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Housing Affordability

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Ms Lee for bringing this very important motion before the Assembly. There is a housing affordability crisis in Canberra. This motion calls on the ACT Government to acknowledge this reality. As I have repeatedly tried to teach my children, it is impossible to begin fixing a problem until one is willing to admit that the problem exists.

Sadly, like children, this government has too often followed the path of near or even outright denial. I note, however, that over the weekend, Chief Minister Barr came close to making this acknowledgement. I quote his words from the Canberra Times: ‘It's pretty clear if you are on a high income, housing affordability is not an issue in Canberra. The issue is if you're not on a high income'.[1]

What a revealing statement! According to Mr Barr, there is no housing affordability crisis for people on fat pay packets. The crisis only exists for those Canberrans whose incomes are not so high. This statement perfectly sums up the prevailing attitude of those opposite, who for many years now have governed and made important decisions on behalf of financially comfortable Canberrans whilst ignoring the economic turmoil that those decisions have visited upon everyone else in this territory.

I remind this government that, although those struggling to keep a roof over their heads may not be in the majority in the ACT, they are real people who matter, and there are more than a few of them. As last year’s ‘Vital Signs Canberra’ report revealed, one-third of Canberrans are just squeaking by.[2] The December 2020 rental affordability index found that a couple with children pay a higher proportion of their income on rent in the ACT than anywhere else in Australia, including Greater Sydney. This is true whether only one parent works or both parents work.[3]

Another favourite tactic of children is to try to blame the problem entirely on someone else. We have seen this tactic employed so often in this Assembly that, at this point, it has become a farce, with both Labor and Greens determined to blame their policy failures on the Commonwealth in whatever way they think people might be gullible enough to believe.

Consequently, this motion calls on the ACT Government to acknowledge that, whilst there are macroeconomic settings that affect house prices across the nation, this government has a role to play by ensuring that the supply of land for housing – over which it has complete monopoly control – keeps up with demand. Instead, we have a government that sets unacceptably low land release targets and then fails to meet its own targets, year after year. This would be funny in a sitcom about an embarrassingly incompetent and painfully out-of-touch government. In real life, it’s tragic, and it’s harming the one-third of Canberrans on lower incomes whom Mr Barr glossed over in his recent comments.

I am certain, however, that Mr Barr understands the central role of his own government … at least he does when it suits the point he is trying to make at the time. For example, just last week the Chief Minister told the Canberra Times that, quote, ‘almost everything that affects your day-to-day life … is delivered by state and territory governments’. This was, he said, an important lesson in ‘national civics’.[4] Indeed. But as soon as the topic turns to this government’s woeful record on housing affordability – an issue that certainly affects the day-to-day lives of many Canberrans – suddenly those opposite are willing to cast aside basic civics in favour of shifting blame.

To the ACT Government: Enough. Stop it. Fewer and fewer Canberrans are buying your excuses. It’s time to grow up, accept the responsibility you know you have as the government of this territory, and do something. This includes using the policy levers that you know you have to help ease the housing affordability crisis gripping this territory.

I commend this motion to the Assembly.

[1] ‘Andrew Barr's memo to young professionals: stay in Canberra to boost city's social, cultural and economic diversity’, Canberra Times, 20 Mar. 2022. [2] Hands Across Canberra and the Snow Foundation, ‘Vital Signs Canberra 2021: Taking the Pulse of Our Community’, p. 5. [3] SGS Economics and Planning, ‘Rental Affordability Index: December 2020 Key Findings’, pp. 26 and 29. [4] ‘National cabinet reaching its limits: ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr’, Canberra Times, 17 Mar. 2022.


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