News from the front desk No 326 – On what inaction on housing has to do with the climate debate

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s appointment of former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens to advise on housing affordability, revealed on Wednesday, has some people scratching their heads.

This is a man who headed a body that in 2015 said there was a case for reviewing negative gearing in order to help potential owner-occupiers. Rumours are that similar statements by former planning minister Rob Stokes got him shafted into education.

Berejiklian, meanwhile, has resisted getting involved in a debate she says is a federal issue. She, alongside new planning minister Anthony Roberts, have been out pushing increased supply as the best option to deal with the housing affordability crisis – much to the delight of the development lobbies.

It’s no wonder. It’s a line they’ve repeated ad nauseam to the point that it’s now been taken up as fact by Liberals at both state and federal levels.

An article published this week by Peter Phibbs and Nicole Gurran in The Conversation has taken a look at such statements, and found little evidence that increasing supply alone will have any effect on affordability (and in some cases can even increase prices).

The default position for politicians, they said, was to sound concerned about housing affordability, but to do nothing. This, they’ve argued, is because of “policy capture”, whereby special interest groups – here, property lobbies – have a disproportionate influence on public policy, thanks to efforts to frame information and shift debates in their favour, lobbying, financial donations and direct political action.

So private interest trumps public interest. Or perhaps it’s more that private interest gets dressed up as the public interest, and many fail to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Meanwhile solutions that would benefit the many are dressed up as bogeymen.

The power of some lobby groups means that governments are frightened to even mention policy solutions that would go against the interests of these groups. Remember the mining tax, the pokies reforms. With the conservative side of politics well and truly captured, negative gearing seems destined to join the pile of failed policy reforms, at least for the next few years.

At the federal level, the power of the property lobbies is so great that changes such as reducing capital gains tax concessions can be floated one day before being ruled out completely the next.

Kinda reminds us of when the Coalition was going to look at an Emissions Intensity Scheme before almost immediately backflipping and ruling it out.

Indeed, over the past few weeks it’s become increasingly obvious that policy capture also affects energy and climate, though no one predicted the federal Coalition would go so far as to fawn over actual lumps of coal in parliament. I mean we already knew, but really?

So you can have articles such as the one we published by engineer Graham Davies, saying that renewables were not only an environmentally sensible solution for our electricity grid, but a cost-effective and reliable one.

And then you can have federal government ministers talking about how coal can help us reach our environmental targets, and how the Clean Energy Finance Corporation may have to throw money at subsidising “clean coal” technology, a term straight out of the coal lobby phrasebook – even though there’s ample evidence such “technology” is an expensive sham.

Add to this the prime minister of Australia attacking renewables for the South Australian blackouts, even as we find out he had advice that they had no role in the blackout. The constant repetition that they did continues to this day. Repeat ad nauseam until it’s fact, remember.

So in the face of policy capture in a number of areas, we need to be extra vigilant in ripping off the wool that vested interests wrap around themselves in order to make their ideas seem to be in the public interest. Sure, sometimes these interests will align with the greater good, but where they don’t let’s make an effort to call out self-interest for what it is.

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One Response to “News from the front desk No 326 – On what inaction on housing has to do with the climate debate”

  • Joan Day says:

    Why do the media, planners, politicians and councils ignore the fact that light coloured roofs provide huge thermal comfort to affordable living? The higher performance level reduces the need for expensive air conditioners and saves hugely on energy costs, greenhouse gas emissions and reduces UIHE. Renters will be be financially better off, healthier and have higher productivity. For developers, construction of a light roofed house will cost NIL in additional costs. Cool roofs are a very cost effective way to provide affordable housing especially in the outer suburbs, which have as described in the article very little space for trees or even any garden.

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