Sorry, Barnaby, but moving to Tamworth isn’t the solution for home ownership


When asked this week about the housing affordability problem in Australian cities that is effectively locking two generations of Australians out of the urban housing market, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce offered up a simple solution: “People have just got to realise that houses are much cheaper in Tamworth,” he said, before suggesting that if people want an affordable house with a “view of the Opera House – well, it’s just not gonna happen.”

So there you have it – forget smashed avocados on toast and barley lattes – and jump on the next northbound train. Incidentally, Tamworth’s unemployment rate is close to eight per cent compared to just over five per cent in Melbourne – but perhaps you’ll be able to scrape together an affordable deposit fruit picking or busking Johnny Cash numbers on the main street during Tamworth festival time.

Mr Joyce’s absurd proposition ignores the real issue by offering a parochial and patronising non-solution to a serious problem that the Federal government has proven to be unable or unwilling to address.

In Demographia’s 13th annual International Housing Affordability Study released earlier this week, Sydney ranked as the second least affordable city in the world and Melbourne ranked fifth. That makes Australia a world leader in “severely unaffordable” housing.

That situation is ultimately a failure of government to ensure affordable housing choices are available or legislate policies to protect our inner city areas from becoming international property investment islands.

What we have witnessed locally is a trend occurring in prosperous cities globally including London, Paris and New York that become attractive propositions for the world’s richest people to park their money in “safe property investments” and watch it grow at staggering rates.

The impact of this is that many apartments sit empty while the new investor demographic adds little to the cultural or community life of the city. Meanwhile property prices keep going up as wealthy investors are willing to pay top dollar – and the cities’ homeless populations grow to breaking point.

Instead of enacting policies to curb this trend, the government refuses to even discuss the perverse incentives on wealthier Australians purchasing investment properties through advantageous negative gearing policies – policies that keep upward pressure on the housing market and keep everyday people locked out altogether.

I don’t know anyone who has moved to Tamworth as Mr Joyce suggested, but I know plenty of people who have opted to move to other small towns outside of Melbourne like Ballarat, Ballan and Castlemaine. Many do so because they love the small town life and these towns are certainly great places to live. But in many cases it is also because these are the only places people can afford to purchase a home to raise young families.

For most people I know in my age group and lower (I’m 46) the possibility of home ownership within 20 kilometres of the CBD is not even on the radar. And these are professional working people with steady incomes.So Barnaby Joyce’s glib suggestion that people should stop complaining about Melbourne and Sydney housing prices and move to Tamworth is little more than obfuscation of the Federal government’s own policy failure to meaningfully tackle the problem of housing affordability head on.

The article first appeared in The Age

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