As the pundits debate just how much, or little, the new minority Gillard Government will be able to achieve, the housing development industry has some blunt advice.
Get down to work and deal with the pressing issues affecting housing supply in Australia, say some of the housing industry’s main players.
“Affordability”, “bottlenecks”, “infrastructure” and “population policy” are some of the words on their impatient lips.
The Federal Government has to act quickly or else watch the housing situation become “dire”, warns the Housing Industry Association (HIA).
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, released today, show finance for housing was largely flat in July, with investment housing down by 0.5 per cent on June and owner-occupied commitments up by 0.3 per cent.
Property development industry group Urban Taskforce Australia wants the government to produce key housing reports that have been gathering dust while the government was in limbo.
Taskforce chief executive Aaron Gadiel says that back in April, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) gave the Housing Supply and Affordability Reform Working Party the task of reporting back to COAG by “mid-2010” on:
• the potential to reform land aggregation, zoning and planning processes;
• nationally consistent principles for housing development infrastructure charges;
• the merit of measures to ensure greater consistency across jurisdictions, including local governments’ planning approval processes, in the application of building regulations; and
• extending the land audit to examine ‘underutilised’ land and large private holdings of land.
Now Gadiel is calling on the new government to make the report’s release one of its first orders of business if housing bottlenecks are to be overcome.
He’s also looking to a population policy issues paper promised by the old government before the end of this year, with a view to a policy by April 2011.
HIA chief executive Graham Wolfe says housing activity is showing significant signs of slowing down, as global financial crisis (GFC) stimulus measures, such as 19,000 new ‘social housing’ homes, near their completion.
“Quite a lot of stimulus-led spending is coming to a close which points to a very, very slow 2011, which will probably be much more obvious in the second quarter,” says Wolfe.
“We are not reading tea leaves here; we are talking about early indicators.
“We need to address housing affordability – and the Federal Government and states and territories all have a role to play.
“The Federal Government can do some direct program initiatives, as it did during the GFC, but it also has to do some indirect things to help state governments and councils to improve the systems that deliver land and housing.
“The bottlenecks are in the delivery of land and the charges that are applied to make new land more expensive.”
Wolfe says a public “arm wrestle” is being conducted over where land should be provided – on greenfield sites on city fringes or through urban consolidation.
He believes the way forward is a combination of urban, fringe and regional development. And he wants the Federal Government to play a leadership role in planning reform, the delivery of infrastructure, and a public debate on how to house Australians.
Wolfe would also like to see the Federal Government provide some financial incentives to councils to help them deliver “the planning reforms needed for timely throughput of land”.
“There is a role for the Federal Government to play to facilitate the delivery of new affordable land for housing regardless of whether we are talking about greenfield areas, existing urban areas or regional areas,” he says.
“If they don’t, and they leave it to the states and local government, who have not been able to deliver this over the past few decades, the situation will be dire.
“Prices will go up for those who can afford it (land); rents will go up for those who can’t (afford to buy); and there will be an increase in social housing waiting lists.”
The Property Council of Australia has welcomed the election of the Gillard Government, while outlining “big challenges” facing Australia.
It lists these as: strategies for revitalising urban and regional cities; delivering a population plan; “turbo-charging” infrastructure investment; providing incentives for sustainability in the built environment; and recommitting to long-term taxation reform.
Meanwhile, the Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) has been heartened by the new Federal Government’s mention yesterday of the Henry Review as being back on the table.
“A review of Australia’s tax structure is important, in particular a review of inequitable and inefficient state property taxes, the retention of negative gearing arrangements for property investment and no capital gains tax increases for property investments,” says REIA president David Airey.
There’s no shortage of work for the government to get stuck into.
API readers – tell us what housing policies you would like see from our new Federal Government.