Transcript: 2GB Sydney, Interview with Chris Smith

7 August 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme
E&OE

CHRIS SMITH:
In this country, over 80% of personal income tax goes towards the welfare bill. Let me repeat that – it is important in this current day and age to understand where our money goes and where your taxes go.

Over 80%of personal income tax goes towards the welfare bill. That is roughly eight out of ten taxpayers who go to work every day to pay for other people.

And yet we have got a possible incoming Prime Minister, in the form of Bill Shorten, wanting to take more from the same lot. However, I digress.

It is beyond frustrating when you hear about people on welfare who are spending your money on things that are not necessities and still do not pay their way.

Today we are hearing that nearly 9,000 households in social housing owe more than three weeks rent, and more than 2,300 people lose housing every year because they fall too far behind in their payments.

The Government is introducing a scheme to crack down on this and ensure that those on welfare are using their money on the things that matter.

Similar to the way they targeted various Aboriginal communities and low socio-economic suburbs around Australia. Isn't it important, beyond anything else, to provide food for your family and put a roof over their head?

Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, joins me on the line right now. Minister, thank you for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH:
This is what is being described as an automatic rent reduction scheme. It is amazing that it has not operated elsewhere.

ALAN TUDGE:
That is right; this will be the first time that this has been introduced into Australia. And what we are doing is, in essence, if you are in a public house, we will ensure that the rent gets paid for that public house by taking it directly out of your welfare payment before you get the remainder.

That way you will never be in arrears, you will never be evicted and you will have a roof over your head if you are in that public house.

CHRIS SMITH:
It is such an obvious way to ensure welfare is spent on the single most important things - that is a roof over your head and food in the mouths of your family.

ALAN TUDGE:
I think that is right. Welfare is provided to those people who, for whatever reason are down on their luck - they have not got a job or might have a disability - and providing a roof over your head is one of the most important things that welfare is provided for.

Some people live in public housing and public housing typically has smaller rents, but what we know is that, and you pointed out those figures, almost 9,000 people fall into arrears of their public house rent, and 2,300 each year get evicted.

And if you are evicted from a public house then you do not have many other options, so you may well end up homeless. So this measure will stop that.

CHRIS SMITH:
Why are people being evicted? Are they prioritising things they shouldn't? Or aren't they simply getting enough to provide the basics for themselves and their family?

ALAN TUDGE:
We certainly know in some cases that it is the former, where people are spending money on other things and not spending the money on rent. The broader question is, are they not getting enough money to pay for their rent?

In a public house, in New South Wales for example, the rents are set at 25 to 30% of your income. So it is a reduced rent typically in any case, and if you are on a smaller income - that income being all welfare - then you still only pay 25 to 30% of it on your rental.

The problem is then it is just not getting paid because they pay other things.

CHRIS SMITH:
How much money - do you know this figure - how much money is being lost per year in unpaid rent?

ALAN TUDGE:
It is about $30 million per year across the country from unpaid rents and related administrative costs, so that is a lot of money as well.

The other thing that this measure will do is, in essence, to provide the guarantee of rents being paid for the public housing providers and, sometimes they are non-profit providers - and so they are more likely in the future to actually invest in more public housing because they have got that guaranteed rent.

CHRIS SMITH:
Because they know the money's coming in to them, right.

ALAN TUDGE:
They know the money is going to come in.

CHRIS SMITH:
So this could actually encourage more of that level of housing to be built?

ALAN TUDGE:
Correct. And that is one of the objectives of this as well is to encourage more public housing to be built - whether it be by state governments or by non-profit organisations.

CHRIS SMITH:
Okay. As I understand it though, public housing is controlled by the states; have you got them on board?

ALAN TUDGE:
Yeah, we have. Every state in the country has signed up to this, other than Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania.

CHRIS SMITH:
Why haven't they signed up?

ALAN TUDGE:
Victoria for ideological reasons, believe it or not. I cannot understand that. The ACT similarly. Tasmania, it is almost too small for them to, at this stage, want to be part of it.

CHRIS SMITH:
Ideological reasons?

ALAN TUDGE:
Ideological reasons.

CHRIS SMITH:
What, because welfare money in the hands of those who are in public housing is considered their money and not taxpayers' money?

ALAN TUDGE:
I cannot understand it myself. I mean they are Labor Governments there. We have got a very left wing Labor Government in my home state of Victoria, and for ideological reasons they do not want to participate in that.

They for whatever reason, they would rather see people being evicted from their public house it seems.

CHRIS SMITH:
So even to take away the angst of possible eviction down the track has got to be a positive thing?

ALAN TUDGE:
You would think so. You would think that. I think the everyday person, the common sense person would think that, they would also think it is a good idea that this would encourage further investments in public houses so there are more public houses available for those who need.

But, no, they do not want to participate. So we're progressing in any case. The New South Wales Government, by the way, has been one of the leaders here. They have worked very closely with us in getting this up and running, and are keen to get on with it.

CHRIS SMITH:
And so the timing is what, March next year?

ALAN TUDGE:
March next year, we will put legislation through in the next few weeks and then we will have it up and running by March of next year.

And then of course the state governments who tend to administer the public housing, they will administer this program and ensure it works. But we will do all the infrastructure behind the scenes.

CHRIS SMITH:
Okay, hang on a sec. You have just mentioned legislation. So, I presume that Labor and the Greens won't support it, and if it goes to the Senate, are you positive you can get most of the Senate on board?

ALAN TUDGE:
Labor in Queensland, in Northern Territory, in Western Australia and South Australia; those state governments have supported this scheme and they are going to work with us on it.

So we are hopeful the Labor Party will actually support this federally. It is only the very left-wing governments in Victoria and the ACT who seem to have an ideological problem against it.

CHRIS SMITH:
On another issue, have you had your Cabinet meeting?

ALAN TUDGE:
No, there is a Cabinet meeting tonight. There is a party room meeting this afternoon - as you probably know - where we are going to be discussing the same-sex marriage issue.

CHRIS SMITH:
Do you support a postal plebiscite?

ALAN TUDGE:
I certainly strongly support a plebiscite. That is what we went to the Australian people with at the last election. I also think it just gives every single Australian an opportunity to have their say.

CHRIS SMITH:
And you will cop a postal plebiscite if pushed?

ALAN TUDGE:
This will be discussed, Chris, in the Party Room. This will be discussed in the Party Room. The plebiscite to me is the most important thing, because we promised it and it is an issue which every single Australian has a view on and deserves to be able to have their say on.

A plebiscite, in one way or the other, will give them that opportunity.

CHRIS SMITH:
Thank you for time this afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks so much, Chris.