State handouts turned first-home owners into “sacrificial lambs”: Steve Keen

State handouts turned first-home owners into “sacrificial lambs”: Steve Keen
State handouts turned first-home owners into “sacrificial lambs”: Steve Keen

Economist Steve Keen has delivered a damning verdict on the impact of first-home owner grants, saying they only serve to drive up property prices and push first-home owners out of the property market.

The embattled economics professor and columnist, currently in a legal dispute with his academic institution the University of Western Sydney, says the new doubled $15,000 first-home owner grants being offered by the NSW and Queensland state governments – labelled builders’ grant by Ray White boss Brian White – aren’t as damaging as the previous broader grant to buyers of existing properties.

Keen labelled the recent accusation levelled by acting NSW opposition leader Linda Burney that Premier Barry O’Farrell had abandoned first-home buyers by cutting the grant for existing home and removing stamp duty concessions (unless you buy or build a new home) as “bollocks”.

“First-home buyers weren’t locked out by the ending of the first home vendors’ grant: they were locked out by the impossibly high prices that this grant has helped generate over the 30 years since it was first invented,” says Keen.

Keen says former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s doubling and tripling of the first-home owner grant from 2008 to 2010 caused the last spike in house prices, with the real beneficiaries those vendors who sold their first homes to first-home buyers – hence why Keen calls it the "‘first-home vendors’ grant" – and the banks that took the extra deposit and heaped first-home buyers with “initially three and ultimately over 10 times as much more debt”.

“The grant should be abolished, and governments should keep their hands out of asset markets.

“The O’Farrell government is still in there with its grant to purchasers of new properties, but that isn’t as damaging as the broader grant to buyers of existing properties as well.

“In that sense, I applaud the O’Farrell government for limiting the damage done to first-home buyers – and indeed the economy – by the grant,” he says in a column for Business Spectator.

Keen says the purpose of the first-home owners grant has never been to give first home buyers a helping hand, but has “always been used as a way of giving the economy the economic equivalent of a steroid injection”.

“First-home buyers have instead been the sacrificial lambs of an asset-price-inflation route to apparent national prosperity,” says Keen.

 


Keen says former prime minister Bob Hawke was the first to use a first-home buyers grant after he beat Malcom Fraser at the 1983 election, not to help first-home buyers but as a way of “reviving the housing market and perhaps the economy”.

He says it worked a treat, and allowed Paul Keating to claim the mantle of greatest treasurer ever.

But, Keen says, the grant also “supercharged house price rises”.

According to Keen, every time the government has introduced a first-home owner grant, the effect has been the same and can be observed by looking at house price before and after its introduction.

He says without government-injected stimulus, house prices have risen more or less in line with inflation, but have diverged noticeably to deliver real growth on the back of first-home owner grants.

“This is when the myth that house prices always rise took hold in the Australian psyche – without the awareness that this was not a natural phenomenon like sunrise, but took not only rising leverage from the banks, but also active intervention in the property market by both state and federal governments.

Keen is currently embroiled in a Fair Work Commission dispute with the University of Western Sydney over delays in processing his voluntary redundancy while at the same time facing a corruption watchdog enquiry after telling his economics students he could not fail any of them because they would not be able to re-sit exams due to the university no longer offering an Economics degree course.

A tribunal hearing involving Keen and UWS began yesterday in Sydney while UWS has already referred the matter to ICAC.

Keen tweeted that it was confidential hearing at the request of the university.

Keen explained what he told his students in an interview with ABC News radio yesterday.

“I told the students that I would not fail anyone given the circumstances that their subject was quite possibly being abolished and they were told about it two weeks before the exam for that subject would take place and of course if they failed, there wouldn't necessarily be a subject there for them to repeat the following year and I certainly wouldn't be teaching it so in that situation I just couldn't see how I could fail anybody.

He says he “probably overstepped the mark”, but claims UWS has “blown the matter out of proportion as part of a battle over the cuts to economics”.

Keen says he has been invited to two universities in London to apply for professorships and has also applied to his alma mater, the University of Sydney, for the professorship of political economy.

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer

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