Housing affordability plummets

June 12, 2015
Joe Hockey says 'Get a good job that pays good money' if you want to buy a house in Sydney.

So a member of the Coalition government said something tone-deaf and out of touch again. It must have been on a day ending with “y”.

When asked last week about housing affordability, federal Treasurer Joe Hockey came out with this cracker: "The starting point for a first homebuyer is to get a good job that pays good money." Oh, of course, Joe! Why hasn't anyone thought of that before?

He went on: "And if you've got a good job and pays good money and you have security in relation to that job, then you can go to the bank and you can borrow money and that's readily affordable - more affordable than ever."

So people just need a good job that is secure and it pays good money. I mean it's not like anyone, such as the government you're a part of, is making getting a higher paying job harder by increasing job insecurity, attacking penalty rates or launching political attacks on unions to make the right to organise harder.

Across the media, both social and mainstream, the reaction was predictably one of outrage. Even Prime Minister Tony Abbott disagreed. This is what he has previously said on the subject: “Even as a cabinet minister, sometimes it’s hard to pay a Sydney mortgage and I know over the years I’ve earned a lot more than the average person."

As the Australian Financial Review reported on April 28, home prices in Australia's largest cities, including Sydney, have surged more than five times faster than wages in each of the past two years. According to the International Monetary Fund's Global Housing Watch,a source that could hardly be described as having a left wing bias, Australia has the third highest house price-to-income ratio in the world.

Even noted latte-sipper Glenn Stevens, governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, waded in on the issue, describing house prices in Sydney as "crazy" and "concerning". Speaking on June 10, Stevens said: "What is happening in housing in Sydney I find acutely concerning for a host of reasons, many of which are not to do with monetary policy. I think it is a social problem."

Speaking at an Economic Society of Australia luncheon, Stevens said public investment in infrastructure is needed to improve the economy. He even said money was not the problem, it was a matter of political will.

While he was most likely referring to projects like the East West Link in Melbourne and WestConnex in Sydney - both big ticket infrastructure projects that have attracted grassroots opposition campaigns - his comments do point to an alternative.

For example: what if instead of building huge roads the government massively increased public housing in all the major cities or anywhere there is the need for low-cost housing? This would increase employment and exert downward pressure on housing prices, all while giving a boost to the economy.

There is a project just like this that is taking place now. The Great Housing Mission public housing project in Venezuela is a project that aims to provide public housing for more than 40% of Venezuelans by 2019. This shows what can be done when a society puts the collective needs of its people ahead of the needs of individuals to make a profit. All it would take is a shift in political will.

There are plenty of other things we need to get cracking on, things like public transport, renewable energy, solutions to climate change - the list goes on. But when the public debate is centred around Hockey's cretinous comments it really limits the discussion about alternatives. This is why we need a grassroots media, like Green Left Weekly, to challenge these biases in the media and broaden the debate.

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