AFR runs negative gearing scare campaign

By Leith van Onselen

The front page of The AFR is a site to behold early this morning:


Here’s a list of headlines pertaining to Labor’s proposed changes to property taxes:

Gearing plan to trigger big price falls

Aussie negative gearing dream under attack

Labor gearing plans may panic investors

Liberal MPs wary of negative gearing changes

Instead of lauding the improved housing affordability that would come from Labor’s policy, and the opportunities that it would provide to those locked-out of home ownership, the first three AFR headlines seem designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to scare the bejesus out of the electorate and lobby against reform.

The funniest thing about the alarmist headlines is that the property lobby has for years argued that negative gearing is vital because it improves housing affordability, and that removing it would lead to supply shortages and more expensive home prices and rents. Now, it seems, this same lobby is arguing that Labor’s plan would lead to price falls, which is another way of saying that homes would become more affordable. Inconsistent much?

The fact is that the property lobby has been caught-out. It’s difficult to make a logical case against a policy that is targeted at boosting dwelling supply and construction jobs, improving purchasing and rental affordability, and saving the Budget money. The only choice left is to run a scare campaign about possible falling prices, aimed squarely at property owners’ self-interest.

Hang your head, Australian Financial Rent-seeker.

[email protected]

Unconventional Economist


    • “The fact is that the property lobby has been caught-out. It’s difficult to make a logical case against a policy that is targeted at boosting dwelling supply and construction jobs, improving purchasing and rental affordability, and saving the Budget money.”
      Amen brother

    • You betcha,

      Any investor would see a news media organisation heamorrhaging cash and pitching to a demographic which sees it outflanked on the loon side only by Uncle Rupert’s Australian mainstay, and outflanked on the spruik side by its Domainfax stable mates (which still contain restaurant guides and cinema opening hours sufficient to retain a local credibility) and secure behind a paywall which makes the a far superior offering for those that really want to pay, and which presumably generates considerable mirth at Bloomberg and Reuters.

      That comes with a load of high priced business identities specialising in exhortations of a national economic narrative which is lying face down in the pool, and a management which is taking strategic existentialism to its logical, but abstruse limit.

      Anyone thinking of investing in any Australian commercial media has cojones…..
      Anyone thinking of investing in Domainfax must wake up in a cold sweat when thinking about what a downturn in the real estate market may do to its revenues…….
      Anyone invested in the AFR as an ongoing entity in its current form should investigate whoever or whatever is calling ‘mummy’ out the window with such frequency…..

    • this will add to the investor uncertainty in the market
      Investors and home buyers willingly and/or are forced to sign up to 25 year variable rate mortgages where the bank can vary the interest rate at any time to suit the bank, to any level that suits the bank.
      I’d call that uncertainty, wouldn’t you?

      • If you draw a trendline interest rates always go down over time, so nothing to worry about. Doc Wilson told me so.

      • Fix a % of your mortgage for certainty. It’s really not that hard.

        There is no one that offers fixed rates for more than 5 yrs. You definitely can not get a fixed rate for the complete mortgage for the life of the typical mortgage.

  1. “Gearing plan to trigger big price falls” would read better as “Gearing rules responsible for price rises”.

    • Yes, surely this is a tacit acknowledgement that Neg Gearing, and therefore speculation, is responsible for the house prices rises that are crushing the life out of our economy.

    • My favorite headline is:

      Aussie negative gearing dream under attack

      So it’s no longer the Aussie dream to have a 1/4 acre block with a humble abode on it, rather the dream is to have a tax shelter that allows you to pontificate how great you are to your tenant’s that your keeping the rent low for them by making a loss on the property. But it’s a great investment because capitals gains yo!

  2. Hang your head, Australian Financial Rent-seeker.

    You frequently point out how Fairfax’s largest income is from real estate ads. I can’t see how you now expect a publicly listed company to actively campaign against its own financial interests. This whole post reeks of schadenfraude.

    • Because said public company also lives by its mantra ‘Independent. Always’!! Some real analysis of the issues shouldn’t be too much to ask from the supposed leading financial newspaper in the country. Instead we get a string of infomercials (at best).

    • “I can’t see how you now expect a publicly listed company to actively campaign against its own financial interests.”

      So we should just sit back and expect newspapers to publish only what’s in their own financial interests? Or does some of their publicly listed value perhaps come from being (or at least being seen to be) independent of their own commercial interests?

  3. “Unless new housing becomes an equally attractive asset”

    Yeah, that might be because while the productive economy has had environmental, safety, quality standards etc regulated into it, the FIRE industry has managed to convince everyone that it should be totally unregulated.

    Get unregulated speculative capital out of established housing!!!

  4. The fact that they can run these articles and not be laughed at demonstrates the dirty little brain bug that has taken root in most Australians’ brains.

    Rising petrol prices: terrible!
    Rising food prices: horrible!
    Rising beer prices: Raar! Crush Kill Destroy!
    Rising education prices: Bad!

    Rising prices for shelter: You little bewdy! Look at all my equity, maaaaate.

    It’s been the longest period of economic insanity in Australia’s history. You’re all about to get a lot poorer. It will only stop when the average punter appreciates that national house prices rising faster than CPI is a terrible policy failure. A policy failure that strangles the country’s productive capacity and dooms it to low demand from an indebted population.

    In the meantime, most Australians are going to vote for the Libs; the party that has basically admitted that Australia has no other productive sector and that it is going to keep taxing every-one else more than asset speculating investors.

    It also pleases me that your main-stream media is toxic, stupid, and 150% behind the rent-seekers. It is this way because the average Australian WANTS it this way. It sells, you see. Australian tax rorters like a compliant media that tells them how clever and noble they are, and how they deserve their rorts.

    Ha ha ha ha ha!

    • Actually – you’ve got one wrong, dude:

      Rising education prices: Bad! *confused blink in stupor* hunh?! *dismissive* she’ll be right mate, you don’t have to pay it right away!

    • This might explain why I rarely associate with the locals even though I “live” in Sydney. Also explains why the people who get this that I know are selling up and leaving the country for shores far afield.

      • … or currently renting, enjoying the best Australia has to offer (friendliness, nature, ‘getting away’, food and wine, etc.) but planning for a move back overseas for the things that will matter to a growing family: owning a home, education, interest in the rest of the world, connectedness, progress. 😉

      • That Dutch people such as yourselves are essentially planning an exit does not bode well for general national prosperity. Sigh.

      • German actually, not Dutch and wife is Chinese :). Did my stints abroad in the US and Europe and returned to settle down only to find the “houses and holes” myopia too much. Now I work in HK and JPN with my farm in QLD exporting beef. Nice place to live if you can afford the stupid costs of living, but so many other places are much cheaper and better services (though for how long remains to be seen).

      • only to find the “houses and holes” myopia too much.
        Yea I definitely hear what you’re saying. For me it’s like a cancer that eats at your soul, you want to get on with your life but IT is always there in one form or another, The HnH world is an incomprehensible beast for those of us that grew up in the productive world making tangible products. In the end, for sanity’s sake, you have to either admit that everything you know is wrong OR you simply move-on and leave the true believers free to their worship.

    • Careful there LD too much talk like that and you’ll find your name at the top of the much dreaded BBQ blacklist. Trust-me on this point, in the past I too would occasionally allow myself to verbalize these incongruities. The best case is that some caring friend will take you aside and pat you on the head like some demented idiot and set-you-straight. Worst case you’ll realize that you’ve just blasphemed by bringing into question the only truly universal Aussie religion, either way you’ve offended both the god’s of Equity and Real Estate and thereby sealed your own fate and guaranteed yourself a prominent position on the BBQ blacklist.

    • Australian tax rorters like a compliant media that tells them how clever and noble they are, and how they deserve their rorts.
      Very true. I was about to complain that your posts are becoming abusive. But that quote is a classic.

      • Thanks for the recognition. I tell it like I see it; if I sound abusive, it’s because of the abusiveness of the Australian body politic towards youth. Australia is selling its future and it saddens me.

      • LD, what you say is what is frequently uttered in situations without locals. It is refreshing to hear someone say it out loud. You only get to that extreme point of view thanks to the frustration that there is nothing you can do.

        You can’t say the things you say as a migrant in public because you’ll be set aside as a whinging migrant who clearly doesn’t understand the greatness and exceptionalism of Australia. This patting on the back of Australia chokes proper public debate and removes all ambition to push the country forward.

    • Today's Empire Tomorrow's Ashes

      Some great points but it’s really hard to separate the good points from the invective.

      Not everyone is as stupid or selfish as you make out.

      • I agree! I speak about aggregates. People taking my rants personally has caused some issues. But I don’t apologise; I believe what I say. But always remember I’m speaking about aggregates.

      • That’s true TETA, but it very fairly describes Australia’s public narrative. You either choose to participate (and probably suffer badly later) or sit it out (and suffer now).

      • Today's Empire Tomorrow's Ashes

        I’m a bit more optimistic than that, paddy.

        I don’t think it has to be, or is ordained to be, that way.

        To a large extent, I think the number of people with cash, or who are underleveraged or who have no debt, is underestimated.

      • “To a large extent, I think the number of people with cash, or who are underleveraged or who have no debt, is underestimated.”

        In the country with the world’s highest level of household debt, I think the opposite is underestimated.

    • The truth is if you’re offended by LD’s posts it’s because there is an element of truth in them. If it wasn’t true in some way you simply wouldn’t care. I don’t care simply because I’m not a property speculator / parasite or rent seeker.

      I want to see a more egalitarian country, where a subset of people aren’t screwing the rest over.

  5. Oh – prepare to see the US’ NRA’s modus-operandi put in action and adapted to “the tough Aussie conditions”. They’ve just scratched the surface!

    • “The only way to stop a property bubble going bad is blowing an even bigger bubble and saying it’s all good.”

  6. Let me be the first to congratulate the AFR for moving into the market gap left vacant by Cleo Magazine.
    “… it also strikes the perfect balance, offers a bright, light-hearted tone and aesthetic without shying away from the more serious issues that are important to their readers”.

      • proofreadersMEMBER

        How about two for the price of one? ScoMo and Mathias chomping on cigars? And maybe Joe can do a monthly column from Washington on how to make ends meet when one is doing it tough?

      • I curse you both, Messrs Trash and Readers, for the little bit of sick that is now occupying my mouth.
        [Nuns and dead puppies, nuns and dead puppies – get that horrible thought out of my mind – nuns and dead puppies …]

  7. I’m pretty sure “average mums and dads”, “cleaners” and the other “middle class” workers that we are told have most of the negatively geared properties do not read the AFR.

  8. proofreadersMEMBER

    My favourite piece of sage advice from one (Labor gearing plans may panic investors) of the AFR’s fear-mongering articles today is as follows:

    “Ms Lomas warned another side effect of the Labor proposal would be to open the flood gates for more spruikers to sell over-priced property. “A better strategy is to bring back attractive first homeowner grants to encourage people to buy rather than rent,” she said.”

    We know what an outstanding success the various FHOG schemes have been … for vendors (read specufesters). Apparently, Ms Lomas is an investment adviser, who owns “a lot of investment property”.

  9. Malcolm Turnbull says Labor’s negative gearing restrictions will distort housing market, but leaves changes on table

    As if the housing market is not already distorted!!
    When was the last time Turnbull attended an auction in Sydney.. Talk about being out of touch.. It will distort the rent seeking activities for many of his rich rent seeking buddies. Was planning to vote for him next election, not any more. Shorten has outmanoeuvred him this time.

    • TailorTrashMEMBER

      Now that labor has put it on the table fair and square …..Malcolm needs to grab it ……bitter pill for many of his supporters that it is …..but the medicine needs to be administered …….if he squibs it ……he then will be Malcolm Bullturd ……….so come on …….let’s fire the torpedo into this bullshit “housing market ” …….

      I watched 4 corners last night …..drugs, kids and double dropping ………..what a sad state of affairs for a whole generation while we all get ” wealthy ” on trading our houses …………..

  10. I really want to see if Labour will stand tall and push forward band over and..
    Again, we should hardly blame Labour if they change course as it is the MSM via the herd running the country.

  11. It’s not until people start discussing negative gearing in the papers that you realize how much Australia has a drug problem……… like a bunch of ice addicts having the sweats and scratches…….

  12. If Turnbull simply adopted Labor’s negative gearing policy, he’d neutralize the debate and pretty much give the property lobby no where to go. Could even praise the labor party for adopting sensible reforms, and push it through before an election. Magnanimous.

    • I found that headline particularly offensive. The Aussie dream is to lose money on investments. People who NG still lose money, it’s just at the moment that in said cleaners case, they get to keep about 32% of that loss – the other 68% is still lost! The only possible reason for people to do this is because their investment is gaining in value – so if house prices are in fact flatlining, even NG ceases to be the Aussie Dream.

      • “The only possible reason for people to do this is because their investment is gaining in value”

        Indeed the “investor” is expecting to make an overall average profit but the “unrealised” part of the income, capital gain, is completely ignored by the tax office most of the time. Why isn’t there any politician arguing that the government is giving a tax refund for something that everyone expects is making a profit? An “unrealised” profit notwithstanding.

    • That would make you an “economic dry” dreamer, Mr Paul, as opposed to the many supporters of NG rorting who are economic wet dreamers

  13. NG Bubble should never have been allowed to get to this level in the first place. I am sure most people on this site will know someone who has multiple NG properties owing a few million. When the NG bid is removed from the market it will crash.
    Unfortunately Westpac has over 40% of its mortgage book in investment property loans

    • Any Property Investor worth their salt NEVER has positive yield in their portfolio! Why would they if there is a tax incentive to minimise their own equity and use debt instead?
      So much so, that even investors in their 60’s I know, STILL have no yield in their +10 properties, and each time equity strays into the positive column of their spreadsheet – they leverage it up, quick-smart. A friend who retired last year; sold his SME of a lifetime’s work, took the cash and ploughed it into yet more properties, just to lower the tax liability that he would have at year end.
      Yes, Rod, it’s a disaster in the making….

    • Can we short those CDOs? I just saw The Big Short and felt I was looking into Australia’s future.

  14. NG changes are still a policy.
    1. Labor has to win the unwinnable election.
    2. Liberals have to come up with alternative to Labor. Most likely to be no change to NG. May be cap on maximum deduction.
    3. Finally policy has to pass both houses in the parliament.

    Likely outcome: No change.

    • Change us coming. When Macrobusiness first started, touching negative gearing is regarded as political suicide. It was the ‘Third Rail of politics’. After this site consistently bang on the issue for years, it is now no longer untouchable. The mood is swinging.
      More importantly, the government needs money, and negative gearing is a relatively painless way to get it.

      • Politically speaking, it would have been less painful for them to just announce indexation of CGT, which of itself will go a long way to giving them the desired effect.

    • “Likely outcome: No change.”

      I disagree. I still think the LNP are most likely to win the election (but their lead is closing) but I don’t think they’ll be able to get away with doing nothing now that Labor have put out their policy.

    • It is impossible for Labor to win so long as they have the majority of Australian media arrayed against them.

      That won’t change any time soon, so you’re going to most likely see another Coalition win. At least when stuff collapses they’ll be at the helm, making it worse, ensuring that the next government will have a much easier time pushing reforms through.

  15. Property values will collapse because of lack of tenants, not because of tax concessions. there are far too many dwellings being built and sold to specufestors as happened to many other countries and regions in the past.

  16. Let’s look at a 20% fall across the market and see how the recent buyers get screwed, including the young newly formed families.

    All us old farts who have paid our houses off will lose a bit at the margin when we downsize if we do it to free up some spending money as the changedown gap might be $0.04m less (if $1m sale falls to $0.8m and $0.8m buy falls to $0.64m so release falls from $0.2m to $0.16m) but the young who had a $0.6m buy lose $0.12k as their value falls to $0.48k and probably wipes out all their equity and possibly causes banks to sell them up quickly if they have any sort of hiccup.

    • Of course those who have most recently bought in to the bubble will/would be the ones with the most to lose. How could it be otherwise?

  17. This whole Negative gearing debate is a red herring, used to distract us from the real issue — the CGT discount.

    Abolishing NG on established property is bad policy, as government is explicity chosing a losing side. Although it’d be great to entice the creation of dwelling stock, the fact is that NG will remain on all other asset classes. Will the exodus of investor funds abandoning established property create misallocations in other asset classes (such as ASX listed shares?). Probably.

    • The Coalition isn’t stupid – they will play up the outrage over tinkering with the principle of negative gearing established property, lock Labor into their election losing position, and then loudly trumpet their policy to maintain negative gearing on established property (while a little more quietly extolling the virtues of restoring CGT discount to an indexation method). And perhaps an accelerated depreciation scheme for new builds ?

    • Labor is of course planning to halve the CGT discount.

      “Will the exodus of investor funds abandoning established property create misallocations in other asset classes (such as ASX listed shares?). Probably.”

      Perhaps but that doesn’t bother me for two reasons.

      Firstly, share investors aren’t competing with those who just want to buy a share to live in, and secondly, you’ll find it far harder to leverage your money 10 or 20 times in to the sharemarket.

      • “you’ll find it far harder to leverage your money 10 or 20 times in to the sharemarket”

        Absolutely. Try having an LVR of 90%+ in shares and see how you go. Shares also usually produce a far higher yield than the 2% before costs of land-rich property investments in Sydney and Melbourne so NG is much less common. Sure there’s some NG in shares, but stopping it would be like moving deck chairs compared with property.

    • You make a good point regarding NG on shares. The government will be asking punters to NG into the bank recap that will be needed .

    • “…Will the exodus of investor funds abandoning established property……..”

      There will be no exodus as those who current own existing property that is negatively geared will hang on to it. As we well know property is about location and existing property has that advantage.

      No will property investors suddenly become highly leveraged share investors.

      1. The banks will not lend to them

      2. They don’t understand shares but they do understand property.

      What is most likely is that they will invest in new property and insist that the population ponzi get faster to maintain demand for their investments in new property.

    • Why does the Aus govt feel like it has to intervene to encourage building of housing infrastructure via NG? Market forces will allow builders to earn an adequate risk-adjusted return If there is sufficient demand, i.e. people want to migrate to a country/city because of high expected standard of living and decent wages. Any distortion via govt intervention to increase supply by importing in foreign capital (i.e. more than 50% of off the plan apartments are bought by foreign investors) will only distort real estate prices relative to domestic drivers like income.

    • The ALPs policy is to abolish NG for all assets (including shares) other than new housing.

      It’s a developers’ wet dream.

      • Huh? It seems pretty clear to me:

        “From 1 July 2017 losses from new investments in shares and existing properties can still be used to offset investment income tax liabilities. These losses can also continue to be carried forward to offset the final capital gain on the investment.”

      • I must admit I thought that Jason was full of shit to begin with. I apologise – it looks like he’s right.

        From 1 July 2017 losses from new investments in shares and existing properties can still be used to offset investment income tax liabilities. These losses can also continue to be carried forward to offset the final capital gain on the investment.

      • Apology accepted!

        It has been a remarkably under-reported aspect of the ALP policy I have to say. The latest Greens version of it would be to restrict NG on property only (and more importantly I think, reintroduce indexation for CGT purposes).

      • “If true, it is a horrible, horrible policy.”

        Why do you say that? I’m actually more impressed now that Jason has pointed out that detail.

        I can’t think of a logical reason why you should be able to deduct losses from one business/asset against income from a different source. Sure, deduct any losses from your taxable profit when you sell, but why should your holding costs be subsidised by a tax deduction on (e.g.) your salary?

      • I pay income tax on my income from investments at my marginal rate after taking my salary into account, therefore it is grossly unfair (not to mention economically distorting) not to allow losses from those activities to be set off against that income.

        The alternative is to have an entirely different set of marginal tax rates for investment income. But actually government’s like wealthy people earning investment income because they pay tax at higher rates so that reform is never going to happen.

      • That’s a good point about the marginal rates Jason. I’d still argue that you shouldn’t be able to continually lose money in one area (property) that you can’t do with any other business. Not sure on the best way to remove that bias though.

        Any thoughts on the Henry review’s recommendation 14?

        Recommendation 14: Provide a 40 per cent savings income discount to individuals for non-business related:

        – net interest income;
        – net residential rental income (including related interest expenses);
        – capital gains (and losses); and
        – interest expenses related to listed shares held by individuals as non-business investments.

      • “It’s a developers’ wet dream.”

        How so? If you’re spending more on interest (for share loans) than you’re getting in dividends and franking credits then you are seriously, aggressively gearing in shares. Sounds like sheer speculation to me.

      • @ Jason and AB
        What ? It says specifically that from 1 July 2017 losses against new investment in shares can still be used to offset income. How does that description remove negative gearing on shares ? You’ve both read that wrong, sorry. Admittedly, it is a poorly structured description.

      • @AB – Henry’s proposal is the quite comfortably the best I’ve seen on the taxation of investments but it would represent the biggest change in this space since CGT, FBT and imputation came in in quick succession in the 80s and we don’t really have the politicians at the moment to implement it (for instance, I know the Greens think it is probably a good idea but too hard).

        I do note that the Henry recommendation still allows for negative gearing (albeit at a reduced rate).

      • @ Green – it says losses from new investments in shares can be offset against INVESTMENT income, not income more generally.

      • @ Jason
        I think it is a poorly structured sentence, and does not really intend to convey that meaning. Given the ALP have made much ado of mainintaing arrangements for existing investment properties, they could hardly now restrict offsetting losses for existing properties against that asset only, which is what that sentence would imply for existing property (as you suggest it does for new shares) as well. The investment income it refers to is still generally reported against an individual’s aggregate income.

      • @ Green – the “existing” in that statement means “not newly constructed”. It has nothing to do with grandfathered assets. While I agree it is clumsy, the meaning is pretty clear to me.

      • The Henry Review recommendations are more radical and less distortionary compared to the current system and Labor’s proposal. They (correctly) aim for an investment/savings tax regime that doesn’t give preferential tax treatment to one asset class over another. This isn’t to say it couldn’t be improved upon:

        – Instead of deductions, give out equivalent (i.e. smaller) refundable tax offsets for net investment losses. This would eliminate the regressive nature of current arrangements.

        – The existence of untaxed land rents means a ‘fair’ federal investment tax regime will still result in capital mis-allocation towards land investment, especially houses in the context of residential property speculation (in contrast to apartments). A LVT (which the Review also recommended) would correct this ‘natural distortion’. I’m fairly sure this is why there is a consistent ‘gross yield gap’ between units and houses:

  18. “Aussie negative gearing dream under attack”

    wait? Wasn’t the great Aussie dream to own your own home?
    Sad how this dream was so easily and silently let go, with barely a whimper by the Australian people apart from this blog.

  19. Given all the moving parts, I dare so no one has any idea what will really happen if the ALPs policy comes in – not for the new and established housing markets, the rental markets, the shares market, super, bank lending rates etc.

    The only thing certain is that the massive shakeup will be an opportunity for someone who is smart enough to make a lot of money.

    Happily, the ALP don’t have a hope of winning the election this year.

  20. the important point is that, NG is now in the headlines and ‘on the table’, which was not the case 6 months ago. Any cuts to NG, will be just the beginning of an eventual wind back of one of the greatest rorts in Australian history (not taking into account the whole white invasion/landgrab disgrace).
    A windback/abolition of NG will result in lower housing prices to the benefit of all (normal) Australians….there will of course be losers, like the ‘professional investor’ with 25 NG investment properties…but really who cares…..if they were stupid enough to believe in all the hype…..well, Darwin theory prevails!

  21. Professional investor Nathan Birch…”Investors will have to come up with the extra cash flow so the whole market will raise their rents to make up the shortfall. I will advise my clients to raise their rent and I will do the same,” he said.

    Can anyone explain the logic of this ? Labor’s proposed policy will not affect existing investors, so what is the impact on their year to year cash flow ? Why would they need to raise their rents ?

    And putting the veiled threat of a shifty little rent-seeker aside – how could you so boldly assume the markets in which existing investors own properties can sustain a sudden shift up in rents to offset an (imaginary projected) loss in income ? Shortage of apartments in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth at the moment, is there ?

    He conceded the changes would put the brakes on some property markets and stop prices from exploding. But, he said, investors would just shift to more “cash-flow positive” markets like Queensland instead.

    Which is facing an oversupply of new stock, higher vacancy rates, and existing investors bidding down yields. But of course, by all means funnel your dumb money up to Brisbane to depress prices even further.

    “The biggest losers will be the poor families trying to get into rental properties,” Mr Birch said.

    No, the biggest loser will be rent-seeking cretins like Nathan Birch.

    • Good pick up by Buzzfeed. Clearly Stucthcbury and the AFR have abandoned any pretence of objectivity and integrity. The national agenda, For Sale.