By Jim Hayes
An essential poll has just revealed that three quarters of Australia believes that rents should be capped or frozen until economic conditions improve. This stands at odds with the political elite of the major parties, which remain locked into refusing to countenance any move that will interfere with the bottom line of the real estate industry and landlords.
The overwhelming response to the survey is hardly surprising when a large part of the nation is facing a worsening cost of living crisis, and renters are among the most affected.
It is the Greens who are leading the call for a turn in direction in the parliament. They are slowly winning support for their effort to win a frieze on rent rises, as part of their policy to secure a far more generous provision for social and public housing. Supporters of any party should be able to concede this, whether they agree with it or not.
Opponents are mischievously and wrongly accusing the Greens of sabotaging moves to improve housing affordability. But the controversy already raised has pushed the Albanese government and the states to raise the target. It is up to 1.2 million new homes over 5 years.
Critics have good reason to point out this is not as good as it appears, given that much of the outlay will be directed towards the bottom line for developers, rather than making housing cheaper. The other weakness is that it is founded on the illusion that the problem is one of insufficient supply.
The real problem is insufficient availability. This means that people have been priced out of the available supply, because of a property price bubble driven by other factors.
Nevertheless, the fact that government is compelled to up the game is a positive change. This is raising community expectations. Government faces the pressure of meeting these expectations.
Rent control will grow into becoming a major political issue until it can no longer be ignored.
Australia’s political leaders have a low level of approval. There is a combination of reason for this. Anthony Albanese has just 35 percent approval, while Peter Dutton’s is down to 17 percent. No matter which way this is viewed, it is inescapable that most of Australia is offside, and this translates into an emerging political crisis.
Federal and state elections are showing a tend towards increasing difficulty in either major party forming a government. Without doing and being seen to do much more to alleviate the cost of living crisis, the popularity stakes are set to fall much further. Nothing will drive this more strongly than a still rising cost of housing.
Rising anger against the failure of sufficient action could be the factor that eventually forces the government’s hand, whether it be that led by Anthony Albanese, Peter Dutton, or anyone else. The other possible alternative is the collapse of the property bubble and crash of property prices.
Campaigners for affordable housing are gearing up to fight harder. Expect more noise. Expect more effort to raise the need for appropriate rent control across Australia.