The ACT government's land sales profits have risen almost four-fold in just four years, leading a former senior Treasury official to question the policy behind the change.
While forward estimates show a potential easing of the dividend laid out by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, former ACT Treasury executive policy director Khalid Ahmed, also an affordable housing advocate, put little stock in the estimates.
Former Land Development Agency annual reports show that from 2013-14 to 2016-17, the agency's dividend - or net profit - handed to Treasury's coffers rose from $67 million to $259 million.
While the dividend continued to rise, Dr Ahmed said fluctuations in the difference between the dividend delivered, and the government's official targets, suggested the land agency held back sales in 2013-14 to boost profits in future years.
Across the four years, in 2013-14 the government received $67 million against a $79 million dividend target, with the dividend jumping to $78 million in 2014-15 against a target of $49 million.
In the following two years, the actual dividend paid by the land agency exceeded the target significantly at $173 million against a target of $157 million in 2015-16 and a dividend of $259 million against a target of $211 million in 2016-17.
Dr Ahmed said that while there were a range of factors involved in the government's land sales, the broad story was the almost four-fold increase in overall dividends from 2013-14 to 2016-17.
He said the lower dividend in 2013-14 indicated the government sold less land in 2013-14, and as demand was exceeding supply, that helped to prop up sales prices in the later years, moves he said was "classic monopolistic behaviour to maximise revenue".
"You can spin one thing or the other, but the one thing that doesn't lie is the movement in price and the rising dividend the government is receiving," he said.
"I see it’s a problem of the government's own making, because it causes an economic and social problem.
"What it does, is it directly impacts on housing affordability, it distorts the [housing] market, so I see it as a problem of a government that prioritises budget financial outcomes over a social outcome.
"With these large fluctuations, either they’re doing a terrible job of estimating their sales, and in that case the forward estimates should not be believed, or there is a deliberate intent in the policy, that comes after they've done the budget."
A spokesman for acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry said the increased dividends had been due to an "increased budgeted operating result driven by increased land sales revenues and decreased cost of goods sold" compared with the 2013-14 budget.
Dr Ahmed said with the budget heavily reliant on land sales, and the agency as a virtual monopoly provider of land, the housing market dynamic in Canberra was driven by the government and rises in house prices and mortgage levels was no accident.
"The ACT government is a very small player in the ACT economy overall, it’s recurrent expenditure is relatively small, its capital expenditure is relatively small," he said.
"But one area it can move is the land and housing affordability because it exclusively controls the price and zoning of land, and that is where it has made a difference.
"It has made things worse."
Mr Barr in recent months has also directed the government's two land agencies - the Suburban Land Agency and the City Renewal Authority - to ensure 100 per cent of their profits are returned to Treasury's coffers.
The government spokesman said this was a long standing practice for all government business enterprises, though the dividend policy could be varied from year to year, if either of the land agencies boards provided written justification not to deliver all their profits.