TRUE OPINION: Low income earners and other vulnerable Australians don’t matter for NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, writes Joanna Psaros.
Struggling to buy? We’ve got you.
Struggling to get by? Join the queue.
That seems to be the message of the latest NSW State Government Budget, which prioritises prospective homeowners to the detriment of thousands teetering toward homelessness. And while handouts line the pockets of the relative minority already on the verge of property ownership, realistically even average earners are left no closer to escaping Australia’s increasingly nightmarish rental market.
“My dad had an expression,” recounted US President Joe Biden in a press conference earlier this year.
“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
It’s an expression that couldn’t apply more to the 2022-23 NSW Budget, released late last month. Among a slate of fiscal reforms, it seemed one of the big-ticket items was the radical re-organisation of the state’s stamp duty system, which as of January 2023 will effectively exempt first home buyers – subject to certain conditions.
Under the new scheme, prospective purchasers of a first home valued between $650,000 and $1.5 million will be given the option of paying an annual property tax of upwards of $2,350 per year instead of the upfront, one-off payment.
“We want to lower barriers to owning a home for first home buyers seeking a place of their own,” said then-Treasurer Dominic Perrottet.
“Lifting home ownership is part of this government’s efforts and ambitions to help families who are feeling the squeeze.”
Setting aside the question of its effectiveness (there’s evidence that subsidies like this actually drive up property prices), Perrottet’s suggestion he cares about cost of living pressures is swiftly debunked after a closer look at budget papers.
The fact is, low-income earners, economically vulnerable groups, and Australians in insecure housing – the very individuals and families who are, as the Treasurer puts it, truly “feeling the squeeze” – have been almost totally left behind in a budget once that panders to the haves over the have nots and which is likely to increase inequality in NSW.
Despite the announcement of continued construction and maintenance of social housing projects under the government’s pre-existing the $812 million COVID-19 social housing stimulus package, peak bodies such as Mission Australia warn the budget’s few measures addressing the issue fall far short of what’s required to stem the tide of the state’s growing homelessness crisis.
To put it into perspective, the NSW Council of Social Service argues “the modest investment of $147.1 million to construct an extra 800 social housing properties will do little to address the social housing waiting list of 50,000 applications (including more than 5,000 priority cases).”
“The NSW Treasury’s Intergenerational Report estimates that an additional 68,000 people from the 65 age plus cohort alone will be added to the social housing waiting list under ‘business as usual’ policy settings.
“In the absence of greater investment in specialist homelessness services more people will be unable to access housing and the supports that they need to exit homelessness.”
This comes in the context of January’s Federal Budget cuts that already decimated funding to crucial services on the frontline of assisting Australians at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and after economic pressures and increased domestic violence thanks to the global pandemic saw the number of rough sleepers skyrocket. And these numbers are still on the increase.
It goes without saying that Australia’s housing market crisis is a genuinely pressing issue. And no-one’s arguing against making first home ownership more affordable.
But excuse me if, at a time when one third of households have less than enough savings to cover a month’s living expenses, I’m not jumping for joy that the state’s wealthiest renters have (arguably) come out on top in the race to put a roof over our heads. Or that, in a state that accounts for more than 30% of Australia’s homeless population, it will now take middle income earners approximately 23 instead of 25 years to save for somewhere even remotely close to the CBD.
The fact is, if you’re even in a position to be thinking of buying a house you’re probably not doing too badly. Because far from the great Australian dream, home ownership is still, for the majority, an impossible fantasy. And that’s what our governments really need to stamp out.