Justice Matters: Home, Not Just House

BY FR ANTHONY PERCY VG

POPE Leo XIII, elected in 1878, was the first truly modern pope.

He succeeded Pope Pius IX who was nicknamed “Pio No No” because he was opposed to all things modern.

Leo opened up the Church in five key areas: theology, history, biblical studies, politics and economics. A truly remarkable man. Leo demonstrated that “unless we change we cannot conserve.”

His teaching called Rerum Novarum (1891) set the scene for modern social Catholic thought. It dealt with culture, economics and politics.

It confronted the challenges of the industrial revolution and the socialist solution.

By defending the right to private property and its orientation towards the common good, he advanced modern society and defended it against the scourge of socialism.

Our experience of socialism in the 20th Century suggests that his teaching was prophetic.

Popes since have insisted on the necessity of the right to private property and thus access to affordable housing.

They have unanimously argued that without this right, society descends into poverty and chaos.

In Australia, housing affordability was at its best in the Menzies era, when in the late 1950’s it took just below four years of average yearly income to buy a house.

In 2018, all of the state capital cities in Australia are in the thirty worst cities for housing affordability in the world. In Sydney, for instance, it takes almost 14 times the yearly median income to buy a median priced house.

Why has this happened? Australia is a country, continent and island. We have huge tracts of land. Much of it is uninhabitable, but technology may change this in time.

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Even so, we have land that can and should be inhabited now. The land is either publicly or privately owned.

Governments can certainly effect change by changing the purpose of land, thus increasing supply which will help to reduce pressure on prices. Prudence and courage is required.

Governments will have to overcome their appetite for stamp duty!

Fast trains between state capitals and regional cities would be more than helpful.

With Australia’s population increasing by 400,000 each year – expected to be 50 million by 2050 – this would seem an eminently sensible proposition.

Easy, quick access between capital and provincial cities and regions is critical to achieving significant decentralisation and easing pressure on the capital cities.

What about demand? A number of government policies could be adjusted. It won’t be long before higher interest rates are with us, as they should be.

When money is cheap, dislocation in investment occurs. The US 10 year bond rate is now on the rise, so get ready for some needed “haircuts.”

Australia is an economy that relies heavily on overseas capital to facilitate investment. It is true that some overseas money has contributed to higher property prices.

Both Federal and State governments have measures in place now to calm speculation in property.

A complete review and overhaul of our inefficient tax system and the burden of excessive regulation is certainly in order.

As part of the mix, it must be asked whether it is a good idea to have the family home totally exempt from capital gains tax.

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The exemption has the unintended consequence of making the family home a very attractive investment opportunity, thereby driving up prices.

But our houses are more than investments. They are our homes.

They are places of shelter, warmth, communion, love, laughter, sorrow, celebration and community.

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