Elite AgentOpinion

As the Saying Goes: Andrew Cocks

There’s a reason why some aphorisms and proverbs stick around for centuries. In a few choice words they express timeless nuggets of wisdom; truths that could apply to any number of situations or people. In this vein there are three much-used proverbs the new Premier of NSW might bear in mind as she puts her stamp on government.

A new broom sweeps clean

There is an addendum to this phrase that is worth including here: ‘…but the old brush knows the corners’. In every organisation there is benefit in having a fresh set of eyes, or a new captain at the helm, to agitate the dust and cobwebs and let in new light and thinking.

The rapid rotation of political leaders means that we’ve had a lot of new brooms of late and there is not a lot of accumulated dust. However, Ms Berejiklian’s declaration that housing affordability would be a priority for her government was more than welcome. That it coincided with Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison’s visit to London, during which he inspected Lend Lease’s social housing project, Elephant Park, made this the dominant political news topic of last week.

There’s no shortage of opinions about how best to tackle this problem, all of them consistent for their lack of consistency. There are plenty of levers available to fix the issue, but not a simple single fix.

The trouble with a new broom is that occasionally it discards things that might have been better left undisturbed. The removal of Rob Stokes from Planning is one that has disappointed a number of people in the property industry. He was the new broom digging around in the dank corners of a planning regime that was overdue for reform. He brought rigour, intelligence and integrity to the task and that is an all too rare occurrence in either government or business. Hopefully Anthony Roberts will continue this process.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Here’s a saying that has its origins in the making of stone-age adzes, but gained popularity when uttered by former US President Jimmy Carter’s Budget Director. He is quoted as telling the US Chamber of Commerce that he could save the country millions with this motto: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…That’s the trouble with government: fixing things that aren’t broken and not fixing things that are broken.”

On the whole, you’d have to say that the previous two Coalition administrations under O’Farrell and Baird have been busy fixing things that were seriously broken: road and rail infrastructure, hospitals and the Budget, to name a few.

The repair job has started but it’s not finished yet, so the removal of Rob Stokes from Planning is one of those things that wasn’t broke and should have been left alone. There are plenty of other fixes that are only halfway, council mergers being one of the most contentious. Within hours of the transfer of power we saw the Nationals leader, John Barilaro, play his political hand by withdrawing support for council mergers in the bush. There may well be some proposed mergers that ought to be contested, but in the majority of cases the positives outweigh the negatives through the removal of duplication and costs, the introduction of scale for provision of services and facilities, and the potential for better planning and land use. Looking at Queensland, that State is stronger for having introduced strong Brisbane and large regional councils.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

This is where the Premier might need to arm herself with another well-worn saying: Fortune favours the brave. Having raised the issue of housing affordability, there has been a renewal of calls to abandon negative gearing. Although negative gearing is a Federal Government responsibility, it is a relief to see that Ms Berejiklian quickly dismissed this option, no doubt because her former role as Treasurer gave her broader insights into the consequences of tampering.

The unintended consequences of undermining property investment have the potential to hurt the very people they are designed to help. Regional NSW isn’t experiencing the Sydney property boom, nor is Queensland or Perth; basically, none of Australia is except for Melbourne, which is running a close second to Sydney.

Sydney’s high prices do create major issues that need clear, balanced and rational solutions. But in the meantime there are some interesting trends emerging as a result of the high prices. More people are looking to the regions and north to Queensland for housing relief, spreading the economic windfall beyond Sydney. Decentralisation is not a bad thing; where the population goes, the business and money trail follows.

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