August 29, 2016  |  

Owners Corporations Amendment (Short-Stay Accommodation) Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — Following the member for Morwell, can I firstly congratulate the new Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, who is at the table, on this legislation, the Owners Corporations Amendment (Short‑stay Accommodation) Bill 2016. This is important legislation. It actually sees an election commitment fulfilled. I am sure the new minister, just like the previous minister, who had a strong working relationship with Airbnb and was very consultative, is going to fit in just nicely, member for Morwell, in making sure we get this right for Melbourne, Victoria — a destination city, a 24‑hour city, one of the most livable cities in the world and one of the greatest cities in the world.

This legislation, as I said earlier, will fulfil an election commitment. It is important legislation where the Parliament and we as legislators are catching up with the sharing economy. Here we have before us a package of reforms to address the problems arising from, if you like, short‑stay accommodation, principally though unruly parties happening where there has been damage and there has been behaviour that is very unsettling for other residents in a particular apartment complex or in a particular residential building.

This package of reforms to the Owners Corporation Act 2006 will apply to a number of short‑stay accommodation rentals, making sure that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) is empowered and that legislation is up to date for the 21st century. In particular, though, under the legislation VCAT will be empowered to award loss of amenity compensation of up to $2000 to a resident whose amenity has been affected by an unruly short‑stay party and to make the short‑stay accommodation provider jointly and severally liable for such compensation; to make an order prohibiting the use of an apartment short‑stay accommodation for a certain period if short‑stay occupants of that apartment have on at least three separate occasions within 24 months breached the conduct proscriptions; and to impose civil penalties of up to $1100 on short‑stay occupants for breaches of the conduct proscriptions and make the short‑stay accommodation provider jointly and severally liable with the short‑stay occupants of such penalties.

I am not sure if the shadow minister, the member for Morwell, has actually used Airbnb. If I am being honest, I am only a recent convert. I was very sceptical of Airbnb but my wife convinced me to give it a go on a recent trip, and I have got to say I was incredibly surprised how good Airbnb is. In two different places we used it. The owner of the apartment met us, gave us all the tips on where to go and made sure we knew the local neighbourhood. Incredibly, though, compared to the hotel industry, the wi‑fi was second to none. The best wi‑fi you will probably find is in short‑stay accommodation because more often than not it is owned by the people that live there. You get a level of service sometimes that can be missing from different parts of the economy, and I think it is very much where we are heading with our accommodation and with overseas trips.

I have got to say, though, that from my experience, without doubt, Airbnb and short‑stay accommodation providers are probably cannibalising the hotel industry. We came across a couple of entrepreneurs that were doing it, but they were very impressive with their customer service and they were making a go of it. These are people who have left their normal jobs to take on Airbnb and run short‑stay accommodation that they are proud of. They had a lot of pride in their apartments. They wanted to make sure our stay was good and that we would recommend them. Once you have finished at the short‑stay accommodation, you then get to rate them. You rate them, and you can offer suggestions. With Airbnb there is the website and the app on your iPhone. The owner was always close and if you needed any assistance, away you went.

That is why I want to highlight how important this is to the economy and to tourism in Victoria. The member for Morwell quoted from the final report of the Independent Panel on Short‑stay Accommodation in CBD Apartment Buildings. I want to congratulate the panel. It was set up back in 2015 under the previous Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation as well as the Minister for Planning. It had a commonsense approach, a practical approach, and its recommendations will go a long way towards ensuring that our short‑stay accommodation market is efficiently regulated. We are trying to get the balance right.

On the other hand I know of people who live in the City of Melbourne and who when White Night comes around, or something like that — probably the member for Melbourne is fully aware of some of these complaints — will move out of town because they do not want to have to deal with a lot of the issues that might arise in their apartment building. I do think the reforms we are seeing here today will give people an avenue through Consumer Affairs Victoria and through VCAT to make sure that, whether it be the owner of the apartment or the people who have rented the apartment and are doing the unruly behaviour or damage, there will be a redress scheme where they can be brought to justice and compensation can be paid for any damage done and for the unruly behaviour that the other residents in that apartment complex have had to deal with.

If you go to the figures, it is very important to consider the contribution to the economy, Acting Speaker Pearson, and I know that as the chair of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee you are pretty familiar with figures. As at January 2014 BIS Shrapnel estimated that that there were 169 073 short‑stay properties in Victoria — that is more than a quarter, 27 per cent, of the national total. The short‑stay industry supported $31.3 billion in economic activity and some 238 000 jobs nationally. Therefore it can be estimated that short‑stay accommodation in Victoria represents a multibillion‑dollar industry supporting over 64 000 jobs. That is what the report said, based on the work of BIS Shrapnel.

Airbnb currently has 5000 property listings in Melbourne for the next month. That is a twofold increase since last year. The growth of the sharing economy, Airbnb — it is where the world is at. It is the 21st century — book the accommodation on your iPhone, away you go and rest assured that you are going to meet the owner, often, of the short‑stay accommodation and they are going to do everything they can to make sure you recommend them and that you promote them. I have got to say I was turned around on it. I was very much always a traditionalist — when you go away, you stay at the hotel — but having seen it and experienced it, I think it is about time.

I am pleased that it is a Labor government that is now catching up with the industry and the economy, that we are passing reforms and legislation to ensure that in relation to short‑stay accommodation the laws are there and that we do get the balance right to ensure that the residents and the occupiers but most importantly the people who have made an investment in the apartment complex and who might live there with their family have an avenue to have addressed any concerns they may have, any issues they may have and any experiences they may have that have not been right, that they have an avenue for compensation and that there is a scheme in place through VCAT for them to be assisted.

It was a Labor government too who invested in VCAT to ensure that we have an appropriate fee structure, and we are about making sure that VCAT is as open as possible for people, no matter their background or walk of life, to have redress through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

It is important, though, that we make sure that the owners corporation legislation is up to date with its laws to deal with short‑stay accommodation, that VCAT is empowered to compensate for loss of amenity to any affected residents and that we have empowered VCAT to ensure it has the orders it needs for apartments for short‑stay accommodation and to ensure it has the power to impose civil penalties on short‑stay occupants for breaches of conduct proscriptions and make the short‑stay accommodation provider jointly and severally liable with short stay.

I want to highlight with this bill though, just in the remaining time I have, that there was wide consultation with the City of Melbourne, the Holiday Rental Industry Association and Consumer Affairs Victoria. We also consulted with a whole range of stakeholders, people living the experience of short‑stay accommodation, to ensure we have got the balance right. I understand there is further reform and further reviews of the Owners Corporations Act 2006 ongoing. This is an area of law and an area of the economy that we are going to have to be vigilant about to ensure that we can keep updating our laws because you do not know what is around the corner tomorrow with technology, with advancements and just with the competitive nature of the short‑stay commission market. I commend the bill to the house.