A re-elected Morrison Government will bypass the ACT Government and release nearly 250 hectares of CSIRO land between Belconnen and the Barton Highway to the private sector for housing before the end of the year, according to Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.
The commitment comes after lobbying from Senator Seselja, but the details of the release are still to be worked out, whether it will be by tender or auction.
Senator Seselja also did not respond to a question about how the Federal Government could stop the ACT Government’s Suburban Land Agency competing in the market for the land.
An ACT Government spokesperson poured cold water on the announcement saying it lacked detail and questioning whether the private sector could deliver that amount of housing on the site, including affordable housing, in a reasonable timeframe.
The spokesperson also said the Territory would have a strong interest in acquiring the land, pending the terms and conditions of the sale.
Senator Seselja announced the commitment today (27 April) near the site on the Barton Highway with ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, and candidates Slade Minson (Canberra), Nathan Kuster (Fenner) and Jane Hiatt (Bean).
He said the 243 hectares would yield 2,000 homes, with a strong bias to family-sized blocks, boosting supply and affordability by introducing some healthy competition into the government-dominated market.
Senator Seselja said his lobbying for the land was in response to the Barr Government’s housing policies, accusing it of strangling land supply to force up prices and its infill bias of limiting Canberra families’ choices.
He said the land would be released to the private sector, cutting the ACT Government out of the process so it could not sit on it.
“My fear is that they would land bank it in the same way that they are banking so much land around the Territory,” Senator Seselja said.
The land in question has been on the table for years, but the process had stalled, although many studies had already been done that would accelerate development, Senator Seselja said.
He said that being Commonwealth land it would come under the National Capital Authority planning regime, which would also speed up the process.
“They have more streamlined processes,” Senator Seselja said. “I don’t think they deliberately delay things as we’ve seen by the ACT Government.”
Ms Lee said the Barr Government had no desire or willingness to release more land and would not budge on its infill policy.
“We know there are complex factors that go into housing affordability. There is no one silver bullet, but this [land release] is something the ACT Government continues to ignore that is within its control,” she said.
Ms Lee would not say whether she would welcome the deal if she was Chief Minister and had responsibility for the Territory’s finances and planning, or whether it would shortchange the ACT.
“It’s not about shortchanging. It is about making sure that families get a fair go when it comes to access to affordable housing,” she said.
Ms Lee said the Barr Government had set aside a meagre 4,171 blocks over the next five years, “in stark contrast to the 2,000 blocks that are going to be released on this site”.
She said there was a housing crisis in the ACT with median rents the highest in the country and the median house price more than a million dollars, yet the Barr Government would not use the levers solely available to it to ease the situation.
The ACT Government spokesperson said the Territory has been working with the Commonwealth for a number of years on the sale of the site, including Directorate advice to CSIRO on development impacts and planning and infrastructure matters.
“This ‘announcement’ with a level of detail we’ve come to expect from the Federal Government is unsurprising and emblematic of a tired Liberal Senator with no real plan for the ACT,” the spokesperson said.
If the ACT acquired the land it would be committed to bringing forward housing for sale as quickly as possible, with a focus on meeting community needs, providing affordable housing options and delivering new neighbourhoods, the spokesperson said.
“It is unclear if the private market would have the capacity to deliver housing in the next five to 10 years, and it is highly unlikely that a private developer would have a focus on providing affordable housing needs.”
“It’s not surprising that yet again, after years of work, it’s taken a Federal election with the Liberal Senator clearly under pressure to swoop in and manufacture this announcement.”
The spokesperson again called for the Coalition, if re-elected, to wipe the ACT’s historic housing debt with the Commonwealth to allow more investment from the ACT Government into social and affordable housing.