27 April 2022

Doubts cast over Zed's private sector land release coup

| Ian Bushnell
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Liberals housing announcement

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee; Senator Zed Seselja; candidate for Fenner, Nathan Kuster; candidate for Bean, Jane Hiatt; and candidate for Canberra, Slade Minson at the housing announcement. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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I’ve spoken about this issue on 666 Drive twice in the last few weeks and still there is no detail from Zed. He’s never been part of discussions between the parties, never provided any direct feedback to help fill the gaps in the process and the question needs to be asked, what have you been doing since this issue first hit the airwaves in 2015? I’ve been Chair of the Belconnen Community Council since early 2018 and not a single call, email or letter to share your views. BTW, it will be at least three years before any blocks would be available given services need to be installed and given the tradie and materials shortage across the country, just how are you going to make it all happen Zed? Where’s your plan Senator?

Capital Retro9:51 am 29 Apr 22

Why don’t you ask the other ACT Senator? It will give her something to do.

if the land is released only to developers how on earth will that result in more truely affordable housing? Surely it has to be a non-profit arrangement to get cheaper housing?

A good question Nick.

The availability of construction companies in the private sector has been identified as an issue for some of the public transport projects in Sydney, so the claims by the ACT government may be true. The other issue we cant get away from is why the ACT government squeezes the supply of land, and its to make a profit. As a small jurisdiction we lack local sources of taxation such as payroll tax and mining royalties so we need to make money with the only other resource we have in land. I could be wrong on these points?

Basic economics of supply and demand. Supply more of something and the price will fall. As price falls it becomes more affordable and demand rises. Obvious to anyone except the ideologically driven defenders of the ACT government, fixated on limiting land supply to keep prices and revenue high and people compacted in apartment infill areas. High land prices flow through to high rents and high house prices, which means housing unaffordability. That is what we have now with comparatively the highest rents and second highest house prices in the country, all thanks to the incompetent ACT government and the people who voted for it. If only logic and economics was taught at school…… Ethics and philosophy would be too much of a challenge.

So you’re just going to ignore the fact that land is a finite resource and comes with significantly varying constraints on development?

Along with the impact of investors and other global/external factors on the price, largely driven by things completely outside of the ACT Government’s control?

“If only logic and economics was taught at school”

Yes, if only.

Zed might be realising he has a strong chance of not getting re-elected and many would probably rather see him as leader of the opposition rather than Lee.

Lee just doesn’t make the same impression on most of politically deaf Canberra.

Hopefully the new land doesn’t have the same silly development rules in the rest of the ACT but not in NSW.

The major problem libs have with this strategy. is most either have homes already or are used to it. Those that would like an affordable home are buying in NSW, and no longer vote in the ACT. Then you also have the long term renters that have just accepted they’ll never own a home.

Hi Gooterz,
I’m inclined to think Zed might still sneak across the line and to be honest, I think Canberra is best served with one from each camp.

That said, I agree that the Ms Lee isn’t cutting it as the Canberra Liberals Leader. They need someone who can hold AB to account. Someone who can work the media.

Should Zed get rolled, I very much doubt that we’d see him in ACT politics.

Hi Ken Behrens
How is Canberra best served by one Senator in each camp? Seselja and Gallagher each vote along party lines irrespective of the impact for Canberrans and thereby cancel each other’s vote. Both are only interested in furthering their own ministerial ambitions. Canberra would be best served by two totally independent Senators who are not aligned with a party or each other who are committed to Canberra. I think Kim Rubenstein and David Pocock fit the bill – they can’t be any worse than what we have delivered ourselves for the last umpteen years and, hey, if they don’t work out, we can boot them out in 3 years.

When he says that the national capital authority will manage the sale and development of this site he can’t be serious. Thought that the national capital authority managed the federal governments assets in the centre of Canberra at near the airport now now going to diversify into residential development. What a farce

That’s not what was said.

The NCA already have planning and development approval functions to manage the areas under the Fed governments control in the National Capital Plan.

If they did want to go down that path this would be no different.

This whole thing is laughable politics.

The idea that this is a benevolent act by the Federal government rather than just a purely financial decision to raise revenue is just silly.

The idea that whoever purchases the land (likely to be the ACT Government anyway) will bring forward more affordable housing is even sillier.

But the ACT Government also don’t get off the hook, they are clearly pushing forward with their documented strategy for more infill development whilst conveniently pretending that this doesn’t limit opportunities for more greenfield land releases.

All around ridiculous.

I don’t even think it is an act to raise money. I think it is just an act of wedge politics. With an ACT Senator interfering in ACT government issues. In fact many of his announcements and promises are solely aimed to highlighting perceived shortcomings of the local government.

As for the ACT governments strategy as you said it is clearly documented, it’s not new so why shouldn’t they be allowed to run with it especially without interference of the feds dumping land for development. Surely even the most rusted in liberal can see the ACT government should have sole responsibility for what gets developed, where it gets developed and when it gets developed in the ACT.

No it’s definitely to raise money, the CSIRO themselves have been looking to do this for years now. Although no doubt this latest election stunt is taking advantage of something that’s been on the books for ages.

“As for the ACT governments strategy as you said it is clearly documented, it’s not new so why shouldn’t they be allowed to run with it”

You mistake what I said JC. They most definitely should be able to run with it.

But they can’t then turn around and deny that the lack of greenfield land releases is actually an active choice of government and part of their policy.

They continually refuse to own that outcome because they know that most people want to live in a detached house on their own block. They need to be more honest around what the desired outcomes of their infill policy is without the significant level of obfuscation that occurs.

Will agree with you on that.

One criticism I do have of a the ACT government and indeed most they never sell unpopular policies well, choosing instead to play the voters by downplaying the policies even if they do make sense. Good example being your point elsewhere about land being a finite resource yet some think it is infinite and can be dumped. That ignores the bigger picture of why that is not a good thing.

I personally blame the general state of politics for that and a large factor influencing that is social media which has massively change how politics works. Great example being Trump, Brexit and Morrison’s previous election win.

Capital Retro2:59 pm 28 Apr 22

You mean Labor’s loss of the unlosable election, JC?

I don’t think the last election was billed as unlovable unlike Hewson loosing in 1993. But yes would agree with the point you are making.

In the last election the media (and I am not just talking Murdoch media but social) was used in a manner like we have never seen before. The rise of lobby groups using social media to spread misinformation and fear was rife. And this year much the same, look at the way Advance is attacking Pocock.

To be fair Pocock’s backers have been just as bad in their material to get rid of Zed.

Politics is a dirty game all around.

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