While, given Labor seems on track to form a government before the end of May, Friday's pledge to provide additional aid for regional first home buyers is welcome, it comes with caveats.
The first is the question mark hanging over every ALP election promise given Anthony Albanese, Senator Katy Gallagher, and others have said all such pledges will be subject to independent departmental review.
Is this a core promise or a $12 million thought bubble, cloned from the Morrison government's existing First Home Loan Deposit Scheme (currently capped at 10,000 places annually), that could pop and disappear without a trace if it runs into heavy turbulence?
One would hope not, given the problem of soaring regional house prices is very real.
The essence of the ALP announcement is that the capacity of the existing HLDS, already assisting an estimated 3000 first home buyers a year in the regions, will increase to 20,000 places. The 10,000 new spots would be exclusively for regional buyers.
While on the face of it this would appear to be desirable, given the increases in many regional centres have well and truly outstripped those in capital cities, it raises an issue of equity. Taxpayers across the country - including those in metropolitan areas - are being asked to bear the cost of a program heavily weighted against people from the major population centres.
Once that penny drops, the plan might not be so well received in urban areas such as Canberra where, despite the greater increases in regional house prices in recent times, median home prices are still significantly higher than in Queanbeyan, Yass, Murrumbateman or Bungendore. The same argument applies to those living in the more far-flung suburbs of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and so forth.
On the plus side, Labor - which has long supported the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and called for it be extended as a stimulus measure for the construction industry as long ago as May 2020 - does not believe the support already allocated has driven up home prices.
According to Jason Clare, the ALP's spokesman for housing and homelessness, a 2021 review of the federal government's scheme found it had not fuelled price increases.
"There's about 600,000 homes that are bought and sold in Australia each and every year," he said.
"This is a targeted scheme for the regions ... this helps to even the playing field for first home buyers in regional Australia ... they don't have to pay 20 or 30 grand extra [in mortgage protection insurance]".
In every respect other than the additional 10,000 places, Labor's plan appears to mirror what is already in place. Income caps remain the same at $125,000 per annum for singles and $200,000 per annum for couples. Applicants must be owner-occupiers and the property has to be their first home.
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