When one trick fails to fly, there’s always another one just around the corner

Was the Premier’s thought bubble this week about capping rents on investment properties a case of policy on the run, or just another piece of political kite-flying, asks Madonna King

Mar 23, 2023, updated Mar 23, 2023
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appears to be heading for an iceberg but is too stubborn to change course.  (AAP Image/Darren England)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appears to be heading for an iceberg but is too stubborn to change course. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Annastacia Palaszczuk’s response to the rental crisis this week encapsulated two of the oldest political tricks in the book.

A seasoned politician, the premier knows her promotion of a rent cap was a nothing more than a policy-making kite flying exercise. That was the first political trick, and it failed spectacularly.

It’s not a new strategy, and nor is it confined to one side of politics. All leaders and political parties at some time have embarked on a plan to ‘float’ an idea, to see if it has support with voters, before deciding to forge ahead, or abandon it.

From death duties to road rage laws, the tactic has been used for decades.

Sometimes it works. Take for example the idea that mobile phone usage by drivers is dangerous and should be penalised. That idea was floated in Queensland, broadly supported, and laws uncontroversially followed.

Brisbane’s decision to host the Olympic Games, and at the Commonwealth level, a GST, or a charge on carbon to reduce its use and slow climate change are other successful examples.

Dr Jim Chalmers hitched his idea of higher super balances to a kite and set it off recently. While the wind came in behind that idea, any attempt to broaden it sent his kite straight into the nearest bush.

And this is exactly the same strategy that Annastacia Palaszczuk and her government decided to use this week, when she announced she was seriously considering a rent cap to address the state’s housing crisis.

It was a thought bubble, just aimed at measuring voter warmth for the idea in a bid to address ongoing revelations that parts of the state were gripped by a shortage in housing, which was resulting in ballooning and perhaps even unprecedented homeless levels.

The idea attracted headlines and talkback and had workers, around the office water bubbler, discussing how it might work, and the impact of a government stepping in to tell investors that greedy rent hikes had forced her to act.

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It was a massive overreach, and showed a fundamental misunderstanding of how the housing economy works; a simple kite-flying exercise to see whether the government might be able to get away with capping rent.

But it was flawed because it failed to acknowledge that investors – often mums and dads who have poured their life savings into a second property as a retirement plan – were actually helping to address the same housing shortage that her government has now ignored for almost a decade.

The second political trick that grounded her idea kite was that the proposal blamed a big chunk of voters – those with an investment property – for her own government’s inaction.

And she underestimated the power of that group to fight back. As they should. There are greedy landlords, and there are more who are not. Just as there are disrespectful tenants, and more who are not.

And to put all landlords in one corner, and wrap crime tape around their collective behaviour, just reeked of a government looking for someone to blame. That’s especially the case when many are struggling to meet the constant march north of interest rates; an impact not even considered in the government’s thought bubble.

This housing crisis has been on the agenda for years. The Government has been warned of its looming impact, for years. Remember the idea to turn underground car parks into emergency accommodation? Or the endless conversations about interstate migration to the state’s south-east?

The fact that there is not a genuine, long-term policy plan, and a kite marked ‘rent caps’ had to be sent up into the skies this week, is not on investors. It’s on a failure of political leadership.

And that’s a kite that has now been flying too high, for too long.

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