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The housing market needs a long-term plan and a review of negative gearing

By Andrew Murray - posted Monday, 6 October 2003

It's time to look at the facts about negative gearing and the housing market. These are facts that perhaps Labor's Shadow Treasurer realised too, when he once said it is time negative gearing was subject to rigorous review.

It is a tax concession that costs more than $2 billion a year in lost revenue, more than $1.2 billion of that on rental properties alone.

It has contributed to distorted investment patterns, badly targeted housing investment, speculative overheating in the property market, high house prices and excessive rental costs.


It plays its part in contributing to high interest rates, high private-sector debt and our large current account deficit. As an investment activity it is driven by tax-levered debt, tax minimisation, capital gains arbitrage and profiteering.

Dreaming of big capital gains and various gearing schemes have fed over-investment in new units in our high-priced inner city markets and ignored the real need for affordable rental housing.

On the positive side negative gearing has contributed to jobs and activity in the residential construction sector, has grown our housing stock overall and is a profitable pursuit for large numbers of Australians. Residential housing contributes about three per cent to the economy.

The policy challenge is that tightening or prohibiting negative gearing will have to be adjusted for by other better-targeted policy measures, to avoid a hard landing. And it must affect investors prospectively, not retrospectively.

Capital gains tax, the First Home Owners Grant, stamp duties, how to provide for low-income housing stock and an affordable housing policy, all have to be part of the review.

Negative gearing is a practice severely constrained or banned in the Unites States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the developed world, (although many of these countries do provide tax relief on home mortgages, which Australia does not).


Crean's reaction to suggested review of the negative gearing regime was instinctive - to curl himself up in to a small ball and wish it would all go away. Costello's reaction was equally instinctive - to drive in a political wedge. But it can't go on - the policy must be reviewed, otherwise when (as is widely expected) the housing bubble bursts, there will be a reckoning.

The Reserve Bank of Australia is stuck between a rock and a hard place. RBA Governor Ian Macfarlane wants to take the pressure off the Australian dollar and exports but can't afford to give the beast that is the housing market even the slightest bit of slack.

Growth in housing prices is well above CPI and the market is seemingly irrepressible - 20.9 per cent growth in Sydney housing prices in the last year, 18 per cent growth nationally.

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About the Author

Senator Andrew Murray is Taxation and Workplace Relations Spokesperson for the Australian Democrats and a Senator for Western Australia.

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