January 26 2038.
[check against delivery]
My fellow Australians.
On this 250th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet on this continent, I want to make a few comments about our society and economy.
Arrival Day, as we’ve known it for several decades now, has become a day to look back on things we’ve done wrong. Dedicating a day to critical self-reflection is one of our nation’s finest achievements. We can’t undo our mistakes. But we can learn from them and use that to set the future on the right path.
That’s why it’s very important we think about house prices. How did we get to this point? When I travel across this country, I see three disappointed generations – one owning homes that have slumped in value; one owing giant debts on low-value homes, and one perhaps able to buy a home, if they were not wounded by the economic shrapnel that came from the explosion.
We were like butterflies. We thought our brief glimpse of the world told us everything we needed to know. House price crashes had never happened in our lifetimes, so while rates were low, we treated the banks like an all-you-can-eat salad bar.
Interest rates were low for so long that we began to think they’d never go back up either.
When the RBA raised rate in 2025, after so many years of inactivity, perhaps the house price upswing might have stopped. That was our chance.
But fate intervened.
We now know that China’s overstretched financial system was, at that exact moment, about to burst. The failure kept interest rates low, even as Chinese funds flowed out of China and found their way to Australia.
RBA Governor Stevens repeated his now infamous signature move and cut rates. The price of housing in Australia continued to rise. Median prices in all major capitals topped $1 million. Sydney’s average price rose over $2 million.
A first home loan of six figures was de rigeur. And why not? With rates at 1 per cent, young people around Australia could afford that sort of debt to obtain their own home.
Their parents, in most cases, had done likewise. Who would talk them out of it? I saw my own children – Morgan and Orbison – make the exact choices I had, and although I felt a tremor of unease, I didn’t want to dictate their lives to them. Personal freedom is one of the strands of philosophy that enlivens the Libor Party I lead, and I try to live it out in my own life too.
At home I bit my tongue. To my shame, I did the same from the opposition benches in Parliament.
Treasurer Bandt seemed to have a firm grip on the economy. House price appreciation was as Australian as a Golden Gaytime on a 45-degree day. Who was I to argue with a trend that had run my entire life?
Environment Minister Irwin read me a quote the other day that I knew I must use in this speech.
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history,” she said. That’s from a science fiction writer from last century. He saw something of the future, Bindi told me, but only by paying careful attention to the past.
That’s our job, from hereon. To make sure we pay attention to the full sweep of history. We must not only be obsessed with what’s right under our noses. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The lessons of 5 years ago may glow more brightly than the lessons of 105 years ago, but they are not always more pertinent.
We should make sure our memory of the excesses of the mid 20th century inform our debates on government over-reach. Make sure our memories of the 18th and 19th centuries inform our debates on unchecked poverty. Make sure our memories of the rise and fall of civilisations long past informs our thinking about our permanence.
On this day, above all others, I commend the study of history to all of us.