Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten ask Australians to take sides on the dream of home ownership
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Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten ask Australians to take sides on the dream of home ownership

Housing prices have a proven power to spark a conversation over a kitchen table or a barbecue, so it will be no surprise if they shift the federal election result in May.

Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten are asking Australians to take sides on the dream of home ownership. Each has a different concept of fairness. Each has an entirely different voter in mind.

This is generational. The anxiety about housing affordability is sharpest among younger Australians who feel shut out of the market. It is not limited to this cohort, because parents and grandparents also feel the frustration of those who cannot buy their own homes, but it is elemental to the election campaign.

Labor has tapped into this anxiety with astonishing force. Shorten announced his policy to scale back tax breaks on negative gearing and capital gains in early 2016. He estimated this would generate $32.1 billion in tax revenue over a decade.

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The impact of the Labor policy is contested. While the building industry warns it will drive down prices and slow building activity, Labor says these claims fail to take into account the way existing property investments are grandfathered. In other words, Labor rules out a drastic impact.

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Any talk of a significant change in affordability should be kept in check.

Even so, younger voters have responded to the sense that Labor is heeding their concerns. Voters aged from 18 to 34 have flocked to Labor over the past three years, as have voters aged from 35 to 49. The gain among older voters is not so strong.

There are many reasons for these increases but the shift began before the last election. A pivotal change came in those early months of 2016, when the Coalition toyed with the GST while Labor targeted negative gearing instead.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

The Labor policy on share dividends and tax refunds has probably widened this generational divide.

Morrison defends the right of property owners and investors with a stance that naturally appeals to older and more comfortable voters. He taps into potent fears that house prices will fall, which means the latest trends may help him and hinder Shorten.

Yet the anxiety about home ownership has been decades in the making. It is unlikely to subside over the eight or nine weeks until polling day.

David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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