Australian census shows high rates of home ownership ‘slipping away’
As seen in The Guardian, 27 June, 2017
High rates of home ownership are slipping further into Australia’s past, with soaring house prices and ultra-low interest rates pushing a higher proportion of residents into rental properties in the past five years.
Capital-city population growth has also expanded at double the rate as in regional cities and rural areas, showing that regional centres are failing to entice migrants to the bush.
Analysis Main points of the Australian census at a glance
The key findings from the 2016 census, which counted more than 23.7 million people
The median personal income in Australia has risen to $662 a week, from $577 a week in 2011, with the Australian Capital Territory – the main home of the commonwealth’s public servants – clocking the highest median income in the country, at $998 a week.
The 2016 census, which reveals the huge shifts in the nation’s home ownership profile, has prompted the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, to accuse the Turnbull government of contributing to the decline in home ownership rates.
He said the government’s 2017 budget, with its “grab-bag of unrelated measures”, did little to address key drivers of housing unaffordability, such as negative gearing and the capital gains tax.
“The ‘great Australian dream’ is slipping further away,” Bowen said on Tuesday. “Housing is a complex policy area and there are multiple causes for the changes reflected in the census. However, the Turnbull government’s housing policies are exacerbating these worrying trends.”
The release of the census data comes 10 months after census night in August 2016, which involved an embarrassing crash of the online system when millions of Australians tried to log on to the website.
The online system was out of action for more nearly 48 hours, sparking the #censusfail hashtag, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics later blaming the service provider IBM for the disruption.
David Kalisch, the head of the ABS, said on Tuesday an independent assurance panel, which he established after the #censusfail controversy to review the quality of the 2016 census data, found the data was high quality and could be used with confidence.
The quality of the data was not seriously questioned on Tuesday. Instead, it raised concerns about the falling rate of home ownership among Australians, with the proportion of residents who own their own home outright having declined significantly since 1991, from 41.1% down to 31% in 2016.
Over the same 25-year period, the proportion of renters has grown to 30.9% from 26.9%, and those who have not paid off their mortgage has risen to 34.5%, from 27.5%.
Despite the build-up of housing pressures, and soaring prices in Sydney and Melbourne in particular, the data showed migrants are still preferring to live in Australia’s capital cities.
According to the Regional Australia Institute, more than two-thirds of Australians were living in a capital city on census night, and the population growth in capital cities was much faster than the rate of regional cities and rural areas.
But Jack Archer, the Regional Australia Institute chief executive, said the results did not necessarily show a movement away from the regions to cities.
Instead, he said, the census suggested the significant increase in population growth brought to cities by migration was not being shared by the regions. He described that story as “disappointing but not really a surprise”.
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“I don’t think we’ve done anything substantial to reverse this trend,” he told Guardian Australia. “We talk about it a lot, but I don’t think we’ve invested enough in the kinds of infrastructure needed in regional areas.
“We see lots of rural areas doing well out of migration but the trend is overwhelmingly to the big cities.
“We need to ask the question: Is metropolitan, population growth the best outcome for us? Because cities are already congested.”
The data shows a large disparity in the median personal income by state and territory in Australia.
Canberra workers were taking home the highest median income in the country on census night, at $998 a week, compared with the national median income of $662.
The Northern Territory came second ($871 a week), followed by Western Australia ($724), New South Wales ($664), Queensland ($660), Victoria ($644), South Australia ($600) and Tasmania ($573).