save for their retirement. It has a lot of tax incentives around saving for your retirement. And I think if we are looking at measures to support people into their own home, why isn’t the government looking a bit more broadly at this question? Look at many of the levers and the drivers in this. Saving your superannuation is not the lever and driver about why homeownership has declined in that time. There’s been a number of leavers, including stagnant wages in recent times, difficulty entering the rental market, as well as owning your first home, certainly doesn’t come from the introduction of superannuation, and to suggest that is really disingenuous. So I think we’ve got to be really clear superannuation is a really important part of the system. And if this government wants to dismantle it, I certainly hope they’re budgeting for a much higher pension, because that is what is to come. There will not be self sufficiency, people will not be able to support themselves, and we will have to see many, many more people go on to the pension at a much lower rate. And so I hope the government is budgeting for that.

HOST: I just want to get in and point to the first point of my question before, which was the idea that this would boost demand in the housing market, and then prices would just get higher and higher. What do you say to the policy doing that? And why isn’t the government focusing on boosting the housing stock and availability of houses?

WILSON: Well firstly I need to respond to Amanda which is in 1992, the total savings of superannuation for Australia was $290 billion. Today, it’s $3.1 trillion, an 4,100 per cent increase. In the same time demand on the pension has dropped from 67 per cent to 65 per cent, a 2 per cent drop. 1,400 up in capital, 2 percent drop in demand on the pension, so saving more and more on super isn’t doing anything to reduce demand on the pension. When it comes to superannuation and house prices, for every $100 that a house price goes up, a young Australian needs somewhere between $5 and $20 for their deposit, because the deposit is the biggest barrier. Whereas if you force young Australians to put their money into superannuation at the expense of a house deposit, they lose 100 per cent of the benefit of them being able to purchase their own home younger. Now we have big programs to promote boosting housing supply, to increase stock. You’ve seen the HomeBuilder program and many other. This government is clearly and resolutely committed to enabling young Australians to buy their first home. Unfortunately, the Labor Party would rather prefer and favour their mates in the super sector and their big bonuses at that expense.

RISHWORTH: That is an outrageous comment, quite frankly. And Tim, superannuation is a long term policy. To suggest that people started paying into their super in the early 90s –

Inaudible

RISHWORTH: – decline in the rate of taking up the pension is really I mean, quite disingenuous. But –

WILSON: It came from the Treasury’s own analysis.

RISHWORTH: – do they support superannuation or not? What are they doing? I mean, Tim mentioned HomeBuilder I mean that has hardly increased the level of stock we need in this country. Really, it’s been tinkering around the edges. There hasn’t been a proper plan from this government around housing affordability, or indeed being able to get your foot in the housing market for the last eight years.

HOST: Unfortunately, we are running out of time, Tim Wilson and Amanda Rishworth. We had wanted to touch on child care subsidies as well, but we’d love to get you back on to get your ideas on both of that as well. Wonderful to have you both on weekend breakfast, Tim Wilson and Amanda Rishworth. Thank you both.

ENDS

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