Negative gearing driving ‘unsustainable development’

Coastal development
Coastal housing development is “hopelessly unsustainable”. Image: iStock.

By Rachel Borchardt

Stripping investors of their tax breaks could be the solution to unsustainable development, according to a coastal sustainability advocate.

Speaking at the Queensland Coastal Conference 2009, Mike Berwick, Queensland’s representative on the National NRM Working Group and former mayor of Douglas Shire, said housing development was “hopelessly unsustainable”.

“It has heavy biodiversity, carbon and water footprints and it is driven by a perverse tax policy that we call negative gearing,” Berwick told delegates.

By removing this tax reduction opportunity that some investors receive, he said government would see a significant drop in expansion on the coast.

“If you took away negative gearing I suspect you would see a very rapid stop to much of what we call unsustainable development.”

Berwick also labeled coastal management in Queensland as a “real mess”. He welcomed the State Government’s plan to introduce a new coastal management strategy, but said a major overhaul of the state’s planning guidelines was required to curtail expansion.

“Under current planning regimes urban boundaries will just continue to expand to meet demand,” Berwick said. “And even though they’re fixed, they’re only temporarily fixed …  so you’re going to have an ongoing spread of coastal growth.”

He recommended instead that housing be created within a permanently fixed regional footprint.

“It’s impossible for the state and local government to provide adequate infrastructure when you get linear development …They have to be rationalised into some kind of regional centres.”

Housing should also be made more climate-friendly by combining smart design and carbon offsetting.

“Zero impact development is where we really need to end up,” Berwick said.

He said another requirement was a review of the national approach to conservation, which currently operates under a reserve system, protecting eco-systems in national parks and certain other areas.

“It’s what you call the fortress conservation approach on one part of the landscape … Other people call it ecological apartheid – ‘we’ll reserve that bit and trash the rest’.”

While he said reserves were a fundamental part of the solution, alone they were inadequate.

“The climate debate has really brought home to us the fact that they aren’t sustainable on their own because eco-systems and species have to be able to move with shifting climates and they can’t when they’re stuck on islands.”

The answer, he said, lay in a “whole of landscape approach” where users paid for the real costs of the eco-system services they used. 

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