The government is sitting on hundreds of pages of evidence and scores of submissions about housing affordability it is unable to use because it let its inquiry into the subject lapse.
News of the quashed inquiry emerged as Treasurer Scott Morrison delivered a speech in which he declared housing affordability to be an "important policy focus" of the Turnbull government in the new parliamentary term.
The inquiry was initiated by Morrison's predecessor, Joe Hockey, in April last year. Undertaken by the House of Representatives economics committee and chaired by Liberal backbencher John Alexander, it took evidence from the Treasury, the Reserve Bank, ANZ Bank, the Law Society and housing economists.
Mr Alexander said at the time it painted a picture of a nation turning from a "commonwealth", with huge home ownership, into a "kingdom" made up of landlords and serfs. One of the ideas considered by the committee was a winding back of negative gearing.
He was replaced as chairman by Liberal MP Craig Laundy shortly after hearings concluded in September last year. Mr Laundy has told Fairfax Media he had worked on a draft report with the committee secretariat but wasn't able to put it to the committee before he was promoted to the ministry and replaced with backbencher David Coleman shortly before the election.
Under the rules governing committees, the inquiry "lapsed" with the election, meaning Mr Coleman is unable to restart or conclude it without a fresh referral from Treasurer Scott Morrison.
A Labor member of the committee, Pat Conroy, believes the inquiry was allowed to lapse because its conclusions would not have suited the government.
"There were incredibly strong arguments for reform to the current system of incentives to make housing more affordable," he said. "We got lots of good evidence out of the Reserve Bank and Treasury to that effect, so any balanced report would have had to reflect that testimony."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten strongly criticised the government for saying nothing about housing affordability during the election other than to attack Labor's plans to wind back negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions.
"They rubbished Labor's plans," he said. "Now, belatedly they are engaging in a cruel hoax. They are pretending to want to do something about housing affordability, yet all they're proposing is the states make some administrative changes."
Economist Chris Richardson, of Deloitte Access Economics, said young people who were struggling to get into the housing market shouldn't be too worried, because renting made more financial sense at present.
"It makes sense to rent because there are a hell of a lot of people taking a large punt [on buying property]," he said.
While interest rates were unlikely to increase in the short term, Mr Richardson said that inevitably they would have to rise, and at that point house prices would cool and affordability would begin to improve.
On the policy solutions pushed by the two major parties – Mr Morrison's calls for states to ramp up housing supply and Labor's policy of reducing capital gains and negative gearing tax concessions – Mr Richardson said both approaches would have a limited but beneficial impact.
"Doing something on the supply side is good – it's overdue, I'll applaud it," he said. "But it's also hard to do, because you are herding cats; the states and territories and councils have a lot of power, too. These are sensible changes being talked about, but they are not make or break around affordability."
Asked whether the Treasurer would restart the stalled home ownership inquiry, a spokesman for Mr Morrison said there had been "a number of inquiries into this issue".
The government was "able to draw upon the testimonies and reports of those reviews in framing initiatives going forward", he said.In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald