Development Debate Takes Centre Stage in Sydney & Melbourne

The Labor v Greens rivalry is heating up on housing. Having already stonewalled Albanese’s housing future fund in Canberra, ALP governments in Victoria and NSW are soon to enter the fray pushing for more housing supply.

The Albanese government’s housing fund was announced a year before the election. It’s a $10 billion fund whose proceeds are intended to fund 20,000 new homes in the first five years, with at least a fifth earmarked for families escaping domestic violence.

Sound like a Greens-friendly policy? Wrong. The Greens say it doesn’t go far enough, calling for a $5 billion direct spend and an immediate freeze on rent prices.

What they’re missing is that as an off-budget policy, the ALP’s housing fund could potentially fund social housing in perpetuity, and certainly beyond the last days of the current centre-left government. It’s a more significant reform than throwing $5 billion at the problem now.

The federal war of words is expanding to the states. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews is moving to reform planning regulations in Melbourne in the coming months.

New regulations are expected to limit local councils’ ability to block new developments and thereby boost property prices. Heritage rules may also come up for debate, with recent heritage controversies including protections for electricity substations (like the one you can see in this article’s thumbnail), or, below, this old shop in Tottenham.

Andrews has previously sought to levy 1.75% of property developers’ project costs for a social housing fund. But just as in Canberra, Victorian Greens have said this doesn’t go far enough, calling for 50% of all new apartments to be public or price-controlled.

That policy would mean a serious hit to the economics of medium-density property construction at a time of spiralling material and financing costs.

Meanwhile, the new housing minister under the NSW ALP government, Rose Jackson, has made it her mission to facilitate medium- and high-density housing. She has specifically targeted the wealthier eastern and northern parts of the city, which will pit the state government against Liberal, independent and Sustainable Australia councillors.

A great irony of this ALP-Greens debate is that a major plank of the Greens’ housing policy is what Bill Shorten took to the election in 2019: the winding back of negative gearing on investment properties.

The Greens are certainly right about the centrality of this issue now and into the future. “Renters are an increasingly powerful social force,” says Greens housing spokesperson Max Chandler-Mather. “And they grow every year. 

“And certainly, in Griffith,” Chandler-Mather’s own seat, “one of the underlying reasons for our win was that we were the only ones speaking to the material conditions of renters.”

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