Federal Politics

Treasurer Joe Hockey's impressive housing portfolio

Accused of being insensitive and out of touch for advising that hopeful first home buyers "get a good job that pays good money", Joe Hockey flicked the switch to empathy on Wednesday. 

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Joe Hockey: 'I understand houses are expensive'

Treasurer Joe Hockey sympathised with those struggling to afford property but did not apologise for saying first home buyers should get better jobs.

Lest those trying to break into the housing market think he didn't understand their worries, the Treasurer said he'd been there himself. 

"I've seen over the years how challenging it can be for people to get into housing," he told ABC Radio. "Interest rates were much higher when I bought my first home, which was a unit. They were much higher interest rates and at that time prices seemed extraordinarily high."

The tough start hasn't held him back. Since then, Mr Hockey and his wife, former investment banker Melissa Babbage, have developed an impressive portfolio of four properties.

In 2004, Mr Hockey and Ms Babbage bought a five-bedroom home in Hunters Hill, on Sydney's north shore, for $3.5 million. The couple's main home is now estimated to be worth up to $5.4 million.

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When in Canberra, Mr Hockey stays at a home the pair co-own in Forrest, a leafy suburb adjacent to Parliament House.

According to Joe Hockey's biography, he spotted a sign advertising the home when driving past in 1997. The owners didn't want to deal with real estate agents or lawyers so Hockey, a former lawyer, sent his father to have a beer with the owner. His dad did a deal on behalf of his son and scored the home at land value. He didn't mention that he was, himself, a real estate agent. 

Joe Hockey's wife owns their home on the NSW south coast with views north to Stanwell Park.
Joe Hockey's wife owns their home on the NSW south coast with views north to Stanwell Park. Photo: Kirk Gilmour

"The house was a piece of Hockey mercantile genius," former Liberal MP Ross Cameron told biographer Madonna King. 

"Joe brings to the Treasury what I describe as an ancient Armenian sense of where the sweet spot of the deal is."

A good portfolio: Joe Hockey.
A good portfolio: Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Cameron later moved into the home as a tenant, as did Brendan Nelson, assistant infrastructure minister Jamie Briggs and Paterson MP Bob Baldwin.

Mr Hockey claims a $270 per night away-from-home travel allowance when staying at the house - an arrangement used by many other politicians, including Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor MPs, who own property in Canberra.

<i>Illustration: Rocco Fazzari</i>
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari 

"You are living away from home and employers pay that," Mr Hockey said when asked about his entitlements on Q&A last month. 

"I think I was away 185 days last year and you try and have the same bed and you try and have the same place to leave a shirt."

According to Mr Hockey's pecuniary interest register, his wife also owns a holiday home at Stanwell Park, on the NSW south coast. The pair have also jointly owned a cattle farm in Malanda in far north Queensland since 2003. They sold off 40 hectares of the property in 2014 and Hockey has put the remainder up for sale at an asking price of $1.5 million. 

It's certainly a far bigger portfolio than that of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who owns one property in Forestville, in Sydney's northern suburbs. Mr Abbott famously took out a new $710,000 loan on the home after losing his ministerial salary in 2007. He's still paying it off. 

"I'm someone who has over the years felt a bit of mortgage stress," Abbott said on Wednesday. "Even as a cabinet minister sometimes it's hard to pay a Sydney mortgage."

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