QLD politicians’ $91 million property holdings

By Paul Egan, Philip Soos & Lindsay David

Introduction

Following our analysis of Federal and Victorian Parliamentarians’ real estate holdings, attention turns to Queensland, where Premier Campbell Newman has called a snap early election for 31st January, 2015.

Australia, including Queensland, is facing a chronic housing affordability crisis. Housing price inflation has outstripped both rents and household incomes since 1996, leading to a residential property market that is unaffordable by both historic and international comparison. Queensland’s elected representatives, like their federal, state and territory counterparts have failed to address the root causes of the crisis. Policies appear purposefully designed to encourage speculation and rapid price appreciation, in spite of the skyrocketing household debt burden and the harsh economic impacts of expensive land.

The public should critically consider whether state politicians’ property holdings are negatively influencing their decision-making processes and causing them to ignore impartial evidence when formulating housing and state taxation policies. The parliamentary register of members’ interests provides a detailed report of the real estate holdings of Queensland state politicians; a small window into the potential conflicts of interest bedevilling our honourable members.

Real estate assets are often jointly owned with a spouse instead of being in the sole ownership of the registered member. Properties can form part of a family or business trust, or private superannuation fund, with control over these entities exerted by either the beneficiary or beneficiaries directly, or via a third party. Similarly, a politician may have a minority, equal or majority share of the property asset within established entities.

Analysis

Queensland parliamentarians are heavily invested in the property game. The 89 members of Australia’s only unicameral legislative assembly have stake in a total of 195 properties – an average of 2.2 properties per member, conservatively valued at around $91 million, calculated by multiplying the Brisbane median residential dwelling price of $466,500 (as at December 2014) by 195 properties.1

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The actual value is probably significantly higher, for the Queensland register allows for fine-grained analysis of the total lot size (m2) for each politician, separated into the categories of residential, investment, and farm/commercial/vacant/other properties (see Appendix B). As hypothesised in previous reports, politicians:

  • Generally have a principal place of residence on a large lot relative to the public average (often exceeding 1,000m2 in size) – nine Queensland parliamentarians live on a property exceeding 10,000m2;
  • Have substantial commercial, retail and industrial property interests;
  • Purchase a greater number of properties in prestige or premium locations, such as desirable inner-city and coastal areas;
  • Have significant interests in vacant land (some already approved for large sub-divisions) and large grazing and cane farms – some individual farm holdings exceed 10,000 hectares (ha) in size (100,000,000m2);
  • Regularly embed property assets in family and business trusts, and less often, private superannuation funds; and
  • Possess a number of surplus and holiday homes, some in desirable international locations e.g. Thailand.

Property investment has again proven to be popular right across the political spectrum.

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Queensland’s political class possess a substantial property portfolio, with only 2 of the 89 members (2 per cent) not owning any real estate. Only a minority of holdings appear incomplete or mistakenly undeclared in some register entries, usually for the lot size of investment properties.

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The data demonstrates the majority of politicians have a vested interest in maintaining high housing and land prices, particularly the 76 per cent of members with one or more mortgages over their own investments. It would be naïve to assume politicians will put the common good before their own self-interest, if it means the difference between a moderately comfortable or a highly secure future retirement, or there are significant family interests to consider. The risk of a sharp correction in real estate prices and negative equity are just as real for those three-quarters of parliamentarians in bondage to lenders, particularly if they have multiple investments or are highly leveraged.

Queenslanders should be very sceptical about the supposed good intentions of many of their elected members in addressing housing affordability. Cynicism is warranted, for nationwide, politicians regularly enact legislative and regulatory ‘reforms’ in direct contravention of objective evidence, accelerating price growth and enriching a multitude of land owners in the process.

Contrary to reason, parliamentarians assume heavy debt burdens and record-low first home buyers are the new market normal. The urgent entreaties from a series of Productivity Commission and Senate reports to reform broken tax systems at the state level have gone unheard, even though economic efficiencies and greater competitiveness would arise from a shift of the taxation base onto those appropriating geo-rent (the economic rent of land) and off labour and business.2

The property-rich Queensland Parliament cannot be trusted to act in good faith on matters concerning real estate. Aversion to guiding housing policy with firm evidence has a long history in many jurisdictions, notably influenced by the projected future value of a politician’s collective real estate holdings and corrosive lobbying by the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector. A voter backlash is also feared following any substantive reforms that reduce prices, with large pockets of the citizenry having also gone ‘all in’ on enormous property bets.

State and federal parliamentarians’ indifference to sound housing policy suggests an unrepresentative parliament is consciously ignoring the profound and negative outcomes of declining affordability upon social justice and economic efficiency. A two-decade long blind-spot is only possible if successive administrations have consistently disregarded empirical evidence and sound research in favour of lobby groups, populist measures and their own real estate portfolios.

Brisbane’s housing prices surged by 134 per cent between the trough in 2000 and apparent peak in 2010. Prices softened after 2010, but rebounded slightly from 2013 onwards. As of 2014, prices are 6 per cent below the peak set in 2010.3

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Total Queensland land prices have similarly ballooned, with the prices to Gross State Product (GSP) ratio climbing from 141 to 304 per cent between 2001 and 2010, a relative increase of 116 per cent. While Queensland does not have the most inflated prices nationwide (which is Victoria), prices have still reached lofty heights, principally from a sharp rise in residential prices, rather than commercial, rural or other categories of land. The ratio has since fallen to 235 per cent as of 2014, though still far above the long-run average.

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Real housing prices have risen substantially in every Australian capital, though Brisbane is in the middle of the pack when considering the size of the increase.

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Debt-financed speculation has divorced skyrocketing land prices from technical fundamentals, such as rents and household incomes. As a result, gross yields have been compacted to 4.4 and 5.5 per cent for houses and units respectively as of December 2014.4 Net yields are around half of gross yields, reinforcing claims that Brisbane’s property investment model is strongly predicated on potential future capital gains instead of sound cash flows.

The long-term trend in the price to income ratio demonstrates a median-priced Brisbane dwelling could be purchased for around four times household income until the early 2000s, but has since risen by 50 per cent to around six times in 2010.

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Recommendations

A range of matters influencing housing affordability are outside the remit of Queensland parliamentarians, for instance, population growth, broad economic settings and the provision of finance. Nevertheless, state and territory governments are not powerless, wielding control over an array of policy areas that can help prevent rapid price inflation and reduce land prices.

What practical measures can Queensland politicians take to improve housing affordability?

Recommendation #1: More efficient use of the State Land Tax (SLT).

The SLT is an ideal tool to moderate both land price bubbles and their subsequent devastating busts, and is already in the toolkit of state and territory governments. Unfortunately, this tax has been rendered comatose by a host of exemptions and concessional treatments. The SLT requires broadening to include owner-occupied housing and agricultural land, calculated on a per-square-metre value basis. The narrow existing base and progressivity of the SLT incurs only a small deadweight loss; the complete removal of exemptions and concessions would reduce this deadweight loss to zero. The SLT should apply per land holding, but not on an entity’s total holdings to encourage development.

Recommendation #2: Changes to municipal rates calculations.

Queensland local government rates correctly using site value (SV) rating, which taxes the underlying land only. However, they are to be condemned for the widespread use of Minimum Rates which provides a direct subsidy to those owning more valuable sites. Ratepayers should be outraged by this wealth transfer – an impost on their capital values as well as annual charges.

Recommendation #3: Abolition of Stamp Duty tax. 

Conveyencing stamp duties should be removed, with the revenue shortfall met from an improved SLT.

Recommendation #4: Removal of the first home owners grant and boost.

All housing grants act as a demand-side stimulus that further erodes affordability. When combined with highly-leveraged mortgage loans, the result is rapid price inflation that substantially outstrips the size of the grant. These grants are a gift to vendors, not FHBs.

Recommendation #5: Greater investment in public housing.

A substantial increase in funding for public housing would assist long-term, low-income individuals and families reliant on social welfare to exit the private rental market, ameliorating their financial stress. We have an obligation to look after those who have difficulty managing their affairs.
Recommendation #6: Tenancy law reform.

Australian tenancy laws should adopt the higher standards enjoyed by other Western nations. Queensland tenants’ limited rights include less stability and security in tenure due to shorter lease terms (6 to 12 months on average), lower rental vacancy rates favouring landlords during contractual negotiations, termination of leases for no reason, and requisite landlord permission for minor alterations and pet ownership.6

Recommendation #7: The adoption of ‘right to build’ laws.

This policy encourages timely development of residential and commercial property. Planning delays and uncertainties may raise land costs, thus, this effect is negated by a right (positive presumption) for developers and home builders to undertake activity, within specified local and state government guidelines. If a development is opposed, then the onus is upon the aggrieved party to take the developer to the civil tribunal to prevent construction.

Recommendation #8: Elimination of state/local government infrastructure charges and levies.

Government should reverse their preference for imposing direct charges on developers to finance local infrastructure, resulting in lower land costs. Governments can either adopt the Texan Municipal Utility District (MUD) model or return to the original system of issuing municipal bonds to finance local infrastructure and paying down debts through council rates.

Recommendation #9: Streamlining of zoning processes.

Land subdivision and zoning vacant land for residential use in capital cities takes too long, generating considerable costs, uncertainty and reducing developer competition. Comprehensive betterment taxes should be applied to agricultural land that is rezoned for commercial and residential purposes.

Recommendation #10: Removal of most urban growth boundaries (UGBs).

Except for ecologically or culturally sensitive regions of land, there is no sound rationale for UGBs, as only a tiny fraction of Queensland’s land mass is urbanised. Building further out on the fringe may lower housing costs, but this may be more than offset by the rise in transport costs.

Conclusions

A wide range of practical policies are available to policymakers to lower housing and land costs, improving the lives of all Queenslanders. Sadly, the aforementioned recommendations are not in the financial interests of the political class and their ultimate constituents: concentrations of capital, especially the FIRE sector. The sizeable percentage of Queenslanders living as public (3 per cent) and private tenants (33 per cent) are generally treated with contempt.7

State governments have squandered the opportunity to independently pursue constructive, competitive federalism by simultaneously increasing land value taxes and reducing inefficient, damaging payroll, insurance, motor vehicle and stamp duty taxes. Similarly, councils were able to lower construction costs by financing infrastructure through municipal rates rather than developer charges, but chose not to do so.

Poor government decisions are attributable to the FIRE sector’s deleterious effect on democratic processes, a stacked parliamentary deck, and extensive lobbying and soft corruption that undermines the public good. The political parties and rentier class have an unspoken accord to preserve privilege for the rich and to further redistribute wealth and income upwards in a ‘flood up’ effect. The degenerate state of contemporary politics means voters generally do not understand the rampant inefficiencies wrought by the FIRE sector.

Substantive reforms are not certain even if politicians were aware of the economic harm unfolding, because they lack courage to confront the powerful FIRE sector. The stranglehold over democratic processes virtually guarantees maintenance of the status quo, unless a fresh reform movement challenges unjustified privilege. Honest public discourse, genuine taxation reform, decentralisation of political power and a complete reconstruction of the FIRE sector is essential to Queensland moving to a more efficient, productive and meaningful economy that serves the common interest.

_________________________________________________________

Endnotes

1 RP Data (2015). See Appendix A for each individual Parliamentarian’s holdings.

2 PC (2004); Senate (2008).

3 The ABS measure of housing prices is not quality-adjusted, so the index overstates the trend.

4 RP Data (2015).

5 Fox and Finlay (2012: 18 – Graph 4).

6 Kelly (2013).

7 HPW (2013: 4).

References

Fox, Ryan and Richard Finlay. (2012). “Dwelling Prices and Household Income”, Bulletin December Quarter, Reserve Bank of Australia, Sydney.

HPW. (2013). “Housing 2020 Strategy,” Department of Housing and Public Works, Queensland Government, Brisbane.

Kelly, Jane-Frances. (2013). “Renovating housing policy”, Grattan Institute, Melbourne.

PC. (2004). “First Home Ownership,” Productivity Commission, Melbourne.

RP Data (2015). “RP Data CoreLogic December Hedonic Home Value Index Results,” RP Data

Senate. (2008). “A good house is hard to find: Housing affordability in Australia,” Select Committee on Housing Affordability in Australia, Canberra.

Comments

    • You can bet the leverage is very significant.

      What Paul Egan has shown here (BTW great work, Paul!) is that no change to the property ponzi will come from above. NG will remain,all other factors (restrictive land policies etec ) will never change.

      Only external factors can change the situation. An economic reversal of significant magnitude in Australia’s fortunes is required. China and the world economy will be the tools that remove the bloat from property prices here. tick tock

    • thomickersMEMBER

      +1
      Or they may have a more conservative capital structure if they have accepted graft money

  1. This is a misleading article, you cant draw any conclusions from this when the whole of the State is into the property investment game.
    The issues we have in Queensland are the invisible relationship of the Government (both sides) with business including international companies who are seemingly able to get these politicians under their umbrella, and thus primed to do their bidding. (the Gladstone LNG projects, Galilee basin projects, for example)
    I highlighted yesterday that when he was here organising his return to Manila, Gen Doug MacArthur found dealings in Brisbane to be so corrupt he labeled the city the most corrupt in the Pacific.
    Today it is reported from Mr Tony Fitzgerald, who headed up the crime and misconduct commission into the dealings of the Qld Govt “Of the Newman Government, he said: “As Goss had set a new high standard, they (Newman Govt)probably set a new low standard.”
    And now, following a visit to Rupert M by Julie B a directive has been issued to the Prime Minister to sack his Chief of Staff.
    Have we Australians so lost the plot we have to rely on the advice and influence of foreigners to run our own affairs.
    Housing in QLD is headed for a Black Swan high dive, which will affect politicians as well as everybody else.WW

  2. Perhaps the QLD politicians are already busy trying to sell their properties/real estate. And only if they have sold all those houses/real estate then they will be willing to change regulation that would help the avarage house/real estate buyers.

    Seems the politicians got deluded by rising real estate prices as well. Politicians are human as well. Think: fear & GREED. Right ?

  3. It’s amazing to me that Australia ranks well in the OECD’s corruption rankings. The metrics must be about as accurate as CPI.

      • You must be a blind nationalist to think that corruption isn’t the rule and not the exception.

      • Corruption in other countries are in the open, and hence other countries are perceived as more corrupt.

      • I think we are talking about two different forms of corruption. The 3rd world Bali corruption; paying off the traffic cop, buying contracts to 1st world endemic “corruption” were large companies have effectively bought politicians via campaign donations/media coverage support. One’s legal, one isn’t.

        Local gov is pretty much the same in this area.

    • Corruption ranking it’s only perceived ranking from the respondents. If corruption stories are not in the news, the ranking would go to a better number, even though the actual corruption is getting worse, and vice versa.

      Take China for example. China’s perceived ranking was around 80 before the corruption crackdown, however due to the crackdown making the news all the time, their corruption ranking dropped to 100. However, we all know actual levels of corruption dropped after the start of crackdown.

    • Kevin is right, the rankings you are speaking of are merely a perception basis.

      Basically the OECD goes around and asks the average joe “do you reckon your country is corrupt?”, so countries with much more blatant corruption will generally score as more corrupt than nations whose polity is better at hiding it.

  4. Investment property ownership by politicians is a huge issue but only a small part of the problem confronting the formulation of unbiased housing policy. This bias is pervasive and entrenched within the wider policy making circles within our society, not to mention a powerful and significant proportion of the electorate. It would be interesting if data could be complied on the property holdings of those who advise government such as senior public servants – especially treasury and the governors of the RBA – and even private sector economists and investment analysts.

    To my mind these factors mean there is no way the bias will change through public dissent. Who knows what it would take in a society such as ours. In Chinese history it was a common pattern for the mandarins to pervert policy so that they ended up paying no taxes and the full burden fell on the peasants. When this became intolerable there would be an uprising and the dynasty was overthrown.

    • Know IdeaMEMBER

      Do you not think that until such time as the “powerful and significant proportion of the electorate” change their minds that there is no cause for a politician to change his or her mind?

      Logic does not seem to have anything to do with this whole issue. I find it hard to believe that any critical mass of politicians will do anything to change to present trajectory and that we will all just have to live with the inevitable correction once it arrives.

      • @ Know Idea

        “we will all just have to live with the inevitable correction once it arrives”.

        Yes, that’s my conclusion too. However, then these same policy makers will intervene to cushion the adverse effect on property values so that once again the burden is shifted to others.

    • People have to accept at the end that the deviation of 20 century capitalism was one off and cannot be repeated. Why? Because there isn’t any other competitive system anymore. How could people raised in a market economy not understand how huge had been the impact of so called socialist system on the Western democarcy and its social wellbeing? I am reading every day this blog, so many intelligent people commenting and still the main evolutionary character of capitalism and its vital feature – market competition, is far from understood. Evolution is how any existing form
      form develops through time. Everything changes and never get the same again. I cannot understand how
      people can believe that something can be done just with some simple policy changes. You all know that this cannot happen and still you all have faith the maybe the next government will do something to save all of us. This is illusion, religious illusion.

      • I agree with you in part. I too am amazed that so many people have “faith the maybe the next government will do something to save all of us”. Both then, that’s the illusion of democracy.

        I like the evolutionary perspective with its view of the economy as a hyper-complex ecosystem. Within that model I see the growth of the finance sector over the last couple of decades as a cancerous tumour that feeds on debt and will end up taking the life out of the real economy. The tumour ran out of food around 2008 and hence the GFC – so the central banks ‘fixed’ things by giving it some more debt to nourish its cancerous growth.

  5. We need Fitzgerald MkII – this time extended to all Australian political systems. The smell is excruciating.

    • Even he has lost hope, not having any interest to write his memoirs. He knows there won’t be enough people to read something meaningful. Better is to read about cricket or rugby ….. He is sadly right.

  6. It must be a bummer when your life view is that everything and everyone is agin ya, in an evil conspiracy.

    It is so much more fun to get out and ave a go and try and enjoy life.

  7. How could you fix this put laws in place that politicians cant buy investment properties? I am not trying to stir anything here but how could you keep politicians from having conflicts of interest on something like this. Would love to hear some peoples thoughts on this. I definitely think its influencing their policies on property….

    • i agree, its the fact that most of the people in the list above are boomers and that’s how they operate, they screw over their young, a similar list could be made of top executive boomers in the private sector

      • Alby
        True! But this next generation is planning to screw over their young even worse than boomers screwed them.

  8. Actually Qld is one of the more affordable states and that goes back some years to a reduction in developers contributions which flowed into the broader market prices.

  9. Hmmmmmm so we are to stop politicians from making wise investment choices? They are just smarter than all the rest of us. They have made the only logical sensible choice in an economy that runs negative RAT interest rates and then sells its businesses and resources (inground) in order to pay for the excess consumption that then arises.

    Now, about 80% (guessing) of those who post here support negative RAT rates including the owners of the site. Therefore you support the structuire of the economy that results in inordinate wealth accumulating in the housing consumption sector. I should have done, in my life, exactly what these pollies did. I always thought that if I tried hard things might change. I was stupid. This won’t change because even those who think the RE idiocy is bad support the very economic system of negative RAT rates from which it grows.

    If you want to change the economy you have to crush the whole RE/Consumption model in favour of a productive model. The dislocation in that is immense and now really too large for the process to be attempted. Even minor changes towards such an economy will be rejected by city voters and that is all that counts. It doesn’t matter what is good for the country or what happens in the regional and rural areas. If it damages living standards in the cities, even by the smallest movement, then the government will get voted out. The posts above by know idea and geof were spot on.
    One of my family, who is something of an extraordinary brain, made the observation that RE investment by the populace makes them feel part of the economic and political process. The general populace gets a direct interst in the outcomes of the economic and political decision making. I’m not sure whether this is why the powers that rule us (and i don’t mean the government) have made things the way they are. However what it does tell us is that this cannot be undone. It is now an essential part of the social/economic/political agenda.

    The answers lie back in time. The future will be some kind of nightmare.

    P.S. I can spell. I am just a terrible typidsyt

    • “The future will be some kind of nightmare.”
      Exactly, sadly and unfortunately…. The system has corrupted most of the voters and now it is a systemic problem, not a specific policy one.

  10. As an aside, I notice that these previously strong shortage-deniers (Philip Soos & Lindsay David) seem to be coming around to Leith Van Onselen’s correct view of the housing situation – that supply restrictions are important.
    Notice that there is no direct shortage-denial in this article. Also notice how the 10 recommendations look as if they have been lifted from Leith’s articles related to problems with housing supply.

    I agree with all 10 recommendations. These recommendations would solve the housing shortage and get prices and rents down. Well done.

  11. Without a solid wage based middle class the whole housing issue is redundant.

    Heck when Gerry Harvey has a dummy spat about Australia’s powerful business lobby groups failing to represent ordinary tax-paying businesses and instead pushing the interests of profit-shifting multinationals. Wellie you know the natives are getting restless.

    Skippy…. Supply side economics is not all that its cracked up to be… once the upper boundary is achieved…. eh.

  12. I’m both in favour and concerned about the “right to build” recommendation. There needs to be some groundwork beforehand to lock down planning rules & regulations, and zero allowance for building outside of these. Endless cases of developers going to VCAT (I know Victoria…) to get an exemption for building heights, envelopes/set backs, traffic increases, parking reductions, etc. The current situation serves neither residents nor developers and desperately needs attention.

  13. Yawn.

    100 high wage earning older white Australians with plenty of accumulated wealth own IPs.

    BFW

    Nothing to do with property – try to figure out a way to get Parliament’s demographics and socioeconomic distribution reflect the wider communtiy and you might be on to something.

  14. These authors have a weakness in their understanding of urban economics, which is not unique to them:

    “…Building further out on the fringe may lower housing costs, but this may be more than offset by the rise in transport costs…”

    Transport cost savings capitalise into value of property anyway.

    Anthony Downs; “Can Transit Tame Sprawl?” Jan 2002:

    “…..In “The Costs of Sprawl 2000″, a recent study conducted by Rutgers University, the Brookings Institution and several other organizations, part of the research examined how housing prices vary with distance from the regional downtown of each metropolitan area. Although only a few areas were analyzed, the study showed consistently that prices of similar homes tended to decline about 1.2 to 1.5 percent per additional mile from the regional downtown, except where proximity to the ocean had more influence on prices—as in Southern California.

    Meanwhile, longer-distance commutes added to fuel and travel-time costs by about the same amount per mile in every region. The study also found that per-mile housing-cost savings from added commuting distance were much larger in regions with absolutely very high housing costs than in those with absolutely low housing costs. Therefore, it was MORE likely to be economically worthwhile for households to move further out to gain cheaper housing in high-housing-cost regions such as the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, than in low-housing-cost areas…….”

    Any policies that force up the price of all housing, cause MORE traveling in the long term, not less. This is why every city with a growth boundary has tiny sections and crammed houses in all the new developments at the fringe, while lower density prevails at the more efficient and pricey locations.

    Cities with a natural, undistorted urban land rent curve tend to have MORE efficient co-locations of household and employment and other trip destinations, which is one reason why so many low density US cities have average commute times that are lower than high density cities of the same population, eg in the UK and Asia. The other reason is that congestion is greater in the high density cities.

    Hayek was right about “unintended consequences” of Plans imposed by slope-brows who think they know what is good for everyone.

  15. This article would be just as accurate if the title were changed to “Federal Parliamentarians’…”, or (Any other state) Parliamentarians’…

    Conflicts of interest of ANY nature should always be declared when parliament is making decisions in the “public interest” … any member with a conflict of interest should be excluded from the decision making process. simple

    http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2014/08/aussie-politicians-300m-property-portfolio/

    #australianpolitics #housing #realestate #thesystemisbroken #corruption #softcorruption #howmanyhousesdoesBarryO’Sullivanhave?

    anyone reckon Barry’s judgement would be clouded a little by his own personal circumstances? …or would he put the interests of the public first in all instances…. haha what a joke Aus politics is.