Recently federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was pinged for not declaring a mortgage on a $1.4 million investment property for almost four months and finally made the disclosure only after questions were posed by Fairfax Media. Such a lapse should place her in ‘serious contempt’ of parliament1.
She bought the house next door to her own home in the Perth suburb of Floreat, last November. It is the fourth house in her portfolio of properties, and is the second investment property1.
Under the disclosure rules, any senator who knowingly fails to disclose any alteration to their interests (in this case, the house, and the associated mortgage) within 35 days “shall be guilty of serious contempt of the Senate. Cash took 78 days to declare the house, and 109 days to declare the mortgage1.
Prime Minister Turnbull said that Senator Cash had apologised to him, and Turnbull said he was disappointed. Diddums. She will not suffer any consequences.
This sort of thing is not uncommon. David Feeney did not declare a $2.3 million dollar property in 2016, and Tony Abbott did not declare a mortgage he took out on his residence in 2008. But apart from those who neglected to declare such properties, there are numerous politicians who have several investment properties. For example, of the 20 who have surnames beginning with A or B, the number of investment properties owned are as follows: Anne Aly (ALP) has 1; Karen Andrews (Lib) has 9; Kevin Andrews (Lib) has 3; Julia Banks (Lib) has 3; Sharon Bird (ALP) has 1; Julie Bishop (Lib) has 2; Andrew Broad’s (Nat) spouse has 2; Russell Broadbent (Lib) has 1; Linda Burney (ALP) has 22. And you can also bet that they will be making the most out of negative gearing.
The gullible among the populace will expect politicians to actually do something about making houses affordable for first home buyers. Some states and territories have reduced or dispensed with stamp duty for first home buyers. It used to run at about 3%, so reducing it or getting rid of it entirely will only have a minor effect on prices, but it certainly will have no effect on the value of politicians’ investment properties. Based on some surveys of economists, the price of houses is expected to keep rising over 2017, before eventually petering out and starting to fall3.
From the politicians, we will get an enormous amount of hot air expended, as they blame each other for their intransigence, and how so-and-so’s plan will not work, blah, blah, blah. But this will be just a distraction away from the main problem, and this goes to the heart of our democracy. Why would a group of overpaid underachievers with a vested interest in having house prices continue to rise, decide on the best way to make houses more affordable (i.e. cheaper)? The answer is: they will not. They may fanny around about the edges, but nothing of any real consequence will be done, lest those politicians would lose money on their investments. Nothing will ever be done on negative gearing, lest they lose their little present from the tax office, come the end of the financial year. Having a register of interests is all very well, but it doesn’t actually do anything except tell you why and to what extent your politician has a conflict of interest. It doesn’t prevent it happening, it just quantifies the corruption. With politicians, self-interest will always trump the national interest.