Can’t afford a house? Barnaby Joyce recently suggested that you just need to get out of Sydney and Melbourne. This kind of cold indifference is callous, and shows a startling ignorance for how widespread the issue of housing affordability is.

Asking people to move cities is not a solution. It’s a huge upheaval in people’s lives. It means finding a new job, moving away from friends and family, finding new schools and sports clubs for your kids, building a relationship with a new GP and establishing yourself in a new community.


Unsurprisingly, another report has once again found Australia has some of the least affordable housing in the world, with Sydney and Melbourne ranked among the least affordable.


Alarmingly, the report was also a damning snapshot of the housing crisis facing regional Australia.


Of the Australian markets captured , 87 per cent were ranked as either “seriously” or “severely” unaffordable, many of which were regional centres often heralded as an escape from the untenable Sydney property prices.


Take Joyce’s hometown of Tamworth as an example — one of his suggestions for relocation. Research showed Tamworth is considered a “severely unaffordable” place to live. The median price of a house is $325,000, which is made drastically unaffordable when the median household income is $59,500.


It’s simple — when the average income is lower in country towns, households spend a higher percentage of their earnings to pay for their mortgage or rent.


So to someone living in Sydney or Melbourne with a median income of $88,000 or $78,000, buying a house in Tamworth is more affordable than for people already living there with a lower wage.


But what happens in the city affects the country. Unless we address prices in capital cities, high costs will continue to push people out into regional centres, jacking up house prices and perpetuating the affordability crisis regional residents already face.


That brings me to inequality.


Not only is inequality rising in Australia but the equality gap between urban and regional areas is also widening. Rent stress is higher, health outcomes are lower, and unemployment is ballooning in the country.


Again, let’s take Joyce’s electorate as an example. Unemployment in the New England and North West Region is currently 7.6 per cent, above the national average of 5.8 per cent. West Tamworth is at 17.3 per cent.


People are at their wits’ end about the housing affordability crisis. Frivolous wise cracks from out-of-touch ministers is not a solution.

This Opinion Piece was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, 9 February 2017