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Parties Scramble in the Battle for Votes

A key voter issue in the forthcoming federal election will be housing availability and affordability. Only a few months out from the election, politicians are battling to gain the upper hand in housing solutions as new figures and a wave of public sentiment support change.

The Housing Industry Association’s (HIA) in its most recent issue of “National Outlook” predicted that “if the affordability crisis is not addressed, it could remain until the end of the decade”.

“It’s time to be smart and fair about housing affordability, particularly with forecast growth in housing starts of only 3% over 2007/08 – a result that will barely touch the sides of the required lift in housing supply” said HIA Chief Economist, Harley Dale.

Did the States cause this Crisis?

A recent survey conducted by the Property Council of Australia found that 80% of respondents want the federal government to intervene in state and local government affairs to remedy the crisis. According to the Property Council, previous poll results announced in May attributed 53% of the blame for the housing affordability crisis to the state and local governments; 19% blamed the federal government.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello blamed the crises on “delays in the release of land due to state governments. Further local council processes and the costs associated with state taxes and charges, including land tax and stamp duty, are to blame,” he said.

On the country’s east coast, Queensland is the only state to have announced what is purported to be a “Housing Affordability Strategy”.

In a joint statement, Premier Peter Beattie and Deputy Anna Bligh, announced a new Urban Land Development Authority. They say that  “by next June, all local governments will be required to develop priority plans, which set out councils’ tactics for their key infrastructure networks”.

The Queensland government, they say, plans to designate sites where the Authority will undertake land use planning, amalgamation and acquisition of sites, and then “sell land to the private sector with approvals of the plans subject to affordable housing requirements”.

The government said “Operation of the Authority will be outlined in legislation to be introduced next month and it will begin operating by November”.

What is the part of the Federal Parties?

As soon as Labor concluded its National Housing Affordability Summit, the government acted. Community Services Minister Mal Brough, declared that the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement had “failed to deliver additional housing for those most in need” and that the federal government should “radically alter” its approach to the supply of public housing.

The government, he said, “will immediately invite expressions of interest from all parties, including state and territory governments, the non-government sector and the private sector such as major builders and any other interested individuals, groups or organisations, for their proposals and ideas on new and innovative approaches to using the available funds to increase affordable housing supply.”

The announcement followed one from the Treasurer, Peter Costello in which he revealed that he had written to state governments, the housing industry and land developers, to conduct an audit to identify land that could be released for new housing.

In his pitch to the electorate on the topic, Labor leader Kevin Rudd announced a $500 million Housing Affordability Fund, which included the following:

* Innovative, development specific proposals from state governments that cut development costs will also be considered;
* Local governments will apply through a competitive process to receive grants to cover some of the cost of new housing infrastructure, and
* Local governments, in conjunction with the private sector, will have to outline how their proposals will cut red tape and reform the planning processes.

“Labor would consider expanding the program subject to the private sector’s ability to increase the supply of homes”, said Mr Rudd.

These announcements illustrate that both parties want to claim the vote of the “mortgage belts”.