Naveen Samrat and Aparna Hegde are lifters, not leaners.
- Families in the outer mortgage belts of big cities are feeling the lack of infrastructure investment
- House prices have begun to rise again after time in doldrums
- Treasurer rules out cash splash on roads and rail at cost of budget surplus
The two IT professionals from Point Cook in Melbourne’s outer west are doing everything the government wants Australians to do to get ahead.
They both work full time, have a mortgage and are about to build a second home as an investment to help fund their family’s future.
But while this middle-class family is doing better than many Australians, dig a little deeper and the aspirations that a good education and hard work will return a good standard of living are far from being met.
Earlier this week, the family was waiting to hear whether their bank, Westpac, would pass on the Reserve Bank’s rate cut announced on Tuesday.
“Even $50 a month would be a significant help to the family budget,” Naveen said.
With Westpac only passing on 0.15 per cent instead of the 0.25 per cent RBA cut, Naveen and Samrat will only get about $30 a month back in their pockets.
“It’s still extra money, so we would probably put it into the kids’ activities,” Aparna said.
Between two children, soon-to-be-two mortgages and sending some money back to ageing parents in India, the couple has no savings.
“The savings go into the mortgage,” Naveen said.
Investing in time
Buying an investment property might seem like the privilege of a few, but for this couple, it’s partially motivated by the need to cut down their commute.
It’s a problem facing many families in the mortgage belts of big cities — moving out to find affordable housing, only to spend hours commuting.
On average, Naveen and Aparna spend two-and-a-half hours each day in the car getting to and from work.
Three years ago the couple bought their home in the suburb 30 kilometres out of Melbourne’s CBD, because at $600,000 for a three-bedroom house it was where they could afford.
After a couple of years in the doldrums, house prices in Melbourne and Sydney increased again this month.
But like so many of Australia’s growth corridors, infrastructure and public transport have not kept pace with the population.
Infrastructure Australia warned as recently as August the cost of over-crowded public transport systems and congested roads would double unless governments did more than just play “catch-up” on transport projects.
Every day the couple joins the snake-like line of cars that clog the way from the suburb to the city from early morning.
Construction will soon begin on their investment property in another outer suburb, Truganina, about 25 kilometres out from central Melbourne.
“Our investment property is at a place where we are hoping a new train station comes so that the commute will be much easier compared with staying at Point Cook,” Aparna said.
They’re banking on the shorter commute, but crucially, also access to more good state high schools for their two children.
Aparna has had to go back to work full-time to fund the mortgage on the property, meaning extra costs to have their now 13-month-old daughter in child care.
“Sometimes it does worry us, given that no matter what, both of us will have to keep working full-time,” Aparna said.
Where stimulus is more than big words
The family illustrates well the multiple economic challenges facing middle-class families in Australia’s big cities.
Neither Naveen nor Aparna have received wages boosts in recent years.
Buying a house in an outer suburb was what the couple could afford, but comes at the cost of time with their children.
Naveen and Aparna are still trying to strike a good work-life balance. (ABC News: Madeleine Morris)
The Reserve Bank’s governor, Philip Lowe, has repeatedly spoken about his desire for government to do more of the heavy lifting in economic stimulus, including by building “shovel-ready” infrastructure.
“It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in [infrastructure], especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” Dr Lowe said in July.
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But this week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg repeatedly ruled out a cash splash on roads and rail that would come at the cost of the budget surplus.
“When it comes to returning the budget back into surplus, this, of course, is good news, because it means that we’re getting our spending under control,” the Treasurer told the ABC.
“But also that we’re getting more people into work, which means that they are moving off welfare and that is the real success behind our balanced budget, the first in 11 years.”
For now, Naveen and Aparna are grateful to have a few extra dollars in their pocket each month, but only substantial economic changes outside their control will provide the quality of life they are hoping for.