Transcript – Drive with Nick McCallum – 3AW

Topics: Census data release, online voting, Work for the Dole, house prices

 

E&OE …

 

NICK McCALLUM:

In the studio in his regular slot is Senator Scott Ryan, the Special Minister of State. Senator, thanks for your time.

 

SENATOR SCOTT RYAN:

Thanks for having me Nick.

 

McCALLUM:

OK, so the big news for you in your particular portfolio (sic) and the rest of Australia is we’ve got a little snapshot from the Census last year, the very controversial Census from last year. So the first question I want to ask you is, can we trust anything from the Census given all the problems?

SENATOR RYAN:

We actually ended up getting a better participation rate. Obviously the circumstances in which it didn’t work on the night wasn’t ideal, but the follow up program, the advertising program and the engagement program actually led to an increase in response rates, so it is actually more, it’s got better data.

 

McCALLUM:

Are you confident though, that people took it seriously in the weeks afterwards, given the furore over it?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I think Australians do take it seriously. The Census happens fairly regularly in this country – it is not every 10 years like in America – and I think people know it relates to where they are going to get roads, schools and hospitals. In my experience, that’s why it got so much attention when it didn’t work, because people took it so seriously.

 

McCALLUM:

OK so what’s the snapshot? We get the initial findings now, and obviously more detailed findings in a few months, so what have we learned today?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

What we’ve learned is that Australia is becoming slightly older – we’ve aged a year on average. The average Australian is a 38-year-old woman with a couple of kids in a three bedroom house. Over time, I think that’s a year on top of what it was last time. In Victoria, NSW and Western Australia, the average is a woman as well, because there are more women than men, but in Victoria, NSW and Western Australia, the average actually has one parent born overseas, which I think reflects our increasing diversity.

 

McCALLUM:

Really? In those states?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Which doesn’t really surprise us around Melbourne and Sydney – where 40 per cent of people have a parent born overseas or are born overseas themselves. In some parts of Melbourne you can easily go and find more than half the people born overseas.

 

McCALLUM:

The interesting part for Victoria – who is the average migrant?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

So the most popular source of migration now is India, and I think that displaced China, but still the most populous migrant is from the UK, reflecting decades of migration from the UK.

 

McCALLUM:

And, as I understand in Queensland, the most popular migrant is a …

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I haven’t caught up on the state of my birth, I’m afraid.

 

McCALLUM:

I heard on the news, New Zealand. There you go. In Queensland.

9690 0693, 13 13 32 any federal issue you want to discuss with Senator Ryan, give us a call, 9690 0693, 13 13 32.

 

So are you now confident that the Census will have credibility because it hit a really big blow. I know you say so many more people actually participated in it, but are you confident the average Australian now will look at those figures and say, ‘yeah, they’re fair dinkum’?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Absolutely. When you’ve got a higher participation rate and – as I said earlier – I think one of the reasons over the furore of it not working was precisely because Australians take it so seriously. And all the expert advice is that having done it online, despite the hassle, despite the delay, it is actually going to be more accurate.

I found it easier, I’ve got to admit. I was a sceptic of moving away from paper to online, but when I did complete it online – a little bit late as with most – I actually found it a lot easier than doing it with pen and paper.

 

McCALLUM:

I couldn’t do it online, I ended up running into all sorts of problems. I ended up doing a paper version, which was delivered at home.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’m glad it got to you.

 

McCALLUM:

It certainly did and I did it very late too, I snuck in to time.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

The lesson here is not just to make sure that IT systems are very, very rigorous so that when they have such demands on them, they work. But also making sure that we have processes in place to catch up if something doesn’t work.

 

McCALLUM:

OK, issues of the day. First one, Work for the Dole. Two questions: will it be dumped? And can it be considered a success?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

No, it won’t be dumped. The Minister Michaelia Cash restated our Government’s support for it. Tens of thousands of Australians – nearly half of them under 30 and most of them long-term unemployed – engage in this program. I know people who have done it and for them it has been a way to break a cycle, to get back into the routine of work, to make social networks because unemployment can be incredibly socially isolating, especially if you’re constantly applying for jobs and getting knocked back. This is a long-standing policy that the Coalition has been proud of from the days of John Howard.

 

McCALLUM:

I read today that, what is it, two per cent, of people who have participated have actually gone onto get jobs out of it? I understand that it improves lives and gives people confidence and all that, but you can’t be happy with that figure.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

We’re not happy about anyone who wants a job and can’t get one, but at the same time, we understand that some people face much larger barriers in getting jobs and have a long way to get into a position where they are highly employable, maybe in an area with high unemployment where it is hard to get work. This is actually about ensuring that this is engagement, and not passive welfare, and that in itself is an important objective.

 

McCALLUM:

But surely, there must be room for improvement?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

There is always room for improvement.

 

McCALLUM:

If there is only two per cent of people in a Work for the Dole program who end up getting a fair dinkum job, that’s a, by any stretch of the imagination, that’s a failure.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’ve seen various reports – and it depends how you count how they get a job. If you get someone who has not been able to go through a job training program, for example, you put them in Work for the Dole and they get some work skills back, they get some social networks re-established, and then they’re more able to take advantage of a training program. That may not be counted as getting a job from Work for the Dole, but they are going to get a job eventually. This is actually part of the program we have in place, like with the youth internships scheme, that tries to cater for those who have just slipped through the job net, who have just slipped through the barriers, those in areas of very high unemployment. You don’t want someone on passive welfare for years while they wait to get a job because the biggest predictor of long-term unemployment is being unemployed for more than a year.

 

McCALLUM:

OK, moving on to the budget, it is all about housing affordability …

 

SENATOR RYAN:

That’s one of the issues.

 

McCALLUM:

You’ve identified and clearly the Treasurer has identified this is one of the key issues and there will be measures in the Budget addressing it. He has opened the door, or left the door open – whichever way you want to interpret it – on younger people being able to use their super in some way, shape or form to get a deposit on a house.

That has to be madness – surely you’re not seriously considering that?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I’m not going to comment on what’s being considered or not considered for the Budget, but I’m also not going to contradict the Treasurer.

 

McCALLUM:

That’s why I asked the question, there’s no winning for you.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

This idea has been floated over the last 30 years. I suppose the question people should ask is it hasn’t been done before, it’s been proposed by both sides of politics before and not progressed, have the circumstances changed that would mean our answer to that question might be different?

I don’t think there is a problem with reconsidering a policy that has been rejected before, because the world’s a different place.

 

McCALLUM:

And I understand that, but the basic tenant of super is to look after people in their retirement. If they’re going to blow it all, if they’re going to use – even if it’s only a small proportion of it – at a young age, surely that destroys the whole purpose of it?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Without going into too much detail because we are not discussing an actual proposal, at the moment when you have people using lump sums to pay off a remaining mortgage at the end of their working life, that’s at the other end of the housing scale.

We do have to look at housing affordability and we have to look at it reasonably because the real issue at the moment is the rapid growth. I don’t think anyone is proposing to see falls in house prices, that would be very bad. We’ve seen that happen in places like the United States and that has very deleterious economic affects.

 

McCALLUM:

Ok, we have Mike who has a question or a comment, hi Mike.

 

CALLER:

Hi, just a quick question. I don’t think it’s fair that Australians should be subjected to, the only reason house prices are so expensive at the moment is because of the overseas market. They had a caller this morning who had a really good idea, I agree that people should be able to take their super out, but when you take your super out and sell your first house, put back the money you took out of your superannuation. Why can’t we look at that?

 

McCALLUM:

Senator?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Superannuation is far from my area of expertise. I’m not sure if any of the proposals in past decades have considered that, but it’s only four weeks until the Budget and then people will get a sense of the Government’s direction in this policy area.

 

McCALLUM:

Is the Government, answering the first question from Mike, is the Government also looking at toughening up the foreign investment rules?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well we have.

 

McCALLUM:

I was told yesterday, when I quoted that, I got all sorts of emails and all sorts of social media from people saying ‘don’t be ridiculous, those rules are being broken every day’.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

A couple of things, for years before we came to office very little was done on this and now both Scott Morrison and Kelly O’Dwyer are regularly forcing the sale of hundreds of homes who are bought by people who are not qualified. I do think, one of the examples that was put to me, that in some suburbs of Melbourne, buyers might be apparently Chinese. We’ve got to be careful, a lot of those people could be Australian citizens or permanent residents. We have to be careful not to think a problem is inadvertently larger than it is.

 

McCALLUM:

Do you like the idea of an empty unit or empty house tax?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

I’m sceptical of all new taxes.

 

McCALLUM:

Is that a no or a yes?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

It’s not up to me to say no. I think the State Government has floated this and the State Government here in Victoria seems to like new taxes. Taxes don’t solve affordability problems.

 

McCALLUM:

Ok then, Senator Scott Ryan, Special Minister of State, will be taking your calls. A lot of people are queueing up to talk to him. 9690 0693, 13 13 32. Don’t forget word on the street as well, tell me what’s going on around Melbourne, tell me something I don’t know and you’ll go into the running for a level one defensive driving program from Murcott’s Driving Excellence and at the end of the week, we’ll put two lucky callers into the draw to win $50,000 to spend on the car of your choice from Penfold Motor Group. Back after the break with Senator Scott Ryan.

 

[AD BREAK]

 

I’m with Senator Scott Ryan, the Special Minister of State, and Cosmo has a question for him. Hi Cosmo.

 

CALLER:

Nick, how are you? Gentlemen, good afternoon.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

G’day Cosmo.

 

CALLER:

Quick question, I want to go back to your comments on the Census. I’d like to know if it was that successful and that fantastic when are we ever going to start doing federal and state elections like that? Why do we have to queue up and grab 16 million bits of paper, what’s the go there?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

In simple terms, it is impossible to guarantee 100 per cent security and 100 per cent anonymity in an online ballot. There is no one in the world who has been able to do it. No one in the world in a comparable democracy does it. So what we try and do is make it easier for people to vote in the three weeks before an election so you don’t have to waste a couple of hours on Saturday, or easier to get a postal vote. Australia is probably the easiest country in the world to vote in the three weeks before polling day. But as the Minister responsible, I’ve looked at this, and to put it online poses an unacceptable security risk.

 

McCALLUM:

Why then, was the Census not an unacceptable security risk?

SENATOR RYAN:

Because when it comes to elections, two of the last three elections have been decided by one seat. The truth is that we generate a lot of public support for our elections because people relate to the fact that they can see pictures, or even watch, piles of paper being counted. The transparency of a paper ballot, where everyone knows their bit of paper was marked with a pencil and counted, as opposed to logging on. Imagine if Census night had been election night and there had been a problem with the website. I don’t think people would have been as content with the result. I think the process of an election generates acceptance of a result.

 

McCALLUM:

Thank you Cosmo, that was a great question. Hi Neil.

 

CALLER:

Hello Nick, how are you? Up to the other week I would have agreed with you not being able to use your superannuation, or young people using superannuation on their houses. But now I’ve changed my opinion totally on that because young people aren’t going to earn the money to get the loan to get their houses. Whereas if you put your money in superannuation, you’re relying on other people to invest it in more investments and then you get a GFC and wipes all your funds away, like if you’ve got it invested in shares you’ve just wiped 50 per cent right off the top and now you’re relying on everyone else to invest your money. You never get that money back, that money is now gone. If you put it into a house, at least you’ve got the money. When people come to a mature age where they’re needing more money, they can just borrow against the house if that’s where the Government is going to have it in x amount of years’ time.

 

McCALLUM:

Do you have a comment on that Senator?

SENATOR RYAN:

I think that demonstrates the complexity of the issue. Every time we take money from one area and put it into another there is an opportunity cost. It is not going to be there for the original purpose. I think even the fact your callers are focussing on this is a sign that ensuring the next generation of Australians can buy a house and get a stake in our community is something that everyone is committed to. It was one of the things shown in the Census that has dropped a bit.

 

McCALLUM:

Neil, my point purely is that it was 100 per cent organised, Paul Keating organised it, to make sure that we got retirements we deserved and it wouldn’t be an imposition on society as we became an older society. I think the point is destroyed if that money is spend too early.

Hi Don.

 

CALLER:

Yeah g’day Nick, g’day Scott. I think young people should be able to use part of their super. The reality is you go through life, you want to get a deposit to build a house, then when you’ve paid off your house, you can spend your last 10 years building up your super and that’s how people do it.

Just another quick couple of points on housing. Immigration is driving it. Interest rates were eight per cent, you could borrow $400,000, at five per cent you can now borrow $650,000 for the amount. And your Government’s changes to superannuation just super-charge the investment boom because that’s where advisers told you to put your money.

 

McCALLUM:

Senator?

 

CALLER:

And also with Labor favoured to win the next election, a lot of people are getting in before they change negative gearing.

 

McCALLUM:

Your reaction to those last two things?

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Well I think, superannuation changes mainly came in in 2007 when John Howard was prime minister and that was around being able to borrow in super funds – as I said, this is not my particular area of expertise. But I think we’ve got to look at, again, the Commonwealth tax policy is a very, very small impact on housing prices. I paid, for example – I bought one house, sold it to buy my second house, I only own one with a large mortgage – I paid $100,000 in stamp duty over the course of a decade. I live in an area with tram lines, but that money didn’t go and build the next generation of tram lines. We haven’t invested in infrastructure that allows people to commute to jobs in a reliable and timely fashion and that is one of the biggest factors, when you look at where house price pressure is, it really is in areas where people can easily commute to jobs.

 

McCALLUM:

Ian joins us, hi Ian.

 

CALLER:

Yeah hi Nick. Just in regards to superannuation and housing and whether or not it should be for retirement funds and things, any form of government fiddling, whether it is superannuation money for housing or first-home buyers grants, I’ve been in real estate for 30 years, all it will do, if they bring that in, is put more people into the market and more demand and up goes prices. It will not change affordability.

SENATOR RYAN:

Ian hits the nail on the head there. The key factor is supply. If you don’t have more houses where people want to live and they can easily commute to jobs and you tip more money into the market, you will have an impact on price. There is no silver bullet here and this is the real flaw in Labor’s proposal, they think there is an easy solution and there’s not.

 

McCALLUM:

Adam, we will make you the last caller. Hi Adam.

 

CALLER:

Hi, two points, we are talking about young people and their super but they’ve probably only been in the workforce for a short time so they probably don’t have much super at all. We’re talking about $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000 into the housing market, which is not going to make a big difference to affordability.

 

McCALLUM:

Adam, that would be about half – say $15,000 to $20,000 – would be half your deposit.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

It would probably be your stamp duty to the Victorian State Government.

 

McCALLUM:

That too. But it would half your deposit, which is a huge head start and which would mean that they’d be able to get into the market a lot quicker.

 

CALLER:

The other thing we need to look at about affordability is for everybody buying one house there is a person selling that house, who has invested all their time, energy and life into that property. They deserve to be able to pull a big sum out of it. We only are worrying about first home buyers when the market is booming, when the market’s crashed we worry about everybody else.

 

SENATOR RYAN:

Anyone who proposes that house prices should fall, I think needs to go and look at some parts of America and see the economic damage that can cause. It has been horrific over there. It is all about striking the right balance and using – as the Treasurer said the other day – a scalpel, not chainsaw.

 

McCALLUM:

It is going to be a very interesting pre-budget and post-budget time. Senator Scott Ryan, thanks for joining us.

 

[ENDS]

Author: senatorryan

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