Fare thee well

For more than two decades, this magazine’s editorial Zeitgeist was tuned to the virtues of our industry’s animal spirits. A prosperous society is built by risk-taking entrepreneurs and, let’s not be shy, buccaneering grit.

We’ve criticised governments when they determine to assemble rickety policy scaffolds rather than trust citizens to build opportunity.

We’ve also criticised them for stunting individual and mercantile liberty. Nevertheless, we’ve always recognised that free markets don’t mean a free-for-all.

The past 20 years has witnessed a staggering transformation of the property industry and its contribution to society. Just look at the fruits of your industry’s efforts:

  • 3.3 million new homes built for Australian families since 1992
  • 380 million sqm of office space, shopping precincts, health, education and tourism facilities (to name a few) delivered over the same period
  • An industry that directly accounts for 11.5 per cent of the nation’s economic growth and 1.3 million jobs
  • More than $6 trillion of the nation’s wealth is held in property investments.

Plus, Australia has democratised property ownership more than any other country on the planet, with around 12 million Australians collectively owning the nation’s most valuable commercial real estate assets through their super funds and investments.

The Property Council has grown with the industry it represents. In the early days, we crossed many rivers by feeling the stones.

We now proudly serve your interests with unparalleled access to political leaders and policy-makers based on the quality of our ideas and hard data. Here are some final observations.

Economic growth

Like many advanced nations, Australia faces a chilly demographic winter. An ageing population will exert huge strains on living standards.

However, Australia is better placed than most to mobilise our cities and regions to massively turbocharge economic productivity, lift levels of workforce participation and service population growth.

The Property Council’s new Partnerships for Economic Growth (PEG) project (modelled on the UK Cameron government’s City Deals program) represents a radical new strategy for planning and investing in cities. This includes smarter approaches to setting and funding infrastructure priorities.

We believe the dividends from our PEG plan can equal the benefits of Australia’s successful micro-economic reform programs of the ’80s and ’90s. PEG will be released later this year.

Taxation

You pay $34 billion in property-specific taxes a year. Most of these taxes are levied inefficiently. Many should not exist.

Without our collective advocacy efforts over the years, this annual tax bill would no doubt be billions of dollars higher.

However, our wins have been tactical. Most often we are only holding back the tide.

Australia needs a modern tax system that will serve coming generations as we face totally globalised markets.

The Abbott government’s tax white paper process provides an opportunity to get it right. This will be a hard-fought battle that requires business and community advocates to team up against a timid political establishment.

In 1999, business and social justice groups persuaded governments to dump stamp duties in return for a broad-based GST.

Political shenanigans unravelled the GST reforms. This time we need to forge a tax modernisation deal that sticks.

Sustainability

Australia always tops international ratings for green buildings and portfolios. Eco-efficiency: we get it.

The sustainability agenda is evolving to embrace resilience—cities that better cope with climate variability.

Another progressive dimension is the diversity agenda—building cities, communities and businesses that actively include all spheres of society. This means more women in leadership roles, greater access for those living with disability, encouraging older Australians to remain economic contributors and nurturing a generation of Indigenous talent.

Our industry’s image

The property industry can proudly tell compelling stories about our economic and social contribution to the nation. Many of you are also incredibly generous private givers.

As an industry, we should never hesitate to transcend the dismal noise and misanthropy of a 24-hour media cycle. We can always do a better job of showcasing our defining attribute as entrepreneurs—an optimism and positive spirit that builds opportunity for our fellow Australians.

It’s been my privilege to work closely with thousands of members and superb staff teams.

The bounties of your encouragement, wisdom (and occasional Tasering) will continue to rouse me in my new career.

Congratulations and best wishes to my successor, Ken Morrison, who I’m sure will lead the Property Council with verve.

Thank you all for your unstinting support and friendship. Fare thee well.