When more than a thousand delegates gathered in Darwin last week for Australia’s biennial national housing conference, they were welcomed by no fewer than three federal government ministers.

By video, prime minister Scott Morrison, champion of “quiet Australians,” invoked the “homes material, homes human and homes spiritual” of Robert Menzies’s forgotten people broadcast to remind attendees that “housing is much more than a roof over your head.” Also by video, housing minister and assistant treasurer Michael Sukkar declared that the government’s priority is to “reduce pressure on affordability” and pointed to the first home loan deposit scheme and other Coalition campaign promises. In person, assistant housing minister Luke Howarth, whose responsibilities include community housing and homelessness, stressed that the government is aware of the shortage of social and affordable housing and “wants to get some wins in this space.”

All three lauded ministers the policy-oriented research of the conference organiser, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, and praised the practical efforts of the housing and homelessness workers who attend each year in large numbers. None of them offered any new initiatives.

Like climate change, housing is in the political too-hard basket, acknowledged as a pressing national problem but tackled in a piecemeal and ad hoc manner. There’s no mystery about why: a comprehensive response would cost a lot of money and upset core constituencies.

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