For about a month recently Australian media – including the Sydney Telegraph, Fairfax, and Guardian Australia – ran headline stories suggesting that a surge in property investment from China was distorting the market and hurting first home buyers. At a meeting of AIIA NSW pre-eminent property consultant Chris Curtis delivered the facts – including statistics from the Reserve Bank and the Foreign Investment Review Board – showing that this story was just another media beat-up.
Leaving aside the racist overtones in some of the stories, what is of particular concern is that the stories were littered with inaccuracies – and just plain wrong. If ever there was a case for the low-key ABC Fact Checking operation – funded as a $10 million extra grant by former prime minister Julia Gillard – to investigate, this would be it.
Based on the facts presented by Mr Curtis, there is a case for a reference to the Press Council. He cited many inaccurate media reports, but said “The low water mark was reached on 18 Feb 2014 with a piece in Guardian Australia by Clive Hamilton with its original and breathtakingly xenophobic title: “Wealthy Chinese buyers are making Sydney’s housing problem worse.”
The Guardian Australia article ultimately produced a lengthy disclaimer after criticism of its racial overtones, but not before some of its material was – according to Mr Curtis – ‘shamefully” reproduced by Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The detailed analysis by Mr Curtis, supported by Reserve Bank of Australia figures and Foreign Investment Board determinations, show that the Chinese share of the residential market in fiscal 2013 was less than one per cent. Full details of his presentation here. They show Chinese investment was dwarfed by investment from Canada and South Korea, but the real driver in the market was the surge in buy-to-let properties – by Australians.