Australia's Housing Crisis

Thursday, March 21, 2024 at 05:00 PM



Event contact

Stephanie Holt

In the last few years the urgency of the debate about housing in Australia has escalated. Use of the term ‘housing crisis’ is now widespread. But what form does this crisis take? Is it a ‘crisis of affordability’ for first home buyers, a so-called ‘crisis of the middle class’, or have rising rents and high occupancy ratios made access to any form of housing even more precarious for low-income Australians? How do age and gender shape the way the effects of ‘housing crisis’ are experienced? And what role does Australia’s long commitment to the concept of a ‘home of our own’ play, both in defining the crisis and proposing solutions? In this seminar three eminent scholars consider the housing crisis, in the context of both past and present, and reflect on the implications for Australia’s future in the longer term.

Prof. Janet McCalman (The University of Melbourne) 

The lure of migration to an Anglophone settler colony was the chance to own land—a farm of course, but for most it was urban, residential land. Migrants, whose families had been tenants for generations, could now become landlords, and if they lived off rents, gentlemen and ladies.

The easiest way then and still, to make money, is to buy property, which, even if unimproved, would make you a profit in time.

The changing expectations and fortunes of the landlord class in Australian cities, have determined the availability and quality of affordable housing. And the great divide in this country—the fundamental class conflict—is between those who own land, and those who don’t. To come to grips with the housing crisis afflicting us, especially the young, we need to think about landlords and how they got us here. And in doing that, see some remedies and incentives to open housing to the next generation.

Janet McCalman AC is the author of four award-winning social histories and remains fascinated by the interplay between private life and the public course of history.

Prof. Anne O’Brien (The University of NSW)

Blind spots and paradoxes in housing history

Journalists and advocates have been framing homelessness as a ‘crisis’ for well over a decade, but more recently the language of crisis has come to embrace housing. This paper historicises Australia’s current housing crisis, identifying the subjects of previous crises, and asking how and why homelessness emerged as a ‘problem’ in the post-war years, discrete from the project of ‘housing the nation’. Drawing out the blind spots and paradoxes that past crises illuminate, the paper suggests how an historical perspective can enrich current conversations.

Anne O’Brien is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of New South Wales. She has written widely on the history of poverty, welfare, gender, religion and Indigenous rights. She is currently completing a history of homelessness and people experiencing homelessness in Australia, from the late 19th century to the present.

Prof. Kath Hulse (Swinburne University)

How did we get here? The rental crisis in Australia

Why do have a rental crisis in Australia in 2023/4. To answer this question, I look at some factors over the last three decades which, cumulatively, have led to this situation. It is a story of the ‘boiling frog’, a metaphor for failing to act despite problematic signs until a crisis is reached by which time conditions are dangerous and difficult to change. It is a tale of misplaced optimism, policy inertia and failure to understand the place of the private rental market in the Australian housing system.

Kath Hulse is Emeritus Professor of Housing Studies at Swinburne University of Technology. Her work explores the relationship between the political economy of welfare and housing systems, drawing on her background in social policy, urban and regional planning, and public policy. She researches and publishes on a broad range of contemporary issues which currently include housing market dynamics, growth and change in private renting, access to home ownership, spatial patterns of socio-economic disadvantage and inequalities in income and wealth. Prior to her academic career, Kath worked as a senior executive in policy, planning and operations in government and also has extensive experience as a Director on the board of not for profit companies.


This event will be chaired by Margaret Anderson, Director of Old Treasury Building and Board Member of the History Council of Victoria.

The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.

We thank the series sponsors, Monash University Publishingthe Monash University History Program and the Old Treasury Building.


Posted by on July 18, 2023

Will you come?

Recent responses


The History Council of Victoria Incorporated (HCV) is the peak body for history in the Australian state of Victoria. Its vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today. The HCV champions the work of historians and the value of history. It recognises that history can be written about any place, any person, any period. The HCV advocates why history matters.

Read More


Our calendar lists all upcoming public events arranged by the History Council of Victoria (HCV), plus events in Victoria, Australia, that are added by our Friends and Members.

If you are organising an event that relates to History, we encourage you to publicise it on our website.

Read More


As the peak body for history in Victoria, the History Council makes submissions on current issues. In doing this, the HCV Board is guided by its Advocacy Policy and by the Value of History, a statement developed co-operatively by the HCV and the History Councils of New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

Read More


Since 2015, the HCV has been pleased to sponsor the Years 9 and 10 category of the Historical Fiction Competition organised by the History Teachers' Association of Victoria.

Read More


Ways to support us:

Subscribe to our free newsletter:
Endorse the Value of History statement:
Find us on socials: Twitter / Facebook / YouTube

Read More



The HCV was formed as an advisory body in 2001 and incorporated in 2003. It comprises representatives from cultural and educational institutions and heritage bodies; history teachers and curriculum advisors; academic and professional historians; and local, Indigenous, community and specialist history organisations.

As the peak body for history, the HCV has both ‘outward-looking’ roles (including advocacy and representation to government and the wider community, consultation, community education, and networking with allied interest groups) and ‘inward-looking’ roles (including member support, information dissemination, and networking between members).



The History Council of Victoria acknowledges the State Library of Victoria and the Public Record Office Victoria for supply of the archival images that appear on this website.

We acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive for the right to use of the video footage on the home page, titled "Melbourne: Life in Australia (1966)".

Image credits

  • Italian sailors on ship at Port Melbourne 1938, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese procession in Collins near Elizabeth Street 1901, Harvie & Sutcliffe, photographers, State Library of Victoria
  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese nurses at Children’s Hospital under scholarship 1947, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Ladies physical culture class VRI Melbourne c1931, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001, 011/02
  • Melbourne Cup, Derby and Oaks Day, Flemington Racecourse 1936, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001/4802, 372/30
  • Flinders Street viaduct at foot of Market Street with advertisement for McRobertson’s Chocolate on bridge, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12800/P0003, ADV 1342