If you get a spare 25 minutes today, you must watch the above maiden parliamentary speech by senator Bob Day, presented on Wednesday.
In the speech, Senator Day tackles two major issues:
- Australia’s budding youth unemployment crisis, where he proposes to allow younger workers to ‘opt-out’ of current workplace laws and set their own terms in order to gain work; and
- Australia’s housing affordability crisis, where Day is scathing on rent-seeking vested interests – including the property industry and state governments – who have colluded to bestow ridiculously expensive housing on the younger generations.
While Day makes excellent points on both issues, it is the issue of housing policy – starting at around the 10 minute mark in the video above – where he really shines. The below quotes, in particular, are brilliant and highlight just how messed-up Australia’s housing system has become:
The single most important factor affecting housing affordability has been land. In no other area of the economy has the interference of government been so pronounced, so unsuccessful in its implementation and so catastrophic in its effect. The deliberate policy to limit urban growth—that is, limiting the supply of land on the urban fringes of our cities by introducing urban growth boundaries and, at the same time, promoting urban densification—has been a disaster socially, economically and environmentally. And it was all designed for one purpose: to make money. It had nothing to do with the environment, the cost of infrastructure, public transport or any other reason put forward.
Land developers, in cahoots with state government land management agencies, have made billions of dollars and, at the same time, ruined the home ownership prospects of a whole generation of young Australians. If there is one commodity Australia is not short of, it is land. Yet, to buy a block of land on which to build their first home, young couples are forced to camp out overnight by rent-seeking land developers and their state government cronies for the privilege of paying an exorbitant amount of money for a measly one-tenth of an acre of former farmland—land that developers and state governments between them managed to convert from $10,000 a hectare to $1 million a hectare. It leaves all other forms of price gouging in its wake. When challenged about this and asked, ‘Why are you letting this happen?’, a senior state government politician admitted, ‘We need the money.’ It is why politicians are so easily captured and conned by the constant procession of rent-seeking crony capitalists whose job it is is to enrich one group of Australians—themselves—at the expense of another: first homebuyers. Rent seekers are the scourge of business and politics. They tarnish the political process, distort the market and, in the case of land development, distort the entire economy.
The second barrier is the proliferation of federal, state and local government planning and building controls, which add cost, confusion and delay. Let me give you one example. A few years ago I bought a block of land on a very busy main road in one of Australia’s capital cities. I submitted plans to the local shire council to build 12 semidetached home units on the land and, as the zoning allowed for such a development, I did not expect any problems. That was, of course, until I came up against the shire council town planner, who said he would recommend the development for approval subject to the provision of noise attenuation devices across the front of the property. ‘Noise attenuation’ is a fancy name for soundproofing.
I tried to point out to him that there were thousands of kilometres of main roads across the country with many hundreds of thousands of dwellings along them and that it seemed to work in most places without sound attenuation. In any event, I told him that the project was actually geared towards older people, many of whom prefer the noise of traffic and pedestrians. They say they feel safer on a main road than in some quiet backstreet or cul-de-sac. But he was having none of it. He wanted his noise attenuation devices. Naturally, I tried commercial arguments on him, saying that people who did not like noise would not buy them and that the market would sort it out. But, for reasons known only to town planners but obscure to common sense, he rejected all my pleas and I had an acoustic engineer design a front fence to assist with noise attenuation. No sooner had I finished the job than the royal society for the deaf bought the units—all 12 of them. The point in telling that story is not just to mention the addition of unnecessary cost to say that there is no greater insult to the integrity of a human being than for the state to presume that it knows what is best for you.
Australia is lucky to finally have someone in federal parliament who acknowledges that Australia’s unaffordable housing is a problem for the entire nation, not just for those locked-out of home ownership, and has the will to attempt to fix it.
With Day speaking-out, it will be more difficult for our politicians to ignore the issue, which hopefully means that we might finally get some action, albeit begrudgingly.