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premier's housing focus is off to a bad start

premier's housing focus is off to a bad start News Article With The full text news and with Resource Link at the bottom of the text and you can View this News Article in the source page.



premier's housing focus is off to a bad start

in the days following gladys berejiklian's statement that she wanted to ensure "every average hardworking person in this state can aspire to own their own home", the premier's actions have served only to undermine that goal.   

if she was serious about helping, she would not have doubled down on her support for tax breaks that both hurt first home buyers and help investors to buy their sixth, seventh and eighth properties.

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gladys berejiklian's priorities as premier

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gladys berejiklian has made clear her plans as nsw's 45th premier –- but can she pull them off?

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gladys berejiklian's priorities as premier

gladys berejiklian has made clear her plans as nsw's 45th premier –- but can she pull them off?

but that's what berejiklian does when she continues to back negative gearing.

and berejiklian would not have made the inexplicable decision to remove the planning minister, rob stokes, from his job. if housing is the biggest issue in the state, as berejiklian suggests, on what lunacy would she move from the job from the person in government who has given it the most thought, and who may even have a perspective to deal with it?

premier gladys berejiklian's decision to remove rob stokes as planning minister was inexplicable.
premier gladys berejiklian's decision to remove rob stokes as planning minister was inexplicable. p o: james al

in politics, as in rugby league, they say you should not weaken a strength to strengthen a weakness. the cabinet stitched together by berejiklian and her deputy john barilaro seems designed to weaken strengths to weaken strengths. why would stokes make a better education minister than the man he's now replaced, adrian piccoli? in what world will brad hazzard be a better health minister than jillian skinner? or pru goward a better community services minister than hazzard?

stokes' replacement in the planning portfolio, anthony roberts, may yet prove exemplary. roberts may yet deliver on the promises berejiklian is making in his name. but he'll face something of a learning curve.

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planning ministers don't really do much "planning" these days – they don't sit there with coloured pencils and butchers' paper.

it is probably closer to the mark to say that planning ministers guide development, or guide the processes through which physical changes to the city and state might occur. this can be done with intelligence and sensitivity. or it can be done without much of either.

illustration: john shakespeare
illustration: john shakespeare 

as one example of the type of thing a planning minister might do, take the conditions of consent imposed on westconnex. when the agency in charge of westconnex released plans for the motorway interchange at st peters – a spaghetti mess of concrete, really – it trumpeted the idea it would create 3.2 hectares of parkland in and around the flyovers.

under stokes, the department of planning called this parkland for what it was: mostly useless. as a condition of consent, therefore, the department insisted a wide land bridge be built over one of the roads adjacent to the motorway, so that two bits of open space were connected and so that people might actually use them.

new state planning minister anthony roberts has a big job on his hands.
new state planning minister anthony roberts has a big job on his hands. p o: dean osland

the land bridge will add cost and annoyance to those building westconnex. but this is the sort of intervention (not enough, obviously, for those who would cancel the road) that is crucial if the city is to be changed in a way that people do not permanently resent. and if they want to add more housing to the city, it makes some sense to compliment that housing with parkland people can access.

though the state government does not miss a chance to declare itself "open for business", the most successful politician in terms of building new dwellings in the state has been clover moore. sydney's lord mayor has overseen staggering amounts of new housing, and yet she was last year returned to office with a swing of 10 per cent.

former planning minister rob stokes has been studying for a masters through oxford.
former planning minister rob stokes has been studying for a masters through oxford. p o: brook mitchell

the point here is that moore has been able to increase housing supply, which berejiklian says she is intent on doing, in a way that people are more or less comfortable with. and she's done that not by allowing developers free rein – but by working to shape places in ways that make people comfortable.

stokes – who has been studying for a masters through oxford to do his job better – gave the impression of espousing similar values. he spoke about the importance of design, and of promoting denser forms of housing that did not overwhelm existing neighbourhoods.

yet he leaves the job with a huge amount to be done. the planning act remains a mess. six years after promising to return planning powers to local communities, the state has only centralised decision making. there is no affordable housing policy worthy of the name. a government "affordable housing taskforce" set up in 2011 never even handed down a final report.

so why did berejiklian shaft stokes? was it because his criticisms of negative gearing embarr ed her or her friends in canberra? was it because the property industry wanted to let the market rip more than stokes was seeming to allow? or was it simple political churlishness?

in the end, those questions don't matter so much as the result. what matters is whether the state will have housing policies that deliver for people on a broad range of incomes, and which produce places people will be glad to live in, without consigning them to lives stuck in traffic.

these problems are now anthony roberts' to resolve. and if he can't do so, the state will have berejiklian to blame.

jacob saulwick is city editor.