Housing crisis or recession mentality?

It seems everyone but Australians believe Australia is the strongest, most fortunate nation on the planet, but that hasn't stopped housing industry groups and business leaders talking up the latest 'crisis'.

Property Observer

Approximately 99.7 per cent of the earth’s people believe Australia is the strongest, wealthiest, most fortunate nation on the planet. The 0.3 per cent who do not believe it are all Australians.

A lengthening list of authorities – including the OECD, the IMF and sundry consultancies that conduct surveys and write economic reports – all conclude that we are indeed the lucky country. We rank at or near the top for economic prosperity, standard of living and personal wealth.

That’s how it looks from the outside looking in. But Australians refuse to accept it.

We’re a boom nation with a recession mentality.

How did we get to be so pessimistic amid so many reasons be bullish? How did a nation that embodies confidence and success in so many spheres – notably in sport and in entertainment – manage to develop such a massive dose of the sulks?

Here’s a plausible explanation, one that speaks directly to the real estate industry.

We are infested with politicians, industry associations and business leaders who seem determined to talk us into a recession.

We have a federal government that has recently devoted more energy to internal fighting than to running the country. We have a federal opposition that appears unable to challenge the government without talking down the nation. We have state governments handing down austerity budgets at a time of economic prosperity. We have mining giants that use threats and scare campaigns as standard negotiating tools. We have business organisations that talk down their own industries to pressure governments. We have economists and others who peddle negativity to get media attention. And we have a media immersed in an orgy of pessimism.

There is no greater example of the problem than the housing sector. This is the industry that has shot itself in both feet and is now pointing the gun at its head.

If insanity is defined as repeating the same mistakes while expecting different outcomes, then the Housing Industry Association is the craziest bunch in the nuthouse.

For years the HIA has been trying to extract concessions from government by pumping out 'crisis' media statements on an almost-daily basis. We have an affordability crisis, a housing shortage crisis, a red tape crisis, a taxation crisis – the HIA has talked down its own industry day after day. Even positive data has been twisted into a tale of pessimism.

Australians are out there buying homes and investment properties again – and markets are rising. But they’re not building new homes, they’re buying existing ones. Why would anyone want to build when the HIA keeps telling them the industry is stuffed and their products are too expensive?

The negativity tactic has been running with increasing stridency for years. And it hasn’t achieved a single significant concession from any level of government.

So what’s the HIA’s response to this stark failure of its policy? Go even harder with the same strategy!

Now they’re saying the residential building industry is descending into recession. "New home building has collapsed,” says managing director Shane Goodwin. "We’re on the brink of recession … the worst conditions in decades.”

The only thing that’s collapsed is common sense and sound judgment at the HIA.

They should be selling the benefits of building new homes. They should be highlighting the areas in Australia where the economy is strong and business is good.

There are many such places. I get around the country a bit, and I’ve recently visited plenty where business is brisk for builders – including Gladstone in Queensland, the Hunter Valley in NSW, Whyalla in South Australia, Ballarat in Victoria and Toowoomba in Queensland.

The number of building approvals in Toowoomba, which benefits from its proximity to the Surat Basin resources province, rose 59 per cent in the March quarter. Townsville, Rockhampton, Mackay and Gladstone have all seen building approvals double in the past year.

There are good news stories out there, if the industry only had the wit to tell them.

Builders won’t thrive until they start recognising themselves as part of the problem and stop blaming government for everything.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au and can be followed on Twitter.

This article first appeared on Property Observer. Republished with permission.

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