Housing, Property Politics and Planning in Australia

Australia’s efforts and policy debates around housing supply, affordability and the impacts of planning regulation, provide an interesting ‘real world’ example of the more theoretical debates about relationships between planning and the housing market, introduced in the first section of this book. Australia’s housing story is also inherently political, with the politics of home ownership and housing-related wealth jostling against the powerful interests of land developers, arguably to the detriment of lower-income renters. A climate of community hostility to socially mixed developments and developer opposition to affordable housing requirements have frustrated attempts to secure affordable housing through the planning process, whilst the national policy debate has focussed on perceived regulatory barriers to housing supply.

The following sections of this chapter chart this evolving policy and political context for urban planning and housing provision in Australia. The focus is on a shifting dialectic between government attempts to regulate urban development whilst supporting the private housing market. Four key policy episodes are highlighted in the first section of the chapter (summarised in Table 9.1). These are early settlement and land and © The Author(s) 2017

N. Gurran, G. Bramley, Urban Planning and the Housing Market, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-46403-3_9

Table 9.1 Timeline of key episodes in the evolution of Australia's housing and urban planning systems


Policy episodes

Early colonisation

  • 1788-1830s
  • 1840s

Colonial order, property speculation and city building

First town plans, including minimum lot sizes and street widths (but often ignored)

Building societies introduced—finance for home ownership


Rail lines in Melbourne, Sydney, enabled suburbanisation, rapid urbanisation and speculative land/housing development


Public health and sanitation laws to introduce building standards


Housing market crash


  • 1970s
  • 1912-1915

Urban reform and an absolute duty to interfere

Concerns about slum housing, interest in modern town planning movement

First public housing estate (Dacey Gardens, NSW)


State housing authorities established, low-cost rental housing; some low-cost home loans


Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA)— Commonwealth loans to the states for public housing, the requirement for states to undertake slum clearance and introduce modern town planning laws


Increasing emphasis on home ownership, public housing tenants can purchase dwellings Growing reliance on 'self-build'—owner builders constructing or commissioning their own home directly


Commonwealth urban and regional development initiatives, particularly infrastructure for growth Commonwealth Land Commission Programme


Committee of Inquiry into Housing Costs—finds that planning system is creating regulatory barriers to housing development

Increased targeting of public housing


Rise of environmentalism, urban consolidation agenda, era of neoliberal reform


Deregulation of home finance, followed by rapid interest rate increases

Fiscal crisis in government, reduced spending on urban infrastructure


Capital gains tax (1985), but not to family home Negative gearing (full tax deductability of expenses from investment properties, against whole income) confirmed Growing environmental agenda


Table 9.1 (continued)


Policy episodes

Early 1990s

Rise of urban consolidation, increasing inner city gentrification

Residualisation of public housing, reduced (real) funding for new social housing supply


Falling interest rates

Rising house prices (national housing boom 1996-2004) 50 % Capital Gains Tax discount (investment housing)


Concern over housing affordability and new supply


First Home Owner Grant (to offset effects of newly introduced Goods and Services Tax)


National Housing Supply Council (NHSC) established Housing Affordability Fund (2007-2012)


National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) 2008-2014


National Affordable Housing Agreement 2009 (replaced the CSHA)

Social Housing Initiative (Economic stimulus in response to GFC) (2009-2012)

Source: The authors

housing speculation; the post-Federation era of government intervention in housing provision; the twin movements of environmentalism and neoliberalism from the 1980s onwards; and, the re-emergence of national level concern over housing affordability from around the turn of the new millennium. The second section of this chapter outlines contemporary approaches to housing and urban policy, in part, through various inclusionary planning experiments. Potential lessons from the Australian experience in the light of the overarching housing challenges identified in Chap. 2 are highlighted in conclusion. This historically informed analysis suggests that contemporary approaches to urban planning and the housing market in Australia do reflect a certain path dependency in responding to the wider challenges to housing (rising inequality, demographic and environmental change and the structure of urban life) as discussed throughout this book.

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