The Turnbull government’s housing affordability package is shaping up to be all talk and no action, keen budget observers say, as Treasurer Scott Morrison manages expectations ahead of the May budget.
In a key pre-budget speech in Melbourne on Monday, Mr Morrison said the benefits of his planned measures would be realised “in some cases over a generation, not an electoral cycle, not a budget cycle”.
The May 9 budget will “make a good start” on housing affordability, but won’t be able to solve the problem “in isolation”, he said, a clear sign the government wants to lower expectations.
“People talk about centrepieces and all these sorts of things. That’s not how I think about budgets and I’ve never described them in those terms. It’s one of many issues we’re seeking to address.”
But Daniel Cohen, director of advocacy group First Home Buyers Australia, said home buyers view the budget as a crucial opportunity to address the housing crisis.
“The matter has only increased since the election, among young people it has only grown,” he said.
Mr Cohen said many first home buyers were skeptical about whether the government would take the steps necessary to make homes more affordable.
“They think it’s all talk. They don’t think there’s going to be much that’s meaningful or helpful,” he said.
“And I don’t blame them based on what the Coalition was talking about last year. It’s only more recently that their talk has been better on this issue.”
Mr Morrison did not clarify which affordability measures the government would pursue, saying Monday’s speech was not “intended to be the day to outline our response”.
However, he offered positive signals about the UK approach of a ‘bond aggregator’ to fund affordable housing and on tougher measures for foreign buyers who buy properties and leave them empty, and reiterated the government’s opposition to negative gearing reform.
It is unclear whether mooted proposals to have buyers dip into their superannuation or incentives for pensioners to downsize will find their way into the budget.
Responding to the speech, University of Sydney housing expert Professor Peter Phibbs said the government’s focus on supply issues meant they risked merely appearing concerned about the issue.
“It worries me that they might be trying to look busy, without doing much,” he said.
“If he doesn’t do something about demand, it’s like chasing around the edges.
“He’s almost suggesting that he doesn’t want to put too much downward pressure on house prices … but to do something significant on this you can’t have two sets of winners.”
Mr Morrison’s speech included a reference to the “more than two-thirds of Australians who live in owner-occupied homes” who would not want to see policies that “undermine the values of their own homes”.
Professor Phibbs did welcome the Treasurer’s focus on rental affordability, which formed a large part of his speech.
Mr Morrison used the speech to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute to ramp up rhetoric against Labor’s proposal to abolish negative gearing for some properties.
He said Labor was oversimplifying the issue and offering Australians false hope, which he said was “cynical and cruel”.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said the government was engaged in a “reckless scare campaign”.
“But the fact of the matter is that negative gearing reform has got to be an essential part of the mix and it applies for different market circumstances across the country and at different times,” Mr Bowen said.