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The Mackellar Housing Crisis

June 26, 2024:

Along with food and water, Maslow's hierarchy of needs places warmth, rest, security and safety as absolutely fundamental human needs. Safe, secure housing, a place to call home, represents these basic human needs. It's a major determinant in people's lifelong health and wellbeing.

However, in today's Australia so many people, particularly young people, are excluded not only from the chance of owning their own home but from housing security. We hear countless stories of the lack of renters' rights and of renters who face eviction in the face of unaffordable rent hikes, or who have to move home frequently. I hear from friends how their adult children are having to stay at home well into their 20s and 30s. I spoke to a class of year 11 legal studies students last week, and for every single student in that class housing affordability was one of their very top issues of concern.

As a GP, I witness too many young families being forced to move away from Mackellar—away from their networks and extended families—in order to find a place where they can afford to live. In Mackellar, the median price for a two-bedroom apartment is $1.1 million, the median price for a house is $2.5 million and the median rent is an eye-watering $1,300 a week. The issue is causing considerable distress in my community and the lack of affordable housing is breaking up families and putting extra stress on young people.

As a GP, I also struggle to help women find emergency accommodation when they need to leave for domestic violence reasons. Our local women's shelters are still having to turn away scores of women and their children each week. And women over the age of 50 are now the most likely group to find themselves homeless. Now as an MP, I repeatedly hear stories of how difficult it is to recruit essential workers such as carers, teachers, nurses and policemen to our region because they simply can't afford to live there. Already, a public dental clinic and a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service in Mackellar have had to close because of their inability to recruit staff. We hear the word 'crisis' often these days, but it's safe to say that housing affordability in Australia has hit crisis levels. In the 1980s, the average house price was 3.5 times the average income. Now it's eight times and rising.

What are the solutions? Yes, we do need to address immigration levels, and this is happening. Yes, we absolutely need to build more houses and homes, and I welcome the government's investment over the last two years in this.

But building houses and apartments doesn't happen overnight. It is deeply unfortunate that in 2013 the prime minister of the day, Mr Tony Abbott, made the seriously shortsighted decision to abolish the National Housing Supply Council. The council's role was to provide estimates, projections, analysis and policy advice in relation to housing supply and demand. If that council had remained, I wonder if we would be in this position of a severe lack of supply that we have now in housing? Instead, current policies such as the first home buyer subsidies, and grants from consecutive federal and state governments, have artificially pushed up property prices, exacerbating—not solving—the problem. As The Economist's Saul Eslake said: It is hard to think of any area of widespread public concern where the same policies have been pursued for so long, in the face of such incontrovertible evidence that they have failed to achieve their ostensible objectives.

We need solutions, so recently I convened a citizens' assembly, the Mackellar people's jury on housing. On an issue such as housing which affects everyone, it is important that I clearly understand the views from people across my electorate, not just the loudest voices. It was wonderful to see the Mackellar residents in action. A group of 30 people randomly selected came together to listen to a range of experts and to deliberate. The goal was to come up with three priority solutions to the housing problem.

Citizens' assemblies are a way of bringing people back into their democracy, recognising that people have a great depth of knowledge, and are a respectful and constructive way of advocating and negotiating public policy positions. I will have a lot more to say on this issue in due course but I thank the participants sincerely for their constructive and considered contributions.