Australia’s worsening housing affordability problem is a largely self-inflicted: we first restrict and then tax the supply of new land needed to accommodate people, while at the same time accelerating population growth and then compounding the problem by applauding as most of that growth is focussed on just two or three cities. There are official policies in many States that encourage a concentration of both jobs and housing in finite inner city areas – which can only exacerbate an already chronic problem.
It’s not just housing affordability that is the problem, although this gets much of the attention. The entire point of inner urban renewal in the first place – dating back to the Better Cities program of the Hawke-Keating Government – was to harness spare capacity in inner urban areas through selective infrastructure upgrades. We wanted to avoid the ‘donut effect’ common in US cities at the time, where inner urban areas were hollowed out leaving behind empty schools and other underutilized community assets. The opposite is now the reality: urban infrastructure is not keeping pace with population growth. We are in the throes of committing tens of billions more of taxpayer dollars to invest in inner urban infrastructure from schools to public transport in the Sisyphean belief that this can be fixed, while we continue to pump yet more people into limited spaces.
You wonder why we are so slow to identify problems and grasp solutions in this country. As Donald Horne wryly observed way back in 1964, “‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.” Those second rate people are still there driving public policy but our luck may be running…
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