Unaffordable housing has surged to the top of the list of undecided voters' concerns in western Sydney, trumping the long-standing priorities of health, education and jobs, according to new focus group research.
And while the problem angered younger voters unable to buy a home, it also troubled an older generation who feared for their children's future.
Foreign investors and immigrants were blamed; neither of the main political parties were seen as having the solution.
The problem also surfaced as a major concern among Melbourne focus groups, but it was muted compared with anger among residents of western Sydney's marginal seats.
Melbourne voters also rated healthcare, border protection, same-sex marriage, refugees and population growth as among their top concerns, although population growth seemed to be code for housing price concerns.
"I live in drive-by shooting territory and a dump costs a million dollars - are you joking?" said an older female voter in a western Sydney focus group convened last week by Ipsos Research for Fairfax Media.
Another added: "It used to be a dream, a million dollars. Now it's nothing." A third said: "My daughter has to wait 'til I cark it to buy a house."
Younger voters went straight to the issue even as they introduced themselves and before being asked about any of their interests or concerns, complaining about their lack of housing options, explaining that they still lived with their parents.
"Houses in Wentworthville are going for $1.2 million, a knockdown. It's a joke," said one man. "I heard on the radio that a policeman married to a nurse can't afford to buy a house in Sydney. What are we doing?" posed another.
Ipsos research director Laura Demasi, who moderated the Sydney groups, observed: "Housing affordability was the number one issue that cut across age, gender and political leaning."
There was "absolute consensus on housing affordability being the number one issue for them personally - themselves or their children - and as an acute social issue, leaving them with a sense of despair for the next generation and concern about the implications for Australian society in general.
"They were looking to government for action here at any level, level not specified."
Participants in the groups, two in western Sydney and two in Melbourne, were undecided voters who live in marginal electorates. Some mentioned negative gearing by investors as a source of upward pressure on housing prices, but seemed unaware that Labor has proposed curbs on the practice.
There was a common view, unchallenged, that the main culprits were foreigners and immigrants. Houses for sale "always go to the Chinese", one Sydney man under 40 said. Another man said that the national economy, after the mining boom, was now reliant on "selling off properties to Chinese and foreigners".
"There are only three Australians left living in my street," said an older woman. An English immigrant of 30 years' standing, apologising in advance to the ethnically Indian man sitting next to her, said "I feel like I live in a Mumbai ghetto."
Ms Demasi remarked: "Interesting to see both groups - incorrectly - believe that foreign investment is the driver behind the boom."
A home of their own seemed utterly unattainable, and federal government policy was mentioned as a hindrance rather than a help.
"I worked two jobs, worked my arse off, doing 70 hours a week, but because that puts me into the next tax bracket it's a revolving door," said a younger Sydney woman.
The cost of living has long been a voter worry, and other troubling costs mentioned were road tolls and electricity, but nothing compared to the virulence reserved for the cost of housing.
"Politicians don't seem to feel the same pressures," said an older woman, "probably because of their huge salaries and all the other perks." It was noted housing affordability was not the Prime Minister's number one concern.
The story 'It used to be a dream, a million dollars. Now it's nothing' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.