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Australia: Palmerston homeowners and buyers look to the election to help ease cost-of-living pressures

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Jess Bussey, her partner Aaron and daughter Ivy have recently moved into a home in Gunn, in Palmerston. (ABC News: Tully Hemsley) © Provided by ABC NEWS Jess Bussey, her partner Aaron and daughter Ivy have recently moved into a home in Gunn, in Palmerston. (ABC News: Tully Hemsley)

Jess Bussey took a punt.

The 29-year-old made the call to shift north from the outback town of Alice Springs, and alongside her partner, Aaron, recently decided to buy a family home in the satellite city of Palmerston, about 20 kilometres south of Darwin.

They haven't looked back.

"I just like the feel of Palmerston," the Northern Territory mum said.

"My daughter goes to childcare out here, my partner works in Palmerston, so it was kind of the best fit."

Palmerston, a burgeoning city sprawled parallel to Darwin, is bucking the NT's population growth slump.

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Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data reveals that while Darwin's population fell slightly last year, and the NT remained unchanged overall, Palmerston shot up by 10 per cent.

And Ms Bussey's family is among a large cohort of that blooming population – young homeowners now in the process of paying off a mortgage, while also dealing with Australia's rising cost of living.

"It will be a squeeze, definitely, if things start to rise [further]," Ms Bussey said.

"We have looked at that and put a few ideas together and put some money aside, but things will definitely be a squeeze, especially having a young family."

ABS data also shows that nearly 40 per cent of properties in Palmerston are owned by people paying off a mortgage – that's more than 10 per cent above the rest of the NT, and 5 per cent higher than the Australian average, which sits at 34.5 per cent.

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For Ms Bussey, the rising cost of the weekly grocery and fuel bills, coupled with the constant need to feed the mortgage, will factor into who will gain her vote at the federal election on May 21.

"100 per cent [it will]," she said.

"The hope is there they can make a change and make things more affordable for young families."

Cost of living higher in NT

Palmerston straddles two marginal electorates – the seats of Solomon and Lingiari – both currently held by Labor, with swingable margins of 3.1 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively.

ABC chief election analyst Antony Green said cost-of-living issues and service delivery would likely define the upcoming election fight, in particular, for the Top End seat of Solomon.

He said it was especially vulnerable to the rising cost of goods, and voters would keep that in mind.

"Cost of living is much higher in the Northern Territory, and the rise in petrol prices spiked more in the Northern Territory than anywhere else, because so many goods have to be transported to Darwin. So, cost of living is going to bite in that electorate," Mr Green said.

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Wariness about future

Real estate agent Andrew Lamberton said with cost of living on the upward creep, and with the looming prospect of rising interest rates, there was a sense of wariness about the future.

"Palmerston has a very young population base, demographically, so cost of living is vital to them," Mr Lamberton said.

"They don't have spare cash lying around, as a rule."

He said he believed the issue would "absolutely" drive the city's large voter base come election day.

Prospective Palmerston homebuyer Maurice Breed, who recently moved back to the region from Victoria, said he'd be looking for anything to help drive down the costs associated with buying a property.

Mr Breed said he'd been watching the Palmerston market spike over the past couple of years, "through the roof", in his words, and said he'd be on the lookout for a pressure easer this election.

"Anything helps," Mr Breed said.

"Paying stamp duty on stuff when you buy them is a bit of a killer, it hurts the pocket.

"I've got kids growing up and they're in the market, they're going to be looking for a house soon, and everything helps, mate.

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"It's very tough. Trying to get a deposit for a house is a killer."

Financial pinch not lost on candidates

Labor's Luke Gosling is seeking a third term in Solomon, a feat that would mark a record for the electorate, which has swung between Labor and the Country Liberal Party since its inception in 2001.

The CLP, which will be represented by former grazier Tina MacFarlane, would need to convince around 1,700 Solomon residents to change their votes to win this year.

The cost-of-living pinch being felt in the voter stronghold of Palmerston appears not to have been lost on either candidate.

Mr Gosling gave a media conference earlier in the week, where he spoke about Labor's pitch to "lower the cost of living for everyday Australians" by helping push for greater wage growth.

A spokesperson for Ms MacFarlane said the Coalition would respond to cost-of-living concerns through one-off tax offsets and payments of $250 to carers, pensioners, jobseekers, disability support recipients and some retirees.

Of the promises made by both major parties around alleviating cost-of-living pressures, Ms Bussey said she'd not yet been convinced: "We'll just see what they have to offer closer to the election."


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