Rob Stokes: Reviving the great Australian dream of home ownership

Rob Stokes: Reviving the great Australian dream of home ownership

Rob Stokes,The Daily Telegraph

IF Darryl Kerrigan delivered his famous one-liner today, “this is going straight to the pool room”, would his words still raise a laugh? When The Castle graced our screens in 1997, the Great Australian Dream was alive and well.​

Home ownership was at a high of 71.2 per cent and the median house price in Sydney was just $233,250.

A modest house in the suburbs was still well within the average family’s reach.

Twenty years on, much has changed. Home ownership rates have fallen to around 50 per cent and the median house price has climbed to $1,021,968.

Sydney families are spending as much as 65 per cent of their income on rent, when the old rule of thumb was 30 per cent. We’ve turned it around before, and we can do it again. At the outbreak of WWII, Australia faced a housing shortage of more than 120,000 houses — with the majority of that shortfall in NSW.

Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies knew that addressing this housing shortage would be vital in rebuilding Australia after the war. Menzies spoke passionately about the “forgotten’’ middle class. He wanted to see them, and every other Australian fulfil their dream of home ownership.

This became the manifesto of the Liberal Party and in the aftermath of his leadership, home ownership again rose from 50 per cent to 70 per cent — where it stayed for four decades.

It seems today we’re faced with similar challenges to those being grappled with in the Menzies era — albeit in different circumstances and historical contexts.

NSW Treasury recently estimated a shortfall of up to 100,000 homes across the state, thanks to the historic under supply of housing delivered under the former Labor government.

By contrast, the Baird Government is determined to do everything in its power to boost housing supply. Expansion of “housing codes’’ in 2014 has enabled fast-tracked assessment and NSW is now undergoing the longest construction boom in its history.

The latest figures show 75,484 homes approved in the 12 months to September 2016, the highest result of any state in recorded history.

Along with record approvals, housing starts and completions are at their highest in around a decade.

We’ve also delivered more than 10,000 new home sites across NSW, 16 months into our four-year target of 20,000. Despite these achievements, we still can and must do more.

Today, the NSW Government has released a series of targeted amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 for public consultation. Many of the proposed changes will cut red tape, further accelerate housing supply and help counter rising property prices.

The first area that the amendments take aim is the lack of consistency across local council’s development control plans. There are currently over 400 different structures and formats.

They can overlap and contradict, making it extremely difficult to work out what you can and can’t build.

Under our proposed reforms, councils would be required to follow a standard format. This simple change will improve consistency and transparency for the community by putting all plans online. Although small changes, they will generate significant time and cost savings for home builders and help reduce the cost of new homes. Looking at the bigger picture, last year more than $6.1 billion of local development proposals required consent from multiple state government agencies.

To give you an idea, that’s 8000 individual pieces of written advice on different developments and one-in-10 taking longer than 40 days. We propose to give the Planning Secretary new discretionary powers to “step in’’ if state agencies create a serious bottleneck in order to improve the pipeline of supply.

Currently, the Planning Act does not specify how often councils should review their local environment plans. This causes frequent applications for spot rezonings, which occupy council staff for longer than a year and cost home builders up to $800,000. The NSW Government is proposing to mandate local environment plan updates every five years.

Supply alone won’t solve Sydney’s housing affordability problem. We also need to look at other policy levers at every level of government to ensure that we return the focus on houses as places to live, rather than merely as a place to invest. If we don’t follow in Menzies’ footsteps, we may well create a whole new generation of “The Forgotten People’’. If that happens, we risk only being able to say one thing to our children’s aspirations of home ownership. That is, to tell “em they’re dreamin’’.

Rob Stokes is the NSW Minister for Planning