Reject Dutton’s racism—migrants aren’t to blame for housing crisis

Liberal opposition leader Peter Dutton is blaming migrants for the housing crisis gripping Australia but it is rich Australian investors and the government that are to blame.

Dutton wants to reduce permanent migration by 150,000 across four years. This includes cutting the refugee intake by a third from 20,000 to 13,750. In his budget reply speech Dutton claimed this would free up 100,000 homes over five years and ease the housing crisis.

Dutton’s racism is given oxygen by Labor’s own claims that migration levels are impacting the cost of living.

Albanese and Labor have already been bragging that net migration is falling from 510,000 after the pandemic to 250,000 by 2025. This includes temporary migrants such as international students.

Albanese even attacked Dutton for having “more than 100,000 asylum-seekers claiming protection” during his time as Home Affairs Minister.

But the core driver of the housing crisis is not the number of migrants coming to Australia. It is government policies favouring wealthy investors and its refusal to build more public and social housing.

Overseas buyers

The Coalition wants “a two-year ban on foreign investors and temporary residents purchasing existing homes in Australia”.

It is laughable to suggest that foreign investors contribute to the housing crisis. As the Financial Review reports, “Foreign investors bought less than 1 per cent of residential property in Australia in 2020-2021, according to official figures.”

There were 588,176 sales of residential dwellings in Australia in 2020-21, with only 4355 to overseas buyers.

And as Finance Minister Katy Gallagher explained, foreign investors are already blocked from purchasing existing residential properties—they have to buy new houses.

A ban on foreign property buyers would have no effect on housing prices.

Dutton also took aim at international students and blamed them for rising rents.

Labor has already committed to a cap on international students but Dutton wants to go further and increase the visa application fee and punish students who change providers with higher fees.

Labor is already implementing harsher English language tests and “genuine student” tests on international students.

New research by SQM Research confirms that migrants and international students are not to blame for rising rents.

Between March 2020 and February 2022, when Australia’s borders were closed, weekly rents kept increasing—by $84 nationally. In the decade to March 2020 when the borders were open, weekly rents rose by just $69 nationally.

Maiy Azize, spokesperson for the housing campaign Everybody’s Home, explains how, “Governments have given handouts to investors, allowed unlimited rent increases, and stopped building homes for the people who need them.

“It’s a distraction to suggest that migrants are to blame.”

Real causes

Labor and Liberals both talk about “housing supply” as being the biggest barrier to creating enough housing.

But the biggest problem is that housing in Australia has become an investment plaything for the wealthy, so that ordinary workers are increasingly unable to afford a home and must pay extortionate rents to landlords.

Government policies have encouraged speculative investors to pour money into property, driving up housing prices. Negative gearing allows landlords who make a loss on their rental property to reduce their taxable income. And capital gains tax discounts allow landlords to keep more of the profits when they sell their property.

Treasury updated its estimates to project that the capital gains tax and negative gearing policies would cost the government $27.1 billion this year. The total will be half a trillion dollars over the next decade.

This money could be used to massively increase spending on public housing.

Another driver of the housing crisis is the decision of consecutive governments to refuse to provide sufficient public housing.

Public and social housing in Australia has decreased from 7 per cent of total housing in 1991 to 4 per cent today. France and England have public and social housing stocks of around 17 per cent, while in Austria they are 24 per cent.

Adding salt to the wound, property developers in Australia are refusing to build already approved housing projects because it is not yet profitable enough for them to do so.

Journalist Michael Pascoe has pointed out that in Queensland, for instance, there are five or six years of already approved projects that developers are sitting on.

The government should either force them to go ahead with the approved projects or build the homes themselves if they refuse.

The housing crisis is driven by government failures, not increases in migration.

We must fight against the racism of Dutton and Labor and demand that housing be provided to everyone, instead of being a boon for the rich.

By Luke Ottavi

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