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Australian Financial Review Apr 18 2017 12:00 AM
Jacob Greber, Laura Tingle
The federal government has been examining ways to cap the value of tax breaks for housing investment as it continues to wrestle with the housing affordability issue.
While the government has firmly ruled out Labor's plan to dump negative gearing, and has downplayed the likelihood of lowering capital gains tax concessions, sources have told The Australian Financial Review the government has investigated the possibility of putting a limit on the number of properties that investors can buy.
An alternative approach may be to impose a dollar value limit on how much can be negatively geared by investors.
Questions around the preferred option hinge on how to find a measure that recognises large differences between property markets around the country and avoids generating new regional or price-bracket distortions.
"You have to find a way to make it uniform," one source said.
The government has been eager in recent days to hammer home the fact that relatively few Australians negatively gear a large portfolio of properties.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said on Monday that 72 per cent own just one property, and 90 per cent own no more than two.
In other words, preventing negative gearing from the third property onwards may be consistent with Treasurer Scott Morrison's insistence that changes to the housing market be done in a way that is "surgical" rather than involving a "chainsaw".
A cap on tax treatments would also have the advantage of limiting the future cost to the budget of housing tax concessions, while avoiding a sharp collapse in prices, which Mr Morrison is keen to avoid.
Mr Sukkar on Monday accused Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of being motivated to dump all negative gearing in order to save $37 billion in the budget.
Housing continues to dominate the government's preparation for the May budget, with a deep internal split over whether to allow first-time buyers to access their superannuation savings to fund property deposits.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has distanced himself from the idea, it continues to be flagged as part of a broader package to address housing affordability - sparking anger from within some parts of the Coalition who don't believe the government should be intervening in the market.
"You've got to wonder who was the brains trust that said the Turnbull government should make this budget all about housing affordability when it's an issue where, besides immigration and tax policy, the main policy levers rest with the states and the market," wrote Peta Credlin, former chief of staff to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, over the long weekend.
Mr Abbott repeated over the weekend his insistence that scaling back immigration would help improve affordability.
Shadow minister for productivity Andrew Leigh scoffed at the Coalition's internal fights.
"They're far more concerned with fighting one another than they are with fighting for ordinary Australians," Mr Leigh said on Sky.
"Challenges like climate change, housing affordability, economic growth going by the wayside while the Liberal Party engages in these internal squabbles."
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