The Coalition government rolled out Parliament’s welcome mat for property investors and real estate lobbyists this week, leaving ordinary Australians out in the cold, The New Daily can reveal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Assistant Minister for Finance Zed Seselja sat down with real estate bigwigs for a ‘housing industry round table’ at Parliament House on Monday to “hear first-hand their serious concerns about Labor’s housing taxes“.
Attendees at the event included real estate agent body, the Real Estate Institute of Australia – which gained notoriety in 2018 when its then-president told ABC’s 7.30 that renters struggling to find affordable housing should “get two jobs”.
Ken Morrison, chief executive of the Property Council – Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s former employer – also joined the discussion, as did Master Builders Association chief executive Denita Wawn, and Wizard Home Loans founder Mark Bouris.
Mr Frydenberg described the event as “a meeting with Australia’s leading property sector experts”.
However, those not offered a seat at the table included: leading housing academics and economists from Australia’s universities; representatives of the one-third of Australians that rent; first-home buyers locked out of the housing market thanks to investor-fuelled price booms and stagnated wages; the growing number of older Australians falling off the housing ladder in retirement; and members of younger generations who increasingly view the Australian dream of home ownership as “impossible“.
‘No offers of meetings’ for NGOs
Adrian Pisarski, the chief executive of Australia’s peak affordable housing organisation, National Shelter, told The New Daily that the organisation had written to every government minister with a responsibility for housing and “received polite acknowledgements but no offers of meetings”.
“We should have been consulted on our view on the impact of proposed policies,” Mr Pisarski said.
“The government seemingly only wishes to hear views which align with its own thinking and don’t seem prepared to have contrary views aired.”
University of New South Wales City Futures Research Centre fellow Chris Martin said that the government “does a disservice to the large majority of the population for whom houses are primarily for living in” when it “takes advice only from people with an interest in high prices and more debt.”
“Without renters and their advocates at the table, it’s not a ‘housing roundtable’, it’s a ‘property speculation vested interest roundtable’,” Dr Martin said.
Mr Frydenberg and Mr Seselja issued a “housing tax warning” following the meeting, saying that “housing industry leaders” had “raised serious concerns about Labor’s housing taxes”.
The Treasurer’s office gave evasive responses when asked by The New Daily why property lobby bosses with vested commercial interests in Australia’s housing market were given access to the Prime Minister and Treasurer while advocates for ordinary Australians missed out on a seat at the table.
The Treasurer’s spokeswoman told The New Daily that the Coalition did not determine the attendees, and was merely invited to the Parliament House event that she said was “hosted” by the Property Council.
However, when questioned by The New Daily, the Property Council denied that it had hosted, or issued invitations, to the event.
“We assisted [Mr Seselja’s] office in convening the roundtable, including through providing contacts for other invitees,” a Property Council spokesman told The New Daily.
“We did not book or pay for the room – I expect that would have been arranged by the Minister’s office per usual procedure at Parliament House.”
Mr Seselja’s office ignored repeated requests from The New Daily to clarify his role in the event.
Labor Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen told The New Daily that it was “completely unsurprising for the Liberal Party to cherry-pick vested interests and put them in a room, locking out those who represent renters and those looking to break into the housing market”.
“Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are free to meet who they wish, but the Australian people are left in no doubt that the Liberals will always back vested interests over aspiring young first-home buyers,” he said.
Labor’s “sensible and moderate reforms” to negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount had been attacked by “the normal cavalcade of vested interests”, he said.
“In contrast, there’s been a series of independent economists, think tanks and international economic institutions, which have all backed the need to reform Australia’s property tax concessions – which are amongst the most generous in the world.”
Ordinary Australians living with ‘crippling’ housing costs
Following the housing round table, affordable housing campaigners called on the Treasurer to meet with ordinary Australians and homebuyers “living with crippling rental stress and housing costs”.
More than 811,000 Australian households are suffering from rental stress as a result of a housing system that “privileges property speculation over the simple right to have a home”, Everybody’s Home campaign spokesperson Kate Colvin said.
“The government currently spends $11.8 billion on housing assistance for property investors through negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions – almost twice as much as it spends on social housing, rent assistance and homelessness put together,” Ms Colvin said.
“We need to look at these investor perks, which are the most generous in the world.”
This is the first part of a three-part series analysing the government’s housing summit and negative gearing claims.