If Australia emerges from its election limbo with Independents holding the balance of power, as expected, Federal Government policy is likely to take on a distinctly rural flavour.
By ELIZABETH ALLEN
The rural and regional focus of three key Independents combines with Australia’s inevitable population growth to create a very different scenario for our federal policy makers.
And it’s one that could have implications for the property market – as CommSec chief economist Craig James noted this week.
“We do need more migrants and where these people end up settling may be a matter for the Independents,” James said.
“If you have an Independent member representing rural areas, such as Tony Windsor or Bob Katter, seeking greater population growth in rural areas, we may see more policies directed to this measure.”
Queensland Senator Bob Katter’s electorate of Kennedy is the third biggest in Australia and more than two and a half times the size of Victoria, as he likes to point out.
Katter’s on the record decrying the population drain from the bush and calling for a ‘fair go’.
Rob Oakeshott, representing the New South Wales mid north coast seat of Lyne, which extends to rural Taree, also wants a fair go for regional and rural Australia.
And Tony Windsor, the MP for NSW’s New England, wants to pursue the issue of population distribution in Australia to correct what he describes as “misdirected planning”. He sees planners as focusing excessively on metropolitan areas.
Both Labor and the Coalition went to the election espousing a “sustainable Australia” in terms of population but many see this as just another example of weasel words. Treasury estimates Australia’s current 22 million will rise to 36 million by 2050, even allowing for a dramatic slowing in population growth and immigration.
For Tony Windsor, the place to put these extra people is in our regions – not in our capital cities.
In April this year he issued a media release accusing planners of having a “feedlot mentality” – to use a rural metaphor – whereby “to deliver the greatest number of services to the highest number of people at the cheapest possible price, you put them in a high-rise feedlot”.
Windsor calls on planners to see the potential for the development of regional Australia and at the same time have a “positive impact” on metropolitan Australia.
He accuses planners of seeing centralisation as the easiest solution to population pressures.
At least one state is already looking to the regions.
Premier Anna Bligh says Queensland receives 100,000 new arrivals every year and 70 per cent of them settle in the infrastructure-deficient southeast corner.
Understandably, the Queensland Government is intent on strategies to encourage regional growth.
From July 1, Queensland has added a $4000 regional boost to the First Home Owners Grant to help attract people to areas other than the southeast corner, and also encourage local first homebuyers to stay in their communities. (The regional incentive only applies to new houses in a bid to stimulate the construction industry.)
Federal Labor is also looking to the regions, promising under its Building Better Regional Cities policy to invest $200 million to help build as many as 15,000 more affordable homes in regional cities over three years.
If our regionally based Independents do emerge from the election holding the balance of power, no doubt more ideas will emerge on how to tempt Australians out of the cities to the bush.
It’s all food for thought for property investors…
Elizabeth Allen is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine, www.apimagazine.com.au
API readers – tell us where your next investment property will be – metropolitan or regional – and why?