You are here

Short Stay Accommodation Bill 2018 - Second Reading

1 May 2019

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on behalf of the Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Ms O'Connor, who has been very passionate on the issue of housing and everything that can be done to mitigate the housing crisis in Tasmania. We have been in the grips of a crisis for some years now but it has in part been because of the impact of the rapid and unchecked growth in the short-stay market.

The most research on this matter was released yesterday. Anglicare produces an annual snapshot of the rental market focusing on people who earn the least. This year, the snapshot found fewer properties were listed statewide than were listed in the south in 2013. There has been a 60 per cent reduction in listed properties over the last seven years and there is increased competition. Clients are reporting competing against at least 40 applications per property and I have personally heard examples of more than 80 people turning up. It must be the most disheartening experience you could ever have to desperately need a house and find that you have 40 to 80 other desperate people standing there with you all fighting for one single property.

The snapshot Anglicare has done found that a single parent could only afford eight of the listed properties, all of which were located on the west coast. Only roughly 10 per cent of properties listed were affordable for a single person on the aged pension and most of those were shared houses.

The Human Services Dashboard data shows that it is still taking over a year to house priority applicants on the Housing waiting list. I think it is 56 weeks. The number of households assisted through the private rental assistance scheme has trended down since the last state budget. There is no doubt that Tasmania is suffering from a housing crisis of an alarming magnitude and there is no evidence of this easing at the moment.

Specifically, on the subject of short-stay accommodation, in 2018 the University of Tasmania's Institute for the Study of Social Change released a report titled A Blueprint for Improving Housing Outcomes in Tasmania. It showed Airbnb listings had grown from 1827 in July 2016 to 4552 in January 2018 and 76 per cent of these properties were entire properties. That data was taken from the analysis website, Inside Airbnb. The same website shows that a year later in January 2019 there were 5245 listings and 76.9 per cent of those were whole properties. This data is from Airbnb alone and given there are other short-stay providers in the market, the numbers could be much higher. This data shows that growth in Airbnb listings is still growing and the proportion of properties that are whole properties is not declining.

The 2018 Institute for Social Change Report made a number of recommendations. Most of those recommendations have not been adopted and the rest of them have not been meaningfully addressed. One of those recommendations was 'to regulate the number of entire properties that are converted from long-term rental to short-term holiday letting in key inner-city markets'. The Government has refused so far to consider regulating to cap or reduce the number of whole properties converted to short-stay accommodation. 

In 2018 the Government had a chance with their Private Rental Incentive Scheme to pursue a neoliberal approach to reduce short-stay listings which would have been inefficient and small scale, but nonetheless the Greens believe it would have been better than nothing. Unfortunately, that approach was completely mismanaged and instead, what appears to have happened is a scheme to shift private rental into affordable rentals, perhaps to make public housing waiting lists look better.

This bill is perhaps the first positive step to address the impact of the rapid growth of the short-stay market that this Government has taken. It is unfortunate that it is a relatively small step that has taken so long.

The Government has referred to the housing crisis as well as various other failures under their watch as 'growing pains', a gross mischaracterisation that suggests that, for example, in this instance the housing crisis is primarily driven by population growth. But the Institute for Social Change's August housing update estimates that between 2016 and 2018 the Greater Hobart housing stock was 98 properties in surplus above the demand increase from migration. It also estimates that, conservatively, 697 properties were lost from the rental market in the Greater Hobart area from Airbnb listings alone, leading to a net shortage of properties of 599. That is 599 homes that are no longer available for a Tasmanian person in need to live in. These are really stark and quick changes that have happened. Calling them growing pains makes it sound as though we are moving out of some dark space into a positive space. It is hard to see any positive trajectory here at all. 

Despite the Government's love of pretending it is getting the balance right, which the minister commonly states, it consistently favours making the wealthy wealthier over supporting the people who are missing out. The Government's assumption that economic growth will lead to better outcomes for everyone in the community is obviously flawed because the evidence before us is that is not working. That is why the concept of the triple bottom line that emerged many years was established through the understanding that economic growth is simply not a catch-all that is going to produce social and environmental outcomes as well. Economic growth certainly does produce economic benefits to the parties involved in the market - for example, the companies involved - but it does not ensure, as we see in so many areas across Tasmania, that social and environmental outcomes follow. We were just looking at the north-west today; we are looking at salmon farming - there are clear gaps here, and this speaks volumes about the need for governments to step in and regulate.

Putting aside the well-evidenced and longstanding discrediting of trickle-down economics and comparing the gross domestic product per capita and the Gini coefficient of various countries shows us just how unrelated overall wealth and access to wealth in countries across the world. The Gini coefficient measures the ratio of income equality to income inequality. Zero is complete equality and 1 is complete inequality. The United States' warning level is at 0.4. In 2017 Australia's GDP per capita was $US53 799 and the Gini coefficient for Australia overall was 0.33, which is within what is called the 'adequate equality scale'. Canada had a Gini coefficient of 0.32; the United States had a higher Gini coefficient at 0.4. Scandinavian countries have a Gini coefficient of 0.28 and Norway has a Gini coefficient of 0.26. This demonstrates that ramping economic output alone is not a guaranteed way to ensure the equitable and fair ability to participate for all members of society. Those people who have the capital required to benefit from the short-stay market have been reaping returns. 

Let us also reflect on the fact that this is a generational issue. People who are old enough were fortunate to live in an era when it was possible to purchase a house and pay it off with a mortgage that could be paid by a single family member's wage. They are reaping the benefits of the luck of their generation. Unfortunately, it is not the luck that my children, in their early 20s, are growing into. They do not have that luck because it is not possible for a family to afford to pay a mortgage on an average income level, with only one person in the family working.

The failure to regulate the rapid growth of the short-stay market is a perfect example of Government policy stimulating overall economic growth as well as growth in inequality. It is time for the Government to begin, 'getting the balance right'. As it stands, the Government does not do the balancing needed and they have been focusing their efforts on exclusively servicing wealthy property owners at the expense of other people, who do not own property. 

While we support this bill, it does not go far enough. The Greens are calling on the Minister for Housing to take much more serious steps to address the impact of the short-stay market on Tasmanians, to create a regulatory framework that allows placing of a freeze on a conversion of new properties into short-stay properties in tight rental markets. 

I look forward to the minister's response to those particularly constructive suggestions from the Greens, which have been here for a couple of years, to create the regulatory framework to freeze conversion of new properties into short-stay properties in tight rental markets and to properly address the impact of the short-stay market on Tasmanians. We look forward to hearing the amendments from Ms Dow during the Committee stage. We will look at them and consider our response. We are pleased to support this bill.