News & Current Affairs
27 March 2015
How property investing politicians have skin in the game on the negative gearing debate
Australia's federal politicians have been outed as the country's most eager property investors, casting doubt on their willingness to rein in negative gearing.
The controversial practice allows taxpayers to use tax losses from rental properties to cut their taxable income. Critics argue it contributes to Australia's house affordability crisis.
If someone has more than one mortgage of course they're negatively gearing. You'd be an idiot not to
Around one in seven Australian taxpayers own rental properties, but among federal politicians it is at least one in three.
Figures compiled by property authors Lindsay David, Paul Egan and Philip Soos show federal politicians own an average 2.4 properties each, including their family homes.
Collectively they own a portfolio of 541 properties, conservatively estimated to be worth $350 million.
Barry O'Sullivan is Capital Hill's biggest property tycoon, with the Queensland Nationals senator owning 41 properties.
Other big real estate investors include the Nationals' David Gillespie (18 properties), the Palmer United Party's Clive Palmer (12 properties), and the Country Liberal Party's Natasha Griggs (12 properties).
High-profile Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull owns an impressive portfolio of seven properties, while Labor's Alannah MacTiernan has six.
But of the 226 members of Parliament, 84 of them hold at least one investment property and at least one mortgage or investment loan, meaning they are possibly negative gearing.
Parliament's register of members' interest does not disclose if its members who hold a loan against their investment properties are negatively geared.
But as one federal politician told Fairfax Media, after admitting he negatively geared a second property:
"If someone has more than one mortgage of course they're negatively gearing. You'd be an idiot not to."
Economists like Saul Eslake from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and John Daley from the Grattan Institute – who recently took on Treasurer Joe Hockey on Q&A – say negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount should be wound back because they are inflating house prices and accelerating falling rates of home ownership among the young.
Mr Daley said if the government was unwilling to remove the capital gains tax discount it should get rid of negative gearing altogether.
"The most important argument against negative gearing is that it drives up house prices because it increases the after-tax returns to housing investors, and so prices are higher than they would be otherwise," Mr Daley argued last week.
Mr David, Mr Egan and Mr Soos last year warned that, with such high rates of property ownership among Australia's senators and ministers, it was "difficult to believe that politicians will address the real causes of housing unaffordability, despite the recommendations from government reports".
When it comes to Canberra's entire property portfolio, members of the Coalition own 331 properties, or 61 per cent, at an average of 2.7 properties each.
Labor politicians own 162 properties, at an average of two properties each. Greens politicians own 16 properties, while the Palmer United Party owns 14 (Clive Palmer owns 12 of those).
Australia's MPs currently used more properties for investment or commercial purposes (291 properties) than for residential or recreational purposes (250 properties).
Property ownership among politicians is slightly down since the last time Mr David, Mr Egan and Mr Soos conducted similar research.
In 2013, the authors found MPs owned roughly 563 properties, including 312 for investment or commercial purposes.
In 2011/12, more than 1.2 million taxpayers owned a negatively geared property, and the number of people who use the tax strategy has more than doubled since capital the gains tax discount was introduced in 1999.