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SELECT COMMITTEE ON HOUSING AFFORDABILITY IN AUSTRALIA
14/04/2008
Barriers to homeownership in Australia

CHAIR —Good afternoon. Thank you very much for attending the hearing today and for your submissions to the inquiry. I would like you to make brief opening statements, and then we will go to questions from the committee.

Ms Davis —I am happy to start. We will be providing a supplementary submission; however, it has to go through our management committee first, so it will be provided in the next day or so.

CHAIR —I understand.

Ms Davis —Gecko is the peak regional environment council for the Gold Coast. Our mission is to protect the natural environment and improve the sustainability of the built environment of the Gold Coast region. As such, we are very much involved with and continuously engaged in town planning matters, and development approval processes and the legislation that guides these. We have increased pressure on the release of land for housing affordability, which impacts on our natural areas. The legislation that is being brought in by the Queensland government to provide for more affordable housing is now overriding all of our restrictive legislation, including town planning provisions and the state’s own restrictive legislation, which protects vegetation of significance and waterways and which even guards local communities from contaminated land and natural hazards. So we are very concerned about this issue.

One of the key drivers of the housing crisis, we believe, is the continued rapid population growth in Australia, which is a continent of very low carrying capacity, and most of the development is around the edges of the continent because the majority of the continent is desert and does not support human life. So we are developing our housing in the very same area where a lot of the native species of Australia also live. We wanted to address the issue of this population growth because it is a factor that is impacting upon all aspects of our environment. The global population right now is 6.7 billion people, as you may know, and we are adding another 75 million people every year. Australia’s population right now is just over 21 million. However, Australia, as one of the 170 countries that attended the Cairo conference in 1994, agreed that we must limit population growth and stabilise the world’s population before it reaches eight billion. Right now we are on target to reach about nine to 12 billion by the middle of the century.

We are facing extremely rapid population growth globally; we are facing the issue of climate change, which will be driving some people out of where they currently live; we are facing climate change refugees; and we are facing the other crisis of peak oil. All of these things impact upon housing affordability. They impact upon the land that needs to be preserved in order to provide areas for our wildlife to go in the face of climate change. They also impact upon the areas that we have available for housing, such as our coastal plains and our outback areas, which are no longer liveable in many cases.

I will just briefly go over some of the recommendations that we will be putting in our submission. One is that the federal government should seek to stabilise Australia’s population in keeping with the ecological constraints of the land, its biodiversity imperatives, the environmental values of the land and its ability to support human populations. Part of this is that we provide the overseas aid to family planning that we promised through the 1994 Cairo conference; that we train our own skilled workers and that we cease poaching skilled workers from other countries; that we agree with the testimony by the Brisbane City Council that infrastructure development should be paid for by the consumer—by the developer—and we believe that infrastructure development should be limited. We also would recommend that there be no more land released for clearing for development, that all development sites be redeveloped sites and that housing be required to be not only affordable but accessible, sustainable and sensible to the biodiversity of the area in which it exists.

South-east Queensland, where we live, is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia. Simon Baltais has a presentation for you about the specifics of our region. I would like to hand over to Rose Adams, who is going to address some of the contentions of the development industry.

Mrs Adams —I am grateful for this opportunity to refute some of the claims that have been put out in the media. These are the repeated calls for more land releases and blaming the shortage of housing largely on three particular areas: government policy on land releases, high land taxes and other taxes, and government red tape.

We looked at a study by the AEC Group, commissioned by the Local Government Association of Queensland, into the reasons for housing affordability issues. We agree with their contention that enough land has been supplied to the housing market, but the take-up rate has lagged behind. This is repeated in the Brisbane City Council’s submission. Many of these points were just covered by Mr Papageorgiou, but we would like the opportunity to lend our support to their submission.

The study also found that increased taxes have only played a minor direct role in increasing housing costs. There has been a call for red tape to be reduced in an effort to speed up the approvals process. We are very concerned about this because a large part of the need for this close scrutiny and what they call red tape is the need to see that development applications are fully compliant with local, state and federal legislation, particularly as regards the presence of state or nationally significant native plants and animals. The system already, as it stands, overlooks environmental values time and again in granting approvals that result in the destruction of habitat and wildlife corridors. To reduce this scrutiny even further will undoubtedly speed up the decline of our natural systems.

The development lobby has even put forward suggestions that they fund additional assessment officers so that councils can fast-track approvals. This hasty process would not allow due consideration of all factors and might pressure councils into approvals that do not meet all criteria. This not only affects our environment and wildlife habitat but exposes future residents to dangers from unsuitable sites, such as land slip, weather related incidents, and there also can be a reduction of social amenity.

Calls in the media for greater land releases ignore the fact that it is affordable housing that is in demand, which is not being offered in areas such as the Gold Coast. The buy-up of traditional beachside shacks and modest 1950s dwellings for very high cost makeovers has seen the affordable housing market dwindle further. Combined with the closure of caravan parks—a traditional housing choice for many low-income earners—we see an increase in commuting time and cost for those workers who cannot afford homes near their places of work.

During the course of our investigations post our submission, it struck us that the issue of carbon offsets has not been addressed by most submitters, and that is a serious consideration. The Queensland government put out a draft paper in November 2007 on the offsets policy, which was designed to offset the residual impacts remaining after all practical measures have been undertaken to avoid and minimise damage to the environment. This cost would be borne up-front by developers who could not manage to contain environmental impacts, but that will be passed on to the housing owners. It is not yet a requirement—but all states in Australia are looking at it, and at the federal level—so, if it becomes mandated that we must have a carbon offsets policy to counteract the loss of bushland, that cost will add again to the cost of housing.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Baltais —I would like to table some further papers. If I leave them on the desk here, will that be fine?

CHAIR —Do you have a copy for the committee? Thank you.

Mr Baltais —To provide some background so that you understand that I have some knowledge on this matter, I am the secretary for the Queensland Conservation Council. I have a ministerial appointment to the Coastal Protection Advisory Council. I am also the president for Sustainable Population Australia, SEQ branch. I have also represented the community on town planning matters in the Planning and Environment Court on six or seven legal matters over the last two years, so I do have some background in planning and understand it to a fairly good extent.

I will just flick through this presentation because it is tabled. One of the issues we see that is driving housing affordability problems in south-east Queensland is the population growth. If you simply look at the current projections put out by PIFU, which is part of local government planning, we are well on track for four million by 2026. If you continue that trend using the rule of 70—which basically means that taking the annual growth rate and dividing it into 70 gives you the doubling rate—by 2056 south-east Queensland will have eight million and, by 2086, 16 million. That is on current projections. Really, we cannot sustain that sort of population growth.

What are the consequences? They are fairly obvious. We will lose something like 60,000 hectares of bushland and open space in south-east Queensland by 2026. If you look at CSIRO research, when you get down to your last 30 per cent of bushland you start to see mass extinction. We are already starting to see that with our iconic species. If you take the koala, for instance, it went from common to vulnerable in 2004, and some of the populations in south-east Queensland are now endangered. If you look at some of what local government is putting out at the moment—what they are pushing through their local growth management strategies and other local planning documents—a lot of what they raise, particularly the local politicians, is the issue of housing affordability. They have tried to soften up their development proposals and the expansion of urban development by using that phrase.

South-east Queensland, in comparison to Sydney and Melbourne, has only 15.5 per cent of its public open space fully protected, whereas Sydney, for example, has 42 per cent of its green space and Melbourne has 33 per cent of its green space in full protection. South-east Queensland is quite vulnerable to development. We have very little public open land that is protected for green space issues.

If you look at the indicators as far as what impact population growth is having on south-east Queensland, the Healthy Waterways report card gives us a fairly dismal report. The 2007 State of the environment report recently published by the state government shows that our waterways in south-east Queensland are declining. Moreton Bay continues to go backwards. The prime reason for that is clearing of vegetation, and the obvious candidate for that is urbanisation.

Water is a major issue. We are struggling to cope with population growth and yet we add more people. As for human health, the State of the environment report indicated that 13 per cent of the population of Queensland report having long-term mental health and behavioural problems. Noise complaints are increasing. This is all in the context of climate change. We are expected to take on greater population, yet here we have climate change, which means we are going to have fewer water resources and far greater impacts on our coastal environment. The tourism industry in this region is worth something like $10.5 billion. Key to that are our natural assets, and yet we are chopping into them through urbanisation.

I support what the Local Government Association of Queensland has been pointing out. Clearly, the development industry is withholding land. There is a 30 per cent shortfall between what council releases and what the development industry is actually letting go of. Certainly, they are making big profits. I do not see any penniless developers out there but I do see a lot of people who are trying to get into the market struggling to do so.

We are concerned about the Urban Land Development Authority Act. It overrides all environmental legislation. It has the ability to ride roughshod over any local planning schemes that have been developed in consultation with the public. We have had a recent example here where areas have been designated appropriate sites and they have actually added to them. So they have put in for a golf course to be included in one of these development areas. The concern is that these green space areas are now being targeted for housing affordability type developments. How much that actually assists people who are trying to get into the market we are unsure, but what it is clearly doing is removing the green space within the urban environment within south-east Queensland. We are becoming a heavily urbanised area with very little green space to accommodate the local residents who are currently here. That obviously is going to have an impact on our wellbeing.

If you walk away today remembering only one point from our presentation it should be that anything that happens with housing affordability must be underpinned by ESD principles. That is the key message that we would like to get across. Some of our recommendations would be that a national population policy should be debated and created. Opening more land for housing affordability type developments may actually generate more problems in itself. We are seeing urbanisation have major impacts on our waterways, on Moreton Bay, and on quality of life. To fix those problems would probably cost more money than addressing the issue of housing affordability. If stabilising our population is underpinned by one major problem, and that is housing affordability, I would rather see my taxes and rates deal with that issue than with the multitude of problems that we have with dealing with environmental, social and economic problems by allowing growth to continue as it is. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, all three of you, for your comments this morning.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can I say that population growth in Australia is probably a good subject for a Senate inquiry one day. Perhaps today is not the time to debate it, but what do we do about the world’s population growth? Do we in Australia just bury our heads in the sand and say, ‘They can look after themselves; we’re all right, Jack,’ and leave the rest of the world to fend for itself?

Mr Baltais —With our current birth replacement rate we can accommodate an immigration program. Our immigration program should be based on looking after our obligations to those people in need, but we can support immigration at the same time. Through our natural birth rate we can continue to accommodate that as well. It is not a case of saying that we should put up gates at the Queensland border, or at Sydney airport for those coming in from overseas. That is not the case at all. We can sustain an immigration program and natural growth. The key issue is obviously to develop a policy that works out what that is.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —As I said, this is probably not the time for a debate on this—

CHAIR —Actually, it is not.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I thought that that was the point you were all making, but I must have misunderstood that. I will listen more intently.

Senator COLBECK —Mr Baltais, you talk about the green space and you say that only 15 per cent of that is protected. What is the proportion of green space in the area that you are talking about, as opposed to the amount that is protected?

Mr Baltais —I could not give you an area off the top of my head. I can get those figures for you. The greater Sydney area is a comparable size. South-east Queensland is basically, for statistical purposes, from Noosa down to the northern border of New South Wales and as far west as Toowoomba. So you are looking at that sort of region.

Senator COLBECK —I understand what you are saying. You give a comparison of the percentages of green space that are protected, but I would be interested to know what the percentage of green space is within the area that you are talking about, so we can get some sense of what the levels might be.

Mr Baltais —The State of the environment report shows that about 41 per cent of the bioregion still has native vegetation.

Senator COLBECK —You focus very strongly on population growth; you talk about a potential population in the south-east region of about eight million by 2026 and you gave some further figures. What do you see as the key drivers of that? You have talked about immigration but, narrowing down that definition, there is obviously a lot of internal immigration within the country into this region. What do you see as the key drivers for that population growth into this particular region and how do you stop people wanting to come and live in this region?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is Queensland—everyone wants to come here.

Mr Baltais —I suppose it would have started back with Mr Beattie going down south and advertising for people to come up here. You are right—interstate immigration is around 38 per cent. How do you control it? It is very easy: through the regional plan. To give you an example done at the local government level, Noosa put in a planning scheme that identifies the key attributes the community wants to protect and what areas are open for development and sets that down in a legal planning document. That became the blueprint for what was effectively a population cap. The South-East Queensland Regional Plan does that to some extent, except that it does not have a caveat; it just continues on adding more land as time goes on. But it does set an urban footprint and within that urban footprint you can accommodate a certain number of people.

The key to success in getting a sustainable population in south-east Queensland is looking at regional planning as a medium-term solution. In terms of the long-term solution, you will never stop that interstate migration while you do not have a national policy on population growth because, effectively, the more people you have, the more have to be accommodated. That is a fact of life. And we will continue to see the degradation of south-east Queensland until such time as regional planning does identify a carrying capacity and sticks to it through its legal planning documents. That population may flow elsewhere, but until Australia has a national policy on population growth we will forever have this debate about where the people will go.

Senator COLBECK —You mentioned the planning requirement for a certain amount of green space. We have talked about roughly 41 per cent of this region still having native vegetation. We heard from UDIA this morning about their perception that up to 50 per cent of developable area was required to be retained in green space or public open space or as other than built environment. What is your view of what a reasonable ratio might be?

Mr Baltais —At the moment with the new infrastructure charges coming in through the state government we are seeing about five per cent legally entitled to come through to the public as recreational land. Prior to that we used to be able to see dedicated bushland and open space for public open space allocations. The new legislation, or the ICS, as they call it, only allows a certain amount of land to be dedicated from the developer to the council, and at the moment we are only seeing about five per cent. So, in reality, all the public are gaining now is a very small percentage. Previously, councils could negotiate with developers because there were environmental constraints or floodplain or waterway issues and they could potentially get up to 50 per cent in some cases, depending on those constraints. But all the community are entitled to now through the current infrastructure system is a certain allocation per head, so they can get a certain amount of hectares per thousand people and that is all they are entitled to receive. Anything beyond that the public will now have to purchase, whereas previously they got it for free through a dedication system and generally through negotiations based on constraints.

Senator COLBECK —All these constraints really are not assisting the housing affordability problem. I appreciate what you said in your presentation, too, about the cost of carbon requirements, for example, being overlaid onto this whole process. It appears to me that, although we are looking at improving housing affordability, effectively everything we are doing is pushing it the other way.

Mr Baltais —By applying these constraints?

Senator COLBECK —Yes.

Mr Baltais —If you reduce the availability of supply then demand kicks in. When you actually look at the types of houses that are being built primarily they are quite large houses on smaller lots. I do not see a big commitment by the development industry, and certainly not by the state, to those people most in need—who need smaller, cheaper houses. What we are seeing go up in the coastal areas are more like Tuscan fortresses built on small lots with an inability to protect any biodiversity whatsoever.

Senator COLBECK —We have talked a lot through this inquiry about the so-called McMansion, which I would suggest fits with your Tuscan analogy, but the market is not looking for anything other than that. We talked about high-density properties this morning, when you may have heard how in some places the local government has specifically gone in to encourage higher density type use of existing land and the market has not taken that up. How would you drive that?

Mr Baltais —It certainly is an issue.

Senator COLBECK —I was hoping that you might have an answer for us because we are struggling with it as well.

Mr Baltais —I understand, but it is a very complex issue when you consider: easy money from the banks; a taxation system that actually favours the person at the end of the housing market with lots of money, who can buy a second house for renting purposes, rather than a taxation system that enables a person to get into the market; and developers withholding land to artificially inflate prices. To a limited extent the taxation and charges that go along with development cause a problem with pricing. When you add all that to the melting pot it is very difficult. If you constantly add extra people into the equation, naturally you are going to artificially inflate prices. There has been a long-term trend for increasing housing and there has been a downward trend in the availability of people’s capital to actually purchase houses. That is a trend that has been accepted, acknowledged and happening for years.

Senator COLBECK —You have mentioned developers withholding land, and we have had that put to us in other locations as well. Developers would say that there are constraints within the market with respect to take-up. The argument about the notional demand versus the real demand is one that we have had in a couple of places. It is a very difficult argument to balance. The allegation from one side is that developers are deliberately withholding land to drive up house prices; developers are saying it is not cost-effective to develop the land. Do you have anything to support your assertion that they are deliberately holding it to drive up prices?

Mr Baltais —A large number of players have come into the Redlands and put contracts on a lot of properties. They actually secure that land under options so that the owners of those properties cannot sell to anyone else. They go to these large organisations, which are basically land banks, which are either waiting for the opportunity to convince council to open these properties up earlier for development or holding them there ready. These are quite substantial parcels of land and they release them slowly—there is a deliberate, incremental release of the land. On that land, you do not see houses for people that can get into the market easily; they are for that medium market—the people with the large houses on the small lots. We do not see those small lots accommodating smaller houses. That might be market driven. How the government intervenes in a market based system I do not know. However, we see developers buying out large parcels of land and holding them for quite a number of years. These parcels of land have been in their control under these option contracts for a number of years, and once they get approval to develop them they release them over a slow period of time. That is our view.

Senator HUTCHINS —So your approach to us for improving housing affordability is essentially to limit population numbers coming into Queensland?

Ms Davis —Australia.

Senator HUTCHINS —Okay, Australia.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I detect a difference of opinion between the two ends of the table here.

Mr Baltais —Not really. We are basically—

Ms Davis —No, it is Australia. You cannot stop people coming across state borders.

Senator HUTCHINS —Mr Baltais was suggesting you could do it by deriving measures—

Ms Davis —Your town plan can limit the level of development, yes.

Mr Baltais —And you do that by identifying the carrying capacity for your region and you basically build that into your regional plan. So the South East Queensland Regional Plan could actually be developed on that model. All the areas that the community wish to maintain and protect and that provide a quality of life and look after all those values that are needed to drive the economy, social systems and the environment are built into your carrying capacity, effectively. You can base your legal planning documents on that.

Senator HUTCHINS —You were suggesting, I think, Mr Baltais, and Gecko as well—and correct me if I am wrong—that, using my words, land degradation has been more rapid here in south-east Queensland than in other urban and suburban centres in the rest of Australia. Is that correct?

Ms Davis —We are the most rapidly growing area of Australia and we do have areas with some of the highest levels of biodiversity. Even the South East Queensland Regional Plan does not adequately protect those areas. In fact, it outlines the areas that are high in biodiversity but it puts the urban footprint over a lot of those areas. So what we are experiencing as environmentalists is rapid population growth and rapid loss of high-value ecological areas. That may not necessarily be the case in every area, but we are right at the coalface, if you will, with regard to the destruction of our natural environment.

Senator HUTCHINS —Thank you. I do not have any more questions.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I have had some dealings with Gecko before and I very often share your sentiments, but this population capping—and we are dealing with affordable housing here—does seem to be very much a case of ‘I’m all right, Jack; forget about the rest of you’. In Noosa, in your city and in the new Sunshine Coast city, following the elections there is a sentiment from the voters across the board to stop development ‘because we’re here and we like it and we don’t want others to come in’. But doesn’t that mean, effectively, that lovely places to live, like the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, will end up inhabited by those who can afford it, because you are limiting the market? And, as for the rest of them, the group for whom housing is unaffordable, are you saying, ‘We’ll shove them out in Charleville’—not that there is anything wrong with Charleville, I should say—‘but don’t let them see the water because we will keep that for those of us who can afford to live there’?

Ms Davis —That is not what we would advocate. We would advocate—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Sorry to interrupt, but I want to indicate for the Hansard than I am being ironic, otherwise somebody will read this and say that I am suggesting sending everyone out to Charleville; I am not.

Mr Baltais —I would like to respond to that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Sorry; I stopped Ms Davis to make my qualification—

Ms Davis —To make the point that you were asking how we would put all the affordable housing out in Charleville or somewhere else—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —No, that you would be keeping the good places, the lovely places, like the Gold Coast—

Ms Davis —We are not suggesting that at all; we are suggesting that affordable housing be integrated into our cities and urban areas. But we are also suggesting that there needs to be a limit to all growth and development and that affordable housing needs to be a percentage of that which is developed. But we cannot override all of the values that we hold dear in order to accommodate affordable housing. That is what the Queensland government has just done through their Urban Land Development Act, which Simon mentioned before. They have given themselves the right to override local government planning schemes and even to override their own legislation, which has restrictive measures to protect biodiversity, vegetation of high value and waterways and even to protect people from natural hazards. So they have given themselves the right to override anything that the people of the area care about in order to provide ‘affordable housing’.

Mr Baltais —In response, you can look up most local papers and find 30 pages of real estate and housing that is on the market, for sale. So there is a movement of people out of local areas. Are you suggesting, then, that we continue to grow ad infinitum and destroy everything that is important? You must recognise that there are limits to growth. We need to identify what those limits to growth are.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —This is not a debate, and the chair will stop me. Unfortunately, the world is growing. It is not growing in China because of what some say is a very radical and horrendous one-child policy. Are you suggesting—you say you are not, and yet I cannot quite follow this—that Australia should be capping the lovely places to live like Noosa, the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and Port Douglas, which I think started that sort of thing? It is great if you live in Port Douglas, but it is a bit selfish.

Ms Davis —We are saying that in order to become sustainable everyone in the world, including China and India—which is just about to surpass China; China is about 1.4 billion now and India is just about to surpass it as the highest population in the world, while the US is third at 300 million very high-consuming residents—needs to act. In order to become sustainable Australia needs to set its own population policy, and it needs to support other countries in stabilising their populations. That is what we have refused to do despite having promised it at the 1994 Cairo conference.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That would lead me on to a view I have on climate change. I accept that it is happening—which anyone who reads my speeches and media releases would know about, but I do not suspect many people do, and rightly so! I am getting off the subject, but it is an interesting subject. Perhaps that leads me to something more germane to our inquiry. I am from the north, as you may or may not know, and I am very keen to see development of Northern Australia, where there is—and will be increasingly—a greater proportion of the water we have in Australia. There is reasonable land there. I know a number of environmental groups are totally opposed to this, but I have the same argument with that: ‘Here is a place where we have water and good land, but no; let’s keep it pristine to look after biodiversity.’ Now I am as keen on maintaining our biodiversity as any of you, but people come first. My real question, apart from the soapbox speech, is: recognising that south-east Queensland, for example, is getting to a capacity occupancy, would you support the creation of new planned residential population areas in those parts of Australia that are currently not overpopulated and, in many cases, not even populated but that could sustainably hold quite substantial populations, like many parts of Northern Australia?

Mrs Adams —If they are not developed already, it is because there are enormous constraints on developing them. They are not near urban centres and there are transport issues and, mainly, climate issues. That is a preliminary response.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Or because all the politicians come from the currently developed areas and they do not look much further than George Street. In places like coastal North Queensland there are jobs. It is a great place to live—even better than south-east Queensland. People can actually water their lawns up our way, whether or not that is a good thing. Bearing in mind housing affordability, is there a need for governments to say: ‘Let’s put the caps on, for example, south-east Queensland and let’s plan areas up in the Gulf of Carpentaria near the mines. Instead of flying people from Brisbane up to the gulf mines, let’s plan some new residential areas up at the mines’?

Mr Baltais —There is actually some discussion going on about looking at supporting regional Australia, which is depopulating. Queensland is a fairly decentralised state, as you know, and two-thirds of that area is depopulating, so there is probably scope to support those communities that are going through that transition, pushing it back the other way and encouraging people to go to those centres.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But would the groups that you represent—or that you are involved with, even if you do not represent them—think that is a good idea?

Ms Davis —To populate Northern Australia?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am keen on Northern Australia. You could not send them to the Murray-Darling because you won’t get a drink there very shortly, unless it’s whisky—without the water! But there must be other places in Australia that are desirable to live in. I cannot think of any apart from Northern Australia, but I am sure others can.

Mr Baltais —Look at what we have done to the Murray-Darling system. We have been saying for decades that we are going to be doing things sustainably and yet we are still nowhere near that. I do not see us actually being able to achieve that in Northern Australia either.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We have been stupid, as humanity, over the years, but sometimes we learn. I think we have learnt lessons from the Murray-Darling so that any new development in Northern Australia where there is water and land can be planned in a way that is ecologically and economically sustainable.

Ms Davis —I think you will find that with climate change we are going to be experiencing higher temperatures. We are also going to be experiencing more vector-borne diseases from these hotter areas coming down further. We are going to have more cyclones coming further south. There are lots of constraints in the north. I do not know too many people who want to live there. My understanding is that Cairns is predicted to be under water by 2050, due to climate change, sea level rise and increased cyclone activity. So there are lots of issues that need to be addressed, not just where the water falls. But the north of Queensland suffers from the same problem that the rest of Australia has, and that is its soil. Australia does not have good, adequate soils. They say that, if North Queensland were able to be developed, it would have been developed by now.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I challenge nearly everything you have said in that comment, but again the chairman will stop me because it is not a debate.

CHAIR —No. Do you have anything further on housing affordability?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is germane to housing affordability, in that, if I accept the general proposition that you should have a cap on population here, it does mean that this land is going to become more valuable, unless you have a totally regulated state, which Australians will never accept. Therefore only the wealthy will be able to live in these desirable places. We heard from the Brisbane City Council. They have got a scheme where for 10 years they can try and get affordable housing in an area, and they think they have got that legally tied up. That presupposes that, the less wealthy, who cannot live in these hugely desirable areas, have got to look elsewhere. I think North Queensland is as desirable as some of the areas in the south-east, but you have really got to start looking at places like that where there are the jobs but where housing does not have the same sort of pressure. I do not seem to be getting enthusiastic support for that proposition from you people, who are saying, I think, ‘Cap it where it is.’

Mr Baltais —As I said before, in regional Queensland there are areas that are depopulating and could do with assistance in building infrastructure and encouraging people to those areas. There are new mines and perhaps new industries. As for going to Northern Australia, you will not have any support from this side.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But where, then? This is the point. ‘We don’t want them here, but where are we going to put them?’ You cannot have them in the north. You cannot have them in the Murray-Darling. You cannot have them near Sydney. You cannot have them near Melbourne. You would not want to go to Tasmania!

Senator COLBECK —Just be careful! You are now treading on very dangerous territory!

Mr Baltais —I will put the question back to you, though: do you believe in endless growth? Do you believe Australia can grow forever? I do not think there is anyone in this room who believes that is the case.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Do I advocate it? No. But am I realistic enough to know that it is going to happen regardless of what I advocate? Yes, and it is happening. So we can be very selfish and say, ‘You’re not coming to our area.’ Okay, so where do they go? ‘You can’t go to the north, you can’t go to the Murray-Darling, you can’t go to Darling Downs, you can’t go to Mary River’—and I agree with you on that; it is one thing we do agree on! So is it, ‘Bugger off if you’re not a millionaire and don’t have a water view’?

Mr Baltais —If we remain at this impasse, we will continue to degrade south-east Queensland and ruin the quality of life that the people currently here are enjoying because we will not recognise limits to growth, and we will continue to have housing affordability issues because we have this increasing population and we will struggle to find places to put these people. I heard BCC talk about built infrastructure, higher density: it is more expensive. It is also far less efficient as far as greenhouse gas emissions go. It is far more polluting or, to put it a different way, more energy intensive and certainly not as efficient with water. So we are left with a situation here where we are going to accept degradation of quality of life in south-east Queensland because we will not accept limits to population growth. Housing affordability will not be resolved by allowing population growth to continue in certain regions. We have a problem.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —We do—and the chair is rightly calling me to order. But if we agreed with everything you say then where would we put those people who cannot live in south-east Queensland, the people who cannot afford the housing?

Mr Baltais —There are people moving in and out of south-east Queensland all the time. Like I said, you can look up any of the local newspapers and see 30 pages of real estate showing people moving in and out, through the sale of houses. It is not that bleak that we are putting up the tick gate and saying no; there are people moving in and out. There is an issue, yes; there are 1,200 extra people coming into south-east Queensland. That is an issue that has to be looked at.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Every week?

Mr Baltais —Every week. Where do they go? Good question. I am suggesting there are some areas of regional Queensland that could accommodate that growth. Do we need to be fair about it? Yes, we do. We cannot send all the people who cannot afford houses over $200,000 out to Blackbutt. We have got to be reasonable about it. Public housing in Queensland has certainly dropped by the wayside. You certainly do not see the same amount of investment put into public housing as you used to in the past. That is something we cannot address. Like I said before, if achieving a sustainable population in the region had only one problem, housing affordability, I would be much happier spending my taxes and rates fixing that problem than the multitude of problems that we are trying to fix now that we will never fix because we will never have the financial resources to address them if we allow population growth to continue uncontrolled.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you, Madam Chair, for your indulgence.

CHAIR —I thank each of you for appearing today and for your submissions. Ms Davis, I think you indicated you would be sending a supplementary submission or an additional submission.

Ms Davis —Yes.

CHAIR —We look forward to receiving that in due course. Thank you very much for attending this afternoon’s hearing.

Ms Davis —Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 12.49 pm to 1.49 pm