AUSTRALIAN house prices are showing a slow, but continuing, improvement with figures up in all states and suburban Melbourne levels at their highest since September 1990. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that prices in all capital cities in the December 1992 quarter were up on the previous quarter, and all capitals, except Sydney and Melbourne, were up on the December 1991 quarter. The biggest increases were in Darwin (13.5 per cent) and Canberra (7.6 per cent), where analysts said large public service populations had insulated the cities against some of the recession's impact. In Melbourne, the median price of a house sold at auction in the suburbs was A$150,000 (a b o u t HK$825,000), which was the same as at the end of 1989 and only A$500 below the April 1990 median, according to Monash University auction analyst Dr Chris Maher. Housing Forecaster BIS Shrapnel said the bureau figures were in line with its prediction of a 25 per cent rise in house prices nationally in the next 21/2 years. BIS Shrapnel predicted Victoria and New South Wales would topple Queensland as Australia's housing market growth centres, but said neither city would see a substantial upturn in commercial property prices for the next three to four years. BIS Shrapnel's senior economist, Mr Bernie Neufeld, said movements in population, immigration and unemployment would drive housing prices up. For domestic investors, these rises are being offset by the low cost of serving loans and falling interest rates, making homes the most affordable they have been since 1986. More local buyers were expected to enter the housing market when the Labour Government implemented its election promise to allow home buyers to use up to A$10,000 of their superannuation funds towards a home deposit. The March Housing Activity Report, by agency research arm Hooker Research, which analysed housing investment here last year, showed the importance of investors, rather than first home buyers in the market. In New South Wales, first home buyers declined from 30 per cent in the March quarter to 26 per cent in the December quarter, with most of the decline absorbed by investors. Investors accounted for 60 per cent of all home unit sales. In Queensland, investors and second time buyers dominated the market, with first home buyers accounting for just 20 per cent of sales. In Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, investors were the smallest category of buyers and, in Western Australia, they matched first and second time buyers.