Real estate agents are pushing the Coalition to introduce a new ‘property services’ minister to bring the nation’s multi-billion dollar housing and development industry closer to the heart of government.
However the proposal, floated in a pre-budget submission by the Real Estate Institute of Australia, has come under scrutiny for the “unclear” benefit it would deliver Australians.
The plan would see a new portfolio created at the federal or state level to tackle all forms of property policy, including law, taxation, housing affordability and the governance of real estate agents.
Currently, legislation around real estate agents is covered under fair trading laws but other aspects of property are spread around different areas of government.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and local member David Coleman visit a home in Penthurst in 2017 to talk about negative gearing. Photo: Michele Mossop
REIA president Malcolm Gunning told Fairfax Media that bringing property policy under the one roof would be “better for the public”.
REIA president Malcolm Gunning.
“[Then] things such as first home buyer grants or incentives, stamp duty, all those [would not] just be looked at in isolation,” Mr Gunning said. “What you’ve got then is all people who are involved with that business in the one area, and that is not unusual.
“[Real estate and property] will then be given the importance and administration that it requires.”
The REIA submission noted the property sector was one of the largest sectors in the Australian economy and had been a driver of economic growth since the end of the mining boom.
“No matter what changes occur in the composition of sources of growth, property will continue to be a major source of employment and investment for decades to come as well as the major asset class for the majority of Australians,” it said.
However Alan Morris, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Public Policy and Governance, expressed doubts over who a dedicated minister would serve.
“A minister for ‘property services’ has the connotations of serving a particular interest,” Professor Morris said. After reviewing the REIA’s submission, he said the impression he got was it was “all about strengthening the real estate industry”.
Professor Morris pointed to sections of the submission that argued for the retention of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, when recent released Treasury advice to the Turnbull government confirmed limited reforms would only have a small impact on property prices.
“You want a minister that can serve the denizens of Australia; to create a well functioning housing market where the market is operating effectively to provide affordable and social housing.”
But Professor Morris did admit there was a gap in the current ministry. He said it was “incredible” Australia did not have a dedicated housing minister when other countries like New Zealand, United States, and the UK all have dedicated housing and urban development portfolios.
“One of the biggest issues facing tens of thousands of Australian households is the cost of accommodation and yet there is absolutely no serious endeavour by the federal government or state governments to deal with it,” he said.
“It is a real failing of government.”
Mr Gunning suggested the REIA’s proposed ministry could fill that gap. He said that group had been in discussions about it with peak housing advocacy body National Shelter.
“[REIA and National Shelter] agree that all those aspects should be in one area because they are interrelated,” Mr Gunning said.
National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski told Fairfax Media there had been “a general agreement that there needs to be a minister in that area”.
Australia was left without a federal housing minister after the portfolio was absorbed by the Department of Social Services in 2013.
Treasurer Scott Morrison last year conceded Australia had a housing affordability problem and announced a number of measures in the May budget.
“There are no silver bullets to make housing more affordable. But by adopting a comprehensive approach, by working together, by understanding the spectrum of housing needs, we can make a difference,” Mr Morrison said at the time.
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