28/04/2017 - 14:16

It’s funny because it’s true

28/04/2017 - 14:16

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OPINION: Satirists can provide a wake-up call, showing us how easily we can be seduced by the spin of politicians.

Despite the PM coming out against the plan, Scott Morrison was last week reportedly in favour of a proposal for young people to be able to access their super for house purchases. Photo: Attila Csaszar

OPINION: Satirists can provide a wake-up call, showing us how easily we can be seduced by the spin of politicians.

The death of funny man John Clarke could not have come at a worse time for Australia.

These are confusing, peculiar times, perhaps an age best suited to the finely honed blade of satire.

There’s a reality television star leading the free world – a man who has used his Twitter account to make fake great again.

Clarke’s deadpan interpretations of Australia’s business and political leaders revelled in the bluff, bluster and brutality of public life.

He perfectly captured the contact sport that is ‘spin’ in a theatre of the absurd that ever so gently rendered us all complicit in the act.

I laughed at how willingly I had accepted the key messages of the week, swallowed the lines, been seduced by the nonsense.

Clarke didn’t offer any solutions and yet we are all a little poorer for his passing, as are contemporary politics and policy, I suspect.

And a bit of a chuckle is something we could all do with in the lead up to yet another federal budget; especially now the talking heads have seized on superannuation again, this time as a treasure chest to fund property purchases.

There’s nothing very funny about house prices in Australia. On one side of the country they’re so eye-wateringly expensive that large sections of the younger generation have given up on plans to purchase

Out west it’s a different picture entirely, as pundits fret over stagnating house prices and try to pick the bottom.

I’ve never really understood who benefits from rocketing house prices, apart from estate agents.

Unless you’re cashing in on your four-by-two in Sydney to move to Perth, there’s no tangible financial benefit to rapidly increasing house prices.

One retail analyst from Sydney, ‘Australia’s most awesome city’ (his words not mine), tried to convince me it wasn’t a bubble, just a nice orderly ascent.

Unlike the mining boom madness in Western Australia and Queensland, he said Sydneysiders had taken advantage of big increases in the capital value of their homes to renovate.

No-one was borrowing for jet skis or overseas holidays, he said, so it wasn’t a bubble but rather a happy, big balloon gently floating up towards space.

Only time will tell, but I suspect even Sydney has its fair share of over-stretched mortgagees, who have taken the lure of very low interest rates and borrowed more than they can really afford, to fund things they don’t really need.

The latest proposal to help young people get into the housing market is to allow them to crack open their superannuation piggy bank.

At first glance it looked like a ridiculous idea, and then on closer inspection I realised it was completely bonkers.

I’m not quite sure how sinking a chunk of what are supposed to be retirement savings into a house is good, long-term policy.

You solve one problem and create another; but crucially, the dilemma you construct will only manifest years into the future, floating somewhere up with that property bubble.

And the great thing about transferring problems to some far-off, future date is that the current government, along with today’s banks and business leaders, can be absolutely guaranteed they won’t have to deal with these issues on their watch.

It’s priceless and so much easier than actually addressing the low-hanging fruit, such as infill development and the availability of land.

The UK government is even looking at ways to encourage baby boomers to move out of their large homes and downsize, potentially unlocking large properties for multi-site developments.

The regulators are all warning the banks that products such as interest-only loans are too risky, and Treasurer Scott Morrison has said that foreign buyers who leave properties empty are in his sights.

But it’s not just about housing prices themselves; there are also the indirect property taxes to which the states are so addicted, and no-one is making any noises about abolishing or reducing those levies.

And so we come to another federal budget, where weeks of scary-sounding policy ideas will give way to a touch of feather dusting around the economic edges.

In the end, the only way any of the serious policy proposals will make it into law is with the help of some disquieting horse-trading with those giants of public policy, One Nation.

I know there’s a funny side to all this, but it’s hard to see without John Clarke.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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