A promise to set up a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund to build social and affordable housing was the centrepiece of Anthony Albanese’s Thursday night budget reply.
In the program’s first five years, the investment returns would build about 20,000 social housing properties. Of these, 4,000 would be allocated to women and children fleeing domestic violence, and low-income older women at risk of homelessness.
Albanese said a further 10,000 affordable housing properties would be for “frontline workers” – “the heroes of the pandemic, those nurses, police, emergency service workers and cleaners that are keeping us safe”. These workers often can only afford to live long distances from their jobs.
The housing fund would be managed by the Future Fund board of Guardians, which is chaired by former Coalition treasurer Peter Costello. The fund would be off budget.
In the plan, $200 million would go to repair, maintenance and improvement of housing in remote indigenous communities.
And there would also be $30 million over the first five years “to build more supportive housing and fund specialist services for veterans” who were, or risked being, homeless.
Albanese, who started his speech by referencing his own childhood in a council house in Sydney, told Parliament the social housing plan would create more than 21,500 jobs a year, with one in ten construction jobs being for apprentices.
“This is a Future Fund that will give more Australians a future,” he said.
In an initiative combining Labor’s commitments to promote renewable energy and skills, Albanese promised a “new energy” apprenticeship program to train 10,000 young people for “the energy jobs of the future”. This would support them with up to $10,000 over their apprenticeship. The cost would be $100 million.
These apprenticeship would be available in renewable energy generation; storage and distribution; energy efficient upgrades; renewable manufacturing like batteries, and relevant agricultural activities.
“Cutting pollution means creating jobs,” Albanese said.
Labor would also provide loans to students and new graduates with startup ventures who were attached to a tertiary institution or designated private accelerator.
In other initiatives, Albanese said a Labor government would work with employers and unions to make legally clear employers’ responsibility to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation from their businesses.
This was recommended by the Respect@Work report but not taken up by the government which said a positive duty already existed under work health and safety laws.
It would outlaw wage theft – a measure that was in the government’s industrial relations legislation but was abandoned after Labor and the crossbench filleted other parts of the package.
Given that the housing plan is off budget, Albanese’s Thursday night promises amount to little in budget outlays.
Attacking the budget, Albanese said it offered “a low growth, low productivity and low wage future”.
“Is that really the best we can aspire to?”
“I want Australia to emerge from this crisis stronger, smarter and more self-reliant, with an economic recovery that works for all Australians.”
Labor’s plan was “about rewarding and repaying the sacrifices that people have made” during the pandemic.
He said there was a once-in-a-century opportunity to reinvent the economy, lift wages, invest in manufacturing and skills, provide affordable childcare, fix aged care, address the housing crisis, champion equality for women’ and emerge as a renewable energy superpower.
“Tuesday’s budget didn’t speak for this country’s future – it only told the sorry tale of eight years of Liberal neglect,” Albanese said.
The budget “is not a plan for the next generation – it is a patch-up job for the next election,” he said. Scott Morrison’s “constant buck-passing and blame shifting has become a handbrake on our economic recovery”.
Albanese said the strength of Australia’s economic recovery depended on effective quarantine and vaccinations, but the government had bungled both.
Now Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg couldn’t even agree when Australians would be vaccinated, Albanese said – a reference to varying interpretations of the budget’s assumption the population will be vaccinated by year’s end.
Albanese said this was a “show bag budget” – flashy on the night but “falling apart the next day when the reality of falling real wages, vaccination confusion, infrastructure cuts and productivity inertia became apparent”.
It contained “no real reform, just a series of announcements top overcome political problems of the government’s own making”, Albanese said.
“What a missed opportunity if our economy comes out the other side with nothing to show for this transformational moment but the biggest debt and deficit of all time.”