Last month Sheila and I had the pleasure of hosting the annual Past Presidents luncheon organised by Mary Harrison. Twenty one people attended which included nine Past Presidents and I must say that we both enjoyed meeting some of those who have worked so hard to ensure our Institution survives and thrives into the future. We all owe a great debt to those who volunteer their time to ISNSW. There were many stories told on the day and I look forward to attending future such luncheons. I particularly appreciated Pat Marshall joining us which demonstrates, to Sheila and I, the sense of community this event generates. My thanks to Mary for organising the event and to all those who attended.
Others to whom we owe a great debt are those members and surveyors who served and died in World War 1, just on one hundred years ago.
My grandfather fought and survived the trenches of WW1. He never spoke about it to me but my uncle, who fought in Korea, was able to pass on some of his story. I treasure the letter my Uncle wrote to me, years ago, detailing some of his father’s experiences on the Western Front. I am passionate about documenting our stories and I urge members who have a story to tell, to write it down and pass it onto the Pathfinders, if appropriate, the brain child of the Seniors Group.
As a surveyor and planner one of the issues that keeps me awake at night is housing affordability. Those working in the land development industry know that housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for first home buyers. Years ago it required six years of the average wage to buy a house, now it is double that. We know that the children of baby boomers are less likely to own their own home, compared to their parents and if they can afford to buy a home, it will more likely be an apartment, not a detached house.
Here in the Hunter the stock of affordable housing is falling, forcing more people into homelessness even though housing is generally more affordable in Newcastle compared to Sydney. The 2016 census shows that approximately 14% of Newcastle households paid rents of more than 30% of their household income, which is an accepted measure of housing affordability. But it’s not all gloom and doom. There are solutions to the problem. As reported by the Grattan Institute, the ACT Government is trying something different. They are gradually reducing stamp duties and increasing property taxes instead. Cutting stamp duties and increasing property taxes, in its place, is one of the few tax reforms supported by most economists.
A recent report shows that Australia stands to gain billions of dollars in GDP if state governments phased out stamp duty replacing it with a broad based land tax. So instead of home buyers paying an onerous stamp duty, when they buy a house, every home owner would pay an annual levy which would be a fraction of the typical stamp duty. This would encourage more people to move into bigger or smaller homes, as their needs change, rather than renovating, or as they change employment. Stamp duty, instead of a broad based land tax, places the burden on first home buyers and those who want to down size, or move, for whatever reason. A broad based land tax, instead of stamp duties, would spread the financial burden across all those who own houses, not just those buying a house, and help to make housing more affordable. The ACT government is showing the way.
The last significant tax reform we have seen was the introduction of the GST, which most would acknowledge has been a success. Now we need to address the increasing unaffordability of housing which means limiting the tax concession of negative gearing and spreading the burden of property taxes over the wider land owning community. As key players in the land development industry our profession has a front row seat in this discussion and we should use it.
I have just returned from the SSSI NSW Regional Conference in Wollongong where nearly 80 surveyors and spatial professionals participated in a stimulating one and a half day conference. There were some excellent presentations including from staff of the Australian Hydrographic Office which is based in Wollongong. Another important topic was the development of 3D and 4D cadastral models. It was suggested from the floor that one useful step in this direction would be the inclusion of floor levels on AHD on multi story strata plans. Apparently this is under consideration. Watch this space.
Also last month Ian Iredale and his amazing team of volunteer surveyors completed the 14th Maths in Surveying Day at Homebush. Up to one hundred Year 10 students completed a challenging set of exercises designed to show how maths is used in surveying and hopefully encourage them to consider surveying as a career. I was particularly impressed to learn that, for the second year in a row, a group of students and teachers from Moruya High travelled to Sydney to participate. We are all very grateful for the effort that Ian and his team put in to mentor these STEM students which is vital for the future of our profession. You can read about this elsewhere in Azimuth.
Recently a remarkable court case highlighted a little known law involving ‘squatter’s rights’ and the principle of ‘adverse possession’. The story went around the nation and surveyors were talking about it at a meeting I attended in Queensland weeks later. Essentially an astute developer noticed, in 1998, an abandoned house in Sydney, changed the locks, renovated it and rented it out. He never lived in the house. Last year he applied to be recorded as the owner under the law of adverse possession. Relatives of the last known owner launched legal action but the court ruled in the developers favour. You can read about it on line – ‘Developer wins court battle to become owner of vacant house in Sydney’. The law can often be boring and mundane but sometimes it is fascinating.
Planning for the 2019 Australia Day Seminar is well underway and the program will be out by the time you read this. ADS is described as the best surveying conference in Australia and is an event not to be missed. I hope to see many of you there.
Finally I remind you all that the office will close on Friday 21st December 2018 and reopen on Monday 7th January 2019. I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable Christmas.
December 2018/January 2019