Wimmera housing crisis sees introduction of Wimmera Southern Mallee Housing Strategy


David Pietsch was prepared to relocate to work at the job he loved, but he did not expect to have to do it three times in 18 months.

The Bendigo man became West Wimmera Shire Council’s manager of planning and environment in June 2019 and he quickly realised there was nowhere for him to rent in the area.

It is a problem that has grown larger in recent years, and which a new strategy released this week is looking to solve.

“Then I had to move out of the shire to South Australia, and I lived in a motel for eight weeks while trying to find accommodation.

“I thought finding somewhere to live wouldn’t be an issue, but it wasn’t until 12 weeks after I started that I found an available property.”

Mr Pietsch eventually settled in Naracoorte, a 25-minute drive from his workplace and over the border in SA.

Then the pandemic hit, and the border closed.

“At first you just needed to get a COVID-19 test every week to be allowed back into SA, but then in August they did a hard border lockdown and I had to pack up the house and move back to Victoria,” he said.

“I was working from home in Bendigo and then, luckily over Christmas, a friend in Kaniva mentioned a rental property was coming up.

Mr Pietsch said the constant moving had affected his work.

“I’m in a planning role, and you can only understand how a town functions by living there,” he said.

“So, it was hard to get to know the community because at the end of every day I was leaving the shire.”

Mr Pietsch said his difficulty accessing local housing was not unique.

“Quite a few people who have started at the council and since left in the time that I’ve been there have had this issue.

The Wimmera Development Association (WDA) has released its Wimmera Southern Mallee Housing Strategy this week, after a year surveying regional real estate agents, developers, employers and councils.

This has confirmed a shortage of residentially zoned and serviced land for sale and almost non-existent rental vacancies, among other issues.

Project manager Mark Fletcher says the WDA will now push councils to be more ambitious in zoning land, explore more incentives for developers and establish a regional housing taskforce.

“Another thing we are looking at is whether we can package up across a few towns, or even a few shires, some development work,” he said.

Mr Fletcher said Mr Pietsch’s experience was just one of many ways the housing market was inhibiting population growth in the region.

“We have heard that people have bought basic housing for a new job knowing full well they could afford something better, but that is all that’s on offer,” he said.

“The issue there is it takes those properties off the market for the people that need that lower-end accommodation.

“These people are often coming from the outer suburbs of Melbourne, where there are more suburbs popping up every year with open-plan houses, and we are inviting them to come to the region to live in a 60 or 70-year-old house.”

Mr Fletcher said the lack of housing had only become a problem in recent years since more people had begun moving to the Wimmera — a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Running concurrently with the housing strategy has been the Live the Grampians Way campaign to attract new residents through the appeal of the lifestyle offered by the Grampians National Park.

The online promotion launched in December to help address skills shortages and low population growth in the council areas surrounding the national park.

More than 140 people have formally registered their interest to move.

He said the number of new users visiting the national park had increased by 47 per cent in January to nearly 7,000.

Mr Fletcher said it was crucial the housing situation changed in the next few years to secure an economically diverse future for the Wimmera.

“There is a nectar farms project in the northern Grampians in the works, and sand mines around Horsham,” he said.

“If some of these projects come off, we’ve got quite a housing issue.

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The case for diversifying housing options for older Australians


Taking time off work with her first child, young mum Kate Kirsten felt increasingly anxious about the prospect of leaving her tiny daughter in childcare when it was time to return to her office.

She confided her fears one day on the phone to her dad.

“Well, I do miss you,” he said. “And I’m lonely living here on my own. Why don’t I just move in with you, and give you a helping hand?”

The pair talked it over and decided to give it a try. Twelve years on, they can’t imagine ever living apart again.

Her dad, Len Parsons, helped her bring up her two children, Sienna, now 12, and Will, 11. He loves living with his family and his grandkids absolutely adore him.  

“It’s worked out so well for us,” says Kate, 46, who lives with the children in a house in Leichhardt, in Sydney’s inner west, which has a studio in the backyard where Len, 87, sleeps and retreats to when he wants a quiet refuge.

“We all genuinely like each other and we’re great housemates.”

“Dad loves having so much time with his grandchildren, and they love his sense of humour and that he’s around so much.”

“In addition, it’s much more economical living together rather than him going to a retirement home and me paying for childcare. And we all get on well, and treat each other with patience and respect.”

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Kate, her father Len and her two children are just one of the many families choosing to live inb multi-generational households. Photo: Peter Rae

Social researchers say that, with slower population growth and the drop in migration, our society is ageing rapidly, with older Australians making up a growing proportion of the total population.

With that change, we need to look at fresh ways of housing more mature people and keeping them as a valued, and integral, part of the greater community.

Latest studies from the University of NSW’s City Futures Research Centre shows more and more of us are taking that challenge into our own hands, with one in five Australians – just like Kate and Len and the kids – now living in a multi-generational household.

Another project from Corelogic and Archistar found that there are 583,440 properties in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that have room enough to build an additional self-contained unit of at least 60 square metres.

“Different generations of the same family living together is something that’s traditionally been strong in other cultures overseas, but less common here,” says Craig Christensen, principal at the award-winning urban planning and design practice Hatch RobertsDay.

“But, really, it should be an option for all of us.”

“We need to build bigger apartments with separate space for grandparents, or houses with a studio or granny flat where they can have their own private space. I think this is going to be a growing trend.”

Another change Craig predicts is the growth of mixed-use developments, with aged-care living integrated into the whole, either with separate blocks, or dedicated floors for older residents in regular buildings.

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Len lives in his daughter’s backyard studio where has his own personal space when needed. Photo: Peter Rae

His practice worked with Sekisui House Australia to design the new Ripley Town Centre south-west of Brisbane to include senior living and aged care.

In Sydney, the Crown Group is creating the mixed-use complex Eastlakes, in the city’s south, to include apartments side-by-side with 80 stores, cafes and restaurants as well as an 1800-square-metre emergency and medical centre that’s likely to appeal particularly to an older demographic.

In addition, some of the apartments are likely to be specially planned with bigger bathrooms, handrails, non-slip tiles and wider spaces throughout to accommodate wheelchairs.      

“We’re seeing a lot of multi-generational families moving into our Green Square and Waterfall developments because it means they can live close to all the facilities they need,” says Crown CEO Iwan Sunito.

“Some like to live together as it’s part of their culture, or kids might be trying to save money after losing their jobs during COVID-19, while other family members might have separate apartments on the same floor or in other buildings in the same complex. But I also think that COVID made us all value our closeness to family more. And at Eastlakes, with that medical centre and being so close to the Prince of Wales Hospital, it’s going to be ideal for older members of the family.”

Another rapidly emerging trend is to have aged living above shopping centres, public transport hubs, restaurants or cafes.

In Sydney’s eastern suburbs, developer Lendlease bought, and completely refurbished, a vertical village of independent living units, the Ardency Trebartha, which now sits above one of Elizabeth Bay’s busiest, and most fashionable, cafes, Shuk. 

“I’m a regular, and go down to get coffee and food and meet my grandchildren there,” says resident Zandra Stanton, 82, who’s also chair of the residents’ committee.

“Some people get their meals delivered up to them too from the cafe, which is nice.”

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Zandra Stanton is an active member of her community within Ardency Trebartha as residential chairperson. Photo: Peter Rae

“We have one 98-year-old man in the building who goes down every morning for coffee and cake. I think getting together with other people there, and having a social life in the building, keeps a lot of people alive!”  

Lendlease managing director retirement living Nathan Cockerill says it’s a great way of avoiding the loneliness and isolation that older Australians often feel.

“They want to stay local and connected to their community, loved ones and require different services and amenities to complement their lifestyle,” he says.

“Ardency Trebartha is a great example of what we’re planning for the future – it’s a multi-storey apartment building that’s located in the inner city with harbour views. It has a popular cafe on the ground floor, and within the building, there’s a hair and beauty salon, bar and lounge, library and cinema. The building is integrated with the surrounding area rather than being a closed community so that residents can stay connected.”

One of the main difficulties at the moment for older Australians is that they simply don’t have enough housing options, believes Professor Bruce Judd of the University of NSW, who’s currently collaborating with Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, on research on population ageing and housing issues. 

“A lot of people really want to live in single-level houses with two to three bedrooms, no stairs and a small courtyard,” he says. “But while those sorts of villas were built in the 1960s and 1970s in places like Rockdale and Kogarah, they’re not really available now.

Villas are usually single level homes in a small complex.
1970s style villas are usually single level homes that are accessible to older residents requiring mobility assistance.

“We talk about downsizers moving into smaller houses, but they still need space. They want bedrooms for their grandkids to come and stay and to use for hobbies, or an office, or for sewing or exercise. In one project, we found only nine per cent of over-55s had actually downsized to a smaller number of bedrooms.”

Many of them are nervous about apartment living, too, Judd believes, as they’re worried about noise from their neighbours next door, below and above, have an aversion to dealing with the owners’ corporation and, since they’re usually on fixed incomes, don’t like the possibility of strata levies increasing.

“But some builders are now building three-generation homes with private areas so grandparents can have their own space, and there are more dual-key apartments [apartments that can be divided into two] coming onto the market.”

Dr Debbie Faulkner, director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, is carefully watching the development of more innovative models of housing for older people. These range from special units of public housing, to co-operative housing, to friends getting together, buying land and building housing for them all.   

“But we need to make it easier for these models in terms of the planning and financial systems,” she says. “It can be very onerous in the current situation.” 

Even if 20 per cent of new houses in Australia included features like grab-rails and step-free entrances, it would allow many more older people to age in their own homes, says Craig Christensen.

“Building more liveable housing could reduce the need for care and could promote greater independence in the older age group,” he says.     

Making society generally more age-friendly can also do a lot to help. The growth of community gardens often offers older people the chance to participate in a pastime they may have grown up with.

Peter Ives, secretary of the Addison Road Community Garden in Marrickville, and himself in his 70s, says it can prove a great way to mix.

Many community gardens accept compost donations.
Volunteering in public initiatives such as community gardens is one way older Australians remain connected within their local communities. Photo: Supplied

“Some older people may attend for exercise and to socialise and for amusement,” he says. “Others might come to grow the food they like to eat, as well as for the company.”

Having company is, indeed, one of the most important requirements of healthy ageing. Isolation, loneliness and depression are the real killers.

Happily, Len Parsons, surrounded by the love of his family, considers himself in an ideal position. So many of his neighbours know him too, from his volunteering at the local playgroup and church. 

“They all say we’re so lucky to have him with us,” says Kate Kirsten, the editor of magazine Take 5. “And we think so too.”

Sienna agrees. “It’s good having family around all the time,” she says. “I never have to remember to carry keys on me!”

Will grins. “And he tells good jokes,” he says. “He’s very funny – even though he barracks for the wrong footy team …”

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Experts say this is what Australia needs to do to solve the housing crisis


What can we do with Australia’s property market, with soaring prices and rental shortages in many regional areas of Australia, from WA’s Pilbara to Hobart in Tasmania?

While more than 60 per cent of Australians own their own home, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows home-ownership rates for people aged under 40 are declining, part of a trend of intergenerational inequality and a growing gap between the haves and have nots.

Building more houses is often given as the answer to easing housing stress in areas of high demand but it’s not that simple, argue the four housing policy and economic experts the ABC spoke to.

Here are three policy areas they suggest Australia needs to address if we want to solve the housing crisis.

A national housing policy

One housing policy expert said Australia had not had a national strategy since World War II, and the federal government needed to act quickly to form one and not leave it up to the states.

Professor Pawson, at the City Futures Research Centre UNSW, went on to say: “We don’t necessarily need to spend more money on housing as a country, we need to spend more smartly”.

“We have to measure the problem and commit to a strategy which addresses what we find.”

We also need to have “brave conversations” according to Swinburne University Professor of Housing Policy, Wendy Stone, who said just building more housing did not help to address inequality.

She pointed to Australians generating their wealth from housing, and said we should explore “setting boundaries” around that investment.

“How can we retain existing housing stock in regional areas for housing and home, rather than so much of it being held as vacant investment or being used as tourism investments?” she said.

“We need some urgency to establishing some parameters to reduce spiralling inequality.”

She argued a limit of how many properties any one person could own could help keep house prices lower and could take the pressure off rental shortages — especially as the federal government’s COVID support measures come to an end.

What about rental relief?

COVID has seen a shift in rental pressure with vacancy rates increasing in inner city Melbourne and Sydney but drastically dropping in regional areas as people are moving out of the major cities.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Professors Stone and Pawson argue that in the short term, the federal government needs to keep COVID emergency interventions such as JobKeeper. and rental eviction moratoria to prevent thousands of people becoming homeless.

“What we can see in our data and our analytics, is that a very large number of households are still heavily dependent on these crisis COVID response mechanisms and it is absolutely premature to withdraw these mechanisms,” Professor Stone said.

A recent survey conducted by Professor Pawson’s team estimated 75,000 tenants across Australia had accrued rent debt and he argued the Australian economy was yet to feel the full impact of COVID shutdowns.

“By the middle of this year, we may see some of that sort of stored up trouble … we know that at least a quarter of renters did lose income,” he said.

Rachel Ong ViforJ, Professor of Economics at Curtain University, said she would like to see rental reform for longer-term change, including increasing the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and making sure it was better targeted to those who need it.

“Another major issue has to do with tenure security within the private rental sector,” Professor Ong ViforJ said.

“More Australians are renting, including older Australians. However, Australia’s private rental sector is lightly regulated and landlords are allowed ‘without-grounds’ lease termination.

“If the government can implement policy reforms that would make home ownership more affordable, that would also free up some rental properties as some renters became homebuyers.”

Subsidise home buying, like Singapore?

Economist Cameron Murray said there was little political will to act to decrease housing prices, particularly among households that use property as investment.

“The political reality is that we want higher and rising house prices, it’s a political winner and doing something to stop that is political suicide,” he said.

“Australian housing is worth about $7 trillion and a policy that effectively reduced the price of housing, even 20 per cent would wipe off $1.5 trillion of value from those 70 per cent of households who own their own home.”

Dr Murray said in the next 20 or so years as the Baby Boomer generation died, more houses would be moved through the market as inheritances were divided and sold, but that would not be leaving everyone with a house.

Increasing stock in social housing should be part of a national housing policy, said Professor Pawson, who pointed out that Australia’s social housing numbers had remained stagnant over the years despite a growing population, meaning its capacity to house those in need had reduced over the years.

Professors Stone and ViforJ agreed that increasing social housing stock was needed to help those most in need of secure housing, but Dr Murray said perhaps Australia should rethink its whole approach to subsidising housing.

He pointed to Singapore where about 80 per cent of the population was able to buy a subsidised home through the government.

“To me, Singapore’s public housing model is probably one of the best interventions,” Dr Murray said.

“It’s essentially a public, subsidised doorway to get into the market.”

Without change, inequality will grow

House prices and rising rents are a major problem if you are a renter who can’t afford to buy a house, but are probably not your concern if you own property.

However, all four experts warn that if we let housing inequality continue to grow unabated, it will affect everyone.

“A continual upward trend in house prices that outstrip wage growth should be a concern for homeowners, especially those carrying a mortgage,” Professor ViforJ said.

“Highly indebted homeowners are more likely to fall behind on mortgage payments if they were, to say, become unemployed or go through a period of financial difficulty.”

Professor Stone said if the federal government did not do more to balance the housing market, Australia would have an “increasing pool of losers and a smaller, wealthier group of property winners”.

“Without intervention we will see an increase in homelessness.

“We know that an unequal society with a high degree of economic polarisation is going to undermine our economy in the longer term.”

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The Australian property market is booming but the gains are based on ‘massive’ debts | Housing



The Australian housing market is going gangbusters and all the signs are the boom is here to stay.

When property data firm CoreLogic tracked 1,191 auctions last weekend, it found 86.1 per cent of properties that went under the hammer sold, a 2.3 per cent increase on the week before.

The company’s head of research, Tim Lawless, says it is a result not seen since 2015.

“When auction clearance rates are high, you expect house prices to be rising and vice-versa,” Lawless said. “At the moment we’re seeing clearance rates well above 80 per cent. The last time we saw the same was in 2015, but you have to go back a decade to see auction markets as strong as this.”

House prices continued to grow strongly through January with CoreLogic’s Home Value Index recording price growth of 0.9 per cent nationally and regional areas growing at rates double that recorded in cities.

Nerida Corisbee, chief economist at global real estate company REA Group, said the situation was driven by a combination of cheap money, a high savings rate among those who held onto a job through 2020, a receding pandemic and an exodus from densely populated cities into regional areas.

“You’re watching a realignment as people work out where they want to live and where they want to be employed,” Corisbee said.

“The recession we saw with the pandemic is not quite like what we’ve seen elsewhere in the GFC where it was finance-led. What that’s meant for property is there’s no shortage of money. Interest rates are at incredible lows and those who had jobs were forced to save during rounds of lockdowns.”

However, while property values in regional areas like south Queensland and northern New South Wales have been growing, Corisbee said units and apartments in city areas have remained flat thanks to lower migration.

“When you have a look across Australia, you’re seeing price growth everywhere, but at a suburban level, particularly those closer to universities, rents have dropped and values have dropped,” she said.

The activity comes off record low interest rates of 0.1 per cent, a situation the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) expects to hold until 2024.

RBA governor Philip Lowe shrugged off any concerns that the country may be facing the start of a new housing bubble earlier this month, saying the growth was good news for an economy recovering in the wake of the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of focus at the moment on the fact that housing prices are rising again, and the stock market has been strong,” Lowe said. “Well, the national house price index today is where it was four years ago … and the equity market, we’re back to where we were at the beginning of last year.”

Other key factors include the government’s pandemic response plan.

To date, around 82,000 homeowners have subscribed to the homebuilder scheme at a cost of $2 billion, while other initiatives like the cash-flow boost program directly injected sums up to $100,000 into small-to-medium businesses earning less than $50m a year.

Prof Hal Pawson from the University of New South Wales said this “cheap money” has been a big driver in the recent price spike – and one that may prove disadvantageous to renters and those living in regional areas.

“Cheap money is the most important thing by far,” Pawson said.

“It’s the ability to take out $150,000 more on a mortgage than you could have had a year ago on the same salary. The concern about this is that, for lower income earners in regional locations, they’re going to be put under pressure as the result of these changes and it doesn’t flow through [to renters] immediately.”

The federal government is looking to boost the situation further by winding back responsible lending laws, Martin North, the principal of Digital Finance Analytics, said. The gains were not without risk as they relied on the “massive” creation of new debts, he added.

“Scott Morrison said three years ago he wouldn’t let prices drop and that is proving to be true, but we’re building these rises off the back of massive debts.

“Banks are lending six or seven times average incomes. They’re doing what they were doing before the royal commission. This is an unsustainable and a highly risky extension when we should be investing in more sustainable or longer-term solutions.”

Dr Cameron Murray, a post-doctoral fellow at the Henry Halloran Trust at the University of Sydney, said what is happening in Australia has to be seen in a global context.

Even without the pandemic, he says, the world is experiencing a global housing boom, while central banks everywhere have come to view the housing market – and the associated consumer spending – as a key plank of their economies.

“Our macro-stabilisation policy works by juicing house prices,” Murray said.

“This is a policy most central banks have adopted. Secondly, we’re just at that point in the cycle. The best parallel to the situation now is 2004. I think we’re in a very similar phase right now. Sydney boomed early, then it tapered off. Then the rest of the country shot up for four years in line with the broad global house price cycle.

“The economy runs in cycles and a lot of regional Australia hasn’t been through that boom cycle. Now it’s their turn.”

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Iron ore and charged-up housing market adds even more cash to state coffers


The ongoing operation of the mining sector was crucial to the state’s strong finances in the face of the pandemic. Every US$1 per tonne movement in the iron ore over a year moved the state’s royalty income by about $81 million, which means the state coffers will receive $2.08 billion more in royalties than expected just three months ago.

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The boost means 27 per cent of government revenue will come from iron ore royalties this financial year, compared to an average of 18 per cent over the past decade.

Taxation revenue is up $276 million thanks to a stronger real estate market and GST grants have increased $152 million thanks to consumer spending performing better than expected across the whole nation.

General government revenue was now expected to grow by 13.9 per cent more than estimated during the mid-year review but spending has also increased by $850 million.

A large part of that increase can be attributed to housing stimulus measures including the home building stimulus, which was revised up $178 million from December. The first home owners grant was also revised up $41 million.

The state government has also delayed dividend payouts from government trading enterprises to next year, which postponed $1.5 billion of revenue from 2020-21 into 2021-22.

The statement paints a rosier picture for the state’s ballooning debt and operating surpluses over the forward estimates.

Net debt is expected to reach a forecast $40.2 billion by 2024, $1.2 billion lower than forecast in the mid-year review.

The state is expected to record operating surpluses between $1.5 billion to $2.2 billion forecast over the remainder of the forward estimates period.

Under Treasurer Michael Barnes said despite the five-day lockdown and increased risk associated with ongoing restrictions to contain COVID-19, WA’s economic outlook was largely unchanged from the mid-year review, though Treasury had revised its unemployment estimates from 7 per cent to 6.5 per cent over 2020-21.

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The state government will not funnel the bigger surplus into support packages for small businesses as demanded by opposition leader Zak Kirkup over the weekend.

Instead, the government will pump it into its COVID-19 recovery infrastructure program.

“The McGowan Labor Government has allocated every dollar of the strong net operating surpluses to its record infrastructure program, reducing the need for additional borrowings,” WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt.

The state flagged there would be increased costs related to the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program from the end of this month.

So far, the Department of Health has spent $5 million to purchase an additional 1.2 million reusable masks and $1.5 million to develop, manufacture and install touchless hand sanitiser dispenser units in high-traffic public spaces across WA.

The government has also allocated $25 million over 2020-21 and 2021-22 for additional destination marketing to attract domestic and international visitors when COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased.

Treasury is required to publish the pre-election statement within 10 days of the dissolution of the legislative assembly, which occurred on January 29 ahead of the March 13 election.

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Queensland housing under pressure in regions due to interstate migration, remote work and returning Aussies


High rental demand and property prices are music to the ears of landlords and property owners, but if you are looking for a place to live in Queensland at the moment, there is a good chance you are struggling to find what you are after.

The Real Estate Institute of Queensland reported that for the December quarter, 90 per cent of regional Queensland dipped to a new record low of just 0.575 per cent rental vacancy.

That means for every 10,000 rental properties, just 57 were available — and coastal parts of Queensland continued to report strong sales figures.

Professor Shaun Bond, from the University of Queensland Business School, said the housing pressure was driven by record interstate migration, the adoption of remote work arrangements and the return of hundreds of thousands of Australian expatriates.

Interstate migration 90pc above decade average

Heather Robertson moved to Cairns from Melbourne between lockdowns last year for the tropical lifestyle and reduced traffic of Far North Queensland.

“I actually visited Cairns two or three years ago on a holiday and as soon as I came here it just felt like home,” she said.

“I actually wanted to move in February/March last year, and I was a few days away from leaving for my road trip to come up here and the borders shut so I had to delay my departure, so I was just waiting in Melbourne with the rest of the world, with the rest of Australia, to see what the COVID situation was going to do.”

Heather Robertson moved to Cairns for the lifestyle in June last year, but has found it too expensive to get her own rental in the Far North.(ABC News: Jemima Burt)

Ms Robertson finally moved in June, and sought to set up a healing business from her new home, but has found securing a property of her own to work from and live has been a challenge.

“I would love to live on my own, have my own two-bedroom place that I can work from and live in.

“Unfortunately that’s not a financial reality for me at the moment.”

A mass migration

Ms Robertson is one of many people who have decided to make the move north during the pandemic.

Research by Corelogic suggest more than 25,000 people have moved to Queensland during the past financial year, with the rate of interstate migration last year 90 per cent above the decade average.

Professor Bond said remote work arrangements have made it possible for people to move away, and that many are choosing regional Queensland.

“People started to think about where they wanted to be, and to some extent if you aren’t required to go into the office, it can be much nicer being in a coastal location, Cairns, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, rather than being stuck in inner city Melbourne in a small apartment,” he said.

“We’re seeing both in terms of infrastructure and supply of available properties, that’s put a lot of demand on the rental markets as well as the purchase markets.

“People are trying to buy properties, in fact one of the things that’s pushing rental prices up is that many landlords have chosen to sell because the market is so strong that they’ve chosen this opportunity to sell their property, that reduces the supply of rental properties available.”

‘A transformative time’

Professor Bond said there is great opportunity for the population boosts to improve services in regional areas.

“Will these regions have the amenities? And will they be able to increase their infrastructure to make it attractive for people to remain in these areas?” he said.

“There’s certainly the potential for extra business centres to develop around the state, and that could have a lasting impact if it sticks.

“This could be a very transformative time for regions.”

450,000 Aussies return during pandemic

Professor Bond said the other factor driving housing pressure was the number of Australians returning from overseas with the pandemic, and the small number leaving.

The Department of Foreign Affairs reports that more than 450,000 Australians returned since travel warnings were issued in March last year.

Business analyst Brad Thatcher moved to the United Kingdom 24 years ago and had been considering moving home some time, but the idea became a reality during the pandemic.

Mr Thatcher, his wife and two children sold up their home in Essex before flying home to Australia in November and entering hotel quarantine.

Since they arrived back in Australia, the family has been house hunting near Mr Thatcher’s family home on the Sunshine Coast and living with his sister in the meantime.

He said they had placed offers on multiple homes on the coast, but that none had been successful.

“Even when we were in quarantine we were looking at properties online, we were making some calls and it sort of became apparent that as soon as these properties were being listed, they were literally being sold and being taken off the market,” Mr Thatcher said.

“That’s the kind of things we’ve been having to deal with.”

‘Absurd’ growth

The family’s possessions are expected to be delivered on Tuesday, three months after they left the UK, but they do not have a home to put them in yet.

Last June, the REIQ reported “absurd” growth in the Sunshine Coast property market, with the median house price rising 1.7 per cent to $605,000, and similar growth is being seen on the Gold Coast.

Professor Bond said the Thatchers are likely competing against people in a similar position to themselves, given the number of returning Australians.

Professor Bond questioned, with the imminent rollout of vaccines across Australia, whether the boom would continue.

“At the moment, while everyone is comfortable with Zoom a lot of meetings are conducted online now but two years from now, will there be that pressure to be back sitting around the table with your colleagues?” he said.

“You don’t necessarily want to be the only one on the video call when everyone else is sitting around the conference room.”

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Shortage of public housing suitable for people with disabilities leaves people like Ethan in a ‘cruel’ situation


Watching Ethan Chatters trying to walk is painful.

The 12-year-old has a neurological illness that means his nerves are dying, along with an intellectual disability and a brain lesion.

His mother, Rachel McCallum, said his specialists want him to use his wheelchair and avoid walking, because the risk of injury and damage to his body and brain is increased by his falls.

“He’s had some really nasty falls — really nasty ones,” Ms McCallum said.

Ramps have been built outside the public housing home his family has lived in for the past 22 years.

But they end at the front door and his wheelchair is too big to be able to through the doorways and corridors inside.

He has to crawl to the bathroom, the toilet, and his bedroom.

“You’ve just got to help him in and he’s just got to aid himself along the furniture as best he can to get where he is going, which is not acceptable because he’s supposed to use his chair as much as he can and walk as little as he can.

“He follows a few safety rails that I’ve got but then you can’t put certain rails between certain spots, so he’s just got to walk a distance and that’s when most of the time he’ll fall because there’s nothing to grab.

“He crawls to the nearest point where he can pull himself up on.”

Rachel McCallum with her son Ethan Chatters have been waiting seven years for a wheelchair accessible house.(ABC News: Edith Bevin)

The home cannot be modified to widen the doorways for Ethan’s wheelchair.

‘Lost in the system’

Ms McCallum said they’ve been waiting for seven years for a new, disability-friendly, home.

Direct pleas to Housing Minister Roger Jaensch have made no difference.  

“Ethan has been lost in that system — he (Mr Jaensch) says there are no modified properties but where is his intention to build those modified properties?” Ms McCallum said.

She said the situation has reached crisis point — Ethan’s condition continues to deteriorate and he is now too big for her to be able to carry.

“Ethan is only going to get worse as well — he’s progressing at a rapid [rate] so this is not the way he’ll stay — he’ll get worse,” she said.

“Now he’s 12, it’s very hard to lift him up and in and out of the bath or his bedroom … it’s very hard … not when he could be using his chair everywhere and just being independent in his own little world.

“What he (the Housing Minister) doesn’t understand in this is my main concern is Ethan’s safety because one day he will fall and one day he may not get up.”

Thousands waiting for a home

New figures show there are close to 3,600 applications for public housing in Tasmania and people are waiting an average of 64 weeks for a home.

Around one-in-four Tasmanians live with a disability and it has been estimated that as many as one-in-three in the public housing system have a physical or mental disability.

“[We’ve had] Multiple OT (Occupational Therapist) reports, we’ve been to a lot of Parliament people, the Minister himself and still no answers,” Ms McCallum said.

“I actually don’t know what else I can do, it’s not just getting me frustrated it’s also getting the paediatricians, the hospitals, the OT, other parties frustrated as well because it’s multiple letters to them, one after another of this coming under the title ‘URGENT’ but still no action.”

“He (the  Housing Minister) needs to put himself in people like my shoes and he should be looking at the people like Ethan, who need houses that are modified and prioritize them first.”

Tasmanian Greens leader, Cassy O'Connor Greens wearing glasses, smiles.
Greens leader, Cassy O’Connor, says it’s unacceptable the family has been ‘languishing’ for seven years.(Supplied: Tasmanian Greens)

The leader of the Greens, Cassy O’Connor, described Ethan’s situation as “unacceptable”

“This is a family that has specific needs in order that one of the children in that household can live a good life,” Ms O’Connor said.

“It’s not much to ask for a Tasmanian family that’s living in public housing where the needs of that family have clearly changed and is becoming desperate, that the government find a new home.

Ms O’Connor, who had the Housing portfolio during the last Labor/Green government, said there were things the Housing Minister could do and that leaving the family in this situation was a choice.

“It’s very difficult to understand how someone in Housing Tasmania or the Minister’s office didn’t see this and think ‘this family is in desperate need and we will take action to provide a home’,” Ms O’Connor said.

“This is all entirely possible. I know this because I was housing minister for four years and when you see a family that’s in desperate need … you can make a decision to provide relief to that family and give them some dignity.

“But this is a choice that has clearly been made to leave this family languishing and in Tasmania in 2021 it is unacceptable.”

Labor’s spokesperson on Housing, Alison Standen, said: “The question that we need to ask is why hasn’t this Government been prepared to respond to the needs of this family sooner?

“That situation has been deteriorating for a number of years … the situation has been known to Government for at least seven years,” she said.

Ms Standen called for an audit of existing housing to see how much of it was disability compliant and whether it and future builds are disability complaint.

Woman sits in front of a window
The government needs to audit disability-suitable housing says Alison Standen, Labor’s Housing spokesperson.(ABC News)

“Clearly this Government has a lot of work to do to improve the social housing waitlist in this State — 3,600 people nearly, this is families, who are waiting to be housed — a very significant proportion of those living with disability.

“I asked the question at the end of last year in the Tasmanian parliament about whether the Government is living up to its promise to deliver at least 20 per cent of new social housing as being accessible to people with a disability. I’m still waiting for an answer to that question.”

The Government says it can’t comment on individual cases.

A spokesperson said Tasmania’s social housing portfolio included properties designed for people living with disabilities, and social housing providers also assess requests for property modifications.

“However, not all properties are able to be modified to meet specific needs and the needs of some households change over time, requiring the tenant to apply for a transfer,” the spokesperson said.

“Under the Affordable Housing Strategy Action Plan 2, $20 million is dedicated over three years to provide more homes suitable for people with disability.”

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Home loans surge in Australia as owner-occupiers borrow $20bn in December | Housing


Home loans continue to grow at a record pace, driven by enthusiastic demand from first-time buyers even as housing prices hit new highs in the first weeks of 2021.

The risk of an overheating housing market may raise concerns for the Reserve Bank of Australia down the track.

But economists do not expect it will be making any short-term changes to monetary policy when its board meets for the first time this year on Tuesday.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the value of new owner-occupier home loan commitments surged by 8.7% to $19.9bn in December, 38.9% higher than a year earlier.

The number of owner-occupier first-home buyer loans rose by 9.3%, a 56.6% rise since December 2019.

“Federal and state government measures, such as homebuilder, and historically low interest rates are supporting ongoing growth in housing loan commitments,” the ABS head of finance and wealth, Amanda Seneviratne, said.

Demand for mortgages from first-home buyers is now at its highest level since June 2009, when similar rapid growth was triggered by the temporary tripling of a first-home owner grant to help combat the global financial crisis.

Separate figures show house prices across the nation rose by a further 0.9% in January and now stand 0.7% above the previous September 2017 peak.

Regional property values grew at twice the pace of capital city housing markets, with the divergence more notable in Sydney and Melbourne, which are suffering from the lack of overseas migration.

“Better housing affordability, an opportunity for a lifestyle upgrade and lower density housing options are other factors that might be contributing to this trend, along with the newfound popularity of remote working arrangements,” the CoreLogic research director, Tim Lawless, said.

AMP Capital’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, believes the reserve bank may start feeling a bit uneasy about the pace of the rebound in lending commitments and house prices.

“At the very least, it would make sense for home borrower incentives to be wound back in the months ahead and not extended,” Oliver said.

“It will likely remain premature for the RBA to start raising interest rates … given continuing uncertainty and spare capacity regarding the wider economy.”

Monday’s data releases are another sign of Australia’s rapid recovery from last year’s recession, according to the prime minister.

“The economy is already on the way back and betters the experience of most advanced nations in the world today,” Scott Morrison told the National Press Club.

“Australians are now voting with their feet to join the economic recovery,” he added, referring to the unexpected drop in the jobless rate to 6.6%.

But the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said the PM missed the opportunity to set out what he would do for the two million Australians who cannot find a job or find sufficient hours of work.

New job advertising figures suggest further employment gains in the first half of 2021 are likely.

The ANZ jobs ads series rose by 2.3% in January, the eighth consecutive monthly increase, and are now at their highest level since April 2019.

At the same time, manufacturers have used the usually quiet year-end holiday period to make up for the business lost over 2020 during the recession.

The Australian Industry Group performance of manufacturing index increased by 3.2 points over the past two months to 55.3 points, indicating the sector is expanding.

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Australian housing market to experience ‘up crash’ on back of homebuilder mini-boom – investment bank | Housing


Australia’s housing market is set for an “up crash” as the government’s homebuilder subsidy scheme prompts a spike in construction that will rapidly fall away, investment bank UBS says.

George Tharenou, the chief economist at UBS in Australia, said due to the homebuilder spending spree he had increased his estimate of the number of houses that would be built in 2021 from 185,000 to 230,000 – well above the 175,000 level predicted by other economists.

House prices are likely to rise by 5-10%, but there was now a chance they would soar more than 10%, “particularly given the planned repeal of responsible lending” rules, Tharenou said in a note to clients.

The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has billed the planned repeal of the laws, which require banks to check whether customers can afford to repay loans, as a way to kickstart economic growth, but consumer groups worry it will lead people to borrow too much money.

As a result of the housing spike, Tharenou said he now thought economic growth this year would also be slightly stronger at 4.3% compared to his previous estimate of 4.2%.

However, Tharenou expects new home starts will begin to fall away after the homebuilder program ends in the second half of the year, tumbling to 160,000 in 2022. He has cut his estimate of economic growth for 2022 to a “still strong” 4%.

After a slow start, applications for payments of $25,000 available under the homebuilder scheme rocketed in the last weeks of 2020, tripling the size of the total program to more than $2bn.

Tharenou said he expected a further flood of applications for payments of $15,000 that are available until the end of March.

“Given commencement must occur within six months of contract signing, this will lead to a surge in (mainly detached) construction,” he said.

He said stronger growth increased the chance that the Reserve Bank of Australia would not extend a program of quantitative easing, or buying government bonds from banks, that it announced in November to support the economy.

This was especially true “if the surge in activity is accompanied by a sharper decline in unemployment”.

“That said, the impact of this housing boom on inflation is complicated,” he said. “Furthermore, as first home buyers move out of rentals into new/completed homes over the next year or so, there is potential oversupply that will cause further declines in rents, unless migration rebounds strongly,” he said.

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Victoria plans for international students’ return with special quarantine housing | Australian universities


The Victorian state government is hoping to bring international students back into the state in 2021, as student advocates say they are happy to pay for quarantine and accommodation in a similar set-up to the 1,200 people allowed in for the Australian Open.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the premier, Daniel Andrews, said the state was “working closely” with the federal government to bring international students back into Victoria, where they contribute $13.7bn a year to the state’s economy.

Despite the national cabinet announcing earlier in the month that arrival caps would be reduced, the Australian newspaper has reported that a potential plan to bring in students will be discussed at a meeting of the national cabinet on 5 February.

While the Victorian government has not shared any details of how many students it hopes to bring in, or how they would be quarantined, Phil Honeywood, the CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, said students and universities were willing to pay.

“We put to the Victorian government a plan for separate quarantine in purpose-built student accommodation,” Honeywood told Guardian Australia. “We wouldn’t take up any hotel beds. The international students and the education providers would pay. The taxpayer wouldn’t pay anything.”

Honeywood said Victoria had agreed to allow tennis players in for the Australian Open, and the federal government had allowed cricketers in – but that international students posed less of a virus risk, and contributed more to the economy over more years.

“While the sector understands the need for Australian citizens to be given priority, what we find hard to understand is 1,200 tennis players including their entourages, hundreds of cricket players and their entourages, and thousands of military personnel invited for training purposes have been able to come in,” he said.

“Those professional sportspeople are only here for three weeks. They have got much more [Covid] safety issues attached to them, compared to international students who are here for three to four years.”

Under the arrangements for the Australian Open, Victoria opened up three new hotels for quarantining tennis players and associated people, paid for by Tennis Australia. And in November, some international students returned to the Northern Territory and quarantined in the Howard Springs former mining camp after the territory government struck a deal with the federal government.

“The frustration is the Northern Territory government were able to prove it can be done,” Honeywood said. “They brought 63 returning international students from five different countries into Darwin in November. None of them had Covid. All of them went straight from the airport to quarantine and they have been happily studying at Charles Darwin University.”

Honeywood welcomed the Victorian government’s plan to bring students back, but said the federal and state governments needed to provide a “logistical or definite plan”.

“We have a virtual game of pass the parcel between different levels of government,” he said.

“When we speak to the federal government about border openings and pilot programs, they tell us to speak to the state government. State government tells us to speak to federal – because they control [the Australian] border force. The national cabinet’s decision only a week ago to cut the number of international arrivals by half clearly has not assisted our sector, our industry.”

The South Australian government had also arranged a program to bring in 300 international students in November, which was put on hold when the state had its short-lived second Covid wave.

Honeywood said the South Australian government had indicated that the students could be brought back in February but “there has been no announcement made by the state government”.

“In Victoria, apart from the headline in the Australian, the premier hasn’t given any indicative date or information. They haven’t indicated to us how many students they take in, or when. We are hoping it is not another state government giving a nod in our direction and not backing it up with any logistical or definite plan.”

According to the Victorian government, international students brought in $13.7bn for the state in 2019 and supported 79,000 jobs.

In 2019, the state had 250,000 international students, but that number halved to 120,000 due to the border closures brought on by the pandemic.

Honeywood said letting international students back into the country would have a multiplier effect on the country’s economy.

“According to government figures, 240,000 Australians work in the international education industry,” he said. “These are not just teaching jobs; they include people who work in student accommodation, in marketing and student support services. Already we have seen thousands of these jobs made redundant.

“Semester one is our main intake. If we don’t have any intake of any remaining students, it’s estimated to be an $8bn hit to the national economy, over the year.”

A spokesman for Andrews said: “The Victorian government is working closely with education providers and the Australian government to welcome international students back to Victoria when it is safe to do so.

“We will follow all protocols and preconditions set by the Australian government and adhere to the public health advice and directions set by the Victorian chief health officer.”

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