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Calls for national housing agenda, minister

The government has been urged to develop a national strategy to tackle housing affordability, with some suggesting there should be a new federal body or a minister.

Academics from the University of New South Wales’ City Futures Research Centre have told the MPs leading the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into housing affordability that institutional reforms are needed in Australia.

Hal Pawson, professor and associate director of the City Futures Research Centre, echoed similar calls from others who appeared have before the committee, stating there needs to be an overarching national plan.

According to the researcher, the government should consider implementing a “national housing strategy, with the Commonwealth playing a leading role” and for the national cabinet to form a housing minister position.

A national housing agency was also called for, which could be an adjusted version of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC).

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“That’s a very positive reform that’s already been made by the Prime Minister when he was in the role of Treasurer. The creation of NHFIC, that’s already an extremely constructive step,” Mr Pawson told the committee during hearings on Wednesday (17 November).

“But I think NHFIC could play a bigger role, beneficially, if it was established by statute and if it was given this title of national housing agency.”

Fellow City Futures Research director and professor Bill Randolph also weighed in, after Mr Pawson warned changes such as APRA’s lending interventions were “tweaks around the edges” of a larger problem.

“It goes back to point it would allow the Commonwealth government to understand and treat… the housing system in its entirety, rather than have different levers in different places, pulling in sometimes very different directions,” Mr Randolph commented.

Merely increasing supply is not expected to improve affordability however, with other factors such as demand, transport and other infrastructure; and planning coming to play.

Mr Randolph further elaborated that the federal government should better understand what levers it has and their effects on the market, including its relationships with states, as well as tools across infrastructure, planning and supply.

“You could use these levers as a federal government to get into those nitty gritty problems,” he said.

“But until we start seeing housing as an integrated issue, we’re only going to be tinkering at the sides.”

The interplay between the three levels of government had already been explored by the inquiry – with a local council telling the committee that federal and state government processes could drag out the time from zoning approvals to completed housing by up to 12 years.

“National housing strategy is something that is very, very long overdue in this country,” Mr Pawson said.

“And that is one answer to the complexity of this issue, of the housing system and the fact that the policy levers that can influence it are very scattered across different parts of government, especially split between the federal and the state territory layers.”

Similarly, Louis Christopher, founder of property research firm SQM, told the committee on Wednesday (17 November) that the NSW government’s suggestion of a national housing strategy plan “would greatly assist in resolving conflicts”.

“Evidence of the past has shown that when Commonwealth governments make housing affordability a national policy objective, it has lasting impacts,” the NSW government submission had stated.

The Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) has made a similar call, recommending housing become a focus for the national cabinet, while retail, fast food and warehouse worker union SDA has urged for a national affordable housing agency.

[Related: Most borrowers ready for a rate rise: RBA]

Calls for national housing agenda, minister
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