David Imber, Policy and Liaison Worker, Tenants Union of Victoria, writes: Re: “Young first home buyers left out in the cold” (yesterday, item 16). It’s great to see the HIA through its economist Harley Dale respond in Crikey to the growing evidence of a housing affordability crisis. Unfortunately, while he makes some good points, he can’t help but muddy the waters by repeating his industry’s mantra that land supply and State Government taxes along with rising interest rates are responsible for locking first home buyers out of the market. In Victoria at least there is a 25 year supply of land for residential development. The lowest vacancy rates for rental properties however yet are in the inner 10- 15 km of the city and even the Real Estate Institute of Victoria has admitted that prices on the fringes of Melbourne are soft. So unless there is a secret pocket of land ripe for development within the inner suburbs I hardly think that argument holds up. Further the assertions about state taxes and land supply are all self serving. Of course the housing industry wants its costs to be lowered but where does it ever pledge to ensure those cost reductions aren’t simply added to the bottom line of developers? The HIA has done more than most in its industry to engage with the non Government sector to lobby for a new focus on affordability at the federal level. It should focus more of its energy on that process than on spurious arguments like land supply.

Peter Lloyd writes: Please Crikey, if you are going to discuss the paucity of affordable housing for those buying their first home, then please be rigorous in shooting down any proposals that in fact favour investors rather than owner-occupiers. The Real Estate Institute in particular, though also other interested bodies, constantly hide behind the locked out young wage earners while lobbying for the absentee landlords. I managed to get a home by waiting until I was 35, working two jobs for 18 months, and by buying a modest home in a regional area. In this situation, one competes mainly with investors looking to add to their portfolio, but the first-home buyers with wealthy parents are also a major group. C’est la vie. Housing investment is lame in any case- investors should be putting their money into business and other activities that drive the country forward. Bricks and mortar are safe, but investors have no right to the massive returns we’ve seen… and for every first home buyer who can’t get in, there is another Australian walking away with a motza because they got there first. This doesn’t make them bad, but the point should be made.

Adam Gall writes: I’ve got to commend Harley Dale’s piece yesterday for outlining some of the real factors involved for young want-to-be-home-owners. I’m currently occupying that age bracket (18-24) and there is no realistic way in which my partner and I can purchase an apartment, even on two incomes. Frankly, I don’t hate myself or my partner enough to forsake our small luxuries in order to grasp at something that is not remotely affordable. There are, of course, other factors not mentioned by Dale, particularly a decline in income security thanks to casualisation. (I won’t speculate here on the degree to which WorkChoices may affect that security in future, but it might be worth thinking about as well.) These real, material conditions are often glossed by commentators as immaturity or generational differences. So thanks to Dale for some honest, factual comment.

Bill Watson writes: I guess I’m feeling like an old fogey, but I’m gobsmacked by Harley Dale’s concern about 21-year-olds not being able to afford a 350k house. A quick search of the web tells me that the HIA 21-year-old can buy a house/unit in all capital cities with the exception of Perth for around 200k. Sure the suburb might not be Mosman, South Yarra, Peppermint Grove but isn’t the issue that our HIA 21-year-old may be setting his/her sights just a little to high in the first instance? Or is that the HIA’s concern is not so much with the 21 year old, but their members’ needs for green field developments?

Rod Metcalfe writes: In both articles referring to housing affordability on Monday 15 Jan, the effect of young couples with large HECs liabilities seems to have been overlooked. Not only does it cut back the capacity to save a deposit but it also limits repayment ability.

Stephen Bolton writes: Given that Australia’s population has not grown exponentially over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of high density housing complexes and massive new housing developments, surely there must be more supply than demand in the housing industry. It seems rather paradoxical that all major cities have seen massive new housing development and prices just keep on creeping up because of lack of supply. It creates a rather dangerous predicament for the State and Federal Governments; as more people are priced out of the housing markets and rental prices continue to increase there must be considerable pressure placed on Government Housing.

Bruce Meagher, SBS Director for Strategy and Communications, writes: Re. “Revamped SBS News – altruism or spin?” (yesterday, item 13). At a time when some other news rooms are shrinking, SBS’s is expanding. We are proud of and excited about this fact. So it’s a pity Glenn Dyer doesn’t share our enthusiasm for the new SBS News Hour. While it is true that SBS has a relatively small news team, this is a product of our low level of funding, not lack of commitment to quality coverage. A major reason for growing our commercial revenue is to increase the size of that team and the scope of our coverage. Unlike the other networks (including the ABC) we have never sought to be a “local” news service. SBS is a national broadcaster with a focus on international stories and local news of a national character – often news that other stations will not carry but which fulfills our charter obligations to represent the diversity of Australian society. The new hour long news service will enhance our ability to cover more major stories and in greater depth. It will also provide opportunities to showcase aspects of Australia’s diverse society that even we have not been able cover in the past. The bulletin will be headed by two highly regarded senior journalists, Mary Kostakidis and Stan Grant and will maintain the quality of journalism that have made SBS News one of the most respected services in the country. Your sole subscriber is probably already an SBS News viewer, being a discriminating person. If not, I recommend that she or he tunes in next Monday at 6.30pm and gives the new service a go.

Daniel Ryan writes: AFR Access is editor Glenn Burge’s way of stemming the slide in the paper’s subscription base – and was four year’s in the making. Burge personally tried to convince several large corporates to abandon Factiva in favour of his new model, but really gave them no incentive to switch. With so many corporates now subscribing to Factiva for all their news content, Burge has been trying to stem the tide. But AFR Access simply is not up to scratch. My company is no longer subscribing to the AFR. We’ll get by just fine with Factiva, which meets our needs in a seamless and efficient manner.

Rosemary Swift writes: Re. Gongs. I can only agree, Ange Kenos (yesterday, comments). My father was awarded an OAM 18 months ago, recognising his more than 50 years of contributing to our small local community, particularly the bushfire brigade and volunteer rescue association. By all means encourage people to nominate people who deserve this recognition, but don’t be surprised if it takes a while – in Dad’s case there was a gap of some years between the lodgement of the nomination and the eventual award. It is always interesting to see how many people receive awards for very recent achievements – it does seem that there’s one lot of rules for some and another for the rest of us.

Sasha Marker writes: I have recently noticed a lot of negative comment from “Liberal sources”, “friends” of Liberal party figures, News Ltd newspapers, all trying to paint Malcolm Fraser in a bad light. Mr. Fraser has polarised opinion throughout his long public career and into his retirement and regardless of what people think about him personally or politically, thank god he still has a mind of his own and isn’t afraid to use it. In recent years he has made comments on subjects such as immigration, refugees and indigenous issues, not all of which have not gone down well with some of the new (neo) conservative breed of politician which now inhabits the “Liberal” party. In “dealing” with Mr Fraser, the Liberal party seems to be indulging in some good old fashioned character assassination, to divert attention away from what he is actually saying. This is nothing new in politics but a personal opinion involving recollections of someone who has recently died and can no longer speak for themselves is a bit pathetic. If those in the “Liberal” party don’t like what Mr Fraser is saying, stand up in public and say so instead of hiding behind the opinion pages.

Mark Bahnisch writes: Ken Phillips in yesterday’s response (item 10) to my article on independent contractors in effect agrees that the political debate is muddled by inconsistent statistics. However, the Productivity Commission would seem to have a good reason for excluding those who employ others. While Phillips is correct to say their own conditions are governed by commercial contracts, they are also for all intents and purposes engaged in business through their role as employers. The debate about aspirational attitudes is to some degree a separate one, which would also benefit from more study and less political assertion, but I’d be very interested in whether Phillips has collected any stats on how many of the independent contractors he represents are unskilled and low paid.

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Peter Fray

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