Policy Snapshots

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This week in SNAPSHOTS:

  • The great Australian dream and an American nightmare
  • The place to be: at what price?
  • Arming Israel
  • More on Welfare to Work

The great Australian dream?

Social services, trade union, community group and building industry representatives met in Canberra last week to address a “creeping crisis” in housing affordability. Housing Industry Association Managing Director Ron Silberberg says that, two years on from the 2004 National Housing Summit, “the housing affordability gap has barely improved for first home buyers and low-income renters are confronted with steep increases in rents”. Silberberg warns of a looming “chasm between those that own their homes and those who have little or no chance of doing so”.

The 2006 summit chair, Professor Julian Disney, describes the problem here in an interview with AM. This background briefing and proposal for a National Housing Agreement was circulated amongst summit participants; we'll bring you the summit outcomes as they become available.

For a recent case study see this report by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (Queensland). Of 20 urban areas considered, only two are classified as affordable. “Queensland was once known for its affordability,” the report notes. “That has now changed.”

…and an American nightmare

With interest rates rising this week, we know that Australians are increasingly defaulting on their mortgages and struggling with ballooning household debts, not to mention petrol and banana prices. According to this report, the American middle class is also “drowning in debt” as income growth fails to keep up with the cost of housing, education loan repayments, health care and transport.

‘The place to be': at what price?

State and territory governments spend millions each year in a bid to snare their share of the tourism market. A 2005 Productivity Commission estimate put the total nation-wide figure of government assistance to tourism bodies at about $1 billion. It's money wasted, concludes Christian Downie in this Australia Institute Report.

“Overall, state and territory tourism assistance is largely a zero sum game where the gains to tourism operators and ‘winning' states are obtained at the expense of taxpayers and ‘losing' states”, says Downie. Most absurd is the big event bidding war: the Victorian Government spent an estimated $56 million on ‘event attraction' in 2003, despite plenty of evidence that the gains are illusory. Yes, that's 2003: jubilant Jeff — champion of small government — won the Grand Prix a decade earlier in 1993 for about $100 million.

Arming Israel

“Israel is one of the United States' largest arms importers,” according to this World Policy Institute issue brief. The report finds that from 2001 to 2005 Israel received $10.5 billion in Pentagon military aid and $6.3 billion in US arms deliveries; the terms and implications of this ‘special relationship' are explained in some detail. Hezbollah's weaponry is thought to be of Syrian and Iranian origins. The report's authors insist that given “the central role of US-supplied weaponry in the Israeli arsenal, the United States has considerable leverage that it could use to promote a ceasefire”.

More from the recent Welfare to Work conference:

Dr Elspeth McInnes from the National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children argues that unpaid care work should be seen as a significant social contribution rather than an economic cost, and concludes that Welfare to Work legislation will contribute to a downward pressure on wages.

When Unpaid Care Work Doesn't Count: The Commodification of Family

Life in the new Welfare to Work Order ' (pdf)

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