Empty houses and grand promises

Despite his many achievements, Bob Hawke never managed to live down his expansive promise made in the heat of the 1987 campaign, that “By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty.”

Here in Noosa in 2022, there are faint echoes of this famous over-reach as our small Council puffs itself up and declares itself “committed to ensuring our community is a place for everyone regardless of age, mobility, household size or budget.” And “The (housing) strategy seeks to ensure there is the right amount of housing, of the right type and size, in the right place and with the right tenure, for our community.”  

The rhetoric is the icing on a giant, unwieldy cake our Council is calling its ‘strategy’ to deal with the housing crisis that’s hitting, well…everywhere.

Noosa Council should be praised for having an appetite to take on such a difficult and important issue.

But there’s always a problem when you over-promise and inevitably under-deliver, and in this case the ‘strategy’ is a blend of the possible, the none-of-Council’s damn business and the what-were-you-thinking?


In recent decades deliberate policies across much of the developed world have turned housing from a human need and a working class aspiration into an asset class. For many, investing in houses is no different from speculating in gold or crypto.

It’s been called the ‘financialisation’ or ‘commodification’ of housing. 

Covid and the population influx to SE Queensland have accelerated the yawning gap between those in the housing game and those who never will be.  Nowhere is this gap more evident than a place like Noosa.

 While millionaires and billionaires play monopoly on the precarious frontal dune at Sunshine Beach, increasing numbers of people sleep rough in our shire.  Scores of local businesses have shut their doors or reduced their hours for want of staff who simply can’t afford to live, rent or – God forbid – actually buy, where they work.

And in this small shire, more than 5,000 homes remain empty much of the time as they wait for the next Short-Term holiday renter to book in.

A study by some of Australia’s leading academics in the field in 2019 looked at the housing crisis and the role of Local Government, saying this; 

“massive property speculation brought about by a combination of easy access to credit, an overly generous tax regime, and a widespread perception that investing in residential property was a guaranteed way to accumulate wealth. The failure of social housing construction to keep up with population growth has meant almost all low-income households are forced to rely on the private market for their accommodation. Housing affordability for many of these households is the central stumbling block in their endeavour to lead a decent life.”


As an ex President of the Local Government Association of Queensland, Noel Playford doesn’t mince his words: “The Noosa Housing strategy document is not fit for purpose for a small local government like Noosa and much of it is simply undeliverable.”

He highlights the following statements on Council’s website that introduce the strategy to demonstrate how “divorced from reality Council is”:

The draft strategy provides for regular monitoring and review to ensure our actions and interventions advance us towards meeting its objectives, to enable housing choice, diversity and affordability to meet the current and future needs of the community. 

In essence, the strategy seeks to ensure there is the right amount of housing, of the right type and size, in the right place and with the right tenure, for our community.  

As Noel Playford puts it – “Seeking to influence is one thing, but believing that Noosa Council can go even close to achieving an outcome that has eluded nations globally is delusion.” 

He says “The strategy should be edited so that it’s a realistic strategy that can actually be implemented with some chance of success. Nothing that is properly the responsibility of other governments should remain in the document. Council should concentrate on its planning and advocacy roles, or the strategy as it is will end up sitting on a digital shelf like most of the 100 or so policies and other strategies of the inefficient bureaucracy that the current Noosa Council has become.”


Noel Playford again; “Some parts of the strategy are unrealistic, and may well be undeliverable.”

Noosa strategy example: Under the Council Role section, Council ‘will deliver by making available suitable land holdings and other resources to facilitate delivery of social and affordable housing’.

How can Council promise to deliver ‘suitable land holdings’ as defined in the document when few, if any, may be available, either owned by Council or available to purchase by Council which fit the criteria of “ ‘appropriately serviced and offers safe convenient access to goods and services’?

Parts of the Noosa strategy duplicate what state governments should already be doing, and have no place in a local strategy.  

The Federal and State Governments spend billions each year on housing. Local government collects just over 3% of total tax revenue in Australia, making Housing commitments beyond its role of planning and advocacy a ‘brave adventure’ with very limited ratepayer funds.

Noosa strategy example: The following proposed action is clearly State Government business: A6.2.2 Develop a Housing Monitoring program that has clear targets for achieving a minimum supply of social housing over the next 5 years considering the number of applications currently on the social housing register and the number of people experiencing housing stress. Report the Housing Monitoring Program every two years. This may include a subscription to an outsourced monitoring program.


There’s clear potential for unintended consequences with some of the proposals.

Noosa strategy example: A6.2.4 Develop programs to encourage more efficient use of existing housing stock through means of sharing houses and encouraging secondary dwellings. 

Council is highly dependent on rates as its major source of revenue. Further encouraging secondary dwellings will increase the population that must be serviced by Council. Who pays? Unless there is a legal way to differentially rate properties with two or more dwellings, the increased population will be forever subsidised by other ratepayers. That’s already happening, it could become a flood.


And then there are ‘motherhood’ statements like this that mean next to nothing. 

A6.5.6 Ensure residential development and redevelopment facilitates housing that is affordable for households on low to moderate incomes, including those who cannot access the private rental market.

How? Governments in Australia have been producing platitudes like this for years. Even with much deeper pockets than Noosa Council as well as the capacity to legislate, they have all failed.


Elsewhere in Noosa Matters, we look at the painfully slow progress of Noosa’s much-vaunted Local Laws to reign in the anti-social effects of STA.

And, can a Council build a draft housing policy while studiously avoiding the massive impact of a tsunami of Short Term Accommodation businesses in what used to be homes? Well, it appears so.  More on that here.  


First, let’s remove the hyperbole, the marketing, the over-reach and those parts of the strategy that are clearly State and Federal responsibilities.  

Noosa needs a thoughtful, achievable, affordable Housing Strategy, not a collection of political slogans. 

This confused ‘scattergun’ approach to a local strategy may actually put a brake on progress, rather than fast-tracking the limited options available to a small council that has already increased its take from ratepayers by 20% over the last 2 years.

Back in 1987 Bob Hawke’s grand, impossible promise actually came about when he misread his script.  Noosa Council won’t have any such excuse.


This Post Has One Comment

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    This disastrous move to change the Noosa Plan and allow Noosa Council to over-reach into zone changes, so-called “affordable “ housing, “partnerships “ with developers, etc, etc is so serious that public meetings should be called. It is as serious a matter as the former, enforced council’s amalgamation. Residents need to have more say on what their rates are being spent on and how their land is used or dispersed.
    Unfortunately most residents are apparently unaware of the many implications of “the housing strategy “. We need a lot more honest, and questioning, media coverage and calls for a public rally.

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