ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING - The impact of coronavirus on housing, government response

25 March 2020


SUBJECTS: The impact of coronavirus on housing, government response.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel today. Shadow assistant minister for Communications and Cyber Security, Tim Watts and Liberal MP Jason Falinski. Welcome to both of you. And I will begin with you, Jason. Labor wants a moratorium on all evictions to help make sure Australian renters don't go without a home during the Corona virus pandemic. Do you think that's a good idea?

JASON FALINSKI: I that probably think that’s one response to this, but, Patricia, this is something that all governments are looking at. And I would encourage any landlord, no matter who they are, to take (inaudible)approach to this. There is no point in evicting people at this point in time if they cannot pay their rent simply on the basis that it's highly unlikely that there will be any one to replace them. You know, Australians have always gone through difficult periods like this in the past by sticking together. And I would imagine that the overwhelming, if not every single landlord in Australia would be taking the attitude that if an otherwise healthy person who has always paid their rent and always met their obligations, for reasons beyond their control, could not at this point in time (inaudible) I’ll be seeking to make sure that they have somewhere to stay at this point in time.

KARVELAS: A bit of a bit of an apology to our viewers. I know that's a bit of a shaky Skype line, but we are social distancing here. Well, across the whole country. But here, of course, on ABC News. To Jason, just you say you hope that landlords do the right thing and of course, everyone hopes they do. But should there be laws to prevent them doing the wrong thing?

FALINSKI: Patricia, I'm saying more than that, I'm sure they will, beyond anything Australians have always come together in this period of time. It isn't. (connection interrupted).

KARVELAS: Let me ask Tim while we see if we can fix up that line, Tim. Obviously, Labor made this request today, but actually Jason Falinski says this is on the table already. Clearly, governments are discussing this. 

TIM WATTS: Well, Patricia, it’s something that’s been coming up in my community pretty consistently since the start of this crisis. There's a lot of anxiety about people's economic future and I've been hearing this from across the board that people are really scared about losing the roof over their head. Labor has been saying throughout this crisis that what we need from the federal government is leadership and clear communication. And on this issue, we need Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, to follow Anthony Albanese's lead and to make a clear statement on this, saying that we expect there to be action. Sending that clear message to landlords like Jason was pointing out, saying that now is not a good time to evict tenants because you're going to be getting new tenants in the current climate. But also, making it really clear that people's living situation is central, not only to the economic crisis we are facing, but also the health crisis. I mean, we're not going to be able to do this social distancing that we're doing now. We're not going to be able to tell Australians, stay at home for the good of your community, for the good of the nation, if they're getting turfed out on the street. So we've been really clear that Australians, in order to play their part in this health crisis, need to have the certainty they won't be evicted, need to have the certainty that their utilities won't be turned off, that they won't have the water turned off or the electricity turned off while they are doing the right thing and participating in this nationwide effort to fight this virus. 

KARVELAS: Tim, you say the government should just get out there and announce this, but if they're working on this. In fact, they've telegraphed this at a national level with the national cabinet. Isn't it appropriate that they work to make sure that this is bullet proof essentially, a policy which has lots of detail? If it needs laws, they need to explore that. Isn't that fair enough? You have to go through a process don’t you?

WATTS: Well, Patricia, people in my constituency have been getting letters from their landlords already. They've been getting letters saying that the rent is expected to be paid, that there'll be no exceptions given in this crisis. And that would have been assisted by the prime minister sending a clear message from the start that this won't be tolerated. That we will act and that you're not to exploit this situation. There has been this sort of gulf of information out there that has caused an enormous amount of anxiety and fear in the community. And this is one of the number one issues that I've been getting correspondence about since the start of this crisis. There is a burning anxiety in the community that needs leadership from the prime minister and a clear message about what the government intends to do about it. 

KARVELAS: Jason Falinski, hopefully we can hear you a bit better. Tim Watts saying there we need a clear statement because people, at least in his electorate, I've heard other stories too, actually, getting these letters from landlords saying ‘you better pay your rent’. Given that's happening, I don't know what level, but at some level, does this need to be immediately clarified? 

FALINSKI: Sorry. Patricia was that a question to me. 

KARVELAS: Yes, that's right, it was.

FALINSKI: Of course. I'm sorry. I mean, firstly can I just say that I totally understand the feelings that Tim and you are expressing on this issue. I share them too and if there is one thing that all of us want certainty on at this point is a home. But the fact of the matter is, this is an extraordinary situation. The one thing we don't have is clarity. (inaudible) And governments of all persuasions in all levels need to be flexible about how they're responding to this. I'm disappointed to hear the story that Tim just said; that is completely unAustralian for people to be doing that. There may be circumstances behind that. So we judge not lest we be judged. But at this point in time it's incredibly clear that all of us need to come together and behave in a manner or form that is kinder and gentler than we normally would. But I don’t think at this point in time draconian laws or laws brought down upon everyone, one size fits all, are going to create certainty. It might come a time when that becomes necessary, I hope that isn't the case. But the thing that I know that all parties at all levels of government are looking at (connection interrupted). 

KARVELAS: All right, it's a little difficult to hear you there. Tim, I know Victoria have done some spot checks. Spot checks on people who are supposed to be self isolating. There's actually updated figures on this, but there were a few people who weren't home. I think one person who gave the wrong address given that's going on. So these are the people who are essentially the most risky people who've come back from overseas. Should electronic monitoring be considered? Should we be beefing up our measures? 

WATTS: Patricia, I don’t think we should be ruling out anything at this stage. But one thing that I should say is that I think we have had the advantage in this crisis of being able to watch developments overseas. I mean, this is something that we've been seeing unfold for a couple of months now. We ought to be really learning from the experiences overseas about what's worked, what hasn't worked. I know that there are other countries that have made a lot greater use of, maybe not electronic monitoring, but sort of mobile phone app based devices, you know, generalised movement technology. And I think we really ought to be doing that. Unfortunately I mean, I don't I'm not trying to be critical about this, but I've been pretty exasperated by the pace of the response from the government. I mean, we got this text message go out yesterday with a message that, frankly, should have gone out a month ago. And I worked in the telecommunications sector for 10 years before I got into the Parliament. It's not difficult to get these messages out. I don't know why that message couldn't have been sent a month ago. I look at the overall communication campaign that the government is rolling out here. It's a $30 million public information campaign. That's like a third of what Clive Palmer spent on advertising before the last federal election. I just don’t get the sense of urgency in response to the scale of the issue here. It's very easy for us to lecture and hector people about their behaviour in the community. And I think it's entirely justifiable (inaudible) following the instructions that we should be lecturing and hectoring them. We also need to make sure that people understand very clearly what those obligations are. I just think there are a lot of people that aren't hearing that. 

KARVELAS: I want to thank you both. It's been a pleasure to speak to you. Even if it's sometimes on a tricky little Skype line, shadow assistant minister for communications and cyber security Tim Watts and Liberal MP Jason Falinski.




Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.