By Charles Purcell
How do revolutions start? For the Americans, it was because of “no taxation without representation”. For the French, it was the growth of Enlightenment ideals and the brutality of the nobles. Yet for Australia, it seems there is no cause great enough to make the common man throw metaphorical boxes of tea into Sydney Harbour.
In particular, I am thinking about one of Australia’s greatest injustices: housing prices. And the biggest question of all is: why aren’t we marching in the streets about it? Where is our “housing affordability” revolution?
It is clear that many players benefit from the current scheme of things, not least our state and federal governments, addicted to the rivers of gold of stamp duty. So perhaps it is no surprise that there are no significant measures to address housing affordability in this week’s NSW government budget.
The winners appear to be parents, motorists, grey nomads and apprentices. The losers include renters, who can apparently be safely ignored. Pre-election sweeteners, getting tradies to work and big-ticket infrastructure projects are deemed more important (or perhaps easier to deliver) than addressing housing affordability.
The Property Council Of Australia, no less, observed the absence of “bold reforms to deliver improved housing affordability” in the NSW budget. “There is nothing in today’s budget to bolster the achievement of the Premier’s objective to see 61,000 houses built annually in NSW to 2021,” said Cheryl Thomas, the Property Council NSW deputy executive director, in a post-budget press release.
Thomas added that any long-term housing strategy should support the establishment of a “build-to-rent” sector and suggested that it was time to address the issue of stamp duty, which may drop by $6 billion in the next four years.
“Every economist agrees that stamp duty is a terrible tax, yet the revenue it produces must be replaced if it is reformed or changed … now it’s time to take on some of the tough reforms that will ensure our state economy is not held at ransom by the cycles of the property market.”
Speaking of being held ransom by the cycles of the property market, Sydney is still ranked the second-most unaffordable city in the world in the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
Yet despite the fiscal pain, this has not translated to feet in the streets. We continue to suffer without protest. Why?
Half a million Australians protested against our involvement in the Iraq War in 2003. Yet no hordes are gathering outside Parliament House about housing affordability. Is there something gauche about protesting over the right to own one’s own home? Is it perceived as embarrassing? Too aspirational?
For decades, Gen X and Gen Y have been playing an extended game of Waiting For Godot … only it’s Waiting For House Prices To Drop.
Perhaps we’re more used to protesting online than in real life. Perhaps the Eureka Stockade was a one-off.
Or perhaps it’s true street protests just don’t work any more in changing government policy.
Like farmers praying for rain, we will pray for housing prices to drop enough to become affordable.
And for others with deeper pockets, it will never be a better time to buy.
Charles Purcell is a Sydney freelance writer