Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I would like to speak also to the Owners Corporations Amendment (Short-stay Accommodation) Bill 2016. I have to say that when I looked at this bill I had very mixed views about it. On the one hand it is about the government realising that there is a sharing economy that brings its own unique challenges to how our owners corporations operate and how our residents live harmoniously in those buildings, but on the other hand it does not seem to be responding to them in what I would say is an optimum way. We had an independent panel that the government brought to the table to look at this issue of short-stay accommodation, but the bill does not reflect a lot of the recommendations that that independent panel made.
Let us remember that the shared economy is not something new in Victoria or in Australia. We are playing a bit of catch-up with this bill, and I do not think we have caught up enough. Many people may not realise that Airbnb opened its first office in Australia in 2012 — four years ago. That was when they had reached their 1 million users mark in Australia, and that was back in 2012. This economy is here to stay, and it is growing and it is large.
Mr Davis — And it is important.
Ms PATTEN — And it is extremely important, Mr Davis, absolutely, and Airbnb is only a part of the short-stay sharing economy. We are also seeing companies — and I have certainly been a user of these companies — which are buying large numbers of apartments in one building and then providing them furnished for short-stay accommodation. This is a very important sector in our accommodation in Victoria and in Melbourne in particular, and certainly in my electorate of Northern Metropolitan Region, which takes in Docklands and the city.
In thinking about the bill and speaking to constituents about the bill, I was reminded of the case of the Docklands Executive Apartments. Some people owned 40 apartments in the Watergate complex and let them out as short-stay rentals. A dispute arose between the Watergate owners corporation and the Docklands Executive Apartments, but they owned 40 of the apartments in the building, so they had a significant seat at the body corporate table. So this dispute went through the Buildings Appeal Board, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and then back to the Building Appeals Board, where resolution was finally found. But one can imagine the time, the money and the court resources that went into that dispute, and there was actually no legal certainty at the end.
We know that there are now 169 000 short-stay properties in Victoria, so obviously we need some clear regulation that is fair for businesses, fair for the Airbnb or the short-stay users but also absolutely fair for the residents, and I do not think this will really hit that balance. As Mr Davis says, this bill has managed to make no-one happy, which is hitting a balance of sorts. One example that I find troubling is the definition of a short-stay accommodation arrangement in the bill. This was brought to my attention and certainly was part of the concerns of the We Live Here coalition, which is a group established down in the Docklands but which represents a number of body corporates around the inner city.
The bill has somewhat randomly defined short-stay as six nights and seven days. Now, the owners corporations and the We Live Here coalition would argue that that should be around 30 days — that short-stay is actually around 30 days, not six nights — that some of these provisions should apply to people who are staying longer than six nights and that the provisions at the moment do not apply to them. I do not know whether the government has any evidence to suggest that people who stay for six nights cause more problems than people who stay for seven nights. I certainly was not able to find any evidence or information to suggest that restricting the remedies in this bill to very, very short stays was appropriate or that there was any evidence to show that that was a good mark to find in short-stay accommodation.
The bill also focuses solely on noise and loss of amenity. I have lived in high-rise apartments, and I have lived in a number around many cities, including Melbourne. I appreciate that prohibiting things like excessive noise or causing safety hazards is not heavy-handed. It sounds heavy-handed within the bill, but I do not think it is. What I am hearing from the residents of these buildings and from the people who are on the body corporations is that it is the safety of the residents that they are concerned about and the wear and tear on the building and on the amenities in the building — the wear and tear on the gym and the breakages around the swimming pool. It is those sorts of things that really are affecting the amenity of the residents of those buildings, not just the noise of the bucks nights or the fairly narrow areas that this bill covers.
So I think this is an area where legislative change could make a real difference and that maybe we need to broaden this to allow for the concerned residents to make applications to VCAT for compensation when property is damaged, not just for safety hazards or when there has been unruly noise, and this does this to a degree but not to a position that would satisfy residents as well as the businesses. So while you can go to VCAT to ask for compensation for up to $2000 when property is damaged, why would we not also allow any proven extra security that was required or wear and tear costs to also be somewhat recoverable from those businesses that are providing short-stay accommodation in these high-rise buildings in Docklands and in the city in particular?
Also, we know that this is a really important form of accommodation within Victoria and Melbourne. In Victoria this short-stay accommodation generates $798 million in revenue. It is a significant sector of our accommodation portfolio, as it were. The ability to lease rooms or whole properties on sites like Airbnb provides much-needed income for a diverse range of people, whether they be students, retirees or working families struggling to pay mortgages, and I am very concerned that this bill again does not look at this big picture of this sharing economy or, as the coalition’s reasoned amendment says, the peer sector economy, which sounds very posh.
Under this, I think the sharing economy is here. It is a disruptive economy, it is happening and I would not like to see local councils insisting, which some are now doing, that if someone is renting some space in their house, they now must be accredited as a bed and breakfast and go through the accreditation process. I do not think that is necessary. So I think this bill goes some way to addressing some of the concerns that body corporates and the residents of high-rises have, but certainly I do think that we need greater clarity, and the Australian Sex Party is actually calling for a new shared economy portfolio, and this could sit alongside a small business portfolio. This would enable us to seize the opportunities presented by disruptive digital technology and the new business models that it is creating while at the same time genuinely addressing issues that are presented and that have been presented to me by the We Live Here coalition and other concerned residents.
I think this bill is a wake-up call for the government to realise the opportunities that clear and effective regulation of the sharing economy can provide, and we have started to see that with the move towards Uber. We have started to see the recognition of these disruptive technologies.
In closing, I will support the reasoned amendment from Mr O’Donohue. I was very pleased to hear Mr Davis, the chair of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Planning, assure us that the committee needed no later than 7 March to complete this inquiry. I think that is very encouraging. I am very pleased that they are happy to work over their summer holidays to get this done. If we can get this done, it needs to be done quickly. I support the reasoned amendment on this bill to refer it to that committee.