Chinese investors handy scapegoat for Australian policies that benefit wealthy

By David Dawson Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-24 23:48:01

Unlike the Chinese dream or the American dream, the Australian dream has never been a blanket declaration of what the nation stands for, as a people.

Instead, it has always been decidedly more prosaic - owning your own home, and the sense of security and satisfaction this provides.

With home ownership becoming more difficult amid rapidly increasing house prices, many Australians quite rightly feel that the Australian dream of your own home is getting out of reach for ordinary citizens, if they don't want to saddle themselves with a lifetime of debt.

A multitude of factors have contributed to this situation, but the most recent manifestation has been a certain level of ire directed toward Chinese investors in Australia's housing market.

As the fastest growing segment of foreign purchasers, it's easy to see why Chinese buyers are raising eyebrows.

China's rapidly growing number of mega-rich, coupled with a cavalcade of news headlines about corrupt officials fleeing abroad and seeking to hide their ill-gotten gains, has led to many Australians to believe that Chinese money is the reason why young Australians can't afford to buy a house.

While the influx of foreign cash does contribute in small part to these high prices, there are far more significant reasons lying much closer to home, namely, Australia's negative gearing tax policies, as well as a large number of wealthy and well-off Australians who wish to see house prices continue to grow.

When Prime Minister Tony Abbott was advised by officials from the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury that a bubble was forming in the Sydney housing market and prices were getting out of hand, Abbott, who owns a house in Sydney, remarked that he hoped prices continue to grow.

After all, it's much easier to blame Chinese purchasers than friends and neighbors who have already bought property and as such want to see the prices continue to rise.

It is due in large part to this large mass of domestic homeowners that Australia has not abolished its negative gearing housing policies, which effectively allow people who have purchased houses to deduct any losses on the house value from their taxes.

This means the government subsidizes and loss that may occur on an investment in a house, thereby removing the risk aspect and making it an attractive investment option.

Aside from the fact this ties up money that could be used in more productive investments, there is the simple fact that all investments are supposed to entail a degree of risk, not be automatically bailed out by the government, at significant cost to the taxpayer.

But one should also consider the fact that this is not just an Australian problem.

Beijing house prices are growing beyond what many residents can afford, and the city has one of the world's largest discrepancies between average salaries and house prices.

"Ghost apartments" are appearing all over the world, whether it is the multi-million dollar apartments near Central Park in New York, mansions in Dubai or the massive number of empty apartments in Paris, wealthy buyers have been snapping up luxury properties everywhere in order to have a safe investment to save their money.

So while Australia's housing prices are no doubt affected to some degree by the influx of Chinese money, if policymakers are genuinely interested in making homes affordable for young Australians, rather than serving demographics with more financial clout, they should take a harder, more critical look at policies which subsidize and encourage house purchases for investment reasons.

Australian policymakers already have the tools to cut back on these wasteful policies that benefit the already wealthy, and in doing so, with enough creativity, could also solve the alleged problem of excessive foreign investment.

But do they have the stomach for it?

The author is an Australian journalist living in Beijing.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus